CanJam 2013 @ RMAF, an Audio360.org Special Report
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Sunday, October 27th, 2013
by Stan Ahn, Warren Chi, Michael Liang and Michael Mercer
For personal and portable high-fidelity enthusiasts all around the country, there is one very special time of year where we congregate en masse. It is called CanJam, produced by Head-Fi.org, and there is simply nothing in the world quite like it.
Like our 2-channel brethren next door at The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, we see this as a mecca, a pilgrimage, a celebration of everything that we hold dear in the world of personal audio. History is made here. Lives are changed here. Wallets are emptied here. And this year, 2013, was no exception to that tradition.
In simpler terms, we had a hell of a time, and can't wait to do it again!
For those of you that weren't able to join us, well, sucks to be you! But worry not, Audio360.org was fortunate enough to have a team of four correspondents on the ground, in the center of all that action.
We've covered the show (and we mean covered the show) for you below. Here's what we saw, and heard.
Legend: S. Ahn = Stan Ahn; W. Chi = Warren Chi; M. Liang = Michael Liang; M. Mercer = Michael Mercer.
ADL (Alpha Design Labs) by Furutech
ADL is a relative newcomer in the sea of personal audio companies. But its parent company, Furutech, is not. Furutech has been making premium cables and accessories in Japan since the late 1980s.
We currently have their new ADL-H118 full-sized headphone, and X1 portable DAC/amp, in for review here at Audio360.org. While we don't want to spoil the review, we can tell you that we are thoroughly impressed by the performance and build quality of these two products.
At their CanJam 2013 booth, Raymond Li (ADL Product Manager) also gave us a preview of their upcoming in-ear headphones. We noted the attractive genuine carbon fiber housing in a bullet like shape, and look forward to hearing those IEMs when they come out early next year.
M. Mercer: Regretfully I neglected to find time and check out the Alpha Designs booth. But I've been rockin' the battery-powered ADL X1 iDevice/computer DAC/headphone amp combo for a couple months now and I love it! It doesn't have the power of the CEntrance HiFi-M8, but it's a lot smaller and slicker, and it's great for easy-to-drive headphones! I love the small rectangular chassis. It doesn't turn into a large pancake-like (an old joke amongst the Head-Fi tribe), clunky portable system when you slap your iDevices on it. Unfortunately you have to use rubber bands to affix your iPhone or iPod to it, but everybody's makin' those for swag these days. One of the other things I love about the ADL X1? It sports a 192k/24-bit capable DAC. Of course, that doesn't translate to iDevices, but it's killer for your Mac or PC. Here's another piece of kit where I have a silly gripe: The volume knob is too slick without having any scoring to help give you a grip on the sucker. Yeah, I know, it's a sickness. Hey, there are worse addictions right? Anyway, the X1, paired with the right headphone for your taste, has a wide-open top end that I really enjoy. The mids are solid too. They could be a tad more forward, without being aggressive. But overall I like it enough that I'm gonna work out keeping the review sample! As I said earlier in this impression: While the HiFi-M8 is my current goto reference portable rig for an iDevice DAC/headphone amp combo, the X1 is far more stylish and easier to deal with, plus it delivers a sound I enjoy. It's midrange is emotively engaging, with a silky touch. The low end comes to life with some cans (like my Sennheiser HD 25-1 IIs) and falls a touch short with harder to drive headphones. It's actually the perfect mate for IEMs. I enjoy it with my JH Audio JH-13 Freqphase and Cardas EM5813 Ear Speakers in-ear monitors.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Audio360.org will be bringing you a full review of ADL's X1 portable DAC/amp very soon.
ALO Audio made a name for themselves by pushing the envelope through quality performance and slickly-stylized portable audio components. They also specialize in high-quality personal audio cables and accessories.
You can go to ALOaudio.com and find all you need to get started in this hobby, or you can find the state-of-the-art in their incredible Studio Six single-ended triode valve headphone amplifier.
The Studio Six is capable of driving four low-impedance cans at once without so much as a hiccup, and ALO had the Studio Six prominently displayed at CanJam 2013. We've included a link to Michael Mercer's full review of Studio Six below, for your convenience.
ALO also introduced the spectacularly modern and sleek Island DAC/headphone amp combo at CanJam 2013.
While diminutive in size, with an over-sized volume knob (a nice touch, literally) this little baby can handle more than you think when it comes to demanding headphones. It also sports a 192k/24-bit asynchronous DAC section.
Another stunner from the Portland company!
ALO Audio's Studio Six Headphone Amplifier
M. Mercer: You can find my initial review of their Studio Six for Positive Feedback HERE. It has become an invaluable component in my desktop reference arsenal. The fact that this slick beast can drive four power-hungry cans at once? A reviewers dream! Just like my E.A.R HP4 tube headphone amp (which only handles two high and two low impedance cans) I can compare headphones using the same source and amplifier.
ALO Audio's The Island Portable DAC/amp
M. Mercer: But for me, surprisingly, the highlight of my visit to the ALO booth was the brand new Island headphone amp/DAC combo.
S. Ahn: PUNCHY. The Island, like other ALO offerings, is sleek and finely built. You can really tell these guys spend a lot of time into crafting each of their offerings, with attention to design and usability. The Island comes in 4 different aluminum colors to suit your fancy, with a nice oversized volume pot for easy control.
Astell & Kern
Over the course of the past year, Astell & Kern has become a firm fixture of the audio show circuit, as well as Head-Fi meets both near and far.
Visitors to their exhibits are usually treated to an extensive audition of their AK100 and AK120 audiophile DAPs, with a wide variety of headphones and IEMs.
At CanJam 2013, our good friends at Astell & Kern decided to shake things up a bit, and surprised us with a couple new additions.
First up is their new AK10 portable and USB DAC/amp.
It's a compact unit measuring only 2 square inches in area, and is compatible with both iDevices (iPhone 5 and 5th Gen iPod Touch), Android (SGS3, SGS4, Note2 and Note3) devices, and PCs/Macs via USB.
Like their AK100 DAP, the AK10 features a Wolfson 8740 DAC, and is 24/192-capable. But unlike their AK100, the AK10's output impedance is only 1.1 Ohms.
Next up is Astell & Kern's new charging/USB-thru dock, the AKS01.
Machined from aluminum like the AK100 and AK120, and finished with an identical texture, the AKS01 blends in seamlessly with your existing Astell and Kern DAP.
And since Astell and Kern utilizes a standardized bottom interconnect layout in their devices, the dock is fully compatible with the AK100, AK120 and the newly released AK10 mentioned above.
Finally, we were very glad to see Astell & Kern present alongside Final Audio Design (FAD) all the way from Japan. Although FAD has garnered quite a following worldwide, they have yet to establish an appreciable presence here in the States.
It is our hope that their developing and continuing relationship will see more FAD or A&K/FAD units make their way over here - like the AKR01 we enjoyed at CAS4 (California Audio Show 4).
Astell & Kern AK10 Portable DAC/Amp
M. Liang: Astell & Kern showed off their new AK10, an iOS and Android DAC/amp. My initial impression was WOW this thing is small. The AK10 is constructed of an all aluminum housing similar to the AK100/120 music players. The included protective case doubles as a backpack for your music player. Really cool!
S. Ahn: COMPACT. Because the AK120 has been quite the rage among high-definition audio file audiophiles, because their new AK10 is so darn small, and because the Jimmy and Owen did such a good job keeping their lips tightly sealed, I almost completely overlooked their new product, the AK10, a portable DAC that works with iPhones, Android, and USB!
