A quick post detailing out some of the exciting things we saw at the Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Expo 2018!
This year was yet another year of the Expo, and it felt even more packed than last time. There were some familiar faces and also new faces – we saw the representatives from Astell&Kern, Jerry Harvey Audio, distributors like ECT and Soundwave HK. Unfortunately we didn’t see the Campfire Audio crew this year but did get a chance to chat with Dr. John Moulton from the legendary Noble Audio which was also great.
But without further ado, here are some quick impressions of some of the products we tried!
Final Audio Make Series
Final Audio’s latest release is the Make Series, a lineup of 3 budget to mid range priced IEMs featuring a “semi-DIY” filter replacement system. When you buy them, they come with a set of screwdrivers and other equipment along with a wide set of filters that can be replaced to tune the mid and high frequencies to your liking. The Final Audio Make 1 is the highest priced at around 4300HKD, while the Make 3 is the budget priced, around 900-1000HKD, and the Make 2 is in the middle, going for around 2500 if I recall correctly. Here are my impressions:
Final Audio Make 1
- Really easy going neutral bass with good subbass extension
- Slightly above neutral warm sound
- Slight presence boost, giving forward vocals
- Quite intimate and detail focused
- Rich mids with slight airiness
- Decent sense of separation
Final Audio Make 2
- To me, sounded like an artificially wide soundstage sound
- Can bring a lot of wide sounding subbass impact when called for
- Vocals are distant
- Timbre is a little odd
Final Audio Make 3
- Very warm sound
- Slightly muddy
- Still has the wide spacious sound of the Make 2
- Strange timbre
At the Noble booth, we got to try two new IEM offerings from the Wizard, who we were also lucky enough to meet and get a few words with! They released the new Noble Kaiser 10 Encore Brass Edition which features the same drivers as the Original Encore, but with the new brass housing features a slight change in tonality.
Noble Audio Kodachi – written by Oliver
Being the owner of K10 and Katana customs, I’m no stranger to the company’s products, but that didn’t prevent me from being pleasantly surprised by the not-so-secretive, teased on Head-Fi, up-and-coming Kodachi – a smaller 5-driver (fully balanced armature) cousin to the flagship Katana. Wizard (yes, I met him :)) pulled them out of the many pockets of his shorts like a magician at the show, and asked if I would like to have a taste of what he was cooking up. “Kodachi” is the Japanese word for a katana blade of shorter length, and was not built from the get-go to replace either co-flagships currently sitting at the top of the hill. Running the Katana family blood in its veins, the Kodachi was expectedly bright, but dropped the burden of maintaining neutrality and had even more air and boost in the upper mid-range than Katana. Overall, it gave a smooth and soaring performance to the tunes I selected for it, with very apparent elevation in the upper mids and highs. Think of Kodachi as a Katana which is trading neutrality for more character and flavor.
Noble Audio Encore Brass – written by Oliver
This was like a hybrid between the Kaiser Encore and Katana, sounding much more immense, and with a healthy extension to every frequency. It is definitely not the old K10 that showed such clemency to whatever recording you threw at it, as the shrill highs this high-end beast is capable of producing when playing mediocre recordings will ensure you’re in for a rude awakening if your audio chain is not up to snuff.
DITA Audio Fidelity – 10200HKD
- Moderate wide soundstage
- Rather polite bass
- Very airy sound for vocals, definitely has some high frequency boost going on
- Lower mids are a little recessed however
- Brighter sound of the ‘twins’
DITA Audio Fealty – 10200HKD
- Much warmer, mid focused sound
- Still quite a polite bass, light-moderate impact
- Very well resolved sound
- Still have a nice tinge of shimmer in the high frequencies with smooth highs
DITA Audio Awesome Plug
The DITA Audio Awesome Plug system is basically a cable design that allows you to easily switch between different headphone jack standards – 3.5mm, 2.5mm, and the somewhat new 4.4mm. It uses a threaded, 4-pin design for each plug that is very secure but can also be removed very easily.
