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High-End Headphones Are Highlight At CES

A backlash of sorts to the era of compressed digital audio was evident at International CES as more headphones manufacturers showed high-end models in an attempt to restore fidelity in the age of portability.

The roster included the the first headphones offered by speaker supplier Klipsch (see story, below).

Monster’s Noel Lee addressed a packed conference room at its press conference the day before International CES was set to begin. “Do you all remember when this show was primarily an audio show?” he asked the crowd of reporters on hand. “Do you remember when the business was all about replicating the sound of a concert or a studio in the home? Today, in the age of iPod, the headphone has become secondary. But Monster has always been about perfecting sound quality, and that is certainly true with today’s introduction.”

On hand for the collective introduction of the Beats by Dr. Dre headphones from Monster were music artist and producer Dr. Dre and Interscope Geffen A&M Records chairman Jimmy Iovine. The Beats by Dr. Dre headphones were conceived by Dre, said Monster, and mutually designed with engineering by the company. They feature a “unique and futuristic style” with an extra-wide headband, hinged ear cups and “newly developed sonic technologies.”

“With music going portable, it wasn’t capturing what I wanted them to hear, and I think Beats accomplishes that,” said Dre.

The Beats headphones will be available in June for a $399 suggested retail.

A Harman International spokesperson told TWICE at CES that it would be debuting its AKG-branded headphones into the United States in March. Already available in Europe, the U.S. introduction of the high-end line of headphones will initially feature “about a dozen” SKUs.

Among the introductions will be the K701 headphones, which feature flat-wire technology for “a truly dramatic sound that places every musician at his or her correct location with pinpoint accuracy,” said the company. The company said it is the first manufacturer to use the technology in headphones. A patented Varimotion two-layer diaphragm offers “sparkling” highs and accurate bass response, and its neodymium magnet system provides minimum distortion.

The headphones’ open-back design includes a padded leather headband, “unbreakable” metal arches and specially shaped “3-D Form” ear pads. Available in white, the K701 headphones are said to be individually tested and numbered. They will retail for a suggested $599.

Other headphones in the line include the K440NC foldable mini headphones for $199 and the K530 high-performance headphones, also for $199. The closed-back K440NC come with an integrated active noise-reduction filter and a “3-D Axis” mechanism that’s meant for quick and easy fold-down. The K530 semi-open headphones come with XXL speakers with patented Varimotion diaphragms and washable ear pads.

Able Planet introduced its Sound Clarity wireless infrared stereo headphones with proprietary Linx Audio technology for optimal sound quality and speech clarity, the company said. The dual-channel headphones feature an A/B channel selector switch, enabling the listener to switch between two separate audio sources. The headphones boast a frequency response of 2.3/2.8MHz on the A channel and 3.2/3.8MHz on the B channel. Four internal receiving diodes capture the IR signal 360 degrees from the transmitter, allowing the listener to turn his head without losing sound.

Soft foam ear cushions maximize comfort, Able Planet said, and auto-off sensors extend battery life by turning off the headphones 3.5 minutes after the signal from the audio source has been terminated. Two AAA alkaline batteries (included) are good for about 50 hours of use, the company said.

The headphones retail for $179 and are available immediately.

Audio-Technica announced the introduction of its ATH-ANC3 QuietPoint active noise-canceling earphones, which employ patented technology that detects environmental noise via miniature microphones incorporated into each ear bud, and applies a corresponding sound-canceling signal. The ATH-ANC3 utilizes active noise cancellation over a wide frequency range, unlike some earphones that actively cancel low frequencies only, the company said, to effectively block out 85 percent of background noise.

The ATH-ANC3 is supplied with three sizes of ear tips (small, medium and large) for a customized fit. It features a compact control unit with a monitor switch that mutes all functions, to let users hear important outside announcements and conversations. The ATH-ANC3’s audio functions when its noise-canceling function is turned off, and it can be used without batteries.

It ships with a hard carrying case, an adjustable cable and additional extension cable, an airline adapter for connection to in-flight entertainment systems, a clothing clip and an AAA battery. It is available in black or white and will be available in the spring at a suggested retail of $169.

