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ANALYSIS: HEADPHONES Home Entertainment


Grado SR125x headphones Elsewhere, and also reflecting on its history


with a recreation of a classic original series of headphones, Grado this year introduced Prestige X – the next generation of the Prestige Series, the first headphones designed by owner John Grado three decades ago. The X Series sees enhanced speakers, an


advanced cable design and a more comfortable headband across its five models – the SR60x, SR80x, SR125x, SR225x and SR325x. These encompass a new magnetic circuit that’s been revised for improved efficiency in conjunction with a newly designed voice coil and diaphragm to further reduce distortion and enhance harmonic integrity. The redesigned headband has a leather


30


aesthetic, however it’s actually a vegan-friendly synthetic protein material, except for the SR325x, which continues to use leather and this also retains the brand’s famous metal housing. John Grado comments: “Our goal was to increase


the efficiency of our drivers while not only maintaining, but improving, the purity of the original recording and the mid-range we’re known for.”


Headphone amplification


The explosive growth in the headphone market in recent years, coupled to a generalised increase in quality, especially at the performance-end, has also neatly supported a growing number of headphone amplifiers or ‘head amps’, designed to help deliver the full potential of today’s advanced headphone diaphragms. Consumers have realised that smart devices,


laptops and even DAPs (Digital Audio Players) can’t always cut it in the power stakes when it comes to driving headphones to the best of their ability. Headphone amplifiers have stepped in to


help deliver the power required by more demanding (high-impedance) headphones and provide the best possible signal quality to the more expensive models. Many headphone amplifiers have also integrated DACs (Digital to Analogue Convertors) into the design, to help sound quality further, especially in the streaming age. One headphone amp/DAC in particular,


Chord Electronics’ award-winning Mojo (right), not only defined standards in the headphone market but actually created the portable headphone amp/DAC category, one which has


become so valuable for retailers, considering the ease with which these small devices can be shipped to customers. Since Mojo’s introduction some seven years ago, countless headphone amplifiers and head amp/DACs have come to market in various shapes and sizes, with varying


degrees of portability. What was once the preserve of the travel-happy music lover or commuter, has now evolved into a sizeable piece of hi-fi hardware with a price tag to match. Dedicated headphone amplifiers can also be


things of beauty, too. New York’s McIntosh Laboratory, for example, has what is arguably the most attractive headphone amplifier on the market, the MHA200 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier (above right); one that takes full advantage of the company’s unique technologies, including luxurious valves and a raft of proprietary features so that virtually any headphones can be driven. It’s not just standalone headphone amplifiers


that get all the attention, however. Many hi-fi manufacturers appreciate the demand for good-quality headphone amplification and have skilfully integrated the technology into their existing products, creating enormous value for consumers. Welsh manufacturer Leema Acoustics is a prime example. Its ex- BBC sound engineers have built in headphone ‘stages’ to several stereo amplifiers, such as the Tucana II, new Pulse IV (above left)and Elements integrated, also making them ideal


for late-night and personal listening after daily duties driving loudspeakers. Today, technology is playing a role in the


development of new headphone amplifiers, especially those containing DACs, as digital tech evolves. Chord Electronics, for example, uses powerful FPGA chips (programmable circuits) in its headphone amplifiers, and each successive release of a new FPGA allows its engineers to create ever more powerful and musically transparent devices, whether for the pocket or the desktop. Suffice to say, high-performance headphones have never had it so good.


July/August 2021 ertonline.co.uk


Sony WH-1000XM4 & beyerdynamic T1


And from over-the-ear to in-ear, technology


has moved on leaps and bounds over the years. Sony says it has surveyed huge amounts of data relating to ear shapes from around the world, and the WF-1000XM4 headphones are the result of that research, combining a shape that matches the ear cavity with a new ergonomic surface design for a more stable fit. These are also IPX4 water resistant and feature Automatic Wind Reduction Mode.


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