World famous Japanese audio brand, Audio-Technica has been long recognized for turntables and professional microphones but also for its affordable range of headphones, serving both the professional audio market and, increasingly, the consumer segment. Audio-Technica remains the best-selling headphone brand in Japan and recently the company launched a global effort to promote a complete range of solutions targeted at the needs of high-resolution audio (HRA) enthusiasts.
Among the diverse solutions displayed at the 2015 High End show in Munich, Audio-Technica once again was showing the AT-HA5050H headphone amplifier and DAC, probably one of the most desired items in their catalogue since it was presented to the market, in 2013. It was never clear to the market when the AT-HA5050H became commercially available and, at the CES 2015, the company presented it once again as part of its HRA offerings and, apparently, its available!
The flagship of Audio-Technica’s headphone amplifier range offers a range of 8 inputs in two rows, to support up to two headphones at 16/32/64/600 ohm impedances. With a distinctive brushed aluminum chassis and analog meters, the HA5050H is a hybrid amp using a 6922 / E88CC tube in the gain stage and discrete Class-A solid-state components for the outputs.
The AT-HA5050H also supports PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and up to DSD128 files with a high-end DAC. Built from the ground up as a dedicated headphone amplifier, the rear of the design features balanced XLR inputs, a USB B digital input (asynchronous or adaptive), SPDIF input and RCA line inputs.
MSR7 and CKR Headphones
Together with the HA5050H headphone amplifier, Audio-Technica promoted its new MSR7 headphones, distinctive for the its soft memory-foam ear pads that fit securely and snugly around the ears, maximizing comfort during long listening sessions. The housing has also been specially shaped with ear-profiled grills to ‘mirror’ the whole ear and enhance the rich, lower end sounds, while the highly flexible swivel design helps to find the most comfortable fit instantly.
At the core of the MSR7 headphones are the 45mm “True Motion” Hi-Res Audio Drivers. Combining a precision diaphragm and extra light-weight voice-coil, response times are improved while sound distortion is minimized to deliver a smooth, rich and detailed audio presentation. The MSR7 range was available for demonstration with the PonoPlayer and the latest high-res tracks, courtesy of Pono Music.
For those who prefer high quality sound on the go, the new Audio-Technica ATH-CKR9 and ATH-CKR10 in-ear headphones are also worth considering. Using technology previously associated with loudspeakers, the CKR9 and CKR10 are the world’s first in-ear headphones to feature Dual Phase Push-Pull Drivers.
Traditionally dual drivers inside in-ear headphones move in the same direction. By placing two 13mm high quality drivers facing each other, wired out of phase, that then move together in the opposite directions, harmonic distortion is reduced and response times improved, while power is doubled and output sensitivity increased. The result is a spacious, expansive but detailed sound across a wide frequency range, suiting all styles of music. On-board Bass Acoustic Resistors, designed to control the low-end bass sounds, also contribute to delivering a clean and natural audio performance to rival that of on-ear headphones.
Using materials and technology from high end headphones, the drivers are enclosed in a rigid but discreet titanium (CKR10) or aluminum (CKR9) housings to minimize frequency variation, while the studded wire featured on other high-end in ear models from Audio-Technica, combined with an aluminum-sleeve plug, help to minimize cable vibration which can impact sound.
Another interesting item in Audio-Technica’s headphone-oriented catalogue is the AT-PHA100 Portable Headphone Amplifier. Designed for use with PCs, Macs and portable devices, the AT-PHA100 is compatible with high-resolution audio formats up to 384kHz/32-bit PCM, and DSD audio sources at 2.8/5.6MHz.
Enclosed in all-aluminum casing to protect the circuitry, the AT-PHA100 is equipped with both analog and digital inputs (3.5 mm jack and USB micro-B, respectively) and 3.5 mm headphone jack. It also features a high/low gain switch, machined aluminum volume knob, and five-stage sampling indicator for digital input. The internal lithium polymer rechargeable battery lasts up to 14 hours when amplifying an analog signal, and up to 6 hours when amplifying a digital signal.
The AT-PHA100 was engineered using select audio components, combining the new NJR MUSES 8832 dual bipolar input operational pre-amplifier with a ESS ES9018K2M circuit and a Texas Instruments LME49720 op-amp. The amplifier comes with two rubber bands and a rubber mat for strapping the unit to a smartphone or other portable device, a 1.0 m USB cable (USB 2.0 to USB micro-B) and a 10 cm audio cable terminating in a 3.5 mm gold-plated stereo mini plug at each end. It supports headphones from 10 to 300 ohms.
New cartridge range
Not forgetting the vinyl market, where Audio-Technica has its roots, the company revealed a new cartridge range with the AT33Sa, AT440MLb and AT120Eb models. The AT33sa is the first Audio-Technica MC cartridge model to feature a Shibata stylus. In addition to its superior high-range performance as a line-contact stylus, the Shibata stylus produces mid and bass sound that is strong and rich. The Shibata stylus is mounted on a boron cantilever with a double damper to greatly improve sound quality.