First off, the reason for the delay of this post is due to a week-long trip I took immediately after the first day of RMAF (Friday 10/14), otherwise would've posted much sooner as I've done in years past. Here are my impressions first, with pics to come later.
Edited by Asr - 10/24/11 at 1:12pm
As for this year's CanJam@RMAF, I have to say that it was awesome! JP and Jude deserve major credit for pulling off the best installment yet, packing the Head-Fi room with all sorts of vendors and filling up tons of space. The layout of the room was fantastic, allowing folks to mingle throughout the room and I'm sure probably every vendor got tons of traffic.
No this definitely wasn't as awesome as the usual CanJam as member rigs would have helped out a lot, but for a straight-up vendor-loaded show, this was definitely the best "get as many vendors into one huge room" atmosphere that I've ever experienced. Note to CanJam newbies: this event wasn't really "CanJam" per se and shouldn't be thought of as CanJam 2011 - a CanJam 2011 would have been organized by a team of Head-Fi members, in another city not Denver CO and definitely not coinciding with RMAF, and with strong local member turn-out to supply "hobbyist" rigs and community camaraderie. A CanJam 2012 is really up to a really strong regional Head-Fi group - it's 100% up to Head-Fiers to make sure it can & will happen! CanJam is not the sort of event where you just sit and hope "I hope CanJam is where I live next year", it's more like "I want CanJam where I live, so I'll help to make it happen." Because if no one takes any action, a CanJam 2012 won't happen either. It's already happened 5 times so I know it can continue!
I attended the show for only about 1.5 days (Thursday 10/13 night through end of Friday 10/14) with the intent to see as many people as possible and hear as much gear as possible, as I was unable to attend Sat 10/15 and Sun 10/16. In the span of about 5 hours I was able to listen to the gear listed below. All impressions should be considered as only brief impressions in a noisy show environment.
There were so many other vendors and/or gear that I wanted to check out too but couldn't due to lack of time. The ones I decided to skip but also really wanted to check out were: Schiit Audio (for Lyr & Bifrost), TTVJ (Apex Arete and Butte), Fostex (various headphones), Westone (ES5), Ultimate Ears (UE18), and Audeze's speakers, plus hunting for Monitor Audio speakers anywhere in RMAF.
I spent all my time on Friday 10/14 in either the Head-Fi/CanJam room or HeadRoom's separate room and never had time to check out any speakers.
Audeze LCD-3 (amp: Liquid Fire)
When I checked out the LCD-3, Alex (of Audeze) asked me for my honest impression, and I was initially hesitant to provide it, because my impression wasn't really positive and I didn't want to offend, but since it seemed he was really interested, I went ahead and told him. My neutral impression of the LCD-3: to me it sounded mostly like the LCD-2 while not offering that much more. I was at Audeze's display system when it was being sourced out of something like an iPad (and not later on when it apparently was changed over to a Luxman D-05 CDP) amped by the Liquid Fire and had a tough time finding any music on it that I was familiar with. The esoteric electronica didn't really help me out any. Overall the LCD-3 really didn't impress me (though it wasn't bad either) and for all the issues I had with the LCD-2 r1 that I previously owned, I didn't really think any of them were fixed. To me the setup still had quite a ways to go to even start approaching the level of my reference electrostatic system (OII/BHSE).
I'll still give the LCD-3 the benefit of the doubt though as the components and environment weren't obviously ideal and will be giving it another chance when it comes out, as I decided to get in on the pre-order.
I found out the LCD-3 also uses the same headphone cable connectors as the LCD-2, so folks with an LCD-2 aftermarket cable will be able to use it on the LCD-3 as well.
Audio-Technica W1000X (amp: Tektron headphone amp)
I really wanted to check this one out based on what I've read on Head-Fi about it and it was actually pretty good but not really what I was hoping for personally. I went back and forth between the W1000X and an LCD-2 r2 in HeadRoom's room (not in the Head-Fi mega-room but off in the Towers) and the W1000X had less bass along with a smaller, more compressed soundstage in comparison. It reminded me a bit of my AD2K in this sense as it was more in-your-face but it definitely wasn't as in-your-face as the AD2K either. Amp was the Tektron headphone amp from Italy. I was able to run through some familiar music and the W1000X did fairly well overall, but afterwards I wasn't persuaded enough to buy my own pair and will probably skip it. Would probably be a fine all-rounder for a lot of other people though.
