The Official 2014 SoCal Head-Fi Meet|
an Audio360.org Show Report
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Friday, March 28th, 2014
by Kevin Venable
The Official 2014 SoCal Head-Fi meet was a most excellent way to spend a Saturday.
Held at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, California on March 22nd, it was a full day of sonic revelry and community. And I do mean full in every sense of the word. 325 people crowded into the Westin's 2nd floor meeting rooms to roam the halls: 225 attendees and 100 members of the trade.
This was my second Head-Fi meet, both of which have been organized by Head-Fi members (and fellow Audio360.org scribes) Ethan Opolion and Warren Chi. These two guys have a knack for topping their previous efforts. So while my first Head-Fi meet remains one of my favorite life experiences, this one topped it in every possible way. I am reluctant to even contemplate what they might have in store for the next one. Though the rumor of a two-day event would be welcome, as trying to get to everything was quite literally impossible.
There was plenty of brand new gear to hear, with many pieces being debuted for the first time at the meet. It was like a personal audiophile candy store, with tantalizing and free samples. However what topped even the exquisite gear was the sense of camaraderie that permeated the place.
The community aspect of the Head-Fi forum is something you need to see in action to appreciate. Everyone tends to be laid back and helpful. The day ends up feeling like an afternoon hanging in your friends living room listening to music. In some ways that is exactly what is happening, except your friend invited 27 high-end personal audio companies over, who wanted to share in the experience!
It was wonderful to see old friends and meet new ones, and though a good chunk of this article is about gear impressions, the main impression left on me was one of connectedness. Connectedness through music and the gear we use to get closer to that music.
On With The Show!
Some notable things are missing from my impressions. I apologize to Affordable Audio, Brilliant Zen Audio, Exit Level Audio, Jerry Harvey Audio, Noble Audio, NuForce, plusSound, Schiit Audio and Ultimate Ears for not getting enough time at your tables to get something in print. However on the plus side for those companies, the main reason this occurred is because I just couldn't find a place to sit down and have a listen. Well I will get on with it then...
Head-Fi member Sam Edwards had the portable tube amplifier from Analog Squared Paper in Japan on his table.
The system was fronted by an Astell & Kern AK120 feeding a Meridian Director via optical cable and driving a Sennheiser HD 800. It was a bit light in the bass but made up for it with a liquid midrange and clear, sublime highs.
Apogee brought the full line of their AD/DA products and were very excited to be there. The table seemed busy most of the day as Head-Fiers ate up the stellar products and down-to-earth price points.
Being a long time Duet user for recording, I looked forward to checking out the Symphony... it didn't disappoint. Great sound and up to 32 channels of analog to digital conversion makes it a great fit for any project studio.
On the other side of the price spectrum the Apogee One supports recording and playback on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac while sounding superb.
The new AK240 was definitely one of the most talked about pieces of gear at the meet.
I'll admit that even though my bothers-in-arms here at Audio360 had given it the huge two-hard-nipples seal of approval, I was still skeptical about it living up to the hype - not to mention the price point.
I wish I had a picture of my face at moment I heard this little beast. As the music traveled from the AK240 up the balanced cable to the HD800 and into my ears, I thought if I only needed digital playback this system could be very well be all I would ever need. High marks indeed, and if this what it costs to get this type of sound and convenience you may have to count me in soon.
I actually didn't feel the need to stop by the Audeze table at all. Almost every vendor and quite a few of the member tables had at least one of their headphones. I believe that says plenty about the reputation of the company and every time I auditioned an amp or DAC with one I realized that these are just amazing headphones.
The new LCD-X is an amazing reference level headphone and the LCD-XC sets new expectation levels in closed cans. I personally still have an issue with the weight of these exquisite sounding headphones but I can't fault their sound or build quality.
Bakoon had two of their current drive amps on display fed by Sony Hi-Res walkmans.
The amp sounded very good and in current mode and startled me with the way they brought my Beyerdynamic T1 alive seemingly from the dead.
I would like to spend some more time with this product for sure.
Dr. Alex Cavalli makes some of the best headphone amplifiers in existence today. The JPS Labs Abyss paired with the the Liquid Gold made a believer out of me... playing back a live version of the Eagles Hotel California with such weight and authority I got shivers.
