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Article: High-End Headphone Roundup: Meze Empyrean, Focal Utopia, Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC

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Great article. As a classical music lover myself and HD800 owner, I’m obviously pleased with your conclusion. Leaves a lot more money to be spent on music. 

 

That said, I’ll look into these after market ear pads you described!

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5 minutes ago, manisandher said:

Excellent article Rajiv. Another example of how reviews should be written, though I can only imagine how much time and effort you put into it.

 

Have you ever had a chance to try a pair of old AKG K1000 'earspeakers' driven by a decent amp? I find them particularly good with classical music because you can angle them out, creating some semblance of a real sound stage. If you open them up too much, I find you lose too much bottom end, but it's possible to find a nice balance.

 

Just wondered...

 

Mani.

 

No I haven’t. I’ll be on the lookout for them now!

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Great article as usual, Rajiv.

 

Could you just clarify whether you tried the Abyss CC or the TC?

 

Thanks!

S


ZENith MkII SE  > USPCB > ISO REGEN (LPS-1) > Lush^2 USB > M Scaler > 2x Audioquest Diamond BNC > DAVE > JPS Superconductor Q > XI Audio Formula S + Powerman > DHC Prion4 > Abyss Phi 

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Nice review of SOTA headphones, well organized and commented.

 

I pre-ordered H800s when they first came out, running them with several amps, ending with the balanced Cardas Clear cables and the Headroom Balanced amp.  I ended up upgrading to the Utopia, with Black Dragon balanced cabling via a Violectric HPA V281. I heard the Abyss last year at Axpona, and it is good, not enough to upgrade from the Utopia though.

Of course most of these systems are approaching/over an electrostat setup.

 

Of note, at 60, I have few issues with high frequencies, since I can't hear over 13Khz. My favorite at Axpona last year was the Voce/BHSE setup that I now have at home.


[Home Digital] Bricasti M12 > McIntosh MC60 > Zu Druid V + Undertone (BHSE + Voce)

[Home Analog] Technics SL-1200G > K&K Audio Phono Amp (Zu DL-103/Benz Glider-SL/Denon DL-301 II)

[Office] Laptop > Kitsune R2R lvl3 > Violectric V281 > Focal Utopia Headphones (balanced)

[beach/Travel] Laptop > DragonFly Red > Ether Headphones

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Fascinating stuff @austinpop

 

I have yet to audition the Abyss myself, but have to say that the "medieval torture device" aesthetic does give me pause for thought (although I do think the ceramic coating somehow improves the appearance slightly over the anodized).  

 

The Empyrean otoh gets full marks from me on aesthetics (and build quality and comfort and packaging and..) not just on sound quality.  In fact reinforcement of these brand values extends beyond the product itself to the broader "customer journey" and  their website also exhibits a design aesthetic and a level of polish that really tick my boxes.  I find that kind of "Apple-like" thoroughness very impressive, especially from a small company like Meze Audio.  Kudos Antonio Meze!

 

Anyway, an informative (and entertaining) read as always, many thanks for sharing these findings.

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4 hours ago, austinpop said:

 

They're all so good! I admit that one being in Punjabi is a bonus for me.

 

Just because, my favorite Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan story (and one of those moments that makes you believe in a connecting force that ties all together)

 

 

 

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Thanks for your work on this...we are in the market for this high level of headphone and are considering the HD800 and the Focal Stellia.  

My interest is piqued by the new closed back HD820.  Would love to read comments on that one.  No dealers in my market are planning to bring them in so we cannot audition.


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Thank you for your lovely review,

I have not heard the other ear-speakers, just a bit of the HD800. I liked my Stax SR900 better, specially coupled with the Lampizator Golden Gate and the Woo WES. This is more pronounced with classical music, where it is very uncolored. 

I do listen more on my speakers and the Stax is gathering dust.


Synology NAS (LPS)/MiniMc(Uptone JS-2/MMK JS-2, LPS-1)>Ultra Rendu(JS-2/LPS-1)/Uptone Audio IsoRegen (LPS-1)>LamppizatOr Golden Gate(R2R)/Meridian 808.3>Wavac EC300B/PRT1/MD-805m, Lavardin IT>Tannoy Canterbury SE

 

Synology NAS/MiniMc (LPS)>MRendu(LPS-1)/(LPSU)>Lamp Big7>/Woo WES/Ifi ICan (LPSU)>Stax SR-009, Audeze LCD2

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5
1 hour ago, TheAttorney said:

Another superbly presented review @austinpop

But if you're looking for a single headphone to replace your HD800, then I suggest you try the hifiman HE-1000 SE.

 

All headphones have their compromises - in hifiman's case it's a history of variable build quality and questionable  business practices. But if you can get over that, I think you'll find it has all the qualities of your HD800 (large soundstage, comfort, great with classical music, easy to drive), but without that dreadful (IMO)  6khz peak that utterly spoils an unmodded HD800 for me. IMO the SE is more neutral than the HD800 and also punchier with a stronger bass. It has a lighter tonal presentation than the Empyrean, but I haven't compared them side by side.

 

As you've already discovered in your comparisons, it will also benefit greatly with burn-in and better cables. And it will aslo benefit from your TT's cross-feed function.

+1

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14 hours ago, wdw said:

Thanks for your work on this...we are in the market for this high level of headphone and are considering the HD800 and the Focal Stellia.  