Final Audio Pandora VI and Pandora VIII Prototype
S. Ahn: UNCANNY. I may not always listen to bassy cans, but when I do, I prefer Final Audio Pandora VI.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Audio360.org's roundtable of the Astell & Kern AK120 is coming soon. Following that, we'll be bringing you even more review action on the AK10, and FAD's line-up of Piano Forte and Pandora Headphones.
As soon as Jude Mansilla revealed Audeze's new LCD-X and LCD-XC in Head-Fi's Exclusive Early Reveals video, they instantly became two of the most talked-about units in headphonedom. Given the history of Audeze within the community-at-large, this was to be expected.
But once we arrived at the show, we were beside ourselves to discover that they had brought along their DDA-1 DSP/DAC/amp prototype as well! This was an unanticipated surprise. And from that moment on, it became clear what CanJam 2013 was to Audeze. It was a statement. They were back, and ready to take on the world.
In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that several Audio360.org members were able to preview the various prototypes making their way through the community (some for nearly a year now). Being able to track their progress allowed us to see, feel, and hear the incremental improvements over time.
Now, one would assume that this imparted to us a tremendous understanding of the obsessive-compulsive dedication that went into their creation. Sure, it did.
But that process also dulled our appreciation, making us blase and harder to impress with each successive preview. It was still very good mind you, but sliced bread was making a strong comeback with each and every audition.
Frankly, we became somewhat apathetic, convinced that we had heard it all. We hadn't.
Audeze's running changes and last minute tweaks - right up until launch - resulted in a final tuning that managed to wow us all over again. In our collective opinions, the LCD-X and LCD-XC are nothing short of the very best headphones that Audeze has ever created.
For the LCD-X, we are pleased to report that they have addressed just about every concern we've ever had, with sensible solutions, but without compromise.
Moreover, we believe that they've finally united the two factions (LCD-2 owners vs LCD-3 owners) by offering a noticeably more neutral and balanced sound signature, while sacrificing none of the speed, detail or immediacy that is their hallmark.
As for the LCD-XC, those headphones embody the many years of sleepless nights and missed family time necessary to capture the signature LCD sound in a pair of closed-back headphones. It has been a long time coming, but our patience has been rewarded, as we believe Audeze has succeeded without qualification.
In the weeks, months, and years ahead, there will be endless comparisons between the LCD-XC and Mr. Speakers' Alpha Dogs - as well as the work of everyone else on the quest to create the ultimate closed-back headphone.
We make no declarations save this: it's a fantastically good time to be in hobby right now, because everyone wins!
At CanJam 2013, we found ourselves absolutely thrilled that we could share these "first audition" experiences with all of our friends in the community.
None of us waxed on about transients, membrane thicknesses or low-frequency response. We simply listened, looked at one another, and laughed in silly appreciation.
If those communally-shared moments in time could be bottled for everyone to enjoy, we'd set down our pens right now, and not write another word about these - there'd be nothing left to say. Until that day comes...
Audeze LCD-X Open-Backed Headphone
M. Mercer: The LCD-X? I had a worse teaser experience with this marvel months ago! I got to hear it for about 10 minutes in the morning before Headmasters started at the California Audio Show and it hurt to let it go! I honestly thought I was hearing the next evolution in the Audeze LCD line.
S. Ahn: REFINED. Audeze outdid themselves this time. If you didn't think it got any better than the LCD-3, well you were wrong. The LCD-X took the itty-little bits about the LCD-3 that didn't suit my ears, and took them all away, all the while keeping Audeze's signature dynamic range.
Audeze LCD-XC Closed-Back Headphone
M. Mercer: I had unreasonably high expectations of the LCD-XC going into CanJam. Well, I guess I can't say that, because a lucky few of us at Headmasters got to hear them during CAS earlier this year. But the DAC/amp that was used for those demos was my Audio360 brother Warren Chi's Woo Audio WA7.
Audeze DDA-1 DSP/DAC/Amp (Prototype)
S. Ahn: PIONEERING. Honestly, it was a bit difficult giving proper credit to where it was due in my audition of Audeze's proof-of-concept prototype DDA-1 DSP/DAC/Amp, because I was also simultaneously having my virginal experience with the LCD-X and LCD-XC. Was the joy I was experiencing thanks to the exquisite headphones, or was the essence of the sound in the DDA-1? How much would taking one part away take away from my overall experience? I left the show with these questions unanswered, and I eagerly await a more personal, extended audition of the new LCD models as well as the DDA-1.
M. Mercer: My friend Stan Ahn may have echoed, and even expressed my feelings on the DDA-1 DSP/DAC/Amp better than I even could with regard to Audeze's first pioneering effort in the headphone amp/DAC arena! Now, what we heard was merely a prototype, right down to the chassis. I heard we have something sexier to look forward to. I was impressed by the little amp/DAC combo. I admit that my expectations were also unreasonably high for this component, and I know Audeze is working through it (and will deliver something else worthy of the Audeze name).
EDITORIAL NOTE: Audio360.org will be featuring detailed reviews of both the LCD-X and LCD-XC shortly.
In the days leading up to CanJam, we began to hear whispers and rumors of a new Auralic product making its debut.
Very few were allowed any tantalizing details. But knowing Auralic as we do, we assumed it would be one serious piece of gear.
We descended upon the show, and were treated to a combination DAP/DAC/amp and headphone stand that mated Auralic electronics with a Klutz Design stand (the same stand Audeze uses to model their "steampunked" LCD).
Depending on who was asked, it was either an amp with a headphone stand on top, or a headphone stand with an amp underneath. In both cases, there was usually a bit of a grin, smirk or chuckle that followed.
But once we actually saw it up close - and auditioned it - all the chuckling stopped.
Auralic Gemini 1000 and Gemini 2000 Headphone Docks
The Gemini 2000 Headphone Dock is actually a complete, all-in-one, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink (and headphone) headphone system standing less than 12 inches tall and weighing just over 6 pounds.
There is a built-in media player with up to 2 terabytes of storage via an SDXC card slot - so you don't even need to supply a source.
It includes a DAC descended from their Vega audio processor that can handle everything from 44.1kHz all the way up to 384kHz, with full support for DXD, DSD and double-DSD.
That is then run through an amp stage descended from their Taurus MkII (though the Gemini isn't balanced).
And finally, all of the above is packed into a relatively small footprint of intricately-machined brass.
And of course, there is the stand by Klutz design, which is available in your choice of five different flavors of hand-polished lacquered enamel - black, white, red, yellow and blue. Top that off with a brass base available in your choice of either a gold or chrome finish, and you've got plenty of visual customization options. One quick note, the Gemini 1000 docks are only available with matte metallic finishes, while the Gemini 2000 docks feature a polished mirror finish.
Frankly, we're hard pressed to think of another unit that packs so much into so little. Actually, now that we're thinking about it, network-capability and a screen would be killer. And we wouldn't mind a carbon-fiber and gunmetal edition. But now we're really talking about a next-generation Gemini aren't we?
In the meantime, the Gemini 1000 and Gemini 2000 headphone docks will retail for $995 and $1,995 respectively, and are expected to be available in late November of 2013.
S. Ahn: POLISHED. So after hearing about this new fusion product from Auralic, the question we were asking each other was, is this a DAC that comes with a headphone stand, or is it a headphone stand that comes with a DAC? (Or is it a gimmick that comes with a headphone stand and a DAC?).
W. Chi: To say that this unit surprised me would be an understatement. Yes, there is a headphone stand component. And yes, it is an amplifier (solid state) as well. But when you factor in the built-in media player, up to 2TB of music storage via an SDXC card, and a DAC that handles everything from lossy media all the way up to Double DSD - that's when it becomes apparent that Auralic has essentially built an all-in-one headphone rig.
