Seattle Mini-Meet - August 24 - Impressions

As a development out of this thread, a group of Seattle and Vancouver area members of “The HEADPHONE Community” got together for an afternoon of socializing, gear fiddling, and even some actual listening time.

It was great to meet those of you that attended and that I had not met before, and of course a pleasure to spend some more time hanging with those of you that I had already met or have been to one of these before.

In attendance were, in no particular order, @Andrew, @taronlissimore, @DarthPool, @antdroid, @Simonfish, @jrockwell, @Neetlet, @abl, @lichie and a quick drop in from Bill @ Focal.

And a very nice, and varied, group of listeners and music lovers they are!


General impressions/thoughts of both the opportunity to get together, and what gear you got to hear (and of course what you thought of it!). Links to posts in primary product threads are also appropriate (I may link few of yours in as well).

I’ll probably go at this in as much of a “stream-of-conciousness” manner as anything else, so don’t feel a need for lots of structure in any posts here.

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So sad that I missed this!

Interested in knowing if everyone that listened to the RAALs agrees that I should sell a car/kidney to buy a pair.

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Most Popular Items

While I was not involved in every conversation, of which there were many, all seemingly fully engaged and enthusiastic, there were, I think, four items that seemed to generate the most obvious and consistent interest:

Given the array of gear available to fiddle with, it was quite striking to see such obvious and concentrated interest in a comparatively small subset.

While I will defer to the individuals for more details and nuance, there were some common themes in the post-listening discussions for these items.

Vérité C

The Vérité C were, as far as I can ascertain, near universally enjoyed with positive comments from everyone I spoke too about them - which included multiple owners of the original Vérité as well as some who’d not heard a ZMF headphone before.

Two common themes in that commentary were, in essence, “most open sounding closed-back I’ve heard” and “these sound just like a Vérité but with isolation”.

SR1a

Opinions here were more varied … and while there was a solid locus of common, highly positive, commentary, more “issues” surfaced here for different listeners.

I’d break down the feedback into two camps … those that wanted to add a set to their collection right away, and those that like them overall, or aspects of them, but had specific reservations and/or that didn’t think they were “for them”.

While everyone commented positively on the detail, clarity and speed, some thought they were light in the bass (they were being run without any EQ to give the most realistic impression of them). Some thought they were very powerful in the bass. Some were amazed at the imaging, and some were not so impressed by the stage at all.

Some of this comes down to positioning but certainly not all.

Like most things not everything is for everyone. It’s always a bit of a challenge to listen to something unconventional at a meet, with lots of people that want to hear the same thing. Anyone that’s ever tried to audition the Abyss AB-1266 in meet conditions will know exactly what I’m talking about!

Andromeda SE Gold

I got the impression that there were favorable impressions about comfort, with the new nozzles, and that everyone pretty much agreed that the hiss problem of the classic/original Andromeda is simply not evident here.

Another common comment was that they were not as sensitive to the output impedance of the source as the originals (which were like chameleons at the best of times in this regard).

Beyond this, two camps seemed to emerge … those that thought they were too bassy and those that thought they were just right. One comparison to the Cascades indicated that Golds were heavier in the bass than those … which I regard as bass-canons.

Anole VX

I’ll have to let others comment here, I just noted the level of interest … and the fascinating discussion about relatively unknown vendors operating in the premium IEM space.

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I’m gonna post some super short impressions since I’d like to go to bed. Feel free to ping me with questions, I’ll answer them in the morning.

I did not think SR1A was amazing actually. I thought it was impressively clean and clear and detailed, but failed to present me with any particularly fantastic thing. I got the feeling that the music I listen to is not really what the SR1A is good at. I’d like to try it again and throw some different music at it.

I liked TH-900 better than SR1A. I’m a sucker for clean, strong, impactful bass and this just made my day. I plan on getting some TH900 drivers to mod into my TH-X00. I did my listening with X00 pads, and switched to the stock pads briefly just as a comparison. TH-900 is much improved using X00 pads-- it fixes the treble and tonal balance of the headphone.

HE-6 was also great. Really bright, but fantastic detail, dynamics, and separation made it a joy to listen to. I’d like to hear it on a beefier amp, I’m told it slaps harder.

Verite Open was the other standout headphone for me. Fantastic mids. I thought it had the ability to adapt its character to suit whatever song was playing, which was a joy to hear. Made listening to it super interesting. Verite Closed sounded like slightly worse Verite. Meh.

Meze Empyrean was good, I liked it. Mids did not sound like TOTL mids. No reason to get it when Verite exists.