The Liquid Glass is an innovative product that sounds excellent as well. Both of these two products will get their own reviews here on Audio360 in the near future and are quite worthy of all the notoriety they have been getting.
In fact, Mercer can't shut up about the Liquid Gold! Considering that his reference desktop amps (E.A.R HP4, ALO Studio Six, Burson Conductor, McIntosh D100) when he claims the Liquid Gold is part of his current "favorite system of all-time" well, I'm not sure what's coming, but I have a feeling it might be a slightly positive review.
The Chord Hugo was shown by Los Angeles audio dealer AudioHigh and was fronted by the wonderful Meridian Digital Media System. After a brief listen through the provided HD800 I hurried back to my table and retrieved my Beyerdynamic T1.
This tiny and odd looking DAC/AMP made great music with both headphones and with it's feature set has made it on to my further consideration list for my home system, both in my main rig as well as my portable one.
The only complaint I heard was about how it looked. People seemed to either love or hate it's appearance. I for one love it.
This table was out of your head and out of control! The Out of your Head software was just insane.
Darin Fong has really achieved something remarkable with its ability to pretty much become a surround sound system on your head as well as sound like different speakers. Only available for Windows at this time, the Mac version is in the works now and I am drooling!
Dan Meinwald, the U.S. distributor for E.A.R., had a wonderful table showcasing the HP4. Both Warren and Michael Mercer have been telling me how ridiculously good this amplifier is. Well, it didn't disappoint.
Driving my Beyerdynamic T1 and fed by the E.A.R. DAC4 the sound was dynamic and moving. The soundstage seemed wider than should be possible and the timber and tonality were spot on.
Dan played a found sound composition for me that made me feel lost in a city after dark with strange noises all around... intensely beautiful.
The 2A3 MKII was in attendance at this table. It sounded syrupy sweet and detailed.
I am not a terribly huge fan of the French music that is often used to demonstrate the Eddie Current amps and cut my visit short as a result.
Grace sent event organizer Ethan Opolion the new m920 to show on his table. Paired up with the DNA Stratus driving the HD 800, HD 700 and T1 the sound was remarkable. A full featured studio monitoring control solution, the Grace has a myriad of features that we will delve into in a full review here soon.
HeadAmp brought both the GSX and the Blue Hawaii. The GSX was anodized in a beautiful red though I regret I accidently deleted the picture I took. It was stellar with the LCD-XC.
The Blue Hawaii with the Stax SR-009 set a new standard in resolution and dynamics for me. I would love to own this set up for sure. Both the SR-007 and the SR-009 sounded so heavenly on this amplifier I can understand the reference to paradise in the name.
We have probably all heard the Light Harmonic Geek Out crowdfunding story. It is a good read and shows that the general public is really interested in better sound if approached properly. But how awesome is the headphone awesomfier?
Let's just say it defines it's class. In fact it may just be in a class of it's own.
It is a stellar piece of kit, driving both the Audeze LCD-XC and the Beyerdynamic T1 I tried with ease and pure musicality. Our own Michael Mercer will have some reviews on the Geek Out out by the time this is published; Read them and believe them!
I went to the Mr Speakers table excited to hear the Alpha Dog as I had been putting off buying another closed headphone until I had heard it.
Well, hearing it on the Cavalli Liquid Glass showed it to be every bit the knock-out people have been reporting it to be.
Dan also showed me his new Dog Treats: small "biscuits" of industrial grade craft foam that are used to reduce the high frequencies above 4 kHz without affecting the resolution of the headphone.
A quick demonstration later and I was a believer. I actually liked the headphone equally well with both the highs intact and reduced. Dan joked that this was headphone rolling!
The big news at the MrSpeakers table though was the introduction of the new Mad Dog Pro: a headphone that sits comfortably between the Mad Dog and the Alpha Dog in sonics and price. I actually really liked the Mad Dog Pro and think I may be getting one.
Pendulumic was the surprise of the show for me. The new company was debuting a $199 dollar Bluetooth AptX capable headphone that also has an active and passive cabled mode.