M. Mercer: I'm a jack ass for not spending more time with this innovative product! But that's how shows go. I'm actually proud to see CanJam grow so much that it's challenging to hear everything these days!
EDITORIAL NOTE: Audio360.org will be bringing you a detailed review of the Auralic Gemini 2000 in the very near future.
Subtle in their movements, and understated in their marketing, Beyerdynamic remains one of the stealthiest major manufacturers in headphonedom... the German headphone ninjas that they are.
After catching up with Beyerdynamic's Pete Carini - who we haven't hung out with since CES earlier this year - we dived right into the A20 ($679) and T51p ($289).
M. Liang: Beyerdynamic impressed us with a large collection of products on-hand for audition, ranging from their wildly-popular and customizable $199 COPs (Custom One Pro) to their flagship model the T1.
W. Chi: With all the uber-beast amps I've been trying out lately, like the Studio Six and Darkstar, I've forgotten what a nicely-designed little desktop amp can do.
S. Ahn: SPARKLE. I'll admit it. I'm a Beyerdynamic fanboy. If you like your sound profile to be light and airy, perhaps sparkly, you will feel like Beyerdynamic was a headphone brand built especially for you.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Audio360.org will be bringing you detailed reviews of both the A20 headphone amplifier soon, with a review of the T51p too follow soon thereafter.
George Cardas made his name in the high end two-channel world by making some of the world's finest audio cables without the bullshit show. He's an interesting person to know. I always say that when I walk away from a conversation with him I always learn something new!
Luckily Andy Regan and his team have aided Cardas in joining the high performance personal audio world with firm footing. I think they've succeeded. His name is synonymous with quality, whether you like it or not! It's great to have them getting into the personal audio interconnects business too. But they need to keep their prices as reasonable as possible. This still ain't old school high end audio-land. I believe they've shown they know how the game is played and they're gearing up for the new wave. So it was great seeing them at CanJam!
M. Mercer: I brought my Cardas EM5813 Ear Speakers IEMs this year, accompanied by my Astell & Kern AK100 (article on the AK120 coming soon). So it was a pleasure seeing my friend Andy Regan at the Cardas booth. I wrote about the Cardas Ear Speakers for the last Head-Fi Buyers Guide (link HERE, just scroll to them) so check that out for more details. I love my Ear Speakers because of the sense of air in their presentation; their capacity for dimensionality (the empty space between instruments or triggered sounds). Their midrange is silky smooth to these ears most of the time (depending on source). The combo with an Astell & Kern AK100 or AK120 is symbiotic. They compliment each other very well. They're also universal, not custom and I've fallen asleep wearing them. That has never happened with me and universal IEMs. But remember all our silly ears have different shapes, and a good seal is key, so try IEMs out before committing to anything if you can! I recommend the Ear Speakers often, and people seem to respond to them well.
S. Ahn: SPACIOUS. One of my biggest complaints about IEMs is that everything that comes out of them tends to sound compressed. Unlike cans, there is no natural reverb to speak of, sounds feel condensed and overly forward, and sometimes, frequencies start to bleed into each other, muddying up detail, especially those of subtle decays and reverbs. The Cardas Ear Speaker's mission seems to be to address these very concerns, and it success in spades. They have a sense of space and acoustic balance like no other IEMs I've heard within its price range and most outside of it. This is achieved through George Cardas' extensive research into the ways IEM drivers interact with the ear drum. Since IEMs are sealed into the ear canal, Cardas models this as a sealed closed dual diaphragmatic system (the IEM driver as one diaphragm, the ear drum as the other). What he accomplishes is a sense of openness in a sealed system by carefully controlling the pressure waves generated inside this system. They don't pound away at your ear drums like other IEMs do. This means not only does your music breathe, but so do your ears, especially during long listening sessions.
Dr. Alex Cavalli continually wins us over every time we get a chance to meet up with him. Not because he can design a brilliant amp or two or three - which he can. Not because he'll travel the country tirelessly so that we're able to audition his gear - which he does. But because he's just about the sweetest and most-caring hardware manufacturer we've come across in, well, in a long time.
If one of his amps isn't right for you, he'll make it clear in no uncertain terms. But if the Liquid Lightning, Liquid Glass or Liquid Gold are exactly what you need, then he'll simply sit back and let your ears tell you that. There is no push, no pitch, and no hassle. There is only the music... as it should be.
Most of us here at Audio360 were hoping to see the launch of a new amp... a Cavalli portable amp that is rumored to be the equal of a Cavalli desktop amp. Well, that didn't happen, because it's not ready. But that didn't stop us from looking - and listening - to some unicorn gear that tends to bring out the best in whatever is connected to it.
M. Mercer: Firstly I have to say my feelings regarding the pairing of JPS Labs' Abyss planar headphones and Alex Cavalli's Liquid Gold amplifier fall right in-line with my Audio360 brethren Warren Chi's words below!
W. Chi: I've said it on multiple occasions, and I'll say it again. I have yet to come across an amp that is more-capable of taking the JPS Abyss to its full potential than Dr. Cavalli's Liquid Gold (LAu). I find this pairing to be exceedingly balanced, unparalleled in detail, and nearly flawless in its overall presentation. Every single audition reaffirms for me that Cavalli's LAu is the DEFINITIVE amp for the Abyss. Of course, Abyss owners don't have to get a LAu - but then what's the fucking point of getting an Abyss?
CEntrance, a leader in both the pro and consumer electronics field, was at CanJam showing off their latest portable beast of a component; the highly-anticipated HiFi-M8! CEntrance, known for their USB driver implementation work with such industry leaders as McIntosh, Playback Designs, Benchmark and many others, was there to show CanJam attendees that the HiFi-M8 was in fact finished and ready for prime-time! Many Head-Fiers have been eagerly awaiting this product's arrival since the prototype showed up at last year's CanJam. Not only have they been waiting, many among them wait after having pre-ordered the unit, and they wait without complaint! Now that's customer loyalty in action. After all, Michael Goodman, Lead Designer for CEntrance, involved Head-Fiers directly in the development of the product! And so, did it deliver the sonic goods?
M. Mercer: I was lucky enough to get a chance to review the HiFi-M8 for Part-Time Audiophile before CanJam this year (link HERE). As a matter of fact it came along with me in my messenger bag on the plane to CanJam. It ended up being the heart of my main road trip rig! So I've come to know this lil' beast of burden pretty damn well. Why a beast you ask? Because this thing has balls. I'm sorry to be so crass, but it does: plain and simple. CEntrance has elevated the portable fidelity game with the M8. Before this product I would take a few DAC/amp options with me when I left on a trip. It's just one of many signs of a deep-seeded sickness I guess. Thanks OCD! Anyway, now I have a portable DAC/amp that rivals some of my previous desktop audio favorites.
W. Chi: I've had a chance to audition the HiFi-M8 several times now. And each time I come away wanting to take it home with me, even though I know I have absolutely no use for it. My AK120 has plenty of headroom for me, so I don't need a portable amp for the moment. I am likewise completely satisfied with my various home rigs, so I don't need it there either. So why can't I let this go?
S. Ahn: VERSATILE. If I could have only one piece of gear outside my source and my cans, that had to serve dual roles as both a desktop rig and and portable rig, the CEntrance HiFi-M8 would be my choice. Everything about it - the DAC, the amp, the interface, the options - is first class. It is nominally portable in the sense that it has a rechargeable battery and is light enough to keep in a pouch somewhere, but has enough heft and headroom to rival a lot of desktop setups. It'll pretty much drive anything you throw at it, and do it like a champ. Yet, the strength of the HiFi-M8 - portability without sacrificing on quality - might also seem like a weakness by some in the sense that it doesn't quite have the power of a full-size desktop rig, and its portability is not of the pocket-friendly variety. If you already have either a desktop rig you're happy with, you might want a truly portable setup, and if you like your portable rig, you may want a desktop amp with more heft. But as a hybrid, all-in-one solution, I'm not sure there is a better option out there.