HE-560 was a headphone I heard briefly a long time ago, and loved. I’m stoked that it sounds better than I remembered. I need an open headphone, I think I found it.

In the IEM space, the two standouts were Andromeda Gold and Fiio FA7.

AG sounded like a V-shaped Andro. I liked it better than OG Andro I think. It trades treble performance for bass performance, and I really did like the bass on AG. It was still BA bass, but really had an intensity and growl to it I’ve never heard before.

FA7 was terrible. So much bass bloat to the point that nothing sounded right. I thought they were practically unlistenable.

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A couple of units that @Andrew and @taronlissimore brought with them, and left with me while they were doing some local work after the meet were the Focal Arche and the Matrix Element:X.

Matrix Element:X

This is a highly multi-functional unit. In addition to being both a high-end DAC and powerful headphone amplifier, it is also a streamer, music-player (with the ability to play from a local SD card) and digital pre-amp, with AirPlay and DLNA support and, though it’s not mentioned on the web-site or in the product details it shows up as a “Roon Ready” device.

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At a high level, and with just a few post-meet hours listening, I would say this is a contender for “best ESS 9038-based DAC” I’ve heard. I’d need more time with it to be sure, and some other specific units on hand to do back-to-back comparison with, but it is definitely in that ball park and warrants spending the time to delve into and compare properly.

I would characterize it as being a classic example of the clean, detailed, reference-type, sound. And in this case I mean that in an entirely positive way. The detail is real, not the “exaggerated” or “over-sharpened” effect that all-too-often accompanies ESS based DACs. Tonality is pure. Delivery is effortless. It is deft, and nimble, but can still slam hard, while delivering a tuneful, energetic bass-line. It isn’t clinical or sterile, but it is not obviously editorializing anything, either, and it definitely isn’t euphonic in any way.

Either as a pure DAC, or as a DAC/amp it’s performance is excellent. For the high-fidelity minded, it’s easy to see this as a TOTL all-in-one solution. In fact, in terms of raw technicalities, I can’t really argue against it in that role either. VERY nice piece.

So the sound is good … but there is, unfortunately, a downside - namely there is an unfortunate amount of “dipshit” going on here.

For one thing, if you want to run this via it’s built-in WiFi interface you will have to have an Android device. You cannot, at this point, configure the WiFi on the device, nor with an iOS device, nor a PC/Mac.

It says it supports AirPlay. Well, yes, it does, as long as you run it on a wired network. But you cannot configure it for WiFi without an Android device! WTF?!

To it’s credit, dropping it on my network via a cable I had to go digging for, it showed up immediately within my Linn-centric DLNA client/server environment. And it also showed up as an available, if uncertified, “Roon Ready” end-point. And it did, in fact, operate just fine for the few hours I played with it in Roon mode. Even to the point that it was both indicating it was in “Roon Ready” mode and fully decoding MQA sent via Roon.

This is a very promising unit … but not something I can consider as a personal streamer/AOI (be nice for the bed-side) until Matrix have a way to configure it for WiFi (etc.) via iOS or some kind of web-interface.

We’ll see where that stands a month from now … but I don’t buy on futures, so it won’t be coming back into my hands until it is fully manageable from iOS as well as Android.

But … on a sound and feature basis otherwise … it’s an impressive piece and is well worth checking out.

Focal Arche

Man, was I disappointed to learn this wasn’t a joint venture with NAIM when it was first announced. That’s not meant to be uncharitable to Micromega, but as a Brit the former is always going to carry way more gravitas than the latter.

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Features are minimal, but interesting. Selectable gain levels, selectable phase, analog and digital inputs, and balanced and single pre-outs and headphone outputs. The pure-class A amplifier stage (and you can tell it really is class-A just from the warmth emanating from the box) can operate in traditional voltage-drive or in a “hybrid” mode, and perhaps most interestingly has pre-sets for the entire line of Focal headphones.

The unit is a bit bigger than I expected, and lighter than you’d think when you pick it up. I’m undecided about the (removable) built-in headphone stand. On one hand it’s actually quite useful … on the other it is a bit odd to look at. Though the curve of it PERFECTLY fits Focal’s own line of headphones.

Sound?

Well, compared to the Matrix Element:X the first word that comes to mind is “rich”. Rich enough it makes the Matrix unit sound a bit lean. There’s some underlying AKM “Velvet Sound” going on here, which will be apparent to anyone that is familiar with it, but the richness exhibited here is more than just some extra presence in the lowest registers.