My girlfriend and I stopped by the table mostly to get our stickers for the raffle and I decided to let my girlfriend try the headphone. Thirty seconds later she asks me to get it for her. I decided I needed to hear it for myself.
In Bluetooth mode the sound was full and musical, taking full advantage of the lossless ALAC files on my iPhone. I really enjoyed it's presentation in both active modes, and found the passive mode to be decent with my phone as well.
If used as intended this is a wonderful headphone with a full feature set for being out and about with a great sound. Full review to come here on Audio360!
Luis Flores (LFF on Head-Fi) is a legendary member of the community well-known for his extraordinary modding skills. This was my first exposure to Luis's work and I think the Enigma was a great introduction for me.
The sound was clear and dynamic and very linear in the mids and highs with a slight boost in the bass that made for very fun listening. This sound signature - if done correctly (as it was in the Enigma) - is one of my favorites. And after my short visit with the headphone I was ecstatic to learn the we are going to be doing a full review of the headphone here at Audio360.
Confronted with a huge three-table setup, I was overwhelmed by Sennheiser's appearance at the meet. As they were incredibly busy, the only thing I stopped to check out at the Sennheiser table was the the HDVD 800 powering the HD700 via the new balanced cable.
The HDVD 800 was stellar with the HD700 as I expected it would be, but in balanced mode this combo was a beast! I was very, very impressed.
I stopped by the SPL table to say hi to my old friend - the SPL Phonitor 2 - which I had just returned a few weeks earlier after reviewing it with Michael Liang here at Audio360. I tried it with the LCD-X and wished I had that headphone during the review as it was a fantastic pairing.
The only piece of Fiio gear I was interested in was the X5. I found it located at distributor TekFX's table. I gave it a listen with an AKG K702 and found the sound very good. I was however pretty much unable to figure out the user interface. It was decidedly unintuitive. But at it's price point, it sounded quite good and possibly with the manual it would end up making sense.
However, it should be said that the TekFX table was highly entertaining. The person who was sent to man the table was really never around, he was staggering around the entire meet seemingly extremely intoxicated in some manner. Truly surreal. TekFX is taking full responsibility for their representative's actions, though these were truly the individual’s and not the companies’ fault.
Jack Wu over at Woo Audio sent Warren Chi a full table of gear for our perusal. Most notable were the just announced WA7D and the prototype of the WA7 tube power supply.
The extra optical input on the WA7D is a nice addition and worked seamlessly with the Woo Audio CD transport. The tube rectified power supply is a huge sonic upgrade to the WA7. Vocals and horns seemed more alive and instrument separation seemed better in comparison to my personal WA7 which was just a few tables away. This was despite mine having a better source and better output tubes than the Woo demo unit.
The 12AU7 rectified power supply is going to be huge!
After a seven month design phase, that a few of us at Audio360 where involved in on some level, Alex Sventitsky released his Red Wire series of headphone cables at the meet.
These cables are sonically excellent, reasonably priced and look devastatingly cool! I have been living with my HD700 prototype cable for a few weeks know and I love it.
I can't discuss this table without mentioning the DAC. The system used to demonstrate the cables was The Audeze LCD-X, Schiit Mjolnir and a Lampizator Level 5 DAC. Having heard all of the components except the Lampizator before I realized that a big part of how blown away I was by the system was the DAC. It quite simply may have been the most musical DAC I have ever heard.
So while I need to thank Alex for the most amazing headphone cables (and other cables as my system is wired mostly by Wywires cabling), I must also give him my gratitude for introducing me to a DAC that will most likely empty my bank account.
All Good Things...
Michael Liang of Audio360 said I should title this article: "If you weren't here your life sucks." Well, he would know about that, as he missed out on it! I may have to rub that in for quite some time.
It was a wonderful day full of music, gear, and community and I am glad I was able to attend. Thank you to everyone who was there; industry people, Head-Fi members and the organizing team!
Editor's Note: For a unique perspective from our friends at Positive Feedback, check out Dean Seislove's show report at http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue72/headfi.htm. And for more impressions of the meet (and the gear), check out the Official 2014 SoCal Meet Impressions Thread at Head-Fi.org.
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