Days before CanJam, Jude Mansilla teased us via Head-Fi TV preview mentioning the new Focal Spirit Classic. And boy oh boy, were we happy to see it on the show floor. The original Spirit One - released in 2012 - has since earned its stripes within the Head-Fi community. It also made the Head-Fi gift guide, which is no easy feat.
And now, with the Spirit One joined by its new siblings the new Spirit Pro and Spirit Classic, this was a family that we just had to check out for ourselves.
M. Liang: All three Focal Spirit headphones were on hand for comparisons. While they share the same overall look, they are definitely not the same in performance. Whereas the Spirit One's energetic sound signature makes them ideal for mobile use, we preferred the Spirit Pro's neutral and accurate sound signature, as it reminds us of their studio monitors.
S. Ahn: SEXY. These are some sexy cans. For those who might not know, Focal is a French company known for its high-end, gorgeously-designed loudspeakers. They've brought their sensibilities of fusing beautiful sound with beautiful form into the headphone game with the Focal Spirit Pro. The Spirit Pro is detailed, balanced, extended in both directions, and surprisingly spacious for closed cans. Seemed like what a pair of reference cans should sound like.
Fostex, and their distributor American Music & Sound, were on hand to exhibit a variety of wares, including their beloved TH900 and TH600 headphones.
However, the real draw was the new RP prototype headphone, announced just days before on Head-Fi.org, as well as new model of little IEMs that was easy for people to miss. We're glad we didn't.
Fostex RP Prototype
Fostex's RP headphones - and the drivers within them - are the stuff of legend. Few headphones have been custom-modded by the community to the extent that the T50RP has. And even fewer headphones have spawned additional commercial products in the form of the Mad Dog, Alpha Dog, Paradox, Thunderpants, etc. So when Fostex showed up with a new open-backed prototype RP headphone based on the same T50RP driver, it was a must-audition item.
The final production units are scheduled for a Q1/Q2 2014 release, at a tentative retail price somewhere between $500~$600. And while we typically prefer to not report on a prototype unit's performance, we do feel it important to take a look at where they're at sonically with this unit.
W. Chi: I experienced a fairly warm low-end, leading up to some recession in the lower mids. The bulk of the midrange is easy and laid back, lending vocals a very smooth presentation. The upper mids come forward nicely, without being strident or sibilant - but the highs roll-off far too early for my tastes. Staging is adequate, as to be expected of an open-backed can, with good imaging to boot.
S. Ahn: CHILLAXED. The Fostex RP Prototype can best be described as T50RP drivers on an open TH600 frame. And most definitely a prototype. What I heard was a chill mofo, smooth and laid back, with added soundstage over their previous closed cans.
Fostex TE-05 IEMs
Nestled in amongst the TH600, TH900 and RP prototype, was a solitary and non-descript IEM.
Also scheduled for a Q1/Q2 2014 launch - at a suggested retail price somewhere between $99~$129 - was the Fostex TE-05 IEM. It wasn't terribly impressive to look at - we almost passed it by - but as soon as we noticed it we had to take a listen.
W. Chi: OMGWTFBBQ!!11!!!oneone?! The TE-05 exhibited excellent bass response, being both tight and tonally rich, while extending gradually and smoothly into the sub-bass. And while I found the mids just a tad bit aggressive, they were presented without the slightest grain or any detectable distortion, which kept irritation at bay. Its upper mids and highs are a treat in that they absolutely sing, with excellent detail, giving way to just a hint of splashiness towards the top end.
S. Ahn: SSSIBILANCCCE. Meh. These IEMs were not ready IMO. I plugged these things straight into the headphone jack of my iPhone. There was one overriding characteristic that ruined it for me: Sibilance. These IEMs made sibilant songs I had no clue could induce sibilance. After trying a number of songs, for the sake of my poor ears, I moved on. I really don't understand the positive impressions others are getting from this, but I am certainly willing to give it another shot, maybe using a quality DAC/amp instead of my iPhone jack.
Jaben (w/Triad Audio)
If you've been a Head-Fier (or a member of the headphone community at large), it's very likely that you've heard of Jaben.
Oft-described as a headphone enthusiast's paradise, Jaben's Network of stores dominate Asian shores with its vast selection of quality personal/portable audio gear.
And while there are no plans to expand into the United States at this time, Jaben did pay us all a visit at CanJam 2013 to show us some of what we're missing here in the States, including a variety of GoVibe and Hippo gear.
We regret not having the time to audition that wonderful array of ear-candy. But with the Saturday night beer social was fast approaching, we thought it best to grab a quick bite before the festivities began.
Then, we saw the Triad Audio gear sitting off to the side.
Essentially an improved and scaled down version of their Lisa III, the L3 captivated us long enough to convince Brad Taylor (Triad Audio) into letting us review it as soon as possible.
Our reasoning was simple, if not grossly primitive: If that was the smallest it could be AFTER size reduction measures were taken, then OMG what does that thing sound like?!
EDITORIAL NOTE: Audio360.org has arranged for a review of the Triad Audio portable amp in the near future. Please check out our Facebook page or follow our Twitter feed to stay updated.
Jerry Harvey, one of the great innovators of IEM technology, and the man behind the universally praised JH-13 and JH-16 Freqphase in-ear monitors, has struck again, this time with his 12-driver Roxanne in-ear headphone! This isn't just another evolution in the JH Audio line, the Roxanne is Harvey's statement to his many competitors. It could be his opus, but I have a feeling he's not stopping anytime soon. After being blown away by the Roxanne however, I have to say he could probably sit tight for awhile. I don't see anybody coming close for awhile.
M. Mercer: I was in awe of the sound coming through this in-ear monitor. I'm not a big fan of IEMs, but my favorite pair are JH Audio JH-13 Freqphase, so my expectations going into this demo were through the roof. I wanted them after the second song and I couldn't even get a good seal! It wasn't the headphone's fault however, they just didn't have the tips I needed. Luckily I brought my triple flange tips with my Cardas EM5813 IEMs to the table, and I ended up with the seal required to fully take in Roxanne's magic. I was also lucky enough to use my own source for the demo: My Astell & Kern AK100 hi rez DAP.
S. Ahn: EARROOM. You've heard of head room. Well JHA now brings you earroom with Roxanne, its new custom carbon-fiber IEMs. I swear that while listening to these, there was a new room built into each of my ears, and I could clearly sense that the sounds were coming from distinct parts of the room. Perhaps it has something to do with the way JHA uses multiple drivers in its IEMs.
Koss came out strong to CanJam 2013 by bringing along nearly every premium headphone they make.
And did you know that Koss makes an Electrostatic headphone? In fact, it's been in production since the early 1990s. It's called the ESP-950, and it's only $999. It's made right here in the U.S.A., and it even comes with its own amp!
But here's the best part: the ESP-950 is backed by Koss's famous limited-lifetime warranty. Yeah that's right, lifetime warranty. According to our ears, that's fantastic!
M. Liang: I think it's safe to say that most of the CanJam attendees including myself have seldom seen an ESP-950 in the wild, let alone heard one. It's like the chupacabra of headphones. You know it exists, but you've never seen one in person.
Drew Baird and crew were again on-hand with seemingly everything under the sun (or moon rather).