Also at CES, Koss added new models of lightweight ear buds to its product line, including two in-the-ear noise isolating models, the i150 and the KEB70, designed for music listening and phone calling. The top-of-the-line i150 was designed specifically for the iPhone. It boasts a frequency response range of 10Hz to 20,000Hz and comes with soft silicone ear cushions in small, medium and large sizes for custom fitting, and an inline microphone and push-to-talk button. A leatherette carrying case is included, providing protective storage during travel. The i150 has a suggested retail of $149.

The aluminum-enclosed KEB70, with a frequency response of 15Hz to 20,000Hz, is designed to complement a variety of media players, according to Koss, with a new mini plug adapter for all music players, including the iPhone. It retails for $79.99.

Also debuted by Koss at the show are the HQ1X and HQ2X vibration stereophones for gamers. The two models feature a vibration element for tactile movement of the headphones. The element translates frequencies below 100Hz into vibrations, adding a tactile bottom to most gaming soundtracks. A thumb wheel on the ear cup provides vibration-level adjustment, as does an on/off switch that cuts the vibration but continues to deliver stereo sound.

In addition to the vibration element, the HQ1X and HQ2X feature a 1 mm-thick Mylar diaphragm and neodymium iron boron magnet structures for a frequency response of 20Hz to 20,000Hz.

Oxygen-free copper voice coils improve signal transmission and conduction. Closed, leatherette ear cushions seal around the ear maximizing isolation, Koss said.

The HQ2X adds an inline volume control and Clear Voice Technology noise canceling microphone which eliminates excessive background noise for a greater ease of use with PC voice applications, such as speech recognition. It has a dual 3.5mm plug, microphone input and audio output plugs with a USB converter.

Both models have a soft padded headband and collapse for portability and storage.

The HQ1X and HQ2X have suggested retails of $49.99 and $69.99, respectively. All the new models are protected under Koss’ “no questions asked” lifetime warranty.

New from Sennheiser are the MX W1 wireless stereo headphones, which were created to blend Sennheiser’s audio technology and design with Kleer’s wireless transmission technology.

The MX W1 combines the new transmission technology with high-quality dynamic systems and Sennheiser’s twist-to-fit design, meant to keep earphones securely and comfortably in the ear. The headphone’s transmitter is said to be the size of a matchbox and able to transmit CD-quality music.

Bill Whearty, sales and marketing VP for Sennheiser’s U.S. consumer electronic division, said in a statement: “The plug and play transmitter makes conventional audio equipment instantly compatible with the MX W1 earphones. However, this detour will soon no longer be necessary, because Kleer products are fully compatible with one another. For example, an MP3 player with Kleer technology can transmit straight to our earphones. With Kleer, the audio signal’s latency is very low and transmission extremely interference-free. These advantages all mean that battery life is considerably longer than you would get with conventional transmission standards.”

It comes with a carrying case that doubles as a charger for the earphones and transmitter, allowing users to replenish the devices up to three times without ever plugging it in, said Sennheiser.

Kleer’s wireless technology also reportedly ‘enables users to link a second set of earphones to the transmitter, providing two users with crystal-clear audio in perfect time and phase.”

The MX W1 will be available around May for a suggested $599.

Headphone introductions from Maxell this month included a lightweight digital headphone and noise-reduction ear buds.

The DHP-III lightweight digital headphone was “constructed with comfort in mind,” said the company; each headphone features ergonomically designed small ear cups that are meant for long-term wear. They are collapsible and fold flat for easy transport. Suggested retail is $69.99

The NR-EB-1 noise-reduction ear buds ($49.99) are engineered so users can listen comfortably at lower volumes, even in loud environments. The ear buds block 95 percent of ambient noise with the company’s proprietary noise-cancellation technology, said Maxell, and this technology also reportedly reduces over-amplification distortion and nonlinear distortion.

One AA battery provides more than 30 hours of batter power. A travel pouch and adapter are included.

And finally, Nokia unveiled two new stereo headsets designed for use with music-enabled cellphones. The headband-style model WH-600 and the in-the-ear model WH-700 feature hands-free cellular call management and. Music playback stops when a call comes in and resumes where the song left off when the call is terminated.

Both have a standard 3.5mm connectors and include a 2.5mm adapter in the box. The WH-700 offers the option of three different ear cups for custom fitting.

Both models are expected to be available in March. The WH-600 has a suggested retail of $94.95. The WH-700 has a suggested retail of $79.95.