It’s a VERY pleasant and engaging sound, and that remains true whether using a Focal headphone (I tried the Clear, Stellia and Utopia, both on their pre-sets and with the unit just in “Voltage” mode … and while they’re audibly different if you pay attention, I didn’t have a clear preference for either the specific settings or the general with any particular can) or other headphones.

I have been pretty much primed to dislike this thing, or at least seriously question its price-point, since it was announced. And the truth is, I don’t. At all. On either count.

At a high-level I’d say this is comparable to the DAC section of an RME ADI-2 DAC fs combined with a truly proper headphone amplifier that’s been voiced for some extra tonal weight and density.

It does a great job of extracting and relaying details, timbre is natural above the lower-bass registers (where things like double-bass take on a bit more “mass” than they perhaps should), and the “richness” doesn’t detract from it’s speed or impact at ALL (this thing hits pretty hard).

Playing with the just the analog in/out chain, I’m not even sure where I’d place the amp section. On par or probably ahead of the Pro iCAN I think, in SS mode. A bit richer than the Azure, but with a similar projection of stage and layering. Definitely more engaging than the current-darling THX AAA 789, and highly resolving both in terms of raw detail and micro-dynamic resolution.

The Matrix is notably purer sounding and perhaps a little more technically adept … but this is just much more fun. And the amp-stage on this runs rings around the Element:X.

If the Arche had a built-in WiFi Roon end-point I’d put this next to the bed, hang my Stellia off it, and call it good. As it is, I might just stick something like a microRendu on it and do just that anyway.

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A few comments from @antdroid on some ZMF prettiness

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I don’t know if there is more going on than I believe there is, but the last few tracks played through the Arche/Utopia had me thinking I had somehow turned on an old bass-lift profile for the SR1a.

Nope!

The Utopia absolutely sing with this thing.

Definite Focal-to-Focal synergy going on here.

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I didn’t take any “notes” but mental notes:

RAAL SR1A
These are really nice. They really do sound like speakers! The speed and resolution of electrostatics but having actual good low end response. I was surprised that they were comfortable and light to wear, given how they look. I’d really consider owning these some day. They are definitely a significant gear changing investment though.

ZMF Verite C
First off, these look bigger in person than they do in photos, when they are finally worn. They stick out like Princess Leia buns. Sound is nice and open. To me, I felt it had a more balanced tonality than the Verite Mahogany I have been using. It sounds more like the Aeolus Ziricote with Suede pads. I would need more A-B time between them all, but normal open verite has more open soundstage and perhaps more resolution, but I think the tonal balance of the Verite C is more up my alley.

Meze Emperyan
I did not like this at all, from the moment I put it on. It’s nicely built, but it looks ridiculous on your head. It makes the Verum One look normal… The sound is pretty mediocre to me. It sounds like tuning I’d get at a big box store, only with a nicer build and slightly better resolution. I find this to be more about the build quality and aesthetics than sound. Too much midbass. No extension at all. Boombastic sound. Muddy. Missing uppermids. Sounds worse than their flagship IEM, Rai Penta.

Campfire Andromeda Gold
First off, I didn’t like the Campfire Andromeda as much as many people. I liked its wide soundstage and it’s “look” but I didn’t like its overly bass heavy and dark tonality. I like upper-mids and it’s missing those. The CFA Gold seems to bring them back in the upper mids, but also adds more bass, which is something I dont think it needed. That said, the tonality seems closer to what I prefer, but still a little too bassy and it does a little bit less of it’s unique sparkle. I find them better than the original for sure, but it’s still a step behind the Solaris, Z1R, VX, etc in my book, but it’s also priced below them as well.

Fiio FA7
This IEM has been severely hyped up in the IEM world lately, and some call it TOTL killers. I think this was my least favorite thing I heard today. Yes, worse than that Meze impression I just posted above. It’s just not right. Everything about it is bad. I don’t get the hype. Bloated, messy, tonality is dark and wrong.

Edit Note: I realize that I am now mixing these up with the FH7 for TOTL killer hype. Naming is too close :slight_smile: Still, FA7 has been getting very strong reviews/recommendations and I don’t really see why.

ZMF Aeolus Ziricote with Perforated Suede pads
Last time I tried it was with the stock leather pads and I thought they were very V-shaped. Very boomy and too bright. This time, I tried with the Perforated Suede pads and they sound really well balanced and clean. I think they don’t quite resolve as well and don’t have the speed that Verite does, but it’s a very natural sound with these pads on. Very nice.