For those of you unfamiliar with Moon Audio's presence at shows and meets, they bring along a multitude of rigs featuring a wide variety of sources, DACs, amps, headphones - and yes - interconnects. Factor in Drew Baird being on-hand to provide personalized advice, and you have yourself a one-man mini meet in Moon Audio.
Because of this, we couldn't possibly hope to cover everything there, so we didn't even try out of futility. But we highly advise you to make Moon Audio one of your prime destinations whenever possible. Just be forewarned that you may be there all day - so plan accordingly. In the meantime, here is but a small sampling - a smidgen - of the audio goodness that awaits you.
M. Mercer: I use Drew Baird's (Moon Audio) cables on all of my personal audio gear. No joke. I use his Silver Dragon cables on my JH Audio JH-13 Freqphase IEMS, my Audeze LCD-3 magnetic planar cans, and I also use Silver LOD cables (long for my iPad, short for the other portable stuff). They've proven reliable, transparent, and downright musical. They're components of my systems that I can count on. I finally got a set of Silver Dragon's with interchangeable tips (RSA balanced, 4-pin XLR balanced, 3.5mm, 1/4") and they're gonna be my go-to cable for travel and shows. I learned how much I love my Moon Audio Silver Dragon stuff the hard way this year at CanJam! I only brought a prototype cable with me to CanJam (terminated 1/4") and forgot my Silver Dragon stuff on my office desktop. Well, you gotta forget somethin' I guess. Too bad I forgot one of my most valued personal audio assets! If you need some straight-up cable talk and guidance, and a man who can get the job done, go to Moon-Audio.com and speak with Drew or Nicole. My portable rigs and desktop stuff wouldn't be giving me so much pleasure without them!
If there was ever to be a Cinderella-type success story in the world of modified headphones, it would be - without a doubt - the story of Mr. Speakers... a.k.a. Dan Clark.
In fact, we hitherto dubbeth him Mr. Dan "Cinderella" Clark.
Why, you ask? Because his is the story of a guy who's worked his ass off, did everything the right way, and is wholly deserving of all the success that his company Mr. Speakers is currently enjoying.
Beginning with the first Mad Dog, through each successive revision of those Mad Dogs, and now with the stellar Alpha Dog, Dan "Cinderella" Clark (see how we're using repetition to make that nickname stick) has been a man relentlessly pursuing one goal: to make the very best headphone he can, using the very best driver he's found (thus far).
His latest achievement, the Alpha Dog, was first unveiled to us shortly before CAS4 (California Audio Show 4). And in our opinion, it truly breaks down our preconceptions of what a closed back headphone sounds like.
Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog
M. Mercer: Dan Clark, the man behind the Mr. Speakers curtain has two reasons to be proud (at least) in his headphone career: His well-known and highly-acclaimed Mad Dogs, a closed orthodynamic headphone, and his latest masterpiece (an upgrade in so many ways), the new Alpha Dogs (also closed ortho-dynamic cans).
S. Ahn: EARSEX. I finally got a chance to audition the Alpha Dogs. They reminded me why I love headphones. As a portable audio enthusiast, you get to hear a lot of really nice sounding gear. You listen, compare, and discern the things you like, the things you don't.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Mr. Speakers' Alpha Dogs will be receiving Audio360.org's dual-review treatment shortly. Stay tuned!
Bitten by a bit of bad luck, most of Musica Acoustics' gear was held up in customs during the first day of CanJam 2013. And as that first day went on, we began to worry there might be no show for them at all. As bad a scenario as that would have been for them, the impact to us attendees would have far worse - because some of the most interesting gear at CanJam 2013 was to be found at Musica Acoustics.
Luckily, just when we thought all hope was lost, the heavens opened up. In other words, the U.S. Customs Department realized that personal audio is not a weapon of mass destruction. As Saturday opened, we were thrilled to find Musica Acoustics' table well stocked, and Dimitri Trush in good spirits.
And while we didn't get a chance to audition much of that gear ourselves, like the HiSound Audio BA100 in-ear monitors that's currently gaining quite a following over at Head-Fi.org, we were able to sit down with the much more tantalizing Tralucent Audio 1 Plus 2 universal hybrid IEM.
Tralucent Audio 1 Plus 2 Universal Hybrid IEM
W. Chi: Yes, I know what you're thinking, yet another kilobuck universal? Get past that for a moment. On its technical merits, the Tralucent 1 Plus 2 represents an incredible level of performance for a universal IEM. The LF response is both poised and full-bodied enough to have an organic feel about it. The highs are incredibly crisp, tapering off into a nice shimmer as they fade out of range. The mids - not so much recessed per se - can shift to being either spatially distant or forward depending on track selection. In either case, detail and resolution are conjured forth effortlessly, and presented free of distortion, with a great deal of refinement. And while YMMV with regards to the 1 Plus 2's staging, its oft-hyped soundstage capabilities are very real for me - especially with acoustically recorded music. I am glad that fellow attendees were given a chance to hear this for themselves States-side, as auditions of this unit can be rather hard to come by otherwise.
S. Ahn: What I heard through Tralucent's 1 Plus 2, I've only heard a few times before, and only with custom IEMs. So naturally I was dumbfounded that a universal IEM could produce such staging and mid-range presence and detail while maintaining a full extension in the bass. Then, after a few more tunes, it came to me. The bass and sub-bass was exceptionally controlled and tight, uncommon for any full-range IEM, and allowed the mids, especially textural sounds, to really come alive. There was some obvious bass dampening built into the design. Unfortunately, this also became my biggest (and only major) complaint about these IEMs. The bass was too controlled, too restrained. Every time it made its presence known, it seemed to disappear unusually quickly. There was no lingering. This meant that some low voices with a wandering, decaying pitch - meant to be a composite tone of different pitches, like a vibrato - would sound oddly out of tune as the tone picture would be missing pitches that occurred during sustains or decays of notes, the parts that would fade out too quickly. I would surmise that this was the trade-off in the process to achieve what Tralucent has with the 1 Plus 2, and in the final analysis, since this isn't an issue with most music, probably a worthwhile one.
If you've never heard of Perfect Sound, don't worry, you're not out-of-the-loop. While they are already known in Asia - particularly in Taiwan where they're from - they have yet to launch a sizable marketing campaign here in the States. So what makes them stand out amongst a sea of headphone manufacturers?
Perfect Sound first popped up on our radar nearly eight months ago. At the time, the rumor was that they were about to launch a $800, fashion-conscious, all-metal headphone that is driven by the - wait for it - same driver used in the Fostex TH900!
As incredible as that rumor was, their response to our inquiry was equally amazing. They were able to confirm the rumor and stand by that claim. And to drive the point home, they made appearances at both T.H.E. Show Newport earlier this year, and now at CanJam 2013, with units in tow.
Perfect Sound dido d901
M. Mercer: I'm glad I read Warren's impressions below before I sat down to scribe here! Because, as is often the case, we see eye to eye. When it comes to ear-devouring, nausea-causing bass I don't think of any of the bigger names in US headphones anymore! After hearing the Dido d901 I realized Perfect Sound built the cool, sick-sounding, slick headphone that commercial club DJ's should be wearing and using at home or in the studio to simulate the club experience in a headphone.
W. Chi: Design-wise, the d901 is one part Beats Pro in the hinges, one part classic Sansui in the ear cups, and one part Kanye West in the padding and upholstery. Now wrap up all of that in a package that's so chromed out, the universe can't even handle it. That's the dido d901. We'll be covering the d901 in a full review in the days ahead. But sound-wise, I would simply say this for now: Bassheads, your unicorn has arrived! The sheer amount of slam throughout the mid-bass is admirable, if not astounding. And while the mids and highs are in relative balance with regard to each other, it is clear that much of the engineering went into delivering a solid, hefty, distortion-free LF response that you can feel in your loins. If you're into balance and neutrality, I think you've figured out that this probably isn't your cup of tea. But if you're a basshead (or closet basshead), this might just be the one you've been searching for all your life.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Audio360.org will featuring a full review of the Perfect Sound dido d901 headphone in the days ahead.
