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.A. = Stan Ahn; W.C. = Warren Chi; M.L. = Michael Liang; M.M. = 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.M.: 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.
I end up using the X1 on short errands or walks, things like that. It also never leaves my messenger bag because it’s so light and easy to stash away. I use the HiFi-M8 when I travel. Alpha Design Labs shook up the personal audio world a bit with their GT-40 model years ago. It has a boatload of features. I remember people calling it the “swiss army knife of desktop audio.” Shit has that phrase been abused to death. Anyway, the features of the GT-40 (a DAC, headphone amp, A/D converter) were great, but it was the sound of music through the piece that kept it in the lexicon (now followed-up by the Espirit). The X1 is a solid little piece of kit that makes sweet music. I’m hanging onto mine! Check it out if this sounds like something you’re looking for. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
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.M.: 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.
What’s so terrific about that? Getting to switch back-n-forth in order to make judgements in real time, as opposed to taking notes, reflecting back on the sound and reporting on the results. This changes the game in a couple ways. Before I got the Studio Six (or the E.A.R), headphone listening was a solitary experience. I would have fellow Audio360 scribes at my house and we’d listen to rigs one at a time and discuss the sound following our auditions. So there really wasn’t a way to actually share the experience in the moment without a headphone signal splitter/distributor.
The Studio Six changed all that. Next thing you knew my friends and I were engaging in listening sessions with headphones akin to the experience of sitting in front of my two-channel in-room reference system! We were sitting in my office, bumpin’ the Studio Six, all with different cans (the three of us) enjoying ourselves, cutting it up, chatting all night and exploring different music. It was no longer a solitary event: Listening to headphones. We were enjoying our own cans while listening to the same tunes, through the same amplifier, and it did a hell of a job driving each headphone to our satisfaction simultaneously!
What a treat. It’s opened up a new way of looking at headphone listening – like the silent rave craze, where every attendee has a set of wireless headphones, all connected to the same source! No need to worry about the cops in that situation! The only difference there is: We’re experiencing high fidelity together through the Studio Six! It’s a glorious experience to behold.
ALO brought out all sorts of headphones for their Studio Six demo at CanJam, and the results were outstanding. The sound was sweet and coherent, excitable and engaging. I could’ve sat there all day. Audeze also used a Six on their table (more about that in our Audeze impressions).
ALO Audio’s The Island Portable DAC/amp
M.M.: But for me, surprisingly, the highlight of my visit to the ALO booth was the brand new Island headphone amp/DAC combo.
Since I own the Studio Six,it was killer to watch other people marvel at its sonic presentation, but the Island was wholly new to me, so spending time with it at the show was a real treat. I mean, I was practically drooling over a chance to hear it since they announced it online weeks earlier.
The aluminum extrusion chassis comes in in four colors (a killer concept in these fashion-forward days): black, gold, blue, and silver. I ended up taking a silver unit home for review. I love its modern styling. Not to mention its feature set. This small balanced headphone amplifier is a superbly executed example of the magic that comes from the union of form and function? Equipped with an asynchronous 192k/24-bit capable DAC, and an amp section that can drive my Audeze LCD-3’s and LCD-XC’s: Sounds like a winner to me! Literally.
The music cascaded beautifully across the soundstage. No harshness, and not a hint of grain. The mids are silky and clear. They’re full-bodied and the mids are clean. I loved (and still do) the sound through my LCD-3’s, but admittedly the pairing of my Mr. Speakers Alpha Dogs (easier to drive) is my favorite for this amp.
Unfortunately I’m stuck using the 3.5mm output for those cans, and need to remedy that like yesterday. Because the truth is, in my experience with the Island so far, it sounds great through the single-ended output, but hearing it via its RSA balanced output is when it really shines. So, while I love the pairing with the Alpha Dog’s the most with this unit thus far, I’d say the most transcendent sonic experience I’ve had with the Island has been with my LCD-3s (or the LCD-2, or even the new LCD-XC). That’s a winning formula right there . I haven’t tested it with the new Audeze LCD-X yet, but I’m sure it will be glorious.
The ALO Island packs a crazy fuckin’ dynamic punch for a unit that sits comfortably in the palm of your hand. I have to say this because I’m a huge fan of the component: This could be a CEntrance DACport killer. I’ve loved the DACport since the first time I heard it years ago, and I still own one, but it looks like there’s a new portable audio sheriff in town. My one gripe? The damn little hole. I wish it offered 1/4″ and RSA balanced, but it looks like that may have been an impossible squeeze.
Check this little baby out. I’m havin’ a blast with it, working on an upcoming review for Part-Time Audiophile. Lemme say this in closing: This is what I would recommend to my brother-in-law or my nephews. They know good sound, but don’t live in our bubble. The Island cuts straight to the music and gets you groovin’.
S.A.: 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.
And, most importantly, like all ALO products, the sound does not disappoint, not in the least. I found the music coming out the Island punchy and detailed, with a more than competent sound stage for this tiny portable device. And I would definitely call this portable, as in pockets, not purses. A little bigger than the new comparably priced AK10 by Astell & Kern, it is nonetheless well fit for on-the-go listening.
I look forward to auditioning a number of headphones with this device to get a better idea of what it drives well. I also look forward to doing a shootout between the Island and AK10.
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.L.: 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!
I gave the AK10 a quick audition with my iPhone 5c and Sennheiser Momentum headphones, and I noticed an immediate improvement in the details and dynamics. Due to its compact size, I could definitely see the AK10 in my daily usage.
S.A.: 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!
What differentiates this product from the others in the market is simple: this thing is actually portable, and not the kind of portable where you have to get special rubber bands to keep your gear together or need some sort of bag to tow it around.
Those sorts of setups have their place, but this thing, this beautiful little thing, is only a little larger – and thicker – than an iPod Nano, and very probably smaller than your current portable DAC. It’s light and will fit and feel nice even in your shirt pocket.
