New Headphones at CES 2016

How time goes by! CES 2016 is already here, so this is a good opportunity to summarize some of the many new headphones that got revealed over there. CES is a tech show, so the announcements tend to lean more on the tech side of things, while more esoteric audiophile products tend to get revealed at related events. But that’s only a blanket rule of thumb! This time around we are grouping the new products by category, not by manufacturer…

NOTE: this post includes embedded YouTube videos by the manufacturers. Often, the hype is strong with manufacturer videos, so take everything you see and hear with a grain of (sea) salt!

NOTE #2: this article is a work in progress… More and more will be added in the next few hours and days…

LATEST ADDITIONS: added various Audio Technica products… Apologies for the delays in updates…

In-Ear Monitors

Audio Technica, true to the past, ushered in a number of new models, including a new trio of professional in-ear monitors with detachable cables. The entry in this line-up competes with other $100-ish priced models, like the bass-favored and bass-favoring Shure SE 215s. It comes with a case and tips and 1/4″ adapter. However, the cable is not a standard 3.5mm. See picture #3 at its Amazon page.

Next up in the line-up is the ATH-E50 that doubles up on the price of the E40, and goes the way of balanced armature drivers. A similar assortment of accessories is included.

The leader of this pack is the ATH-E70 which doubles up on the price of the E-50 (you see the price-pattern here!), with three balanced-armature drivers instead. These are their starting prices, only time will tell where they will settle once they get released to the world at large.

Headphones More Expensive Than Most Cars

This is a category of its own, and it belongs to the brand new Sennheiser Orpheus, which will be arriving at the millionaire’s club price of $50,000. This was showcased at CES 2016 and because of the sticker-shock (to put it mildly) price generated a lot of interest. Here’s a six minute video from the show by Linus Tech Tips.

Over-Ear Open-Back Wired Headphones

Sennheiser stole a march on CES 2016 by pre-mentioning the new Sennheiser HD800S (yes, sadly “S” is part of the model name, not plurar) right before Christmas but it’s main launch point was the CES 2016 trade show. Compared to the new Orpheus these are more “reasonably priced” at $1700 🙂 Technical data along with an 8-page PDF user manual (under “Downloads”) can be found at the manufacturer’s website. Hands on from CES at Android Headlines.

Over-Ear Closed-Back Wired Headphones

“Closed but still spacious” is what the Beyerdynamic product page uses to describe their second generation closed-back over-ear Tesla T5p headphones. These were showcased at CES 2016 and press-released before Christmas 2015. They are expected to come out in late January-ish. They are Made in Germany with 32 ohm impedance, detachable cable (can’t always take this for granted, regardless of price; the first generation had a fixed cable), five year warranty, carrying case and such. A whole paragraph over there describes their new “sound tuning” and they have set up an FAQ page comparing the first vs second generation. I haven’t seen a price for them yet.

You may have noticed a number of Samson headphones on sale of late, there’s good reason it turns out. They have a whole new line-up of Z-series headphones. This new line-up has some shades of Audio Techmica M-series, with four different models. The Z55 is the top of this pack, with balanced tuning (their description), collapsible design, rotating earcups, and no less than three different cables included, along with a pouch. The Z45 is tuned for a warm mid-range, and comes with two instead of three cables. The other two are hardwired (no detachable cables), the Z35 is mentioned as a flat headphone, while the Z25 is unapologetically basshead (okay, they only called it “enhanced bass response”). The listed prices on their website are $200, $150, $100 and $70 respectively. I do not know what their starting “real world” prices will be.

Her name was Lola, she was a …headphone !?!! Yes, Blue Microphones, the company behind the powered Mo-Fi headphones is back with a new unpowered version of the MoFis, with the name of Lola. They come with 42ohm impedance, 50mm drivers, closed-back, similar design and shape as the MoFis, including that space-age-looking headband system, and detachable cable (two are included). They are available in black or StarWars-y white-and-black with a pre-order price of $250 at Amazon.

On-Ear Closed-Back Wired Headphones

The success of the consumer-friendly MSR7 is propagating further in Audio Technica’s line-up with a closed-back on-ear model with a detachable cable, the serious-looking ATH-SR5 with 45mm drivers, portable design (swiveling and lightweight), and a reasonable 50 ohm impedance. The cable is of the mic/remote kind but it is detachable, so you have flexibility there.