Philips took all of headphonedom by storm last year with their Fidelio line of premium headphones. In fact, the Fidelio X1 and L1 headphones were so good, that our friend Tyll Hertsens (Editor-in-Chief at InnerFidelity) promptly placed them on the InnerFidelity Wall of Fame. That is an impressive feat for a company that's new to the premium headphone market.
And now, they're about to do it all over again, with their Fidelio L2 full-sized headphones, and their Fidelio M1BT Bluetooth Headphones.
Philips Fidelio L2
M. Liang: Lindsey Woods (media manager) showed us the successor to the Fidelio L1, the L2. We were like OMG, gimme, gimme.
Philips Fidelio M1BT
W. Chi: Bluetooth headphones don't impress me. For me, even the units widely considered to be the "best" end up sounding very compressed and - for lack of a better word - narrowbanded. It also doesn't help that I come across quite a few of them in my day job... and with very few exceptions, they are all horrible.
Ray Samuels Audio
We'd take the time to explain who Ray Samuels is, or what his company does, but frankly we shouldn't have to. Ray Samuels Audio (also known as RSA) has been a firm fixture in the high-fidelity headphone industry, almost since there was a high-fidelity headphone industry (at least as we know it today). And whether you are a fan or a critic, his amps are practically the stuff of legend in the community.
Here at CanJam 2013, we were fortunate to have Ray join us in person to show us his wares, talk shop with us, and just hang out as one of us guys. And though their exhibit didn't include the DarkStar as some of us had hoped, it did feature RSA's A-10 Thunderbolt amp for electrostatic headphones.
And if you were lucky enough to catch Ray as he wandered the show floor, you might have had the chance to hear his personal portable rig (iPod/Intruder/LCD-2)... the same rig that kept him in smiles all weekend long.
W. Chi: I had a chance to audition Ray's personal Intruder and LCD-2 rig. Within seconds, I found the Intruder's sheer power and headroom-to-spare thoroughly intoxicating. But more importantly, it was just plain fun to listen to. Fighting the urge to get my purchasing groove on, I resisted the Intruder for time being... just long enough to be reminded of how much I miss the DarkStar (which didn't get a chance to make the show)... first world problems. But the Intruder was a very worthy substitute. And despite my determination not to purchase anything out of impulse at the show - no matter what - Ray almost had me with the Intruder. That's saying something.
RHA (Reid Heath Acoustics) made their CanJam debut this year, joining us all the way from Glasgow, Scotland.
For us, it was a real treat seeing RHA as well as several others (e.g. Perfect Sound), since the appearance of new exhibitors are an excellent way to gauge the growth of the industry.
While RHA has a considerable back-catalog of headphones and IEMs - many of which we like quite a bit for their fun and engaging signatures - their stars for CanJam 2013 were the newly released MA600i and MA750i IEMs.
Already available in Apple stores throughout the EU, both new in-ears should be available here in States-side Apple stores sometime in November.
Lyndsey Gibson (RHA's Head of Communications) and Hazel McCormack (RHA's International Business Manager) were both on-hand to answer a wide variety of questions - including many technical questions about the units.
This was both a shock and a surprise, considering that even the occasional veteran exhibitor opts to send some rather uninformational salespeople instead.
Kudos to RHA for sending people that know their stuff.
RHA MA600i Universal IEM
The MA600i and MA600 (its iDevice-remote-less cousin) seem to be the last living descendants of RHA's previous, more consumer-friendly array of IEMs. Constructed largely of aluminum (that's aluminium for our brethren across the pond), the MA600i comes with a wide variety of tips, a hard carry case, and RHA's hallmark three-year warranty. It should be available starting this November at an MSRP of $89.95.
S. Ahn: LOW PASS FILTER. By all accounts these should sound great. Custom IEM drivers built in aircraft-grade aluminum. The FR graph RHA publishes on its site is as flat and balanced as I've seen. So I'm not sure what happened. The MA600i was like listening to my music through a low-pass filter. I didn't find them bassy in the sense that the MA600s had too much of it. There were just no highs past a certain mark, like it was rolled off with a filter. A smooth competent filter, but a filter nonetheless. I suppose these might be a good fit for the younger crowd whose ears are sensitive to mosquito-like highs, but for the rest of us, we're missing out on a lot of our music.
W. Chi: There's no way to get around this so I'll just say it - these are bassy. There's respectable sub-bass output as well, but the MA600i's mid-bass is the star of this show. And unfortunately, the bass does bleed into the lower mids. With that said, the mids do maintain a remarkable amount of composure, remaining surprisingly undistorted given the amount of LF response these things are throwing out. Upper mids are coherent and exhibit good separation without being harsh or strident, which was a commonly held complaint about previous models. The highs roll-off very smoothly, as opposed to dropping off a sharp precipice like sonic lemmings. So while I would not say these are open and airy, they are a far cry from being stifling. The soundstage, as one would expect, is quite intimate and closed-in. This won't matter much to fans of electronic/pop genres, but it is worth noting.
RHA MA750i Universal IEM
The MA750i and MA750 (again its iDevice-remote-less cousin) currently hold the crown as RHA's flagship IEMs. Constructed nearly entirely of 303F stainless steel housings, right down to the splits and plugs, the MA750i oozes build quality and resiliency. Of course, it also comes with RHA's 3-year warranty. But somehow, we don't think that warranty will be invoked very often. At only $129.95, the MA750i is sure to win over more than a few fans for its performance/price ratio.
M. Liang: The first thing that came to mind when I saw the RHA MA750i in it's retail package was, "this looks really nice!" When the ladies from RHA told me it sells for $129, it got even more appealing for me. With all in-ear headphones, a proper seal is critical to achieving the optimum performance. In the packaging, I counted 8 pairs of ear tips included with the MA750i and a nice storage case. I don't recall ever seeing a $129 IEM that came with that many different sizes of ear tips. RHA gets a thumbs up from me in the accessories department.
M. Mercer: I honestly thought these were far more expensive when I experienced their bass response and upper frequency sparkle. The new Machinedrum album was coherent, dynamic, mesmerizing through the MA750i. They could use a bit of clarity in the mid range I think - but at this price, it's an absolute STEAL.
W. Chi: I like the low-end of the MA750i quite a bit. It manages to balance warmth and an unanticipated level of speed and control - especially for a dynamic driver at this price point. Both bleed and bloat - if present - are there in trace amounts only, and kept to a minimum overall. It's mid-range presentation is easily enjoyable, being both smooth and cohesive. Details are served up with both clarity and an admirable lack of distortion, grain or harshness. The highs are easy, with just a hint of sparkle and shimmer. So what we have here is a weighty low-end that packs a potent but tight punch, Goldilocks mids that are neither too forward nor recessed, and graceful highs with good manners.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Stay tuned for Audio360's full review of RHA's flagship MA750i IEM.
We're going to spare you a collection of half-baked Schiity puns (or not) and simply say this: Schiit Audio's exhibit became - for many an attendee - one of the must-see and must-hear stops at CanJam 2013.
It wasn't because of the upcoming Yggdrasil statement DAC. Nor was it because of the upcoming Ragnarok statement amp (though attendees were given a sneak preview of a rough prototype). It wasn't even due to the recently-launched Loki DSD module in their mini-Schiit stack line-up.