64 Audio Trio
I havent tried any 64 Audio stuff before, so this was a first for me. I think the fit and weight were quite nice. The sound was a little weird to me, but not bad. Seemed like there was a semi-W-shaped sound with a little bump in the lower mids and raised upper mids and then a big spike somewhere in the treble region - im guessing 8K since I can usually hear some sensitivities to that if theres a big spike – which makes some of the songs I listened to just a bit too harsh. I didn’t do a sibilance test on these, but It may not pass my personal sibilance tolerance. Not really my style of sound. Too warm and the harsh spike wasn’t for me.

Sony XBA-N3
Three things surprised me about these. First, it’s a Sony IEM that fits quite well. Second, it’s a cable-down IEM that fits quite well. And three, it’s a Sony IEM that doesn’t have a sharp treble that I don’t like. It’s more laid back then I expected, and a little more bassy than I like. I think it sounds pretty natural though and not bad for asking price. I think I’d want a little less bass to balance it out more.

Cayin N6-II
It’s smaller than the N8 but still a beast!! Very fast UI and responsiveness. I really like that! Only listened to it briefly but seemed to sound pretty nice. Not much more to say since I didn’t play a lot with it.

Visual impressions:
Focal Arche, looks nice with the stand.
Matrix Element - looks really nice. didnt play with it though.
Torq’s Place - very, very nice.
Traffic and tourists around Torq’s place - very, very not nice.

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Bastards.

The lot of 'em.


On another note, I think this is the first meet I’ve hosted where no one (or at least no one new to the group) has asked to hear my “big” tube amp.

I know a couple of people have had proper time with the MK1 version, but the MK2 is a lot rarer (for an already pretty rare amp), and most aren’t outfitted with original WE300Bs …

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I gave the tubes some thought but was too busy with the SR1a. :slight_smile:

Vokyl Erupt

I didn’t spend enough time with these. Nothing about the sound stood out but the build felt solid and they’re quite pretty.

The cooling pads on @DarthPool’s Mobius

These sold me a Mobius and pads for gaming purposes. (Psst - where’d you get the pads again? :slight_smile:

Anole VX

I’d read of these before the meet and was prepared. Versatile all-rounders - didn’t try the switches - with excellent bass.

ER2XR

I didn’t care for the ER4XR but @antdroid convinced me to give these a try. Ten seconds in - “why the hell do these cost less than the ER4XR?!”

Somehow Ety crammed a DD in there (as opposed to the ER4XR’s BA) and while it’s not the most amazing technical performer the extreme isolation gives it space to shine. I found the ER4XR, well, lifeless - and the ER2XR to be the opposite.

I’m planning to pick up a pair and see if I can leave my NC 700 at home for my next flight.

Fiio FH7

Crap. I really wanted to like these but I’d take literally any pair of chi-fi I’ve tried over these. Nothing I can say that isn’t already in the thread.

Verite C

Warm but - similar to how I felt about the Eikon - a bit laid back for me. (Probably means I should buy @Torq’s TH-900.) Then again, I enjoyed the Eikon much more with stiffer pads on, so I’m not passing judgment quite yet.

SR1a

The problem I have here is there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the SR1a. Usually I can start with what I dislike and contrast to what I liked…but they’re damn near perfect sonically, especially with @Torq’s setup.

Like the MySphere they’re a bit fiddly to put on - far more comfortable, though. Zero polish on the build but honestly I’m ok with that as it keeps the price down. :slight_smile:

The SR1a didn’t move me at first until I went for more immersive tracks - live music and orchestral pieces - at which point it felt like sitting in That Chair. You know, the chair that’s in the room where your friend has placed $100k of speakers and is exactly positioned - right down to head height while sitting - for optimal sound.

As @Torq pointed out, $3500 of SR1a + $700 of speaker amp handily outperforms anything in that price class. I’d take it over the Diana Phi - a previous favorite - nine times out of ten, where the tenth time is when I have to move it. :slight_smile:

Andromeda Gold

I brought these and I’ll do a writeup soonish; just wanted to note that @antdroid took measurements (thanks again!) and the channel matching was as good as the pre-release measurements.

I’m planning to replace my original Andromedas and my Solaris with these. They do just fine without the IEMatch and I prefer the sound vs. the original. I enjoy the Solaris their lack of a comfortable fit gives the win to the Gold - I have the Trio for at-home listening.

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Have you tried the IER-M9? It’s my personal gold standard for fit to the point I almost bought a pair even though I wasn’t thrilled with the sound. I’ll agree the Z1R fit is average at best.

