IFA 2018 Impressions and Close-ups: Samsung, Sony, Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, and more

IFA 2018 Trade Show

This Synopsis

IFA is one of the most exciting events of the year for tech enthusiasts, such as ourselves. So we made the trip out to Berlin to have a first and close look at a bunch of the latest devices that are about to come our way. This synopsis summarizes the important details from many of the hottest products we learned about.

The Rundown

Beyerdynamic

IFA 2018 Beyerdynamic
Beyerdynamic launches a new logo, renewed direction, and affordable series of headphones at IFA 2018.

Beyerdynamic did not just have subtleties to discuss at IFA 2018. They didn’t just launch a handful of proficient headphones for the average consumer, but is also going through an entire brand revamping. The beginning of the conference explained the meaning behind the company’s new “Y” logo (representing product design revolving around “You”), and then following with a slew of new “average consumer”-oriented headphones to head the renewed direction.

IFA 2018 Beyerdynamic
Playing with the new toys.
  • Three new in-ears models launched under the “Byrd” series, all with a flat-cap design:
    • Beat Byrd – Entry-level, wired earphones for 25 EUR.
    • Soul Byrd – Better quality, wired earphones for 80 EUR.
    • Blue Byrd – High quality wireless (cabled) earphones for 130 EUR. There’s additionally an ANC variant that adds an around-the-neck band to the design, for $250 EUR.
  • New ANC (Active Noise-Cancelling) over-ear headphone called Lagoon for 400 EUR. It has touch controls (like that we’ve seen used on the Aventho and Amiron Wireless), unique ear cup interior status lighting, and Beyerdynamic’s new MOSAYC sound personalization software.
  • Impressions from our listen to the Lagoon ANC:
    • Sound signature is slightly brighter with ANC turned off (bassier with it on).
    • Notably deep bass will suit bassheads. It’s a little loose in quality, but not bad.
    • Good clarity among all frequency ranges.
    • Full, engaging mid-range.
    • Vocals and treble are a tad laid-back.
  • New gaming over-ear headphone called TYGR 300 R, with open-back acoustics and 350 EUR price tag.

IFA 2018 Beyerdynamic
Beyerdynamic’s gaming solutions: new TYGR 300 R headphones and FOX microphone.

IFA 2018 Beyerdynamic
The TYGR 300 R follows design of Beyerdynamic’s DT series, in shape and materials.


Samsung

IFA 2018 Samsung
Samsung’s opener: “Do What You Can’t”.

IFA 2018 Samsung
Samsung’s show floor after their keynote.

We’ve seen quite a bit from Samsung in the months prior, but IFA 2018 has shown that the Korean giant isn’t nearly done this year. The biggest impact of their keynote revolved around progression for TVs, such as the new push for 8K resolution and the never-before seen “Frame” concept. The show floor also laid out the latest mobile devices, like the new Note 9 smartphone, Galaxy Tab S4 tablet, and Galaxy Watch smartwatch.

  • Samsung is leading the jump to 8K resolution TVs. Headlined by the company’s recent QLED display tech, we now have QLED 8K panels in various sizes.
  • On the show floor, all of Samsung’s panels displayed uber quality. However, we have to be honest to say we’re hard-pressed to notice an impactful difference between 4K next to 8K resolution. Improvements to things like contrast and colors are more noticeable.
  • The 8K TVs on display, while they unexpectedly had very thin bezels, had questionably thick profiles for this day and age. We’d guess that these weren’t what we’ll see in production, and that the tech is still in work.
  • IFA 2018 was another chance for Samsung to promote The Wall concept. This is impressive, luxurious, and futuristic implementation for a TV that you have to see for yourself. Bezels and profile are super thin, and the color pop is out of this world.

