How do you tell if a headphone is of exceptional quality? It is how the audio helps you discover new things on the same piece of music you hear day-in-day-out.
Most consumers would judge by how strong the bass is or how clear the treble sounds, but these are merely superficial audio balance that can be tuned with EQ. It’s the dynamics, details, stereo imaging, articulation of each instrumental timbre. These are inherent to the headphones which cannot be tweaked.
When I listened to the Kennerton Vali, the first impression is the highs are not as bright and clear as modern cans, while the bass is natural and similarly not overemphasised. One could describe the Vali as neutral flat-response type of headphones. Such tuning has an advantage of listening at higher volumes without causing ear fatigue. The open-back adds to the advantage of high-volume listening as the excess sound pressure is released outside the ears. Once I get used to the headphones, I am quite pleased with the treble level, achieving sufficient sizzle to excite the listener. It’s like trying to drive fast on a BMW compared to a Subaru, the former achieve fast speed in a more comfortable manner, the latter delivering more excitement.
At the end of the 2 weeks, I am totally loving the audio delivery. It does not hype up any of the frequency spectrum, something that I appreciate. It does not purposely give you goose pimples or pump up your mood like the modern headphones to make you like the music. The music must already be good, then Vali gives you that ability to enjoy the original mixing even closer.
It is listening at high volumes that I started to hear new details from old tracks, which brings a sense of euphoria, like “wow I can hear the other string of the quartet violinist vibrating while he bows on one string.” Or that “I can hear the violinist fingers hitting on the fingerboard”. Or the environmental noise of the recording studio. The Vali is also effortless in distinguishing the various tonal shapes when the percussionist hits the instruments. Imagine that.
These details are not important to the overall music. I’m pretty sure the violinist or the sound engineer did not mean to include those performance mistakes in the recording. But it gives an added sense of closeness and authenticity to the music. Such quality is only obvious when listening to acoustic instrumental recordings, like Classical music or live recordings.
Having said that, the Vali is not ideal for music tracks with strong mids, for instance, modern piano genres where the engineers throw in heavy reverbs.
Kennerton is the audiophile brand under Fischer Audio. They specialise in wooden chamber headphones and pride themselves in their craft. The Vali is completely handmade and assembled, producing around 30 pieces a month. The materials they use are natural and the overall feel of the headphones evokes old-school industrial charm.
- Ear cups are made from Peruvian walnut wood. The gorgeous deep brown wood is known to resonate clear sound with warm overtones and rich bass. A key reason why Walnut wood are usually reserved for producing some of the finest guitars.
- The wood is impregnated with natural oil and processed with the mix of bee and carnauba waxes.
- All joints are made of aerospace grade die-cast aluminium and steel parts, ensuring high durability and reliability.
- As the metal grille is located right behind the driver in an open-back design, any reflected wave will interfere with sound. Thus acoustically inert Zinc alloy is selected to prevent and unnecessary resonances.
- Old USSR military grade copper litz wire, terminating to a mini-XLR, is carefully selected to bring out the best audio performance.
- Luxurious lambskin leather headband and ear cushions ensure extreme comfort for long listening pleasure.
To complete the handmade experience, the Vali is shipped in a wooden box with royal green fibre linings and brass hinges.
The headphone cushions are firm and asymmetrically shaped for optimal fit. The headband feels a little tight but only because to make sure the heavy Vali holds on your ears securely.
I was surprised that the Vali is easy to drive even on the Sony NWZ-A15 portable audio player. The volume is same as other earphones. But with a more powerful amplifier, there is an added airiness and improved dynamic details.
And there is no worry about cable rubbing sounds, also known as microphonics. The Vali cables are thick and connected on both headphones separately with mini-XLR connectors, effectively isolating any cable noise. I can only hear the cable rubbing sounds when I scratch the cable surface intensively. Other than that, minor accidental movements of the cable will not affect the enjoyment.
The Kennerton Vali is an exquisitely crafted audio equipment that feels like it belongs to a part of an heirloom that one can pass down for generations. The neutral faithful audio signature easily stands the tides of time, making it ideal for listening to music tracks that are well-mixed and recorded. That magic and rawness that it brings out in recordings are very welcoming to me as it offers new experiences that I seek when reviewing hundreds of headphones over the years. You may already own a pair of modern headphones with strong bass and clear treble for daily commute, but you should also own “classic” headphones like the Kennerton Vali to appreciate the truer details in music.
Test drive the Kennerton Vali yourself at Zeppelin & Co. cafe at Sim Lim Square, each unit retails at S$1399 subject to production availability.
- Drivers: 50mm
- Sensitivity: 100 dB
- Frequency range: 10 – 28000 Hz
- Impedance: 32 ohm
Official Product Website: http://kennerton.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=86