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Indulgence Show

My name is Trev. I am known primarily for my work on head-fi as Takeanidea. I have wide reaching tastes in both personal audio and it’s bigger brother , the loudspeaker. I’m not unlike you. That’s why you’ve found yourself here and that’s why I’m writing. So welcome. Without you this is(as fancy as it is) simply a personal ego trip. I’m glad you’re here. You keep me on the level. Which is where I need to be.

So fasten up buckle in, put the earphones /headphones/soundboard/ speakers on and let’s talk about the 2017 version of the Indulgence Show.

A quick 3 hour shuttle into London courtesy of a £27 return fare on the Berry’s Super fast coach and I found to my surprise and delight I was next door to the Novotel venue of this year’s show. No tube fares needed here…. 3 minutes walk from Bay D and I was tagged and bagged with all the necessary information to start my adventures.

First impressions

Are all important. The organisation of a big show is only as good as the venue. The Novotel is huge , next door to Hammersmith Station and seems like a stroke of genius. The first entrance says “no access to Indulgence head round the corner” and almost straight away I am greeted by a huge Indulgence sign. The front end is equally impressive. 3-4  staff are ready with scanners for the online tickets and bags full of leaflets, show programmes all laid out in a huge heap. You are then smoothly tagged with a wristband and shown through the entrance by one of the several security staff present.

The entrance hall is suitably vast. The atmosphere is immediately relaxing, achieved by space. Lots of space. In the distance, the echoes of a piano and violin can be heard. A walk further into the hall and real music is being played with tranquillity and passion by 2 lovely looking ladies.  Indulgence is not just about men and their toys. Their angle is to make this show a lifestyle as well as an audio extravaganza. In keeping with this, the entrance hall encompasses everything from alcohol to electronics magazine. I was invited to sit down for a free massage. An electronic handheld massager which can be put across anywhere on the body soothes or pushes down firmly depending on the pressure you put against it . One of the highlights of the show for me,  I was effectively deknotted from my 3 hour coach journey and ready for the day ahead. At 25% discount, this was too good to turn down. £150 lighter I made my way upstairs.

 

The Davids and the Goliaths

The 1st and 2nd floor contain most of our usual suspects plus some new additions. It was impossible to get through everything in one day. That’s unfortunately all I had. All that can be done is to give you a taste of the exotic ; a glimpse into Aladdin’s Cave. Indulgence has a mix of marketplace and demonstration, £20 IEMs blending seamlessly with £50K systems. Floor 2 being primarily a seminar hall and none of my friends in sight I spotted FortisFlyer on the escalator and went off in pursuit of our legendary reviewer. John was one of a few of my fellow Head-fi pals I was hoping to see here. I’m also hopeful John can contribute his much needed objective reasoning to the subjective collective and in time we shall see. For now all I can offer is a whistle stop tour from a select few of the great and the good. The exhibitors were nicely spaced out but the 2nd floor has a big square footage and with many familiar faces already in evidence, I knew any time management would be futile. From hereon in I’ll give some insight into what I saw. There was much more I didn’t see and I apologise now for what was left. Much of this could be of more consequence. Without knowing what I missed I shall wait to see what others come up with.

 

RHA

It was great to meet up with Calum on the RHA desk. Having reviewed the T20i IEM and the trio of CL1 Ceramic ,DL1 Dac amp and MA750 we’ve been through a lot together. I remembered how long ago it seems since I spent 7 days of manic testing before becoming the first headfier to get a finished article out there. Never again ! (til the next time….)  The Scottish company had some new product to listen to. Here are my thoughts :

MA650

 My favourite IEM I’ve listened to that RHA has produced so far, irrespective of price. The drivers are tiny; so having tiny ears for once has done me a huge favour with these. They fit into the ear canal entrance and stay firm behind the earlobe. Even without foam tips, the isolation is excellent. The sound signature is a welcome departure from previous designs. I listened to Simple Minds New Gold Dream live in Paris. This was my test track for all listening sessions here. Chosen at random, played through an iPod Classic – it doesn’t get much more old school than that! The In-Ears performed admirably with no hint of the characteristic RHA treble spike that I seem to be particularly prone to noticing. There wasn’t much sub-bass but the midbass gave a great impression of the bass guitar lifts that made this track so special. The mids gave clarity to Jim Kerr’s vocals,  something I often find swamped in the mix. The treble and soundstage gave a great feeling of the size of the concert and was just slightly smoothed off. There are too many crisp sounding Daps and headphones for my liking. This signature  I normally describe as sounding cheap and thin. The 650’s are not overly rolled off that they sound dull and the bass lift is subtle enough to avoid them sounding boomy and swamping the mids. I would definitely have bought a pair at that price. They haven’t formally been launched yet, so unfortunately none were available.

MA390 Universal

 So-called because the in-ear mic and functions buttons work with Apple and Android devices, this is amongst the smallest driver housing I’ve seen. The isolation is again superb. For a £30 price tag, you get a reasonable sound for your money. The 390 has a more intimate soundstage and a more rolled off treble with a bass that’s a little less accurate.  For £20 more the MA650 is by far the better buy to my ears.