Cavalli Audio Liquid Lightning (source: Oppo BDP-95 | headphones: Stax SR-507)
Didn't even notice this amp at first on the Cavalli table but I got instantly interested once I realized it was Cavalli Audio and that it was a solid-state electrostatic amp (because there aren't many of this type available). The Stax SR-507 displayed with it was actually mine previously (I sold it to Cavalli Audio just weeks ago) so I had to check it out - as up until before RMAF, I'd been using the SR-507 on the HeadAmp KGSS exclusively. The only definitive conclusion I could come to was that the Liquid Lightning setup didn't have as expansive a soundstage as the KGSS setup that I had. It made the SR-507's soundstage sound even more compressed and flat and didn't seem to drive as much dynamic punch into it either. The amp also clearly had a lower gain than my KGSS, which I consider a good thing.
Not sure if I'd actually buy a Liquid Lightning when it comes out as its sound wasn't really impressive but I do like the fact it's solid-state (I'm averse to tubes in general) and it has a very convenient form factor too. I would've liked to have heard the OII MKI on this amp for a better baseline, as I'm more familiar with the OII MKI's scaling (on the KGSS and BHSE specifically).
Eddie Current Super 7
Except for the headphones attached to the amp (the Audio-Technica AD2K), everything was unfamiliar to me, so I can only really speak to how well the headphones were being driven, and the Super 7 seemed to do a really adept job at driving the AD2K. I couldn't discern it subtracting from anything obvious with maybe a slight exception in the lowest bass. It seemed to add some extra mid-bass punch in favor of making the bass sound lower. The one other thing I really liked about this amp was a nice low gain, perfect for low-impedance headphones like the AD2K.
No I didn't listen to these, but I saw them and my visual-only impression of them was that the aesthetics screamed cheapness compared to the fully-polished-chrome PS1000. I took a pic of the PS500 next to the PS1000 and will post it when I have all my pics collected.
Over the years I've become anti-Grado and I really wasn't interested in hearing the PS500 at all. Even if I liked how they sounded I still wouldn't buy them, as Grado is not a company that I want to support anymore.
Stax SR-009 (amps: BHSE & WES - operating in balanced mode on BHSE)
I actually wasn't totally impressed by the SR-009 either, as much as it's been raved about. It was definitely not on the pedestal I'd imagined it on, from the early impressions on Head-Fi that I've read.
I heard this on both the Woo Audio and HeadAmp tables. At first I was going to check it out on the BHSE first (as I own one and that experience would've been more useful to me) but I decided I wanted to wait the couple of hours necessary for the BHSE to achieve full operating temperature and went over to Woo's system first. It was really good on the WES system, but at the same time I wasn't totally impressed based on expectations. I was hoping for Qualia 010-like clarity & soundstage but was disappointed. It also reminded me a lot of the OII MKI in some ways - to me it was like taking the OII MKI and clearing it up with significantly more treble tilt and expanding the soundstage a bit to become more open-sounding.
Later in the day I spent serious time with it on HeadAmp's table with the BHSE, sourced by the Sony XA5400ES in balanced mode. As I've previously heard the HeadAmp source and have an idea of how it does with the OII MKI on the BHSE (at CanJam 2010), I tried to extrapolate the SR-009 vs the OII MKI, and it was much more promising to me there. It was still no Qualia to me, but as far as my sonic preferences go, it was definitely way up my alley - the treble was really clean & precise, and I think I can say with considerable more quantity than the OII MKI. Something about it really intrigued me and I regretted not having any ambient electronica CDs with me to be able to hear certain qualities (forgot to bring a couple CDs).
I suspect I'd like the SR-009 even more on my own system. I really want to hear it on my system now. I'd say there's a good chance I'll buy one at some point in the future. It wasn't completely mindblowing as I was hoping, but I could easily settle for less. It was still totally amazing though despite the show environment with limited time. Maybe if I spent more time with it I'd be more amazed.