IFA 2018 Samsung
IFA 2018 Samsung

  • A new concept demonstrated at this IFA is The Frame. Samsung is really trying to do something different here, and have the TV serve more purpose. The concept is that, while the TV is not in use, it can act like wall art. Samsung is even enclosing the panel in a picture-like frame (hence, the name).
  • The neat thing is that since it’s a TV, it can continually change the picture. Samsung will supply a vast library of paintings and such that the user can select or rotate among.
  • We asked Samsung about power concerns and they’ve assured it will be no problem via a very low-power mode when the TV is displaying a “static” image.
  • We spent time playing with Samsung’s newest mobile gadgets, like the Note 9, Tizen-powered Galaxy Watch, and flagship Galaxy Tab S4 tablet, and getting a close look.

Sony

IFA 2018 Sony
Sony IFA 2018 press conference.

Sony had one of the biggest launches at IFA 2018, headlined by the new Xperia XZ3 smartphone flagship and update to some of the best noise-cancelling over-ear headphones, with the WH-1000XM3. Being that the XZ2 just launched a few months ago, we’d say the latter is the more exciting release. The show floor also consisted of some other higher-end audio devices recently launched by the company too. Fun stuff.

IFA 2018 Sony
Sony’s dedicated area of recently launched high-end audio gear, such as the super pricey DMP-Z1 DAC/Amp and IER-Z1R in-ear headphones.
  • Sony’s new flagship smartphone, the Xperia XZ3, is incremental in typical Sony fashion. That isn’t to say it’s not a looker or worth attention. It’s curvy glass that seemingly melts into the metal frame is as refined as any, and the bezels are cut down to a satisfactory size (while still maintaining dual front speakers). We also now have a contrasty and colorful OLED eye candy.
  • As for usability, the phone’s curves give it a natural hold in the hand. However, the thin taper at the edges is not favorable for grip, and neither is the glossy finish on the metal frame. The rear fingerprint placement is still lower than ideal.
  • The other big launch was the WH-1000XM3, which is an update (3rd iteration) of Sony’s top noise-cancelling headphones (and of the top in the market). It’s iterative, but some good improvements to know:
    • The design is virtually the same to the eye, but the chassis is lighter than before. This is great for the wear, but now the unit feels cheap in the hand, like it would break easily (but we can’t comment on durability yet).
    • Internals have been upgraded. A quicker QN1 processor is said to make the ANC computation 4x faster (also aids the DAC computational process for resolving more audio detail). What’s more, there’s double the microphones, from two in the last model to four now, for furthermore improving the ANC proficiency. We can attest that the noise-cancelling is amazing. It was night and day when we put the ear cups over our ears in a noisy show floor. Super impressive.
    • The touch pad (for playback control) is larger. Covering the pad with your hand now doesn’t just pass audio through but records it and plays it to you clearer than before.
    • There’s now quick charging via a USB-C port.
    • Our first impressions of the sound: Full and authoritative mid-range (in usual Sony fashion), bass is more about punchy mid-bass than deep sub-bass, dynamics are first-rate for this class (you can feel the notes hit at times), and treble is crisp.
  • The MDR-Z7M2 was launched prior to IFA 2018, and we took this opportunity to get a hands-on and listen. This is “Mark II” of the Z7, Sony’s 2nd highest-end over-ear headphone (behind the very costly MDR-Z1R). The Mark II pack a re-worked driver.
  • This is a $900 headphone, but the cost is justified in our opinion even just through a brief listen. It’s next-level stuff jumping from a listen of the WH-1000XM3.
  • The thick ear pads provide superb noise isolation. The sound engulfs you, like you’re listening live on a quiet floor.
  • Our brief sound impressions: Quick response, thumpy and dynamic bass while still delivering deep and rumbly sub-bass, very crisp treble, and forward mid-range. Overall, nicely balanced regions and expansive sound. Dynamics is up there with the best we’ve heard. You feel punch of notes and get awesome separation.
  • We’ve been waiting for Sony to delivery a high-end in-ear flagship for years now, and the IER-Z1R that answer. And it’s a doozy. This is as grandiose we’ve ever seen an earphone be. We’re talking huge, metal earpieces, hybrid driver system with Aluminum coated LCP (Liquid Crystal Polymer) diaphragm, thick Silver coated OFC (Oxygen-Free Copper) cable with 4.4mm Pentaconn connection, and whopping $1800 price tag.
  • But like the MDR-Z7M2, is it worth it? Sadly, we didn’t leave feeling like it was worth $1800. It has some of the best qualities we’ve heard from an in-ear, no doubt, but it’s not perfect.
  • The best quality is the soundstage. It’s unbelievable (and seemingly impossible) how wide the sound goes. And not just width but height is detectable at that range too.
  • Detail, balance, and clarity is all in Sony’s style and exquisite. However, when digging into it, we found vocals and the transition among the mids and treble to be not as clean as we’d want as this price-point. And we tried different tracks focusing on this area and still had the same conclusion. Other than this, things were close to perfect. Bass is so detailed and commanding, and treble is crisp and extensive. You feel the music and get engaged to another level.