Even so, A&K includes a little case for the thing, possibly because it’s so small you may forget you have it.
And how does it sound? I only had a few minutes with it, but I was pretty astounded how much better my iPhone music sounded, how much more detail and range I was getting from regular MP3s.
It probably didn’t have the juice to bring out the weight, as a full rig would, especially in the lower range, but it may just have been the cans (Sennheiser Momentums) I was using.
I’ll have to try it with a range of headphones, file formats, and sources, but I think I may have found just the product I’ve been looking for.
Final Audio Pandora VI and Pandora VIII Prototype
S.A.: UNCANNY. I may not always listen to bassy cans, but when I do, I prefer Final Audio Pandora VI.
I’m not a basshead. Like many of us, I used to be all about bass. I wanted to feel the impact of every thump, bump, and groove that resonated through low-frequencies pressure waves, the kinds whose wavelengths are as large as a room.
What I didn’t appreciate then that I do now, is that the meat in bassy cans tends to be afflicted with a clotting disorder where any small nick causes the bass to bleed all over the surrounding frequencies, muddying up detail and imaging in those regions.
Some cans moderate their bleeding problems by cutting the surrounding frequencies – mids mostly – resulting in your classic V-shaped FR curve. Others try to keep a balanced FR by constraining either the sub-bass or the mid bass, whereby the bass is definitely forward, but unnatural.
Final Audio Design takes a completely different approach. The Pandora VI employs 2 drivers per channel – a 50mm dynamic drivers plus a balanced armature driver – whose speciality is upper mids and highs – built into the earcup casing, without any crossover circuitry.
The result is a full-spectrum frequency response curve with a tight, weighty controlled bass you can hear and feel, all the while maintaining mid- and high-frequency detail for miles. This improves the soundstage tremendously over other bassy cans, and gives a real sense of nimbleness and poise to my music.
It’s gorgeous to boot, if not just a tad heavy for portability. But for $699, it should give all other high-end bassy cans a serious run for the money, and give bassheads another reason to start saving up.
On the Pandora VIII prototype, I’ll not say much more than this: It was clearly a prototype and not ready for primetime. Parts were held together with tape(!), I couldn’t get a proper seal, and the sound was no where near the Pandora VI.
This will all change. The Pandora VIII’s tape will come off and the sound will hopefully come alive.
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.M.: 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.
It struck me immediately as the one headphone I preferred to my LCD-3.
I needed to actually live with it for a bit to come to an informed impression. Especially in comparison to my LCD-3s. I listen to em everyday. I also listen to other stuff, but I know those headphones well.
With the LCD-X however, I found out that I heard a new sonic attribute that many of my Audio360 friends also heard when we shared our experiences for the first time: A wider and deeper soundstage. When I first heard it, the soundstaging reminded me of my Sennheiser HD800’s. What I’m referring to is their fantastically large, holographic-like soundstaging.
The LCD-3 lacked some of that sparkle frankly, but the LCD-X is the remedy. The midrange clarity during Radiohead’s “Everything in it’s Right Place” was sublimely executed. The bass was also fantastic. I hate to abuse this metaphor to death, but it fits here: The low end sounded and felt like ripples on a pond and the sound was clear. I can’t wait to bang Shlohmo through those cans. The mids were as tight as I’d expect from Audeze.
So I’m eager to report back on them once they enter the Sonic Satori Personal Audio Lab! I suspect they’ll end up as my new reference.
Now there seems to be some confusion about the LCD-X’s place in the LCD line, since at $1,699, it falls between the LCD-2 and -3. I don’t get it, but I trust the company given their passion and their dedication. People have asked me what this means for the LCD-3. I know I’m not getting rid of mine yet. I can tell you that!
It’s also lighter, as my man Stan Ahn pointed out. The new anodized aluminum lends itself far better to travel. That’s the headphone I’m drooling for now, and I hear it’s on the way! So I’ll be following up with reports here and at Part-Time Audiophile.
S.A.: 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.
The sound is lighter, more refined, and less fatiguing compared to that of its more weighty predecessor, with an expanded soundstage and separation that seemed to bring an added degree of facility to my tunes. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the separation (including left-right separation), whereby each voice is distinct and lives in its own place, was mind-blowing.
For someone who loves to get lost in the interaction between different voices, the combination of precision and dynamics was a revelation, literally, in the sense that it revealed a lot more of my music than what I was accustomed to hearing. Punchiness and delicacy seemed to be able -at last – to coexist, so that one underscored and magnified the other rather than cancelling each other out.
Simply put, the LCD-X, and the music coming through them, was fast, easy and natural in every sense. Turns out the artisan engineers at Audeze made leaps in efficiency with the LCD-X and so driving them is a whole lot easier with a variety of sources. The new anodized aluminum cups are a bit lighter in weight than the wood of previous models, and feel a lot more comfortable, so I look forward to seeing how they hold up though some long listening sessions. Even the price is a bit lighter than their previous offerings.
Definitely my favorite open-backed cans at CanJam.
Audeze LCD-XC Closed-Back Headphone
M.M.: 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.
While I love the sound of music through the WA7 I don’t own one, so I haven’t gotten to spend enough time with it to truly unlock its magic. So when I heard it at Headmasters I was overwhelmed by everything about it! I didn’t care about the gear at the time. But I loved em enough to think about hearing them on my reference gear the whole time leading up to CanJam at RMAF!
So when I showed up and Audeze was sporting the ALO Studio Six tube amp for demos of both the LCD-XC and LCD-X, I was so psyched. They also often use Cardas Clear and ALO headphone cables, and I’m familiar with both. So this was not only where these my most anticipated moments of CanJam 2013: I got to experience these new bleeding edge headphones on my own reference gear, from source (a MYTEK Stereo-192 DSD-DAC) to headphone!