No, the crazy little piece of Schiit that was getting all our panties in a bunch was the new Schiit Vali, a mini-Schiit-stack tube amp that is only $119 shipped. We're going to say that again, but louder: the new Schiit Vali, a mini-Schiit-stack tube amp that is only $119 shipped.
Yeah, some crazy ass Schiit right? Here's the kicker, it rocks!
Here at Audio360.org, we first encountered the Vali as a naked PCB back in the day. But even then it seemed to hold a world of promise. The board design was clean and compact, a herald of things to come. Fast forward months later, and news of this little wonder began leaking out here and there. After Jude Mansilla announced it over at Head-Fi.org, we were finally free to talk about it without restraint. So what do we think of it?
M. Mercer: Warren Chi and I got a sneak peak at the board lay-out for the Vali at CAS. We smiled at each other like giddy school kids. I've been waiting to hear this newer manifestation ever since! I even loved their placard sign for the Vali, which called it "The Least Expensive Serious Tube Amp". I love it. Jason Stoddard from Schiit said, and I laughed in agreement, something like "It's nice when the tubes are actually in the signal path and not just used to light up and look pretty".
S. Ahn: TUBEY. The Vali is definitely a tube amp. It lets you know that it has, within it's tiny frame, big (sounding) balls (er, tubes) that produce sound that is warm, thick, and smooth. Everything that a good tube amp should be. And for $119, you aren't going to be able to buy another tube amp, let alone one that sounds as good as the hyperorchidic Vali. So if you don't have the budget, but want TOOBS, like now, you really have only one choice, that that choice is the Vali. As a postscript, I have to mention that this amp may not be a good pairing with all headphones, since the output impedance is 8 Ohms, on the high-side of headphone amps. As a general rule of thumb, you want to maximize energy transfer by using a headphone with a load impedance of at least 8 times the output impedance of the amp. So by this rule, you might not get the full range and dynamics of your music using headphones with impedances less than about 64 Ohms.
W. Chi: Auditioning through the supplied LCD-2, I found the Vali to be very nicely-weighted, with surprisingly good bass control typically found in tube amps far in excess of the Vali's asking price. As such, I also found the lower mids to be exceptionally clean and tight, and free of any loose or syrupy bass bleed. The rest of the mids were smooth and lush especially with female vocals, which I had expected. However, the Vali did not seem to veil or smear any midrange detail - which I did not expect. The highs, far from being offensively rolled-off, had a easy-going sparkle about them. Overall, the Vali gels extremely well across the entire frequency range, with excellent staging that was never once stifling. Obviously, Schiit has yet another winner on their hands with the Vali. And I say this based purely upon its performance - and not its absurdly low price point (though that doesn't hurt). Unless you hate tube amps, the Vali is a clear case of "shut up and take my money!"
Also making an appearance - but only in sneak-peek prototype form - was the upcoming Schiit statement amp, the Ragnarok. We typically do not report on prototype units. But we just know that y'all are going to ask anyway, so here ya go.
S. Ahn: BEAUTY/BEAST. LIke all of Schiit's offerings, the Ragnarok is a thing of beauty in the modern minimalist sense. The Ragnarok is also a beast by any measure, considering that it's capable of pumping out 100W into 4-Ohm speakers and 1.6W into 300-Ohm headphones with a circuit that is described as a fully discrete Crossfet circlotron-style stage with no caps in the signal path and no DC servos. What I heard was still in the prototype stage, and I was told that the production model would sound completely different, so I'm not sure how useful my impressions are, but I will say, as most prototypes I've auditioned at CanJam, this was not quite ready.
There are few (if any) companies in high-end headphone audio that are more prestigious than Sennheiser. With perennial favorites like their HD 800 reference-level headphones, as well as newer favorites like the Sennheiser Momentum, theirs is a reputation that is both well-deserved and continually maintained by a string of hits.
At CanJam 2013, Sennheiser was on hand to show off a wide variety of items from consumer headphones, to high-fidelity headphone, to some purpose-built DACs and amps that frankly have no equal. Just about the only item they didn't feature prominently was the HD 800. As it turns out, this was no bad thing, as there were at least a half dozen HD800 units scattered throughout the show.
Sennheiser HDVD 800 DAC/Amp and HDVA 600 Amp
M. Liang: Sennheiser had an interesting demo set up at CanJam 2013. They had two HD 800 units connected to one HDVD800 DAC/amp. One HD800 was terminated with a XLR connector while the other HD800 had the stock cable with 1/4" TRS jack.
Sennheiser Momentum and Momentum On-Ear
M. Liang: I love the styling of the new Momentum on-ear. It looks like a headphone from the 60's, especially the Ivory color. But don't let the retro styling fool you. The Momentum on-ear has the sound signature you would expect from a modern portable headphone - strong bass and clear highs. Ideal in drowning out noise around you when on the go. And as you would expect from Sennheiser, the materials used and fit and finish is first rate. For an on-ear headphone, it is extremely comfortable thanks to the super soft Alcantara ear cushions. Priced at $229, we feel that the Momentum on ear will appeal to a lot of people looking for a Beats by Dre alternative.
W. Chi: I am a big proponent of not fixing what ain't broke. Unfortunately audio companies have a rich history of doing just the opposite, much to my personal irritation. For example, when V-Moda was preparing the M-100, I was hoping (against all odds) that it would simply be a larger M-80, resulting in better comfort and isolation. That didn't happen. What we ended up with is essentially the LP3 (ugh... that was pretty much the last thing we needed). So why is this relevant here?
EDITORIAL NOTE: Audio360 has an upcoming review of several Sennheiser products - including their Momentum On-Ear headphones, in the days ahead.
At CanJam? Wow!
A leading manufacturer of headphones (and frankly, all sorts of personal audio products) since the early 1970's, Sony's reputation as a leader in high-end audio is beyond dispute. In fact, for those of you young enough not to remember the Walkman, it was the world's first personal audio player. Even Jude Mansilla (the founder of Head-Fi.org) began his headphone journey with a pair of Sony's venerable MDR-V6 headphones (now discontinued after more than 25 years in production).
So when we first learned of Sony's intended appearance at CanJam 2013, we realized right away that they were there to show us something rather important... something big... and we weren't wrong. Needless to say, we were thrilled to have an opportunity to check out their new high-res audio products: the HAP-S1 Hi-Res Music Player; the UDA-1 USB DAC; and the PHA-2 Hi-Res portable DAC/amp (and successor to the famed PHA-1).
But wait, there's more! Jeff Hiatt (Sony's Senior Product Marketing Manager) and Naotaka Tsunoda (Sony's MDR-Series Engineer) travelled all the way from Japan, with fellow Sony team members in tow, to answer all of our questions regarding the various technical minutiae for their products. How cool is that?!
Sony PHA-2 Portable DAC/Amp
M. Liang: Portable amp/dacs are nothing new. But when you put an army of Sony's product designers on one, it is almost guaranteed to become far sexier that it would otherwise be. That's the feeling we felt when we saw the new PHA-2 hi-res portable dac/amp.
S. Ahn: SONY BEING SONY. My first headphones were Sony's. So I was totally thrilled that they were here at CanJam, considering that most of their focus seemed to have been on the consumer side of the portable audio industry. But it soon became very clear to me that Sony was here not so much to show off its headphones, but to let the enthusiast community know that, true to its roots, it was going to maintain its role as the leading force in high-definition media and media players (think Betamax, CDs, Blu-Ray).