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@abl I got the cooling pads directly from Audeze. They are direct replacements.

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I wasn’t using my normal measurement setup, so the low end bass response is a little muted compared to what it normally should measure.

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My favorites for the meetup:

Verite C! It is pretty much exactly what I was hoping for sound wise and capabilities. Essentially for me a closed back Verite! Best comparison I can make is the Focal similarities of the Elegia being a closed back Clear, or the Stellia being a closed back Utopia. They were in a word “Fantastic!” YMMV :wink: I can’t wait to get my hands on my own set!

Andromeda Gold were my next favorite sound! The bass was actually “impactful” I would say it has all the same signature as the OG Andro but with Mo’Bass! It might lose some of the mid performance but I think it is more due to the bass being more potent. Overall looking forward to my pair!

The majority of my time was spent conversing or setting up gear for others. As always it was lovely meeting up at @Torqs place! The views from his deck are killer! I miss having a deck with a view, and I fully get why @Torq is out on his deck imbibing and listening off his Cayin N8 a lot!

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Yesterday was my first meet of this kind and I really enjoyed it-- I can’t wait for the next one. I didn’t jot down any notes or anything but I will present some highlights.

  1. QDC Anole VX

This was a clear highlight for me. Balanced, detailed, resolving, excellent bass response…in fact I’ll go on record right now and state that the VX has the best BA bass I’ve ever heard…it almost had me fooled…almost. I did some a/b’ing with Solaris and while the bass impact and texture is superb it lacks just a touch of the “woob woob” factor for me in some cases. I have a lot of electronic music recorded on old analog synthesizers (Substance and Vainqueur, Behaviour by the Pet Shop Boys) and this was where it was most noticeable. Still though, on the whole this is a nitpick-- the VX is a tremendous IEM. It’s got this vivid laserlike precision to its presentation that’s borderline surreal and leaves you craving more-- think Andromeda with better bass response and 1/10 of a dose of lsd. On the whole VX is about equal to Solaris for me-- Solaris counters VX’s intensity with an almost laid back analogue tonality that I find no less satisfying. The two are a great complimentary pair. Will be hard to resist if a good deal on a used VX if one pops up…

  1. Verite C

All I can say is wow. I have very limited experience (read: next to no experience) with full size headphones but this one clearly stood out among those I tried yesterday. Pretty much my ideal FR. It had the detail and resolution of the VX combined with a delicious DD bass response and vastly enlarged 3D holographic soundstage-- the sort only possible with a full size rig. If I ever decide to plunge into the world of full size headphones these will be at or near the top of the list.

  1. Cayin N8

@Torq was gracious enough to let me demo his N8. I am a huge fan of the Cayin N6ii and the Cayin house sound in general. The N8 was smaller than I was expecting and about as heavy. Beautiful in the hand and to look at. I didn’t try the tube output as I was more interested in comparing with my N6ii in solid state mode. I did some a/b with Walk of Life by Dire Straits on each and I found the tonality on the N8 very similar-- except it was even smoother and more refined. The N8 is a clear step up, as you would expect and if I ever decide to splurge on a summit fi dap that will be the one.

  1. Raal SR1a

This was a unique pleasure-- thanks again to @Torq for allowing us to try it out. Again, my experience with full size gear is limited but I was very impressed with the sound and spaciousness of this. I didn’t get to listen for too long and would love more time on it down the road…perhaps at a future meet :slight_smile:

  1. Andromeda Gold

An enjoyable signature-- a step up from OG Andro (which I was never a fan of). I found the bass a tad congested. It sounded great on my N6ii with no discernible hiss. On the whole it was solid but a clear step down from Solaris/VX for me.

That’s it for stand out impressions for me :slight_smile: Grateful to @antdroid for measuring my Solaris to quench my curiosity. Again I really enjoyed meeting everyone and hope to see you all again sometime, maybe in Vancouver next time!

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Sorry I couldn’t be there, but thanks for the impressions guys! :slight_smile:

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I purposely stayed away from these…I’ve spent too much on headphones IEMs this past month, plus upcoming spends next month and my new Camera wants…but… maybe in the next couple months I’ll see about meeting with @antdroid for lunch to hear them :wink: and see if the are comfortable enough for my sensitive ears to warrant my obsessive pursuit of a thing lol.

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Some envy (good one, if exists) over here, in the far east, with that close encounter of sound kind you guys had yesterday. Really enjoying the impressions !!

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Really nice to see so many impressions being posted! Makes these things much more useful and fun … always great to read the different perspectives and preferences.

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