My interest is piqued by the new closed back HD820.  Would love to read comments on that one.  No dealers in my market are planning to bring them in so we cannot audition.

 

I have not found closed back headphones to appeal to me, especially as I value a large soundstage and holographic imaging. Perhaps there are exceptions, but most seem to be a compromise to achieve the goal of eliminating or reducing noise leakage. And if that is your primary criterion, then both of these are great examples. But I like their open back siblings better.

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14 hours ago, JoshM said:

Great review @austinpop. I wonder if you could say more about your experiences with the HD800 Dekoni pads. Did any increase the lower bass without over-taming the high end?

 

Not to my complete satisfaction. That's why I liked the fenestrated sheepskin, as it mostly leaves the signature alone, while adding comfort.

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2 hours ago, TheAttorney said:

suggest you try the hifiman HE-1000 SE.

 

I've heard them many times, along with their more expensive siblings in the brand lineup. 

 

There are many outstanding headphones out there, catering to diverse tastes. Just like speakers, headphone appeal is very personal. I just picked the ones that appealed to me.

 

See my comments in the article about the mythical Acme Aural Exciter Mk II. :)

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An excellent review and a timely one for me as I am considering replacing my HEK v1 headphones and the Meze and focal are on my shortlist .

I love the design and looks of the HD800 but I could not get over the brightness so I discounted them 4 years ago. I also don’t listen to classical music . I would imagine they are well suited to this genre. 

A great write up and thanks for sharing your experience 

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On 4/10/2019 at 7:34 PM, austinpop said:

 

No I haven’t. I’ll be on the lookout for them now!

Thanks for another great and very informative review!

 

The AKG 1000 is the headphone Jared Sacks used as monitoring headphones at recording sessions for the Mahler series. Unless he has changed recently ,those are what he used at the Mahler 3 sessions too.

 

I heard his pair during the Mahler 5 sessions in Budapest.

Very open and very different to most other headphones except the newer Myspheres and the old and NEW Jecklin Float electrostatic headphones.

Earspeakers would maybe be a better term for that type of headphones.

 

And very probably also the now much talked about RAAL SRH1A ribbons which I hope to audition next week in Singapore for the first time.

 

I have also yet to hear the NEW supposedly much improved over the old ones,Jecklin Floats but I have an old pair still back home.

And like the AKG1000 they deliver some the most open "out of the head" headphone listening available.

But are not very good for deep bass.

The BIS team in Minnesota monitor with Stax electrostatics I think.

I haven't been to any of those sessions. But at sessions in Gothenburg Sweden  they used Stax electostatics when I was there.

And I believe the  recording engineer who introduced me  personally to HD800, now also has a pair of Stax headphones as well.

So I am a bit surprised no electrostatics were included in your review at all?

 

The very resolving but a bit too bright,Utopias sound  too upfront and to "small" soundstage-wise with classical symphonic material, in comparison to the AKG1000 imho.

 

Very impressive in some respects, but tiring in the long run for me.

 

For classical music and large scale symphonic music in particular, which I listen to almost exclusively, I agree that the HD800 still are a VERY GOOD choice.

 

And this winter I have been travelling with my old HD800 with the velour Dekoni pads.

To my ears they do tame the treble peak a bit compared to the orginal pads and are much more comfortable.

And with Qutest/ HMS I get a lot of musical enjoyment from that combo.

Cheers Christer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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47 minutes ago, chrille said:

Thanks for another great and very informative review!

 

The AKG 1000 is the headphone Jared Sacks used as monitoring headphones at recording sessions for the Mahler series. Unless he has changed recently ,those are what he used at the Mahler 3 sessions too.

 

I heard his pair during the Mahler 5 sessions in Budapest.

Very open and very different to most other headphones except the newer Myspheres and the old and NEW Jecklin Float electrostatic headphones.

Earspeakers would maybe be a better term for that type of headphones.

 

And very probably also the now much talked about RAAL SRH1A ribbons which I hope to audition next week in Singapore for the first time.

 

I have also yet to hear the NEW supposedly much improved over the old ones,Jecklin Floats but I have an old pair still back home.

And like the AKG1000 they deliver some the most open "out of the head" headphone listening available.

But are not very good for deep bass.

The BIS team in Minnesota monitor with Stax electrostatics I think.

I haven't been to any of those sessions. But at sessions in Gothenburg Sweden  they used Stax electostatics when I was there.

And I believe the  recording engineer who introduced me  personally to HD800, now also has a pair of Stax headphones as well.

So I am a bit surprised no electrostatics were included in your review at all?

 

The very resolving but a bit too bright,Utopias sound  too upfront and to "small" soundstage-wise with classical symphonic material, in comparison to the AKG1000 imho.

 

Very impressive in some respects, but tiring in the long run for me.

 

For classical music and large scale symphonic music in particular, which I listen to almost exclusively, I agree that the HD800 still are a VERY GOOD choice.

 

And this winter I have been travelling with my old HD800 with the velour Dekoni pads.

To my ears they do tame the treble peak a bit compared to the orginal pads and are much more comfortable.

And with Qutest/ HMS I get a lot of musical enjoyment from that combo.

Cheers Christer

 

Thanks for the great info. I've never really warmed to electrostatics. I've heard the Stax SR-007 and SR-009 with various amps and the more recent entrants from other vendors. A matter of taste, I suppose.

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