New Headphones at CES 2015

CES 2015 is here and while the focus *cough* hype *cough* is on wearables and the “internet of things”, there is action in the world of headphones as well, not just ones “touching” the hype 🙂 There’s wooden Denon, new Monster flagship, more from Philips, lambskin BeoPlay and a brand new four figure audiophile Sony Walkman (among other things).

This is just the beginning, more will be added in the next few days as I go through all the CES 2015 action. If you need a refresher or a comparison point, here’s our round-up of the CES 2014 action.

Latest Update: 1/20/15 at 11:57pm EST – added Sennheiser Momentum M2, along with Bluetooth versions of Momentum and Urbanite, and new RS xx5 wireless series…

Momentum gets to the second generation, the M2s
The first generation Momentum headphones are no longer the latest model. At CES 2015, Sennheiser revealed the second generation, the M2 models, available in Over-Ear and On-Ear with iPhone and Android versions for each. The official website prices are $230 (on-ear) and $350 (over-ear). Both have 18 ohm impedance, closed-back, with detachable cable. Unlike the new headphones mentioned below, the Downloads page over there does not have the full user manuals, only the short “QuickGuide”.

One thing that may annoy some audiophiles is the *gasp* Bose-esque naming scheme, of OEi and AEi for on-ear and around-ear respectively. You can see these in the PDF Quickguide. So, for the iPhone/iPad/iPod versions, the names are Sennheiser Momentum M2 AEi and OEi.

They are the second and third headphones in their family page. The over-ears don’t have their full name, it just says “Momentum” but when you click, you get to the M2 (plus, they also have the “NEW heart” thing above them).

New Sennheiser RS series has four new models
The cascading discounting of the previous RS-series wireless (non-bluetooth) headphones from Sennheiser foreshadowed this moment, four new models, with the model numbers ending in 5. They are the RS 165, RS 175, RS 185 and RS 195. The RS 185 is open-back, while the other three are closed back. The battery life estimate is up to 18 hours for all of them. Inputs vary by model, starting with a standard 3.5mm for the entry-level model, and having two different combinations for the other three (which includes a digital option).

They have a brief page introducing these models. There is no mention of Kleer there. The closest thing to describing the technology is this: “Sennheiser’s latest proprietary digital wireless transmission technology for a lossless, immaculate audio signal”.

Just like the Bluetooth Momentums, the user manuals are available when you go to the individual product pages through their TV headphones page. You won’t find these under the “Over Ear” section from their main website. There, we learn of the prices (but again, I don’t know what the “real world” prices will be), and they are: $220, $280, $400 and $450 respectively (going from RS-165 to RS-195).

They have a 200-second YouTube video introducing these, embedded right below…

Sennheiser makes a play for the techie mass market with ANC and Bluetooth/NFC
Sennheiser went for consumer convenience at CES 2015, announcing Wireless (Bluetooth 4.0) versions of their Momentum Over-Ears and On-Ears and for the Urbanite XL (over-ear). Also coming along is NFC, which can be quite handy if you don’t have a “monogamous” bluetooth pairing. By “monogamous” I mean always using one phone with one headset. When you start mixing and match, the chances of Bluetooth annoyances (pairing, repairing, mis-connections, multiple devices fighting for the connection) increase.

Not only are these headphones bluetooth, but they also have active noise-cancellation (NoiseGard in Sennheiser-speak). Thankfully, they also include a 3.5mm port on the headphones, so you can listen to music from all your familiar wired sources.

It is interesting that while the Momentums get these features at both over-ear and on-ear, the Urbanites get these features for the over-ear (XL) only. I don’t know if this decision was “inspired” by the Beats Studio and Samsung Levels and such.

If you are curious about these, Sennheiser has made available their user manuals in PDF format on their website. Click on the headphone of interest, and then page down to the “Downloads” section where you will find them there.

These are not yet available for purchase at major online retailers, so we can’t tell for sure what their “real world” prices will be. The Sennheiser website lists the Bluetooth Momentums for $500 and $400 respectively, and the Bluetooth Urbanite XL for $300. The $400/$500 is slightly out of reach with reality? Why not start at a reasonable price and build momentum (no pun intended) instead of have them linger for a while in obscurity and then all of a sudden discount them? Okay, I’m flying off a tangent, back on-topic, here is a one minute promotional video from Sennheiser, with more action on YouTube.