Having been recently dubbed an “Audeze Jihadist” by some cat in the comments section of my friend Chris Martens’ review of the Abyss headphones, I wish I could find something bad to say about either of these new headphones. I really do, but I can’t. Having an LCD-XC at home now (and an LCD-X on the way) I can say that my cousin, Kenny Gould, said it best in the Audeze/CanJam video after his listening sessions: They’re both worthy of the Audeze name. By that I mean the very thing I was attacked for: Talking about how their headphones don’t sound like other headphones at all to me when I’m lost in the moment. I forget about terms like “magnetic planar” and “thinner diaphragm” and focus on the music so easily – just like my fellow Audio360 scribe Stan Ahn said about his experiences with the new models. And he wasn’t a huge fan of my LCD-3s either. During our listening sessions he would always choose my Sennheiser HD800’s! I didn’t mind.
Down to bizness: The LCD-XC is, to my ears, in a league of its own when it comes to closed-back headphones. They managed to do what Dan Clark did with his amazing Alpha Dogs (especially for the price): Somehow get the outside in. Sounds insane doesn’t it. I mean the headphones (both these and the Alpha Dogs) sound like open-back designs sometimes to my ears.
The Audeze sounds so open and controlled, I’m not honestly sure I have the vocabulary yet to paint a whole picture for you. I can say this: They sound like an in-room two-channel reference system in a medium-sized room to me! A system that’s loading the room like mad, giving you tight, ripply bass lines, silky sweet midrange, and highs that sound clear as a bell. I’m not saying the headphones sound like a Nola Grand Reference loudspeaker system, but when mated with an adequate amplifier, especially with tubes (and remember this is a headphone I’m talking about) it sounds as big as a fantastic system in the average living room. The music is airy and dynamic, punchy and textural. Listening to Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place” with the ALO Studio Six sounded like my old reference system at my last house! Everything was big and had plenty of room to breath.
I’ll also need to say this: I’m reaching for a way to express the imagery that I experience when I listen to these headphones and a powerful tube amp! Perhaps I should simply say this: It gets loud but it’s very clean and quiet. The whole frequency spectrum seems to be well reproduced. It could perhaps use a touch of bass, but that’s more of a personal preference. Think I loved it? I’m not afraid to admit it.
Audeze DDA-1 DSP/DAC/Amp (Prototype)
S.A.: 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.
What is notable is that Audeze is going where others have feared to tread, namely into the arena of digital signal processing (DSP) in a portable device. Many portable audio enthusiasts I have come across shy away from DSP, for reasons I can’t understand. All contemporary music production involves a lot of DSP, from EQs and compression, to reverb and delay, to saturation and distortion, to even analog drift and tube modeling! (I would challenge anyone to find a track recorded after say 1996, that didn’t involve at least some DSP).
Headphone enthusiasts have long enjoyed analog signal processing – as limiting as it compared to digital – in the forms of headphone swapping, tube rolling, and cable upgrades. The portable audio industry would not exist without analog signal processing. We as enthusiasts look to amass more and more gear, in order to create a series of binary choices in the various steps of our signal chain, so we have options when it comes to how our music sounds like. Tweaks (mods) are a way to increase listener choice, but they are often destructive edits which turn one binary choice into another. Sometime the choices are more than 2, like say, Beyerdynamic’s Custom One Pro. Still the enthusiast is left with only discrete options which have been predetermined by the manufacturer.
So in a sense, DSP is the next logical frontier in expanding our enjoyment of music, by offering the ability to personally and virtually limitlessly craft sound on minute scales to our own individual taste completely non-destructively, and it seems Audeze has decided to take the lead in this exciting new arena. So my hat’s off to them. Can’t wait to see if they offer the DDA-1 with different DSP profiles as well as adjustable parameters.
M.M.: 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).
What I heard was serious potential. I don’t mean that as if to say I was disappointed in the performance of the DDA-1, that it didn’t meet my expectations. It did, I enjoyed the system’s full-bodied sound, but as Stan eloquently pointed out: We were blasted with two spankin’ new products from Audeze here. Trying to discern which was doing what without a baseline for comparison, well, the whole experience was grand! But I’m also not sure how much of that should be attributed to the DDA-1, or the LCD-X or XC!
If I try to forget about all that for a second, and just express what I experienced, I gotta say I enjoyed it better without the DSP engaged! I heard the same thing from my cousin before I tried it, and I agree with his assessment. The DSP seemed to squash things a bit. I also thought it brought everything to the forefront without sounding overly aggressive, which was a plus. But the dynamics seemed to shift towards a slightly more congested sound with the DSP engaged. Nonetheless, I also gotta give credit to Audeze for taking the DSP road less traveled.
This is the time for user customization, and with a product like this Audeze will be able to offer up more soundfield/simulated-sound-environment choices in the future for their users. They will be able to cater to different tastes via the DSP, and I have a feeling they’ll nail this as they move through the product development phase.
As Stan discussed above: DSP has been a part of the recording process for years. For example, I imagine there are probably more Pultec tube EQ/compressor plug-ins used in today’s recordings than the real thing! Why not apply digital signal processing to the playback end? I’m sure the purists will moan over it. But with DSP, you can manipulate the sound to cater to different moods, time of day, things like that. I say why not, and I also agree: This is a new personal audio frontier.
We love our different color iPhone cases after all, and everything else you can think of customizing. I love having different bass and treble settings when implemented correctly; without effecting the rest of the frequency spectrum. The CEntrance HiFi-M8 does a superb job at this, and I look forward to seeing where Audeze takes the DDA-1.
Overall, I gotta give more credit to my cuz Kenny Gould for his overall assessment of the prototype. He said it was “a good start.”
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.A.: 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?).
Well, having auditioned the product for what most of us really care about, the sound, I have to say that the Gemini Headphone dock is definitely not a gimmick, nor just a beautiful headphone stand with some circuitry. It is first a serious quality DAC (that plays every musical file format in existence) and amp with a luxurious, refined, and controlled hot sound – what you’d want to pair with an HD800 which was used for the audition. Then of course you have the built-in DAP with lots of disk space. The way it looks – form follows function here – is just how it sounds.
