Headroom

This the first Headroom show is an innovative move by Surrey retailer Unilet Sound & Vision, and a good way of exposing their dedicated new headphone department. The line-up of exhibitors included those who make audio headwear, portable players, headphone amps, DACs and advice on the high geek art of getting the best out of ‘computer audio’

The venue was an extremely impressive one - Metropolis Studios, Europe’s most successful independent music production facility, it says here. Not as well-known as another studio in north west London with a zebra crossing outside but they claim that 50% of the music in the UK Top 40 charts is either recorded, mixed or mastered within the substantial Grade II ‘Power House’ complex.  An impressive Victorian edifice with two metre thick walls and enormous arched glazing, it once housed a power station that fed the west London tram network. It’s possibly the most hip and happnin’ place I’ve been to for an audio expo.  It sure beats a soulless conference room in a Travelodge (other roadside lodgings with bland interiors are available).

Every nook and cranny of the complex was used as exhibitors took space to peddle their wares, so visitors got to wander throughout the studio live areas and control rooms with mixing desks that are adorned with more knobs and flashing lights that James T Kirk would know what to do with; very cool indeed. 

Another positive – gourmet food and drink at an audio event, bleumentally marvellous!

Most of the big players made the effort with decent demos and displays including B&O, Bowers & Wilkins, KEF, PMC/Bryston, Yamaha, Oppo, Sennheiser, Audioquest, Chord Electronics, Meridian, Arcam, Audiolab, Pioneer and plenty more.

My first port of call was the guys from Audioquest who launched their Nighthawk headphones at CES, so the Headroom event was the first outing here in the UK. It’s a very nice construction, a type of ‘liquid’ wood material called Arboform that is moulded in the housing shape with intricate bracing, it’s both acoustically dead and very rigid.  The drivers are suspended the same way as mics are in the studio, using resonance absorbing mounts, all very sensible stuff.  They sounded just dandy, especially in balanced mode driven by Bryston’s BHA-1 headphone amp.  The balanced option certainly improved the bass definition, something certainly worth trying with other phones.

Studio B contained a small pile of Schiit that caught my attention. Not the sort of thing you normally see next to a half million pound SSL console.  Schiit’s cute Magni 2 Uber headphone amp and Uber 2 DAC are no bigger than a packet of John Players and look and sound quite the ticket using The Hifi Man cans.

The ever enthusiastic and charismatic Touraj Moghaddam ran some very effective demos of his Vertere D-Fi headphone cables. These proved worthwhile on headphones at all price levels including the Sennheiser HD800, Shure H840 and the Audeze LCD XC.

The British manufacturer Atomic Floyd had some beautifully turned and knurled buds. The titanium versions proving to be a huge weight saving and looking tres industrial chic, and looking chic is half the battle while riding your fixy in Hoxton.

PMC are no strangers to Metropolis, their huge BB5XBD-A speakers feature in all of the mastering  and mixing rooms. Their booth featured the cute twotwo5, two way active speakers that are said to be versatile with both analogue and digital inputs, their transmission line design filled the bar area with superb sound. This is maybe something that will grow in popularity as active operation has some real advantages over the traditional passive route with speakers. Who knows it might take of in headphones too. On the that front, the Bryston BHA-1 seemed to take every phone in its stride, especially when using the balanced outputs.

Melco had their N1Z high res music library/server on demo offering ‘Streaming music without Computers’, a product that will need further investigation I’m sure.  Build look great as they had their tops off to reveal top notch engineering.

The Kentish Chord Electronics had a stack of keen visitors all clammering to get a listen to their latest Hugo Bluetooth headphone amp/DAC, the Hugo TT. It looks like a well-honed bit of kit with XLRs, fully balanced circuitry, two quarter inch and mini jack outputs.

I couldn’t help think about the Parrot sketch when I saw the Parrot’s bright yellow wireless Zik 2.0s or should that be a 2 Zik Parrot.  A nicely sculpted leathery look.

Tidal has certainly been making waves, on the day of the show news came through that Jay-Z was so impressed with its high res streaming he decided to buy the company.  Tidal made an impression at Headroom by giving each visitor £20 worth of free downloads.

Overall Headroom was a very cool event with a very different atmosphere to the usual hi-fi shows, not only because the demos were obviously silent but visitors looked like they were getting a glimpse of something they hadn’t seen or heard before.  Let’s look forward to plenty more Headroom.

Brent Fish