By Lee Shelly
CanJam … the very term inspires thoughts of great gear and fantastic fun as this community gathers to enjoy the music and the friendship.
Scot asked me to cover the meet for him and pass along the interesting bits to you readers, so here goes. This report will be presented in 5 parts:
- On-/Over-ear Headphones
- In-Ear Monitors
When I arrived Friday, the day before the show opened, I headed to the hotel, checked in and went over to see who was setting up early for the show. I found Jason Stottard, Mike Moffat and their crew setting up the Schitt Audio booth. In addition to their full line of value-oriented amps and DAC’s, they were showcasing the statement Ragnarock amp and Yggdrasil DAC (both of which I’ll cover in more detail in parts 2 and 3 of the report). Connected to that pair was one of the most anticipated introductions at the show: the MrSpeakers Ether. These new planar magnetic over-ear headphones feature a new and proprietary driver design from owner/designer Dan Clark. They feature the lightest design BY FAR of any planar available and provide unparalleled comfort. With a price of $1,499, they are in the same range as the high-end Audeze and HiFiMan offerings. Based upon the show-condition listening I did, they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath os those others … and for some genres of music, perhaps even before them. This is definitely a model to seek out for a listen!
Speaking of HiFiMan, they were there setting up as well. I took this opportunity to audition the new flagship HE-1000’s. I heard then as CES back in January, but I was told they had made some small adjustments to the finish and to the sound. I found them to be smooth, FAST and spacious. These are easily the best sounding HiFiMan headphone to date and a contender for the best headphone of all time. They will need to be, since they carry a hefty price tag: $2999! Worth the investment? You owe it to yourself to hear them before you decide.
They also showed their more affordable HE-400i and HE-560 offerings. These offer a significant upgrade to the comfort over the previous generations while keeping the HiFiMan house sound intact. With prices starting at $499, they bring planar technology to a broader market.
Keeping to the planar theme, Audeze was there with both the LCD line and the new EL-8’s. Their booth was busy as expected, but Sankar Thiagasamudram was happy to take time discuss the lineup as well as some future non-headphone possibilities from Audeze. The EL-8’s were a very popular station, with lines of people waiting to hear them. At $699 a pair, they continued the trend toward more affordable planar designs.
Jason and Chris were attending from OPPO and they were enjoying the excited looks on the faces of those trying out the PM-3 closed-back planars. These set a new standard for affordability in planar designs at $399 a pair. They are also the first planars that the masses may feel comfortable wearing as a portable. They are closed back and significantly lighter and smaller than most headphones of this type. OPPO also offers a set of cables with an inline mic as well. I am a big fan of the sound of these ‘budget’ offerings and, along with my IEM’s, they will be my headphone of choice for traveling.
One of the more exciting non-planar introductions were the NightHawk headphones from Audioquest. I was initially skeptical when I first learned that the long-time cable manufacturer was throwing their hat into the headphone arena, but it seems that Skylar Gray, Joe Harley and the team really did their homework! I first heard them at CES and was blown away and the listening I did at CanJam did nothing to change my opinion. These are among the most comfortable headphones at any price; this, combined with the quality of the sound, means that I have no reason to take them off — all day! They feature a custom 50mm dynamic driver, a semi-open design and “liquid wood” cups that allow for fabrication consistency while still using natural materials. This makes for a stunning look, in my opinion. The $599 price point makes them even more attractive! Well done, gentlemen!
Roger DuNaier, president of Performance Devices, was displaying the KingSound electrostatic headphone systems. E-Stat headphones have long been considered among the best, fastest and yet lightest designs on the market, but they also presented a unique challenge in that you need a special amplifier to drive them … and those amps weren’t cheap! A pair of Stax 009’s and an amp to drive them could easily set you back $10,000.
Kingsound brings that sound to the masses with a headphone/amp combo that starts at $1250 for BOTH! If you want a tube amp, the price goes to just $2150.
How do they sound? Nimble, quick, and absolutely full range … in short, like great electrostatic headphones!
Gabriel Whyel of Blue Microphones was showing off one of my favorite headphone introductions from 2014: the MoFi headphones from Blue. These have a built-in headphone amp, meaning that they can be driven well from phone or DAP, a bass boost circuit for the bashed and the ability to go completely passive when you want to hook them up to your favorite amp. They also have THE most unique self adjusting system for fit. true to their studio background, they are closed back design that will let you isolate yourself from the world around you. At $349, they won’t force you to isolate you from food for a month either!
A few booths down were Mike Johnson and Daniel Chiau from Pendulumic, bringing good sounding portability to new heights with the Stance S1+. These pair the latest in high quality bluetooth with a great sounding headphone. They have a built in amplifier and a volume control that works like a watch riding crown to make adjustment easy. The S1’s are an over the ear design, but on-ear fans can watch for their new introduction later this year, the T1. This will be smaller and lighter and will allow multiple simultaneous pairings, so more than one person can listen to the same source. Cool stuff!
Possibly the most interesting introduction at the show were the Dharma D1000’s from ENIGMAcoustics. This is a company that made their name with an electrostatic super-tweeter to add sparkle and presence to any loudspeaker setup. They took of this tech and used it in their first headphone offering.
According to Wei Chang, The Dharma includes a dynamic driver for the bass and midrange and an electrostatic tweeter for everything above 10Khz. They have managed to blend the two seamlessly and the result is a headphone with a soundstage that’s wider than I thought possible. The best part … they don’t need an electrostatic amp to drive them. In fact, I powered them with my Astell & Kern DAP and got musically satisfying results at levels as loud as I cared to go! Watch out for the full introduction this May or June at a $1,200 price point.