For those who crave some beauty in an all-in-one home rig, this is seriously a sweet piece.
W.C.: 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.
I auditioned it with the HD800 that Auralic supplied, and found it surprisingly capable and supremely detailed. LF response was nicely and cleanly weighted, with a good sense of mass and density to low notes. Mids were exactly what I expected of a well-amplified HD800 in terms of clean and effortless detail retrieval. The highs were – perhaps a tad bright when paired with the HD800 – though this was very likely due to the HD800’s inherent tendency towards brightness. The noise floor – under show conditions – was below detectable threshold.
Overall, I found the Gemini 2000 to be both refined and engaging, and I long to try it out with some other headphones in my arsenal (HD 650, LCD-X, etc.).
M.M.: 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!
Back in 09 it was alot easier to get around the room. With progress brings great things, and the Auralic Gemini headphone dock solutions are fine examples of the type of envelope-pushing that’s been occurring in high end personal audio over the last few years. For a split second I thought this maybe a gimmick, but from Auralic? Never. The thought vanished immediately following my short trial with Sennheiser’s HD800’s (one of my top reference cans).
Again as Stan and Warren pointed out above: When you consider the fact that you’re getting a headphone stand, amp, DAC, and DAP all in one component – it’s obvious Auralic sought to change the concept of all-in-one/one-box solutions! Adding to this its futuristic style (or perhaps even the present, as technology advances) and Auralic has a real winner here.
All they have to do is figure out one big marketing quandary: How do you convince an audio devotee that they actually can get everything they need all in one unit! Sounds crazy, but so is this concept and I salute them for it!
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.
And so it was that we almost missed the two rising stars at their exhibit: their A20 headphone amplifier, and their T51p portable headphone.
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.L.: 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.
Powering those cans was an impressive array of their new A20 power amps, as well as their flagship A1 amplifier. We also spent some ear time with the new T51p and we were impressed with its clean neutral sound.
Watch out Sennheiser HD25, the new T51p has you in its sights!
W.C.: 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.
Incredibly clean in both appearance and performance, the gear instantly reminded me why I’ve always liked Beyer gear. And it’s made in the Fatherland to boot! It didn’t take me long to realize that we have got to get this in for review.
I didn’t get a chance to try out the T51p to my satisfaction – yeah that guy in front of me who took a long time, I’m lookin’ at you – but we’ll be taking a more in-depth look (and listen) to it soon.
S.A.: 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.
Whether open or closed, portable or not, Beyerdynamic never fails to give the upper range to your music that indelible feel of space and natural decay. The T51p was no exception. The T51p is a upgraded version of the T50p, and comes with new ear pads, frame mechanics, and cables, and has a higher 60-Ohm impedance. The Tesla drivers in a supra-aural setting revealed that there was in fact another layer in the atmosphere of my tunes over the Beyerdynamic DT1350s I was sporting throughout my entire trip.
In fact, I think an apt analogy would be that what the T series is to the DT series, the T51p is to the DT1350. Faster, with more resolution, more space, more separation. And for those who find the upper range of the T series a bit too much, the T51p surprised me with a more laid-back, less aggressive treble response compared its larger cousins. I can’t wait to spend more time with these.
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.M.: 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.
Cardas was also showing their renowned Clear headphone cables (another one of my personal audio favorites alongside Moon Audio) with everything from Sennheiser HD800s to Audeze LCD-2s to HiFi-Man (forget which model) headphones. In addition: They’re getting into what I would call the personal audio interconnects cable world. I think Andy Regan may have said that actually. That means they’re making short 3.5mm to 3.5mm cables now, perhaps for DAC to headphone amps, things like that. A smart move on their end. Cardas built his reputation from his cable designs, so it’s great to see him get into the space. If the company plays its cards right I think George could be one of the key players in the high end personal audio cable space until he wanted to call it quits. George recorded Ben Harper’s first record. He also knows music. Some of the younger hobbyists may not know that.
S.A.: 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.M.: 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!
I must add this however: That system had the deepest bass I’ve ever experienced in a headphone rig, period. It was like walking into club Twilo in New York City around 2000-2001! The bottom just rippled, without a hint of distortion and there was power and velocity and it impressed the shit outta me. I just didn’t hear the same magic happening in the midrange. But if my Audeze LCD-3s had that bass at home I would’ve gotten into deep trouble with my wife! Seriously, because I got to audition the Liquid Gold with my own LCD-3s (thanks to Alex for grabbing a Moon Audio Black Dragon balanced cable by Drew Baird), the pairing was my favorite demo of the show at CanJam: Listening to it on cans I sit with every day (LCD3s) with cables I know. Though admittedly I run Moon Audio’s Silver Dragon at home (now with interchangeable tips, thank God).
While playing Grizzly Bear’s “Speak in Rounds” off their Shields LP (another pitch down the middle for Alex Cavalli – his breadth of music in his collection) I finally achieved that moment, when all the bullshit melts away. Alex even commented on it. He said I looked like I was “lost in it”, and I was. That’s what I’m always chasing. That’s the experience I hold so dear. Thanks to Alex for helping in making that happen! I also heard we’re gonna get a crack at the Liquid Gold, and I look forward to that with great anticipation!
Then I got to audition an amp I spent a few seconds with at Headmasters (put on by our very own Frank Iacone) during the California Audio Show and have been itching to sit down with ever since: The Liquid Glass. For my demo of that amp I also got to use my reference LCD3s with a prototype cable from WyWires I’ve been using for a couple months and enjoying. So I felt well-armed to audition headphone amps this year!
