High-End Hi-Fi Is Alive and Well: Top-Notch Audio Equipment Just Keeps on Coming, from Headphones to Complete Systems

By Everard, Andrew | Gramophone, July 2014 | Go to article overview

High-End Hi-Fi Is Alive and Well: Top-Notch Audio Equipment Just Keeps on Coming, from Headphones to Complete Systems


Everard, Andrew, Gramophone


As I explain in this month's Audio Essay (page 119), it only took one day to reassure me that the market for high-quality, high-end audio equipment apparently remains viable enough for manufacturers to invest in research and development. To spend the morning hearing about (and hearing) Linn's 25,500 [pounds sterling] Akurate Exakt system, and then the afternoon with Oppo's 1000+ [pounds sterling] PM-1 headphones, was both hugely enjoyable and a sign that the audio industry is in pretty rude health.

Linn's Akurate Exakt system sees the company's 'The source is in the speaker' technology trickling down from the 50,000 [pounds sterling] Klimax Exakt set-up launched last year to something at around half the price: it comprises the Akurate Exakt digital streamer/preamplifier and Exakt Akubarik speakers, connected using Exakt Link cables and with the digital-to-analogue conversion carried out in the speaker after the onboard Exakt Engine processing has done its stuff.

Meanwhile, Oppo may be best known in the UK and USA for its range of Blu-ray players but it has now made its debut in high-end headphones with the arrival of two models and a high-quality headphone amplifier. The 1099 [pounds sterling] PM-1 and 699 [pounds sterling] PM-2 models are built around Oppo's development of the well-established planar magnetic technology, which uses a flat diaphragm sandwiched between drive elements to give what's said to be a more dynamic and accurate sound than is possible with the conventional coil and cone drivers found in most headphones. Both models are open-backed, the PM-1 using an all-aluminium construction with lambskin-over-latex ear-cushions, and coming with a carry case, wooden presentation box, velour earpads and both 3.5mm and 6.35mm terminated cables. The less expensive PM-2 uses some plastics in place of aluminium components, and synthetic leather, and comes with fewer accessories.

The HA-1 headphone amplifier, meanwhile, has both digital and analogue inputs, can handle both high-resolution PCM and DSD audio, and has a choice of 6.35mm or balanced XLR outputs, for which an optional cable will be available for the headphones. The audio output section is all-analogue, and the range of digital inputs extends to an iPhone/iPad-compatible USB and an asynchronous input for a computer. …

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