Sennheiser

IFA 2018 Sennheiser
Sennheiser booth at IFA 2018.

Sennheiser just had one new device launch at IFA 2018, but it’s one that we’ve been anticipating – the company’s entry into true wireless earbuds, with the Momentum True Wireless. The price is pegged at $300, so it’s aiming for the big guys. Here is our first-look synopsis:

  • The shape of the earpieces and carrying case are pretty basic for this type of earbud (maybe a bit chunkier than average). A couple standout design elements is the flat shiny metallic “Momentum” topping on the earpieces and a tightly weaved fabric for the outside of the case. Otherwise, it’s a plastic ordeal, with commonly-used magnetic pins to hold the earpieces within the case.
  • The case’s battery has a capacity to charge the earbuds 2x over. At a running time of 4 hours, that means 12 hours of total playback with a complete charge on all ends. This is fairly average too.
  • Playback control is via a touch pad on the metal cap. The touch is responsive, but the one-button controls, like usual, aren’t very intuitive. It will take learning.
  • There’s no ANC, like some manufacturers are boldly attempting. That said, we almost thought there was upon donning them. Things somehow get more quiet than usually supplied with ear tip passive isolation. This is great.
  • There’s aptX (sadly, no aptX HD) and Bluetooth v5.0 support.
  • We asked about the driver being used. Sennheiser said they borrowed design from their flagship IE 800 earphones to make the 7mm dynamic driver. Fantastic.
  • We didn’t get as much listening time as we would’ve liked, but initially impressions was that the sound quality was some of the most refined we’ve heard yet from true wireless earbuds. We could tell that the driver was “audiophile”-class just by a listen. The output detailed and clean. It’s more bright than warm, so we’re not sure how the market’s reception will be. But folks who like quality audio should be satisfied.

Notable Mentions

RHA CL2 In-Ear Headphones

RHA is an underdog “audiophile”-grade headphone maker, but made a big splash in the industry with the newly launched CL2 planar magnetic earphones. Not many manufacturers have been able to achieve this kind of driver in a tiny housing, so it’s a big deal. We got hands-on time with the CL2 at IFA 2018, and they deceivingly look like typical BA or dynamic driver in-ear monitors (albeit, premiumly and generously packaged, such as the included wireless-enabling cable). The primary impression will be, naturally, how they sound for their high-end $900 price tag.

We were blown away, simply said. Just from a listening session spanning a few minutes, we’re inclined to say that they trump anything we’ve heard at this price range, including our beloved Shure SE846. Specifically, the magnitude of fullness and soundstage is what did it for us (it’s amazing that these are in-ears). The dynamics are equally impressive. You can feel the notes like if they’re touching your ear. The quick response and detail due to being planar magnetic is of course there. We’d like more time with them to do a complete analysis (we’re waiting for our review unit, so stay tuned), so we’ll hold off on the rest. But first impression is pegging these towards the earphones of the year.