It’s another aspect of the personal audio hobby I love: That you can bring, in essence, your speaker system with you to hear an amplifier in a bag! Well there I was, with Cavalli’s Liquid Gold and my beloved cans and it was glorious. I also picked Grizzly Bear’s “Speak in Rounds” at first for that amp as they were fed from the same source. Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them” followed. I thought it was the closest I’ve heard to my own top reference amp: An E.A.R HP4 tube headphone amp. When I say that, as strange as this sounds, I’m not comparing the products. What I mean is that the feeling I get when listening to it reminds me of listening sessions with the E.A.R. And why is the E.A.R my personal favorite? It seems to bring me closer to the music, there’s less of a veil, and the emotive power of music is so wonderfully captured.
The Liquid Gold and my LCD3s presented the power and the nuance of the music. It was “clean” in a way I don’t have the language for yet. But it had sparkle: a word popping up on a lot of forums and such lately, and that I like when describing crystalline highs. It had everything I need for a fulfilling listening experience. I may be in trouble with my wife soon. I look forward to tackling a formal review of the Liquid Gold!
W.C.: 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.M.: 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.
The DAC is first-rate and carries the asynchronous audiophile-approved buzzword specification. I jest. as CEntrance proved how well you could control jitter with their isochronous -non-asynchronous – DACport (Its low jitter measurement by John Atkinson in Stereophile is still amongst the lowest he’s ever recorded). But Goodman came through with an asynchronous design (I tend to prefer them more-so than not) and an amp section built like a brick shithouse. Attention was paid to every detail, from the volume pot to the bass and treble settings. The EQs don’t muck up the rest of the frequency range while engaged – very impressive indeed. These guys know what they’re doing. Please check out my full review for more information.
W.C.: 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?
I think it’s because the HiFi-M8 is a nexus point of all that I consider to be good amplification. It has the sheer power and headroom of a Ray Samuels Intruder, the balance and neutrality of a Schiit Mjolnir, and more than enough detail where I can see the familial relation to my DACport LX. Top all that off with a dizzying array of toggles and switches, and it makes me feel almost omnipotent. It geeks me out, the way I want to be geeked out. So why don’t I have it already? Because I don’t need it. And that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself for as long as I can hold out.
S.A.: 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.L.: 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.
The new Classic was real eye-candy. Dressed in dark brown leather with tinted brown aluminum ear cup, the Classic simply looked and felt premium. The best part of the new Classic was the sound: we walked away from our audition with words like transparent, wide soundstage, and deep bass. All signs point to an audiophile-approved headphone. We can’t wait to more ear time with it. The Spirit Classic is to be enjoyed on a Hi-Fi system. We think Focal has hit a home run here.
S.A.: 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.
The Focal Spirit Classic had much of the good qualities of the Pro, except with a little more bassy fun. Unlike other Focal offerings which are geared toward the hi-fi enthusiast market, I found the Focal Spirit One to be more geared toward general consumer tastes – V-shaped curve, resonant, aggressive bass, and an emphasis on fun over detail – and seemed like Focal’s attempt at beating Beats at its own game.
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.C.: 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.
Overall, this was reminiscent of an early but open-backed Mad Dog. Since show conditions aren’t ideal for auditioning open-backed cans, I mention all of the above with some reservation. But I’m definitely under the impression this unit isn’t ready for prime time, and that Fostex is absolutely right in wanting to work on it further.
S.A.: 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.
At times, I found it too laid back, like it was taking it job not quite seriously enough, and I started to crave a little more weight, more oomph, to my music Since how the final product will sound will likely be very different than what I heard, it wouldn’t be fair to put any weight into my experience if you are considering a purchase, when it ships in the 2nd quarter of 2014.
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.C.: 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.
Overall, I found it exceedingly balanced, with a delightful signature, and loathed to put it down. But for me, the TE-05’s best quality was that it was absolutely clean and pristine throughout the entire frequency range, presenting a level of transparency, separation and coherency I never would have expected from a single dynamic IEM – especially not from one at this price point. Staging was spot on, being neither exaggerated nor constricting.
The AM&S rep indicated that Fostex was still tweaking this unit. My advice to Fostex: don’t you dare change a thing! I finally walked away from this audition with one unyielding impression: this is what the RE-600 should have sounded like.
S.A.: 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.M.: 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.
Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in hi res was superbly executed! The slam of the bass was insane, the midrange crisp and velvety at the same time. The highs were smooth and trailed off naturally, something I rarely find in in-ear monitor designs. One of my favorite demo tracks lately is Four Tet’s “Parallel Jalebi” off his recently released Beautiful Rewind LP. It’s a grand wave of tight snare hits, kick drum thumps, and hovering synth and vocal samples. It’s like a wash of finely-tuned electronic tones coming at you. Rockin’ this track on the JH Audio Roxanne was heaven. I must’ve hit repeat a dozen times. If that’s not an indication of how mesmerizing the sound was I don’t know what is!
So now I know I was right to yell at Jerry when I saw him! I said “don’t make me do this ya bastid”, and we both laughed hysterically. I told him my wallet couldn’t take it! But I don’t see a choice frankly. Perhaps that says more than my meandering prose can. If you’re an IEM devotee you’ve gotta give these a shot. I’m not sure about the projected availability dates. We’ll keep you posted.
S.A.: 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.
The new caverns Roxanne built into my ears gave it a sense of natural reverb which IEMs intrinsically lack, and the way dynamics of my music interacted with these new rooms literally gave the music another sense of dimensionality I haven’t experienced in IEMs prior to this. And this was all with ill-fitting, ad hoc ear buds. I can only imagine what the custom-fitted buds would sound like. Probably larger rooms, concert halls maybe?
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.L.: 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.
We spent some ear-time with the ESP-950. The sound was so captivating and engaging we could not stop listening. Even on the noisy show floor we were lost in the music. The ESP-950 is a hidden gem.
We wanted to take the floor sample with us for a full review, but Koss assured us that they will be happy to send us a fresh box for the full review. We can’t wait!
Another attention grabber was the Pro4AA in its retro packaging. Loved it!
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.M.: 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.M.: 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).
