For audiophiles and music lovers who love to read...
For balanced reporting, headphone listening also has relative demerits. These are or can be:
1/ the isolation of left-channel signal from the right ear and vice versa concentrates the sound inside the head. This is narrower and different from the far wider soundstage of standard speaker listening which has both ears register both channels. Electronic crossfeed circuitry in head amps meant to counteract this is only minorly effective at making headphone listening more similar to speaker listening. To some, this innate difference becomes an unsurmountable hurdle which prevents them from ever embracing headfi as an alternative or primary mode of playback. To varying degrees, they find headfi claustrophobic. If that's you, headphones really aren't for you. Désolé.
2/ with the exception of winged earspeakers like the original AKG K-1000, their current MySphere successors, the Jecklin Float and Raal ribbons, cupped headphones trap air around our ears. Depending on how long and loud we listen, these pressure zones can become physically uncomfortable, even make our ears sweaty.
More discomfort can come from the physical pressure which headphones exert on the sides of our head to stay put; and from the pressure of their contact patch on the crown of our head. Unlike with speakers, wear comfort becomes a key decider. Try before you buy is imperative and not just for the usual sonic confirmation. Weight, clamping force and general bulk are all factors to consider.
Even though Elite can't ditch the bulk necessary to create a strong dual-sided motor system with its high voltage sensitivity in the first place, Antonio Meze's headband geometry is uniquely shaped to enlarge the contact patch. That spreads out its impact for reduced crown stress. It also minimizes the lateral clamping force required to maintain a firm fit. Despite its bulk, wear comfort and high adaptability to different head sizes and shapes were top priorities for Elite's design team.
As the above closeup on the metal frame shows, so was extreme finishing finesse. Elite's multi-pin locking cable termination then not only duplicates Audeze's to make their cables interchangeable, it's arguably the most secure connection on full-size cans.
It's fair to say that everything about this design was carefully evaluated across its 3-year R&D gestation to elevate the already highly successful Empyrean to the next level. If Elite were a speaker, it wants to compete on a Magico, Rockport, Sonus faber or Wilson level. In that context, €4'000 are a pittance even if as an actual cash grab, it's far from an easy sum. It's simply back at my earlier claim. In headfi, the best cost a mere fraction of what loudspeakers do that even stand a chance at equal bandwidth and resolution. And that's before our room messes it all up. With headphones, that misery no longer factors. It's the special appeal of headfi that should be of particular interest to purists who just want the signal, the signal and nothing but the signal. If truth is beauty as Mola Mola adverts claim, an elite headphone will get us much closer than any but the most carefully tuned room-lucky big speaker systems.
If you're the type who wants to hear the original microphone feed, top headfi is the most predictably successful approximation. By implication, the same predictability holds for headphone reviews despite ears and tastes still differing. By eliminating the huge room variable, a buyer is far more likely to hear (most of) what the reviewer did than with loudspeakers. Cable choices and electronics still have their effect but none of those will be as big as the unpredictable EQ a room has on the frequency and impulse response, tonal balance and decay times.
If you hadn't given headfi its proper due yet, in my view these are the major pros and cons. The latter can be managed with the right type of headphone. For the claustrophobic, it just means off-ear designs like MySphere and Raal. In my book, there's no solid reason to give this more intimate and high-resolution form of playback a pass just because it's different from speaker listening which is different from live sound. One of the most fun yet affordable entries into the sector is Meze's own 99 Neo model at €199 [above left]. Now we're back on brand and ready to go Elite. No brevity getting there—sorry—but we did cover some important ground. As John Darko put it in his press release for it, "according to Meze, it takes Rinaro 100 hours to manufacture and test each of their drivers. A sharp reminder then that it's not only the raw materials that contribute to a product's cost but also the time taken to turn those materials into their final form and finish them to a standard that befits any luxury intent." Quite!
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