 

HiFiMan

My good friend Dillan, creator and architect of the Subjective Review blog site was assisting the HiFiMan stand with the familiar face of Jocelin also present. The £50 000 Shangri La system was on the stand. On Friday there were many occasions when people walked past and it went unlistened to!  The Chord Dave was providing DAC duties. Now that’s quite some setup….. The Shangri La at the show is the 2nd one made. So far 5 or 6 have been sold. That makes this system pretty rare indeed. The Shangri La, for me, is the ultimate sound from a headphone based system. For me having heard both the Sennheiser HE1 system and the Shangri La , I much prefer the HiFiMan setup. My good friend Mark, aka pedalhead on Head-fi felt the Shangri La had too airy a sound for his tastes. I will leave it to you to form your own conclusions, but while it’s available to listen to at shows like this you’d be mad to pass on the opportunity. I would say that the chance to listen to the Shangri La is worth a trip to the show alone.  If the Shangri La is busy while you’re there, you can always rough it and have a try with the Sussvara or scrape the bottom of the barrel with a V2 of the HE1000……

AKG

My mate Tom (Ithilstone on Head-fi) plonked a set of self-calibrating headphones on my head. The N90Q , put on my head, was awful! It sounded as dull as dirty dishwater. Tom informed me that the phones had been calibrated by him for his ears. I pressed the calibration button for 6 seconds, there were a few pulsing sounds and hey presto! The curtains were lifted and I could hear proper music again! I asked Tom to put them back on. He described the sound as having everything turned up……

Clearly the headphones were doing something. Tom was a fan. I have tried a pair of Even Headphones which had a much more sophisticated calibration system and sounded better to me. The AKGs were £1300 . The Even’s were £200. I would encourage anyone to therefore try the Even H1s before potentially wasting £1100 more for a worse sounding product.

 

KEF

KEF had a listening room. I could hear the sound of Kraftwerk drinking into the Hall and suggested myself and Mark, as lovers of Electronic Music, should investigate. We sat down and were treated to an extended mix of Tour De France in 3D Audio. There was an absolute ton of speakers around the listening room. It brought me back to what makes speakers so special; the visceral impact of the sound waves hitting the body coupled with the visual effect of seeing so much audio create a stunning experience. I am hoping to get somewhere near this utilising just one pair of headphones. The Smyth Realiser A16 is in the process of being completed and will replicate what speakers can do. I say this from first-hand experience. Until then, this was indeed a memorable experience and sitting in that room for the whole of the day would have more than justified the admission price.

 

Obravo

What a pleasure to meet David Teng, head of Obravo. David was at Headroom at Metropolis Studios in the Spring and I was introduced then. I reviewed and subsequently bought the Erib 2 wooden IEMs which at the time were the only planar hybrid IEMs. I have had a problem with their fit and have done my own customs. Boy did they take some time to make….. David thought they were great and even took some photos. I was flattered to be complemented by the great man himself and encouraged to keep striving to get even better. David has certainly not rested on his laurels and I had a listen to the Erib 0 – Ra model. This IEM sports the latest Airmotion 2 Tweeter. Obravo are the only earphone manufacturers to miniaturise the Heil Tweeter technology and this sort of quality doesn’t come cheap. The IEMs will retail at £7500……

 

Pioneer

The Pioneer Dap stand showed me how far we’ve come with streaming technology.
I spent 30 minutes with the CDP R30. It has almost everything. One thing I want assuring it didn’t have was the ability to play MQA tracks on Tidal lossless. For those who aren’t familiar with this new format, it’s a hi Res format that retains a small enough file size that it can be streamed. MQA stands for Master Quality Audio. Tidal has more and more albums in their Masters series every month. Led Zeppelin, Birdy, Pink Floyd, Blur are amongst some of my favourites.

To the astonishment of the Pioneer folks I was able to sign in to the R30 using the WiFi hotspot from my phone, and I started listening to crystal clear MQA files. Tidal Masters are finally available to the portable audience. That is a huge step forward in streaming technology and when word gets out and people get a chance to hear some of these tracks there’ll be a big uptake. By sheer force of will, I resisted the 25% off offer of £299 for the CDP. I wasn’t convinced on the crispness I was hearing so for the moment will go with my Moto and Mojo.

 

Luzli Roller

Dillan, Mark and myself spent some time with the Roller Headphone. Its design is as a stainless steel headband with links exactly as a wristwatch. It rolls up into a neat little ball and this on-ear closed headphone will fit into a small pouch. The chat we had with the designer and developer team of Dina Guthrie and Andy James Lee provided a fascinating insight into what was involved in achieving the sound signature.
The sound signature is a consumer type characteristic of Beats headphones. Low-end punch,  veiled mids and highs with the subsequent loss of soundstage and space. It’s not to my tastes but I’m sure these will not necessarily be bought purely on how they sound. They are more like jewellery for the head. The question as to whether there is a market for such a thing? I will let Dr Dre take it from here…..

 

The Parting

There was so much to see. I got to 10%. I learnt some new things. I made some new friends and met up with our merry band of Dillan, Tom, Mark, John and Micah from the Head-fi days. I had a glimpse into the future.  The present has much to shout about too. This is now in the past and we are all back to the grindstone thinking about what it could have been if we had a  Shangri-la on the way. I speak for many – the Indulgence Show won’t be forgotten.  At least not for a year! See you all in 2018

 

1 Comment

  1. Great stuff, Trev. Totally agree on the RHA M650, a steal at the price. One of my favourite parts of the show was that Kraftwerk multi-channel system!

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