I kind of screwed up this year. Went to hifideluxe on Friday and then wanted to buy tickets for High End that evening. The Saturday tickets were sold out! So I only got to go on Sunday. With that said, here are my impressions for the headphones I heard on both shows. Speakers later:
Note: All headphones were in enclosed rooms and as such the noise floor wasn't actually that bad despite being on a busy show floor.
hifideluxe - MalValve room (fantastic gear):
Very good tuning, only slight upper midrange emphasis(!) and slightly laid back treble. As a result bass takes another step back compared to the good old LCD-2. The most resolving ortho Audeze I'd say, however sadly not quite up there with the most advanced Abyss from memory. Felt very comfortable while I was wearing it.
Major drawback: The smaller driver makes it more closed in sounding. Very small stage for a flagship.
Audeze CRBN (stat)
Not tuned as nicely as the LCD-5, but I otherwise preferred it. Clearer, more resolving. Unfortunately still a bit limp sounding, but this amp can up the polarization voltage to 1000V, which helped quite a bit in that regard. However that might make it too forward sounding for many. I suspect something in between 580V and 1000V would be the most popular choice - perhaps something like 800V.
It's also somewhat diffuse sounding. The tonal issues are hard to describe. Maybe somewhat of a stat 1kHz emphasis? It has a sound that I didn't quite like. A bit of a treble emphasis or weirdness, too. Meanwhile...
MrSpeaker Stat @ 1000V
I found it both very open and neutral sounding. But also not very resolving, etc. The SR-009 killed it, which couldn't be said for the CRBN. In fact I think I preferred the CRBN at 1000V to the SR-009 at 580V (no, I did not try the SR-009 at 1000V).
Stax room (meh gear, unknown DAC and new flagship amp)
Stax SR-X9000 aka SR-011 aka SR-Omega 4
It's legit. Those who are saying it's not much of an improvement over the SR-009 are delusional. It's much more normal sounding in every way and I mean that in the best possible sense. It just sounds more real. More neutral? Sure, less of a honk, treble is super smooth and the bass is neutral. I did not expect this much of a treble improvement and I would even say the tonality is close to perfect. Only a bit of a stax honk. Upper midrange is still not the smoothest.
The staging is also much improved. It's still not as precise as the best headphones, but it's larger and very good in general. I would estimate that it's more resolving than the Audeze stat. However I'm not sure if it's more resolving than the HD800, RAAL or Utopia. It probably isn't.
It's also still a bit limp and dynamically sounding. I would really want to plug it into the MalValve amp at 1000V!
RAAL SR1A on prototype RAAL tube or hybrid amp with RME-ADI 2 DAC
Took me literally 5 minutes to get the fit close to where I wanted it to be. Even then the treble wasn't my preference. But that's to be expected since I've never really warmed up to the RAAL tweeters in speakers, either. It sounds very similar, which is a good thing.
The bass has good extension, but it's also bad quality. Not just "meh" or acceptable - it's straight up bad. The lower midrange also isn't as clean as it should be.
The soundstage combined with the tonality is determined by the fit, And no matter what I did, I couldn't get a good sense of depth. It wasn't worse than other flagships and the width was fantastic, along with very good imaging. But I still found it lacking depth.
The tonality on the other hand? I was worried about a 2kHz bump and... with the fit adjusted correctly it was a non-issue. It's still a bit hot in the treble for me, but otherwise the tonality is so smooth and even, without nasty dips or peaks that it's almost incredible. They weren't joking when the said they're voiced for studios. These are studio headphones. How correct it sounds is probably what blew me away the most.
The downside (for me) is the attack/decay presentation is very much like RAAL tweeters. Very fast, but probably a bit too foil-like for me.
Personally I also don't think the RAAL tweeters are the most resolving, so in that sense I don't think I would put the RAAL above the HD800 or Utopia. It has a clarity advantage from the open construction, but that's about it. Probably not fair to say, though with an unknown amp and the ADI-2 DAC limiting things.
hifideluxe 2022 highlights and thoughts:
They had a new flagship speaker this year and it sounded like it. Very mature and neutral sound. Very fast and resolving sounding. At first I thought these were the ScanSpeak drivers with the air dried paper cones and was blown away by the transparency. When I took a closer look I realized these are the Purifi drivers as midranges instead. Impressively transparent and without edge. Reasonably fast sounding without much overshoot. Clean and clear. This was a theme for the whole show: all of the Purifi powered speakers sounded really good. I only sometimes wished they made even bigger speakers with a bigger woofer. They went deep, but they didn't have quite the impact and dynamics of my 2x15" woofers.