Sony XBA-H Series Hybrid IEMs
Never one to miss a good show, Ultimate Ears arrived early with everything ready to go. And representing them this time was our good friend Christian (CEE TEE on the boards). This afforded us the chance to sneak in some private auditions in a quiet room the night before CanJam started. Thanks Christian!
UE's arsenal featured pristine demo units of their entire lineup... as well as the technological miracle we've come to know as that-magic-box-with-all-those-dials-thingamajig (TMBWATDT). Of course, we know its purpose is to let us dial-in the exact sound signature we prefer for our Ultimate Ears Personal Reference Monitors (UEPRMs). And yes, we know it's called a Personal Reference Tuning Box. But this is our CanJam report, and we're calling it like we see it.
As a big thank you to the community, Ultimate Ears was also giving away three pairs of Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors (UERMs) - one for each day of the show! That is just under $3,000 worth of appreciation to the community. How's that for a "show special?"
Congratulations to our friend Brian Hunter of AudioHead, and fellow Audio360.org scribe, for scoring a UERM win on the last day!
EDITORIAL NOTE: Stay tuned for Audio360's coverage of Ultimate Ears' Headquarters. That's right, we're going to the CIEM mothership!
While their anticipated Milano headphone was not ready to be shown at CanJam, V-Moda was on hand to show off their full line of current offerings, including their new M-100 pads
S. Ahn: I was glad to see my fellow Angelenos from V-Moda in Denver and get a chance to meet them in person.
Woo Audio caps off our list of red hot exhibitors at CanJam 2013 with - not one - but two new debuts.
First, Jack Wu was on hand in Suite 574 to debut their production WA234 monoblocks. Like everyone else, we have been admiring these gorgeous works of art from afar for some time now.
And, as a surprise, Woo Audio also brought a functional prototype of their new all-tube WA7 power supply. As several of us here at Audio360.org own the WA7 Fireflies, we are all ears!
Woo Audio WA234 Monoblocks
Regrettably, we didn't get a chance to gather many accurate impressions of Woo's monoblocks. As a matter of fact, the units were so popular at the show, it was a considerable challenge just trying to get a decent shot without having another attendee photobomb us. First-world problems.
But fret not, Audio360.org's very own Frank Iacone is getting these IN DA HOUSE, so we look forward to bring you some impressions soon!
Woo Audio All-Tube (12AU7) PSU for WA7 Fireflies
Featuring a pair of 12AU7 tubes serving as rectifiers, and a custom-wound toroidal transformer, this (as of yet unnamed) WA7 power supply is compatible with all existing WA7 Fireflies.
Woo Audio was keen enough to bring two separate WA7 setups linked to a common source. One featured the new prototype PSU, while the other featured the standard PSU, so that everyone could audition the two side-by-side.
As this PSU was a prototype unit, it was enclosed within a duplicate WA7 housing for CanJam, with the final design to be determined.
Tentatively estimated to be priced somewhere in the neighborhood of $300, this new unit is intended to be an attractive and affordable upgrade for all WA7 owners.
W. Chi: The WA7's basic signature remained largely unchanged in terms of frequency response. However I was able to enjoy a very pleasant improvement in transparency, soundstage and separation with the new PSU. And while I can't recall my personal WA7 ever sounding congested, it was very clear that the new PSU revealed a new level of detail, depth and dynamics. I was impressed enough that I reserved the first production unit off the line.
S. Ahn: HARMONICS HEAVEN. If you have experience with the WA7, you'll know that as a tube amp, the thing is uncannily quiet while still retaining warmth and fullness. Maybe a blind observer could even be fooled into thinking the WA7 was a solid state amplifier if only for its utterly low noise floor. The new tube power supply by Woo strips any misconceptions and declares itself openly to be a full-fledged tube amp. This means harmonics galore, especially in the low and low mids.
Surprise! It's the Geek USB Headphone Awesomifier
It's a personal audio fairytale. Boy gets idea. Boy asks for Kickstarter support. Boy receives more than 10 times what he asked for! Sounds like a happy ending right? Except that it didn't end there... not even close.
While our buddy Gavin Fish and his crew were not exhibiting at CanJam 2013, they did have a functional prototype of their upcoming Geek USB DAC/amp making its way around the show floor. As a matter of fact, it was the 1-watt Super-Duper Geek (sometimes dubbed the Uber Geek) at that.
Of course, here at Audio360.org, we got to spend some quality ear time with it. No surprises here, it had us at hello.
M. Mercer: I'm so proud of my friend Gavin Fish of Light Harmonic. He's been working towards their GEEK campaign for longer than many assume, with the aid of "uncle Bill" Leebens, and they worked their asses off to make this happen. You can check out my article in The Daily Swarm about the project.
W. Chi: This can't be right! There's no way this little thing can sound so ridiculously good! And putting out 1-watt into this LCD-3? Gavin please?! Well it does, and it does.
Head-Fi.org's Saturday Night Microbrew Social
Though you won't find it listed in any of RMAF's official social calendars, there is an annual tradition of eating, drinking (especially drinking) and being merry. This year was no different. We are - of course - referring to Head-Fi's Saturday Night Microbrew Social.
Through the kind generosity of Jude Mansilla, Head-Fi.org, and TTVJ, all CanJam 2013 attendees were treated to a never-ending and hand-picked selection of the area's best microbrew. Snacks were generously (and unwittingly) provided by Koss, as we periodically took to raiding their candy bowl, which was left out during the night. Thanks Koss!
As per tradition, we will not be reporting on the events that transpired at this microbrew social because: (a) what happens at CanJam stays at CanJam; and (b) we honestly don't remember much. But please let our silence be an indication of just how much fun it was.
Accompanying that non-stop flow of local microbrew was a full DJ set featuring none other than Alex Rosson, CEO of Audeze and our very own Michael Mercer. Really? Mercer? LOL
YES! That's our Mercer! He works like he means it. He plays like he means it. Because he lives like he means it. And we wouldn't ever have it any other way.
RMAF Discussion Panel: Chilling Out on a Sunday Afternoon
Taking a break from CanJam 2013 show coverage - because too much of a good thing can skew one's sense of reality - Audio360.org's own Warren Chi was able to relax and freely converse with showgoers at one of RMAF's many discussion panels.
Moderated by our friend Tyll Hertsens of InnerFidelity, Warren joined esteemed guests Paul Barton (of PSB) and Alex Rosson (of Audeze) as they discussed Lines In The Shifting Sands of The Information Age - A Look Into The Future of Traditional vs. Personal Audio and How The Landscape Is Changing.
Like any audio discussion panel it was part informative, part laughs, and just a nice way to get away from it all, without leaving any of it.
Good Bye Denver... See You Next Year!
For both us and or fellow attendees alike, CanJam 2013 was an event to remember, fondly. If we could change any one thing about it, it would be to add a few more days to the calendar. There's simply too much sheer unadulterated fun to be contained within three short days.
Along those lines, to all of our friends at Avatar Acoustics, Aurisonics, HeadAmp, HiFiMAN, JDS Labs, Lake People, TTVJ (Todd The Vinyl Junkie), TEAC and Westone - we're sorry we couldn't spend more time with you. We're only human. Let's catch up at the next show!
This is Audio360.org closing out for now. Listen, love, live. Peace.
Frankly, there are far more people to thank than we could ever manage to do here, so we will simply say this: All of us here at Audio360.org would like to express our heartfelt thanks to our dear friends Jude Mansilla and Joe Cwik of Head-Fi.org, and Marjorie Baumert of Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Their unwavering professionalism, tireless dedication, and abundant generosity to the community made CanJam 2013 @ RMAF what it was - a three-day celebration of everything that we love about music, appreciate in gear, and enjoy with each other. Thanks guys!
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