Lightning Strikes Philips
Philips, well, the brand licensee of Philips, is back with another pair of Lightning headphones, this time jumping on the active noise cancelling bandwagon. Officially announced at CES 2015 via press release, the Fidelio NC1L are a Lightning version of the NC1 active noise-cancelling headphones. So this strategy alleviates one of the concerns, that non-Lightning users would be left out. In this case, there are two versions of the headphone. A decidedly lower risk approach for the manufacturer. After all, the MFi business has been quite lucrative, so why abandon the golden cow? 🙂

These have a built-in 24-bit DAC and shockingly perhaps, they are open-back! Here’s are a couple of one minute hands-on videos on YouTube by What Hifi and Digital Trends, and pictures at The Verge.

They will come out by April 2015, and they too are going for that magic price of $300 in the US (300 euro in Europe), where there’s plenty of profit, but still accessible for many.

Denon flirts with wood with the MM400s
Also making their way to the USA market are a new over-ear pair from Denon, flirting with fans of wood housings. The new AH-MM400 under the audiophile-ish Music Maniac brand features American Walnut. Despite their over-ear-ness, they are folding. They have 40mm drivers, an Apple 3-button remote, a carrying case and OFC cable. Their US price is $400 according to the pre-orders at Amazon.com.

New Monster flagship, the DNA Pro 2.0
Monster’s self-proclaimed new flagship headphones, the DNA Pro 2.0, optimized for mobile devices (without the need for amp) according to the three minute video interview of a Monster dude with an Amazon VJ (who knew, Amazon has VJs now!). These have a daisy-chaining sharing feature of sorts, you can string up to five headphones together listening to the same song, using 3.5mm cables. The starting price is $200 with the carbon fiber model coming out in mid-February 2015.

MeElectronics panders to the Basshead Bluetooths
Bass is hot, Bluetooth is convenient, so Meelectronics decided to marry the two in their new HP-AF80 AirFi bluetooth 4.0 headphones. To make sure everyone who sees or reads about them knows they are of the basshead variety, they use words such as “rumble” and “enhanced bass” in the description. They will be available in two color schemes with a pre-order price of $80 according to amazon.com.

Philips Fidelio F1 lightweight on-ears for $200
Philips is trying their hand at the portable and folding headphones with the new Fidelio F1, which are expected to arrive in the US in the spring for $200. Technical details are hard to find, but the press release says these are closed-back, “super slim” and lightweight. Perhaps a Bowers and Wilkins competitor?

Philips also bringing their IFA headphones to the US market
Philips revealed some new headphones at the IFA 2014 trade show late last year, but they are using CES 2015 to bring these over to the USA market.

This includes their M2BT bluetooth headphones (with NFC) and more classic headphone looks than the typical more “digital” looks of many bluetooth headphones. According to CNet, which has a brief first look at the headphones, they will arrive in the US in the Spring of 2015 for $280 list price. For more on them, there is an unboxing video of these on YouTube.

In parallel, their active noise cancelling model revealed at IFA, the NC1, will also come to the US in the spring of 2015 with an official price of $300. The headphone is making the rounds already, a review of it is under way at CNet and there’s a video of it on YouTube. They have a detailed overview and specifications at the Philips UK website.

New BeoPlay H2 On-Ears
BeoPlay continues to push ahead with their more fashionable/youthful line, the “BeoPlay”. Their new H2 fashionable closed-back on-ears will be available in three different color schemes, have a detachable cable, lambskin cushions, and a three year warranty which is a rarity these days (although one could argue, given the prices of some of the fashion headphones, the warranty is included in the price; but I’m going off tangent aagain). Their US price is $200 according to the pre-orders at amazon.com.

Sony pushes on with a new audiophile Walkman
The DAP comeback continues with Sony as well, as their new Sony Walkman ZX2 will be a premium four-figure device ($1100+ price mentioned). It will come with Android 4.2, so you can play music from the various streaming services available on Google Play. Not sure why they went with an older version of Android, Sony makes various Android products, it’s not like they are a boutique audio shop that doesn’t have the resources or know-how to keep up with Android. But I’m digressing…

Of audiophile interest, this will go up to 24-bit 192 kHz, and play a variety of formats including mp3, wma, aac, flac, alac, aiff, wav and plus DSD. Given that, it is a good idea the device comes with 128GB of on-board storage plus additional via microSD.

You can see some pictures and brief hands-on opinions from the Vegas trade show floor at Electronista and Engadget and Cnet.

The previous model, the ZX1 is not sold by Sony USA but one can import it from Japan for under $600.

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