DITA Audio Project 71
I got to try their latest prototype called “Project 71” which I recall is also a dynamic driver design. Their salesperson emphasized the use of brass and wood materials to create a more natural timbre and wide soundstage. There definitely is a wide soundstage, but I found the timbre to be off for my tastes.
- Wide soundstage
- Tight bass
- Vocals sound little tonally off
- Decent high extension
- Subbass rolls off and fades very quickly
- Lower mids sounded like they were very recessed
The DUNU booth was completely packed, so I did not get a chance to snap a nice photo of the new DUNU DK4001 – but with its new thick, copper coloured braided cable design it definitely caught everyone’s attention at the show.
- Quite neutral, polite bass
- Mids are lush and sound quite flat, and transition to highs smoothly
- Great choice for realistic vocal rendition
- Layering is very good
- Overall a slightly more laid-back, neutral sound
Campfire Audio Custom IEM Beta
This is an entirely new service from Campfire Audio that they’re testing out with a beta run for now. It will cost around 10000HKD and currently only features a design utilizing the Atlas’ dynamic driver.
- Uses the same driver as the Campfire Audio Atlas
- Has a small vent at the back
- Sounds quite similar to the Atlas from my experience
- Really sexy design that has touches of Campfire Audio with the metal cable attachment and screws, which connects to the custom ear molded part.
Campfire Audio Andromeda Stainless Steel Edition
- Looks incredibly sexy
- Is a Campfire Audio Andromeda!
- 4 balanced armature drivers
- Very low and mid focused with a smattering of highs
- Subbass is quite strong for a BA design
- Just a little air for vocals
- Not a wide soundstage
- Highs are smooth not harsh at all
- Should be pretty nice with rock and heavier music
NG Audio is a local Hong Kong IEM brand which I just discovered at the expo. They seemed to focus on CIEM designs.
NG Audio N10
- Very nice and spacious high frequencies
- Edging on harshness
- Bass sounds quite natural
- Just slightly boosted mid-highs
NG Audio N12
- Even more spacious and layered than the N10
- Highs are super detailed and energetic, not the very gentle, smooth kind of sound
- Bass is a little toned down from the 10 but still very significant, very well textured
- Maybe slightly breathless sound to male vocals
- Slight harshness to highs at times
- Detailed but still “musical” tuning
Light Harmonic Stella
- 1 Dynamic Driver + 1 BA
- Slightly recessed vocals
- Quite tight, well resolved bass
- Highs are smooth but don’t stand out
- The shell design looks quite strange
- Not great layering
- Sub-bass can get strong when needed
- Decent snare attack clarity
UM (Unique Melody)
- 3 Dynamic Driver design
- Not sure if I was trying a faulty unit – it sounded really bad
- Really muddy and strange overtones
- Would not recommend
I had a good time with the Unique Melody Mentor v2 though – has a north of neutral sound with a slight bass boost and detailed highs for a fun sound.
Acoustune has so many 10mm dynamic driver designs with crazy names that it’s hard to keep track of it all, but I can at least say that I quite enjoyed all of them!
Acoustune HS1503 AL
- 10mm DD
- Like the 1551CU but slightly brighter, and has a tighter less laid-back bass impact
- More energetic mids and highs
- 10mm DD
- A little high focused vocals
- More open sound than the others
- More spacious
- Moderate-high impact bass
- Highs are smooth, but not extremely extended
- More energetic impact than HS1551CU
- Brighter, tighter, more elevated highs
- Bass impact is quite similar to 1551CU
- Energetic mid highs
- More spacious sounding as well
Acoustune Ear Tips
Acoustune also has a huge variety of ear tips for sale now – definitely worth trying out for the tip rollers out there.
The photos here show an older prototype of the Meze RAI Penta IEM without the carved out vent detail and without the silver Meze logo on the exterior face, but the final product will feature this gunmetal aluminium colour with the fine hairbrushed finish. Antonio, the founder of Meze has said that they will definitely be releasing it some time this year…