The Mad Dogs are the first pair of headphones I’ve ever bought after listening for less than ten minutes, thanks in part to the recommendation of my good friend Jude Mansilla, Founder of Head-Fi.org. I watched him buy them at the LA Head-Fi Meet earlier this year and after that short listen I was hooked. Those cans gave me what I needed most at the time: A closed-back headphone that delivered a musical performance within the ball-park of my favorite open-back designs, such as the Audeze LCD-3.
Now, I’m not saying the two are sonic equals, but considering their price tag of $299~$399, the Mad Dogs have no right to sound as fluid and dynamic as they do. The new Alpha Dogs takes everything to a new level.
In order to more tightly control the overall sonic signature of the headphone, and more specifically the resonance of the earcup, Dan Clark decided to utilize 3-D printing as opposed to injection molding as a means to achieve the level of rigidity he wanted in the cups. I’m sure there are a host of other technical reasons for voicing the headphone this way, but I’m admittedly ignorant there. It was the sound of music through the Alpha Dogs that sold me. Not the marketing behind the “World’s First 3-D Printed Headphone”.
Boards of Canada’s Tomorrow’s Harvest was sublime. The synths were warm and coherent. The velocity of the bass, while controlled and extended, was captivating. The midrange sweet and lush. They’re also very comfortable! The earpads feel like leather earmuffs! I also love how easy it is to lock their cables in place. There’s no hassle at all.
The Alpha Dogs are pretty light too. These are a must for any headphone listener who can’t afford to bother people around them with an open-back design, and that don’t have the deep pockets for the new closed-back offering from Audeze, the LCD-XC. As a matter of fact, the Alpha Dogs get far closer to the Audezes than I expected considering the price tag! Clark hit the ball outta the park on this one. A delightful experience all around, and for $599 you get a headphone stand when you buy a pair! I can’t offer up a higher recommendation, except to say I’m rockin’ em as I type this!
S.A.: 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.
But every once in a while, you listen, and something changes. The gear hasn’t changed, you have. The sounds produced by the gear act as an invisibility cloak, and the gear starts to disappear. The fascination, the analysis, the conscious perception of enjoyment, all of that stops. All there is left is the music, and it seems to go straight past your conscious brain, into your subconscious brain, down your spine as a chill, into your chest and abdomen as butterflies, and then into your very loins. This pattern of energy is so powerful, the moment becomes firmly ossified into your emotional memory, energy into flesh, flesh into bone. To experience this feeling – this is why I love music and headphones. And this is why I love the Mr. Speakers Alpha Dog, because this is exactly what happened to me auditioning them at CanJam.
Oh of course I can talk about details. Like how the soundstage is probably the best I’ve heard of any closed can. Or that it is only $599 making it a serious alternative to anyone who wants but can’t afford an LCD-XC. Or that it is surprisingly comfortable. Or that it was my favorite piece of gear from the whole show. But I’d rather tell you that my experience with the Alpha Dogs was different than any other I had at CanJam, and my brain, my gut, my loins, couldn’t be bothered with details.
It was earsex, and who can concentrate on details during earsex?.
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.C.: 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.A.: 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.M.: 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.
These are the only headphones I have presently that can make me nauseous with their bass assault! And believe it or not: I don’t consider that a bad thing. In order to wholly experience the power of bass music you have to be able to go there: Sonically and soulfully. I don’t give a shit what the purists are after here. These are headphones for serious head-knockers. They’re also for the fellas who wanna look cool rockin’ em. I’m all for it. I love em. I have no problem with bling as long as it’s tasteful. The Perfect Sound dido d901 is the girl on the cover of Maxim: Smart, sexy, and ready to fuckin’ party. My review sample is chrome and white, admittedly not the color I would’ve chosen if I bought it. I would’ve gone for the color Warren has. Black and chrome. Sounds like car culture lingo right? Well, like my John Cooper Works Mini these things are fast and shiny. However, another important sonic attribute of the dido d901 lies in its crispy highs. If the midrange came with the same velocity and authority as the bass and treble this headphone would be a more well-rounded design. Shit, it would be a knock-out. But I enjoy its unique sonic signature. When I wanna get drenched in the smooth and sharp edges of the bass in electronic music from artists like Eskmo or Nosaj Thing, Machinedrum, Burial, or Four Tet and the d901 is within reach I grab that sucka. I think they should take another look at the design from a fit standpoint however. That’s my only beef with the 9901. It didn’t just click into place, into a decent fit like many headphones from Sennheiser and Sony. I had to fiddle with em for a bit. Despite that insignificant qualm (probably a result of my OCD rather than the headphones’ fit) I also believe this is a bass-head’s dream. I couldn’t drive it to distortion either, and believe me I tried. Don’t let all this talk about the bass fool you though. While I find it to be the d901’s magic hotspot you do get the rest of the audible spectrum too, you just get it while listening to a seemingly portable Funktion One-like club experience! Shut your eyes, put on your shades and dance with these on your ears. You’ll feel like you walked into Winter Music Conference 2014.
W.C.: 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.L.: Lindsey Woods (media manager) showed us the predecessor to the Fidelio L1, the L2. We were like OMG, gimme, gimme.
The L2’s overall design is similar to the L1 with most of the improvements made under the hood. The changes were immediately noticeable in the way of improved, cleaner low frequency reproduction and better clarity.
We also noticed the “pig tail” cable on the L1 is now replaced by a 3.5mm female connector embedded in the ear cup. Folks who “cable roll” will find this to be a welcoming change.
We are in queue to receive a review sample when the L2 hits the U.S. shores early 2014. Stay tuned for the full review.
Philips Fidelio M1BT
W.C.: 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.
As such, I am probably one of the worst people that Philips could have asked to audition the Fidelio M1BT.
But as it turns out, I was highly impressed with these. These headphones were well-extended at both ends, offering an above-average amount of detail, nicely-separated. Like all headphones designed for consumer applications, they can be just a tad bit bassy, but only a tad bit.