JERN speakers - Purifi diecast speakers with Ellipticor tweeters
Now these aren't cheap for such a small speaker, but they are built that way. Super impressive bass from such a small box thanks to the Purifi. Transparent. Seriously impressive stuff from such a small speaker. I think you could honestly compare the 6.5" Purifi to a conventional 9" woofer, it's that good.
Live Act Audio - Viola
These are actually 3 ways with a coax on top. And what a coax! The frequency response and general linearity isn't quite up there with the KEFs, but it's refreshing to hear a paper midrange in a coax. They're expensive and I'm not sure they're worth it since I thought the woofer was just too small for the rest of the speaker, but they have a unique and dynamic sound that is often hard to come by nowadays. They're just a bit too lean sounding with a wooly bass in this room.
POPORI Acoustics electrostats
These had both a two way and a full range estat and I think I even preferred the full range. It didn't go as deep and as high, but I thought the treble was more cohesive. Overall very transparent sound and they can take high SPLs quite well for an estat.
High End 2022 thoughts (and one highlight):
Oswalds Mill Audio
This was probably the most impressive room this year now that the Silbatone room was no longer there. The 5 way MOMA speakers still sounded somewhat colored, but it wasn't too annoying and the dynamics were incredibly impressive. Generally very transparent sound.
Audio Physic foil midrange flagship
My dad wasn't a fan, but I thought they had a unique sound in the midrange that has its own appeal. Fast and smooth sounding. The whole speaker was probably voiced a bit warm, which is a first for audio physic. I wouldn't say it's a good buy at the price, but the trickle down speakers using the same midrange driver should be interesting.
When I went into this room I was immediately disappointed by a more mushy, slower sound from these black drivers. Considering they're called Evo I had to ask if this was a new direction they're headed and found out that fortunately it isn't. These are simply a cheaper alternative and it makes sense in this case. Considering that they're not too bad overall with the advantage of a smoother sound. They still have a pure sound from essentially driving the midrange as a full-range and they're still decently fast sounding. But they're also not that much cheaper and if you have that kinf of cash to spend on speakers you might aswell save up for the TOTL models.
The driver placement for the 9.88 system doesn't make sense to me. With the lower mid placed underneath the Pi the listening axis becomes way too high. Why not make a lower midrange that is placed next to the woofer module or on top of the Pi? The tuning was okay, but the driver itself was a bit sluggish, I feel.
Unfortunately the black drivers were only there for viewing, not for listening. Supposedly they're mostly the same, possibly a bit more damped sounding. So I'd think I'd prefer the white paper anyway. I just find it interesting that they'd demo paper drivers again, instead of wood. But I don't have to pretend to understand all of their choices anyway.
Holger is Ines again.
Wolf von Langa
I was lucky to get to hear the Purifi speaker with the Mundorf AMT and man did it have impressive bass once again. I think they were passive radiators on the side and the bass was really quite good, 9 to 10" territory from this tiny 6.5". This is the one speaker driver that really pulls off the "larger than it looks" sound. Otherwise I thought the tuning of the speaker was quite good, aswell. Impressive stuff, but I don't think I would want to know how much it costs.
Avantgarde Acoustics - time aligned new horn speakers
These really sounded like the best implementation of an Avantgarde horn spekaer. Very cohesive considering the driver-to-driver spacing and of course it handled dynamics superbly. Despite their size I think I would still go for the OMA speakers, but that's just me. These are technically the "better" speakers.
They used a fantastic 211 tube amp this year and despite using the cheaper version of their 10" driver the sound was better than ever. Quite well balanced and suprisingly smooth and resolving. I'm sure the amp had a lot to do with it, but it feels like they're finally getting their drivers where they want them to be.
Aries Cerat with Aurora speakers
These were quite impressive. Due to the woofer on the outside of the horn enclosure the driver spacing is closer than it was on their other speakers and I think it helps. Very dynamic sound and quite transparent. I think these had the large RAAL tweeters and while I don't generally like them the large size helps I would say. Very unconventional looking, but surprisingly neutral and "conventional" sounding, just with dynamics that no conventional speaker could match. Very impressive.