First of all, I had a great time organizing and executing this fantastic meet. I was so happy to help everyone enjoy such a fun weekend. Although I ended up running the check-in area nearly all of Saturday, I still had a great time greeting all of my friends, old and new, as they arrived for the biggest headphone meet ever. In the end, I am just proud to have been part of a team that worked so hard to make this meet the best we could.
A big thanks to all the volunteers who helped us get through that mad onslaught of head-fiers, especially morphsci and zippy2001 who also put in a lot more time than they originally planned for. Also a big thanks to blessingx for closing out the day in the booth, and letting me have the time to listen a few of the big ol' list of new products.
So for now, here are some audio impressions. Pictures will be coming up ASAP. More people pics than gear pics, I must warn you JH Audio JH13
Where do I begin? It has been an extremely long time, if at all, since and audio product has truly wowed me like this one did. Knowing Jerry Harvey's history, I knew his new products had the potential to be great, but I had no idea. Listening to the "universal" version of the JH13, I was simply blown away by their speed, detail, amazing low distortion, and clear, clean, neutral tone. They sounded every bit as fast and detailed as the planar headphones I listened to just prior.
Every track from every genre I threw at them only further confirmed my suspicions: this might be the custom IEM that I'd give up traditional headphones for. Following my listening experience, I felt the compulsion to tell everyone I came across "go listen to the JH13, NOW!" And nary a person I spoke to who'd taken a listen was anything less than thoroughly impressed, including UE10 and UE11 owners.
By the time I'd heard the JH13, I'd already listened to the HD800 on several rigs, and was finally starting to agree with some of the hype. However, the JH13 impressed me more, and out of a portable rig (IHP-120/Headamp Pico) no less! Whereas the HD800 felt like an open window to the recording, the JH13 felt like a direct injection of music to the brain. I thought for a minute or so and concluded that not only was the JH13 more sonically impressive, it is also more comfortable (proper custom fit + no headphone to trap heat), much more easy to drive, much more transportable, and it is less expensive to boot. At that point, I knew, the JH13 had to be mine. Now time for the 2-3 week wait to have one of the first off the line!
On that note, thanks a bunch to Uncle Wilson of Crossroads Audio for taking many ear impressions, including my own, which will be the basis for fitting our JH13's. And Jerry, we're glad to have you back, even if you're not just down the road in Irvine. Congrats on the most significant product launch of CanJam 2009!Audeze Planar Headphones
These were a big surprise to me, as their OEM'd headphone shell did not inspire confidence. However, once I started listening, I was quite pleased, by headphones with the lightning-fast response of electrostatics, without the ever-present amp or transformer box. At 20 ohms, they had plenty of power directly from my portable amp, and jumped to life with lightning dynamics. There is certainly a bit of room for improvement, in terms of making the soundstage a bit more continuous, and perhaps adding a touch more body or richness to the tonality. At around $400, they sound better than Stax SR404's (no graininess/etchiness to the treble), and don't require a separate, dedicated amp.Headamp Pico Slim prototype
The new digitally-controlled analog volume attenuator of the Pico Slim was everything I expected it to be, delivering great sound quality down to the absolute lowest hearble volumes on my uber-efficient Shure SE530. This should be the new standard-bearer for volume control on amplifiers, replacing the muffling, occasionally scratchy or mis-aligned sound of potentiometers, and the unsatisfying coarse adjustments of most stepped attenuators. Time to put this in your home amps!Neko Audio D100
Listening to this DAC with the GSX and L3000, it was rather clear that it is very much top class in its' price range. The high end was smooth, natural, and detailed in a way that your average sub-$3k DAC just can't match. The overall presentation was very balanced and relatively neutral, with great imaging. On sound quality alone, it is at the head of the class for $1300. Adding features like a USB input (direct to I2S) would really push it above and beyond.Grado HF2
This is probably the best headphone John Grado has ever put out. I personally find the PS1 and PS1000 simply have too much bass. The GS1000 is too bright. The RS1 sounds great with some albums, but less than pleasing with others. The HF2 excels by providing that fun Grado sound, without any of the brightness/harshness/over-bassiness of the other models.
The HF2 is certainly a warm headphone, no doubt, but I didn't feel that warmth getting between me and the music. While a more neutral headphone would expose the greater differences in recordings, the HF2 just makes it all very listenable. Certainly one's liking of the Grado sound is conditional on taste, but the HF2 makes it easier to enjoy the Grado flavor thane ever before.Lavry DA11
Without a DA10 side-by-side to compare, and not having owned one in over a year, it is hard to say exactly whether the DA11 made any significant changes to the basic sound. The spatial imaging processing is very cool, though, as it can significantly expand a headphones' soundstage given the right music (particularly with eletronica and orchestral music), with no significant degradation in detail or tonal quality. Dan Lavry also showed me that it can compress the soundstage of older records mastered such that instruments had only a presence in the right or left speaker alone. By removing that hard-right/hard-left channel separation, old recordings became much more listenable.HifiMan HM-801
I listened to the DAC section of this unit, and it is quite impressive sounding, in addition to being a portable DAP. The sound quality has all the realism and detail of your average $800-$1200 home DAC, with a very nice, ever-so-slightly warm tone. Once the final details of production are worked out, this will, without a doubt, be the smallest complete high-end audio system around.
Features like the digital inputs, USB DAC capability, swappable battery, microSD card slot, and mass storage support make it a real digital audio hub. The swappable amp module is just icing on the cake, and makes this extremely unique product even more so. I've had a glimpse of the future of digital audio, and it is the HM-801.Sennheiser HD800
Without a doubt, the HD800 was the most hyped and publicized product debut of CanJam 2009, and with good reason, as they are excellent headphones, perhaps some of the best ever made. However, I think the pre-show hype had grown a bit out of control.
The HD800 is not as fast or detailed as the Qualia 010, nor most of the better electrostatic and/or orthodynamic headphones. Their soundstage is not larger than that of the K1000. The HD800 does most remind me of the HE60, albeit a slightly slower HE60, with more bass. What the HD800 is, is a very close to neutral, very detailed, and very natural sounding headphone, given a good system behind it. It will likely not wow you in any one regard, but it will give you a very open and cleanly polished window on your system, and the recording you've chosen.
Where the HD800 succeeds is that while it may not be the absolute best in any given category of headphone performance, it does extremely well in just about all of them. It is a major step beyond the HD580/600/650 design, and one that can justify its' price. It performs much better than any sub-$500 headphone I know of, and definitely hangs with many at and above its' price range.
The HD800 did seem very sensitive to both the source and amp behind it. I only really felt that the HD800 was showing what it could do, when connected to 909's Reimyo CDP/Eddie Current HD2 rig. The other rigs I tried the HD800 in were lacking either in the source, amplification, or synergy department, and left me rather nonplussed. Of course, mileage will vary with different people, but make no mistakes, and please try the HD800 on different equipment if you are not initially impressed with it. You would be doing yourself, and the headphones a disservice otherwise.