Yes, yes I like these very much. And feel confident in saying that they easily stand out amongst the flotsam and jetsam of most Bluetooth headphones. In fact, they may even dethrone my current reigning favorite Bluetooth headphone, the SuperTooth MELODY.
I look forward to giving these another listen soon.
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.C.: 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.A.: 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.C.: 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.
Overall, the signature leans warm and is very bassy in the low end and lower mids… transitioning into a unexpectedly smooth and refined mid-range and upper-mid-range. Highs are largely inoffensive, though lacking in the sparkly airiness that treble-heads favor. If you’re straddling that line between basshead and traditional audiophilia, this should be near the top of your audition list.
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.L.: 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.
I found the MA750i to be right at home for electronic music fans. Heart-pounding bass and crisp highs results in a rave party like experience. The MA750i was plenty efficient to be driven straight off an iPod Touch, and the inline Apple certified three-button remote is a welcome feature as well.
M.M.: 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.C.: 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.
Also, the included tip selection is completely over-the-top in my book, but very much appreciated by most members of the community that I’ve spoken with. However, the most important feature of the MA750i for me is the lack of microphonic noise. Their previous units took quite a bit of constructive ribbing for their poor microphonics… much of that having come from me… so I am more than glad to report that it is no longer an issue.
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.M.: 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”.
I’m gonna say the same thing I said when I first heard the $99 Magni headphone amplifier: This has no right to sound this good for ninety-nine dollars! It rearranged my skull for a moment; the warmth and dynamics of that magic little $99 headphone amp. Well, the Vali forced my hand. I’m not sure I even need it, but I’m gonna get it.
I was psyched to see my cousin Kenny Gould had the same reaction when he heard the Vali. I neglected to mention that I got to use my own Audeze LCD-3s to audition the amp, and Kenny listened with them too. He brought his LCD-3s to audition things as well. I was stunned. The gestalt, as my mentor Harry Pearson (Founder of The Absolute Sound magazine) would say, went far beyond my expectations to be brutally honest.
I’m a big fan of Schiit products, I just wasn’t prepared to hear perhaps the apex of what you can do with a $119 tube headphone amp! It sits comfortably, I believe, with amplifiers ten times its cost! That’s pretty sick. I’m sure it’s difficult to believe, but I know I do after hearing it. My cousin said they had a winner there and I agree completely. I could’ve stayed there all day and listened to music for sure.
Unfortunately I neglected to get any specs at all on the Vali. I wish I knew its power rating, though it drove my Audeze LCD-3s beautifully so I expect it offers at least a clean watt and a half. Actually, as I typed this I realized I’m glad I didn’t get the specs on the Schiit Vali. That leaves its wonderful sound a bit of a mystery to me. Hell, for $119 bucks, how much more do you need to know right? If I were going to college this would be the perfect amp for my headphones. If only I finished college.
Anyway: The Vali, like the Magni before it, proves there are ways to build seductive, lively audio gear for ninety-nine bucks. I have no fuckin’ idea how they do their Schiit. I just know it sounds damn good. I wish I had one in front of me to refresh my memory, but I remember the mid-range vividly. More importantly, I remember getting up to move to some music while listening to my Audeze cans and the Vali, causing some laughter shared by all around the table. It actually brought a smile to my face. That could be the best compliment I could give the unit. That’s what it’s about right? Those moments when you connect to the music so deeply you laugh. I do that when I hear something that wows me sometimes. I have to laugh, because I’m hearing this new sound coming from another piece of damn gear, and the music is getting me worked up, stirring something up.
The Vali touches that emotional chord too. It sounded dynamic and wide-open. I enjoyed the textured layering of the music by the Vali. The lows, mids, and highs sounded balanced and authoritative. I loved listening to Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound of Thunder through that amp. It makes sense: The record was recorded using tubes. It fits that tube playback gear captures the smallest nuances: The soul of the music.
This Vali is the definition of a “Giant-Killer”.
S.A.: 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.C.: 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.A.: 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.
The sound profile was bright overall – laid-back mids and bass, forward highs. At first I mistook it for a tube amp, because it seemed to add a lot of textural color to my music, and because it was a bit noisy (The noise might have been a result of the 27 relays used inside the Ragnarok). If history is any guide, I am positive the Schiit engineering team is aware of the Ragnarok’s shortcomings, and will have it all put together by the time they release it as early as December 2013.
There will also be a tube version of the Ragnarok that will be slightly more expensive than the $1499 sticker price of the original.
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.L.: 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.
It was obviously impossible to get a definitive audition on the noisy show floor, but we did notice a rather large improvement in all aspects of the HD800 with the HDVD800 operating in balanced mode.
I made a comment to the Sennheiser guys that once you hear the amp in balanced mode with the HD800 and XLR cable you won’t want to go back. The difference was so great, it’s like going from dial-up to broadband in terms of sonic information.
A whisper in our ears said that Sennheiser will have XLR-terminated cables available for the HD800, HD700 and HD650/HD600 very soon.
Sennheiser Momentum and Momentum On-Ear
M.L.: 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.C.: 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?
When the Momentum On-Ear was first announced, it was my hope that they would recreate the Momentum, but in a smaller package. Well, that didn’t happen either. The Momentum On-Ear is considerably more bassy and warm than the Momentum ever was. But guess what? This actually makes perfect sense. If there was to a drift in signature, it should be such that they get bassier as the intended application veers towards portability. And in that sense, Sennheiser got this one just right.
I’ll be saving my full impressions for our upcoming Momentum series review and overview. But in the meantime, just be advised of three things: (a) the Momentum and Momentum On-Ear do not share the same signature; (b) this is actually a good thing; and (c) the Momentum Over-Ear is just about the most comfortable supra-aural headphone I have ever worn. My only wish? That they called it something different… something related but distinctive… like the Inertia or something along those lines. Oh well.
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.L.: 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.
