Graham Nash Tries Out The Audeze EL-8 Headphones and Chord Mojo

We'll be detailing all of the rooms that Graham Nash visited at CES in the next week, but before we get started, here's a small detour that took place about halfway through the day.

In the back room of the Chord suite, at the top of the Venetian, a variety of Audeze headphones were set up connected to various Chord portable and desktop products and arrayed on a couple of long tables. I mentioned to Graham that I listened to the Audeze LCD-Xs at home, but Instead of going for the most expensive system, Chord's John Franks handed Graham a pair of Audeze EL-8 headphones ($699) connected to the company's Mojo DAC/headphone amp ($599) and somebody's phone.

They asked Graham to find a track he might want to listen to and here's what unexpectedly happened:

"They handed me an iPhone with a lot of things to play. Now one of the things on the phone was Neil Young's 'A Man Needs a Maid' from the Harvest album. I happened to be present with Neil when he recorded that with the London Symphony in London. I was there, so I know what it's supposed to sound like. And they put me right in the middle of the orchestra. Those headphones were amazing, and this little Mojo thing they've got, good lord. 16 bit lossless and it sounded amazing."

Notice in that last sentence that Nash appreciates that he wasn't listening to some low-life MP3. When the track started Graham shut his eyes and for the next several minutes never opened them. He received a Mojo from Chord's John Franks right then and there (alas he didn't get the Audeze headphones). But he was excited and as we walked down the hall to the next room, he noted that the emotional impact of good sound was clear "and it didn't even cost an arm and a leg." Later that night at dinner Graham mentioned that he was charging his new Mojo up back at his hotel room, to use on his flight to LA the next morning. Music to his and my ears!

We'll start hitting the rooms in the next few reports. BTW, if you're wondering what this post is all about, read this.

volvic's picture

Just kidding, but it was nice to hear that 16 bit lossless was enjoyable. Have always said if done right it is good enough.

JRT's picture

Headphones can provide lower ambient noise floor making playback of material with larger crest factor more practicable within reasonable SPL maximums on crests, but there is not a wide range of recordings that can make use of that.

There is quite a bit of Redbook audio that was mastered as HDCD (not implying that it all makes good use of HDCD capability).

HDCD was Redbook compliant, and made use of the least significant bit to trade away a little noise floor for a big increase in dynamic range (by shifting 0dBFS, effectively a 20bit equivalent dynamic range with a shifted 15bit noise floor). In mastering CDs or HDCDs (or other media), algorithms using some fancy math can be used to lower the noise floor to 20bit in the telephony range of frequencies where hearing is most sensitive (see ISO226 equal loudness contours) at the expense of significantly raised noise floor in the top octave where hearing is far less sensitive. So using both, HDCD can approximate the performance of 20bit/44.1kHz digital audio. dBpoweramp software can be used to properly convert extracted HDCD digital audio to 24bit/44.1kHz PCM and transcode that to FLAC, free lossless audio codec.

Rickie Lee Jones' "Ghetto of my Mind" on her Flying Cowboys CD or HDCD has largest crest factor that I am aware of (thanks Bob Cordell for bringing that one to my attention), and it does not make full use of the medium. Play that track at realistic levels in your headphones and hear some of what Redbook was capable of providing. CD (and more so HDCD, SACD, DVD, DVD-A, Blueray, etc) had capability that remained largely unrealized in what was offered to the consumer masses, in no small part because those consumers did not have systems capable of producing big SPL on crests in well recorded music played at realistic levels, and most playback environments do not have a low ambient noise floor. The vast majority of recorded music, even the recordings marketed to audiophiles, was mastered to sell to consumers for playback on systems with overly constrained dynamic range, in environments with excessively high ambient noise floors. Recordings are not generally mastered for the very few who have something like Bob Ludwigs's mastering studio in their listening room at home, rather are mastered for playback on modest consumer audio systems in homes with thin walls, refrigerators, HVAC, neighbor's lawn mowers, street traffic, kids, dogs, etc. Headphones help with that a lot, but the recordings are not making good use of what is possible, of what has been possible for many years.

Glotz's picture

Just so jealous it hurts!


volvic's picture

Absolutely right Glotz!

StereophileFan's picture

Love reading this Jon!