ASUS ZenBook 13/14/15 Ultrabooks

Bezel reduction is the current trend in electronics these days. Unfortunately, not many laptops/ultrabooks have yet jumped on it. ASUS has now exited that lagging group with their new Zenbook models. These (13, 14, and 15-inch varieties) have the least amount of black space around the display that we’ve ever seen in a laptop – 95% screen-to-body ratio. And you bet it’s a sight to see.

The 13″ model starts at $900, and the price goes up from there. They continue ASUS’ metallic silver asthetic and can be equipped with up to the latest 8th-gen Core i7 processors and Nvidia GTX 1050 Max-Q GPU (on the 15″ model). Portability seems like the aim here, so we’re not looking the highest-end specs. It’s best to look at them as premium, mid-range offerings with killer aesthetics and reasonable prices.

iFi Project Glastonbury Speaker and Micro xDSD DAC

IFi is one of our favorite audio player makers. The Micro iDSD Black Label that we reviewed, despite being built like a tank, holds a special place in our hearts. So we were interested to see what they had going on for their first IFA appearance. Two of their headlining devices were the recently launched compact Micro xDSD DAC/Amp (stay tuned for our synopsis on it in the future) and something completely new for the company – a robust tabletop speaker.

IFA 2018 iFi Audio
IFi Micro xDSD portable DAC/Amp.

IFA 2018 iFi Audio
iFi Micro xDSD portable DAC/Amp.

Being referred to as Project Glastonbury, we’re certainly looking at a prototype. But a discussion with the Head of iFi R&D, Thorsten Loesch (pictured below), revealed that the project is very close to completion. The audio configuration is 100% finished, but the design/structure of the box needs a little more work.

So what is Project Glastonbury? It’s an audiophile-grade, powerful, space-filling wireless speaker. It’s uniquely designed after lot of acoustic studies in a propped-up fashion and strategically placed drivers and woofers. We’re talking about a powerhouse 2 x 150W of power and multi-directional output via grills through the classy bamboo casing. And something we haven’t seen before is a set of ultrasonic sensors that automatically detect distance from surrounding walls and adjusts the output accordingly for the best acoustic distribution. Super cool. Mr. Loesch gave us a brief demo and the speaker had no problem overpowering the noisy show floor.

Control will be through an app that iFi is developing, and will support WiFi (of course, for better wireless fidelity), AirPlay, microSD, optical, RCA, USB, or Ethernet connections (basically, everything but the kitchen sink). Resolution is up to 32-bit and 192kHz, and DSD support, naturally. Pricing isn’t set yet, but we were told to expect the $1,500 range.

Ultimate Ears Boom 3 and MegaBoom 3 Speakers

Ultimate Ears makes some of our favorite portable Bluetooth speakers. We just took a look at their new Blast speaker, but now their back with a Boom sequel. The Boom 3 and MegaBoom 3 aren’t a big departure of the previous the Boom 2 and MegaBoom, borrowing a lot of the shape of the Blast while making some progressive design changes. We’re sure buyers will be confused over the difference between the Boom 3 and Blast.

Aside from the larger drivers and more durability, a substantial update is the new physical, multi-functional button atop. It isn’t just a power button, but can control playback from your connected mobile device and even toggle playlists of your choice. The charging port has been moved to a small flap on the side rubber strip, but sadly still utilizes the older microUSB standard. You can opt for the optional wireless charging pad like debuted with the Blast. It’s important to note that the Alexa feature will only be exclusive with the Blast series for some odd reason.

Final Thoughts

So many goodies are coming our way. We’ll do our best to get our hands on these devices for a more thorough look and proper synopsis. Stay tuned.

 

Josh is so enthused about tech that he writes about it. After time at several tech publications, he launched The Synops - concise and quality gadget synopses with information that readers want to know and details they want to see. You can also follow him at on Twitter (@joshnor713) and Google+ (+JoshNoriega). Email any inquiries to josh@thesynops.com.

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