Audeze is now trying to tap into the upper $reaches$ of the consumer market, not just the Headfi’ers and their friends. Their brand new Sine (that’s the headphone name) closed-back planar-magnetic on-ears start at $500. Still a lot of money from the average consumer perspective, but not too far away from someone willing to buy the latest Beats Studio variation. The basic specifications can be found on their website but for pictures of the headphones, there are some CES 2016 reports at Engadget and The Next Web.

It is interesting that their 30-second teaser-trailer on YouTube (embedded below) shows very little of the actual headphones:

Bluetooth without ANC Headphones

Bluetooth (BT) is a convenience, ANC is even more niche in practical terms, so I am breaking these in two separate categories. Sony has another entry in their basshead (aka “EXTRA BASS”) line-up with the new MDR-XB650B. It will have a creature comfortable feature, NFC: this is actually quite handy if you use multiple BT sources with multiple BT headphones as the BT sources can start “fighting” over them headphones.

To parallel their wired ATH-SR5, Audio Technical is also releasing the new ATH-SR5BT, a Bluetooth 4.1 model with the convenience of NFC and detachable cable so it can be used as a normal headphone as well. It is USB-powered, as it is the trend these days for both BT and ANC headphones. To the disappointment of people who have a stack and a rotation of chargeable low self-discharge AA and AAA batteries 🙂

Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) Wired Headphones

Audio Technica’s relatively new ATH-MSR7 was well received, so in typical consumer electronics fashion, AT expanded upon its success with an active noise-cancelling version, the ATH-MSR7NC. It has detachable cables and comes with two of them plus a USB cable for charging purposes. Impedance is 150 ohm when the circuits are powered and 30 ohm when in passive (unpowered) mode. A few more details can be found at the manufacturer’s website.

Bluetooth with ANC Headphones

This category combines two utilitarian features, often (but not always) at the expense of audio quality, so it frequently finds itself in the crosshairs of hard core audiophiles. Be that as it may, Phiaton has a new “All-Buzzword Team” headphone, the BT 460 with Bluetooth 4.0, Active Noise Cancellation, Touch Control on the Earcups, folding design, 40mm drivers, 32 ohm impedance, sound sharing, and more. The only buzzword missing is NFC 🙂

Pretty much all the major players feel compelled to compete in this “Beats Solo/Studio Wireless” category, as Beats set up rather lucrative price-range expectations (or at least initial hopes). Sony’s entry are the pedestrian named “h.ear on Wireless NC” headphones with 40mm drivers, Bluetooth, NFC, Noise Cancelling and such.

Bluetooth Earbuds and In-Ears

Sony’s jumping in this pool as well with the goofyly named “h.ear in Wireless”, a rather unmemorable product name, but who am I to judge? 🙂 It will have 9mm drivers and Bluetooth and NFC pairing and HD Voice support. It will be bundled with the upcoming NW-A26HN DAP mentioned below.

Two are more Jaybirds were tweeting at CES 2016, the X3 (follow up to the X2), along with the sporty Freedom. Both are Bluetooth 4.0. A gallery of many pictures of these can be found at Engadget.

Digital Audio Players

Sony revealed a new digital audio player (DAP for short) too. The West will be getting the NW-A26HN Walkman after all, with a number of buzzwords attached to it, including “Hi-Res” audio which will have almost half the battery life versus playing mp3s. It will come bundled with their “h.ear” in-ears.

New Technologies: aptX HD, Ambeo 3D Audio

Bluetooth is convenient, especially when you are tired of having cables getting snugged and broken while you are trying to get things done indoors or outdoors. But it has a hard time winning over audiophiles. So here comes a revised attempt to improve on the audio quality apt X, the aptly named (pun intended!) “aptX HD” that supports 24-bit audio. This is already “baked” in the Qualcomm csr8675 system-on-a-chip. More details at Qualcomm’s.

VR is trying to do what 3D has failed in multiple attempts. Maybe this time this variation will break out. Or not. Regardless, Sennheiser is jumping more solidly into the 3D Audio arena by coalescing (OMG, I am using complicated words!) their related products and research under the AMBEO umbrella. Details from the horse’s 3D mount.