It’s not just a pretty face, it has brains too. Boasting impressive performance specs like 24-bit/192khz PCM, DSD (2.8MHZ) and double DSD (5.6MHZ) processing, it becomes clear that Sony is back in the world of high-resolution audio. And they intend to be second to no one.
Guys, we have a serious Hi-Fi dac/amp that will fit in your front pant pocket. We can’t wait to get our hands on the PHA-2 for a full review.
S.A.: 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).
In other words, HD audio, which has always been limited by source material, now had a giant like Sony firmly behind it, and HD audio enthusiasts could look forward to eventually having access to Sony’s entire catalog in 24/192, DSD, even double DSD. Of course, if Sony does it, and finds a new source of income, you can surely bet that all other record companies will follow.
Good thing to know Sony is already preparing for that day, and this foresight is embodied in their new PHA-2 portable DAC/AMP that plays files all the way up to double DSD. I didn’t have much source material to choose from (the irony), and I wasn’t familiar with my given song options, but what I did hear was warm, clear, balanced, dynamic, and resolute. Pretty much as close to flawless as far as human hearing is concerned in my opinion.
For $599, Sony has set the bar really high for portable HD Audio DAC/AMPs, which, along with their other HD Audio DAC offerings, means they are serious about HD Audio. For them and the music industry, that hopefully means a new revenue stream. For us, that means we will get to hear our music all over again!
Sony XBA-H Series Hybrid IEMs
M.L.: Thanks to Mr. Jeff Hiatt (Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Sony), we were able to get an exclusive demo of their new Balanced Armature Hybrid in-ears: the XBA-H1 and XBA-H3. We found the XBA-H1 to be stunningly good sounding for only $149 – as we especially liked the toe-tapping sound signature and powerful bass. There was no hint of distortion – even when driven at high levels.
The flagship XBA-H3 was even more impressive. While we loved the now-discontinued MDR-EX1000 for its reference-level fidelity, the new XBA-H3 easily moved up the performance needle by several notches. Bass hit hard when the music demanded it while the highs and mids were as refined and smooth as a Lexus V8. We can’t wait to give the XBA-H3 a full run-down in a review.
But it’s crystal clear from what we’ve heard so far, the new Sony XBA-H series will give custom IEMs a good shake down.
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 [http://audio-head.com/] 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.A.: I was glad to see my fellow Angelenos from V-Moda in Denver and get a chance to meet them in person.
The only new offering they were showing were ear pad upgrades for their M-100 headphone – I was told the new Milano headphone was coming out in a month (which should be any day now!).
While I am not a fan of headphones with a V-shaped sound signature like the M-100, I found the new ear pads definitely enhanced my appreciation for the V-Moda cans.
I heard more detail over the stock pads, but the sound was still on the fun side. The low end seemed to relax a bit, allowing more breathing room for the low-mids. I didn’t really notice a change in soundstage however, which would have been nice.
Even so, the difference is substantial enough that, if I owned a pair of M-100s, I would insist on using them only with the new pads.
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.C.: 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.
I’m not too concerned with the final design looking unappealing, as the design of the WA7 itself has given me a new confidence in Woo’s aesthetics. And should it share approximately the same enclosure as the WA7. I for one would love that. Because then, I’d look like that one crazy guy monoblocking his headphones with WA7s! That’s got to be worth some mad geek points right there!
S.A.: 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.
Admittedly, some sparkle and sheen is lost with the new PSU, but what it reveals instead are the textural components of music, which adds a sense of weight to the overall sound. I can see users swapping between the PSUs based on the cans they were driving – the original for darker, warmer cans, the new PSU for brighter, more analytical cans.
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.M.: 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.
An interesting tale to say the least! They funded this absolutely amazing USB DAC/amp in a package like a memory stick. Sound familiar? I’m not sure which version I heard. It was a chance meeting, as I missed some demos he was giving privately and I was pissed about it. I’d been hearing about a mysterious little device that apparently targeted the area of the market where I live these days: The high end personal audio space.
Luckily I ran into him a couple times to catch up, and I got a demo right there in the Atrium during RMAF. I was psyched to hear what the GEEK could do.
I can’t share my exact reaction. I’m not stranger to foul language but the electric onslaught of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” had more velocity within a few notes than my beloved AudioQuest Dragonfly and HRT microStreamer. That continued as I moved around Nevermind. When I played “Come As You Are” it was enveloping. I immediately imagined myself back in high school crankin’ that record in my room with my friends. Everything was way larger than I expected, and my expectations were not low.
This is the company (and the man behind the products, Larry Ho) that sells the $30K Davinci DAC! That piece is functional audio art. It also sounds exquisite when married with capable components. So it should’ve come as no surprise when the thing just kicked ass.
But I can’t say it enough. It was astonishingly powerful for that style of component: The demo unit was just the board and componentry. He had a chassis with his, a slick green one. But all the listening was through this DIY-lookin piece. I imagine it’ll end up with approximately the same footprint as the HRT microStreamer (an excellent piece of kit too).
I was psyched to use my own headphones to demo GEEK as well! I busted out my Audeze LCD3’s. That’s a serious test for an amp section that small. But GEEK was more than up to the task. I was speechless when I first felt the power behind that miniature beast. I’m not surprised too often these days in audio, though this years CanJam ended up pretty great for that! Actually the impression GEEK left on me was one of the highlights of my RMAF 2013 experience! I’m waiting for one like an audible junkie.
I also stand by Warren’s statement below, and I love the Dragonfly and microStreamer! But he’s dead right: If you’re in the market for either, wait if you can!
W.C.: 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.
For the first time in a long time, my big mouth is at a loss for words. I want to convey just how much the Geek rocked my world, and how it continues to haunt me to this day. But the words just aren’t coming. I’ll try to eek out what I can: detailed, natural, balanced, effortless power, unbelievably clean and refined presentation.
If you’re thinking about getting an AudioQuest Dragonfly or an HRT Microstreamer, don’t. Wait for the Geek. You’ll be so glad you did.
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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