Here's how this is going to work. I'm going to post a list of all headphones covered and their associated rig #(s). Amps and sources I will not be indexing. After that I will post the notes for each rig exactly as they are in my book, in order of listening, excepting a couple goofs I made with listing the wrong product while writing. Then I will write a more easily readable summary which will include thoughts reflecting back on my notes after I've listened to everything. Many times my notes will refer to the rig I just heard so be aware of this if you are examining my notes in detail. These are my opinions, and not fact. These are impressions, not reviews. Take from them what you will, if anything.
A note about how I audition, what my priorities are, what music I used, how long I listened to each, and finally if I think my impressions are tainted by room noise. I arrived in the CanJam room found a spot to start auditioning, then went rig by rig in one direction until a table was full. I would come back to it later, even if it was a single rig that was busy when I was ready for it.
My priorities are center focus by far the most important. What does that mean? When a singer is present, the voice should be directly in front at a 12 o'clock position if you were standing on the face of a clock. It should never sound like it is coming from a range of 11 to 1, which I call fuzzy to varying degrees, and absolutely should never come from both 10 and 2 with a gap in the middle. This is horribly distracting and I cannot listen to the rig even if everything else is touched by God himself. Next is the balance of the spectrum and if it is seamless or not. This is somewhat personal taste in how much of what I want, but it being seamless is not. One range should not bleed into the next or overpower to the extent where it completely covers another. Far lower in the priority are things like texture, bass presence, extension, detail, soundstage depth and width, and imaging (excepting center focus, which is technically a part of imaging, but I make a special category). These last several are not in any particular order, but are much less important than the first two.
When possible I used my own demo CD consisting of 1 drum and bass track, 1 electronica highly spatial track, and the first movement of Rachmoninov Symphonic Dances by Baltimore/Zinman. My other demo CD contained acoustic folk, acoustic rock, and jazz. I mostly used the first CD, but used second for testing vocals if necessary. When impractical or impossible I would use the supplied source, usually an iPad/iPod in this case, find an album I was familiar with and play a good track from it. Very few of the rigs I tested were with unfamiliar music.
I listened to each rig for a minimum of 5 minutes and a maximum of 25 minutes. Rigs I really did not like were among the shortest, and some I found very little faults with were also short. Longer ones included those that had many flaws, but were not painful to listen to, or ones I was so in love with I could not take them off. The last topic is probably going to be controversial, but I believe it regardless. Meet noise has no effect on my ability to audition headphones, even open designs, save the AKG K1000 for obvious reasons. Will I be able to hear every last detail with meet noise going on? Probably not. Will it matter in a purchase decision? Probably not. Exceedingly small things like that would be covered by a return policy if they were just unacceptable, but I would imagine anything that concerning would be noticeable with meet noise present. I felt absolutely sure of my results on each rig despite meet noise in the background. As a classically trained musician I am trained to focus on individual sounds and block others out completely. I use this when auditioning to great effect. That said remember these are my impressions and not the word of God.
Let's get started then.
Audeze LCD2 (1, 7, 8, 12, 29, 40, 61)
Beyerdynamic T1 (2, 62, 67)
Beyerdynamic T70p (3)
Grado GS1000 (4)
Hifiman RE262 (5, 17)
Beyerdynamic DT990 (6)
Audio Technica AD2000 (9)
Jerry Harvey JH13 (10)
Sennheiser HD800 (11, 12, 28, 43, 44, 50, 68)
Ultrasone Edition 10 (13)
Hifiman HE-300 (14)
Grado PS1000 (15)
Ultrasone Edition 9 (both versions) (16)
VModa LP2 (18)
VModa LP (19)
VModa M-80 (20)
VModa Vibrato (21)
Unique Melody Merlin (22)
Unique Melody Miracle (23)
Unique Melody Mage (24)
Beyerdynamic T5P (25)
Beyerdynamic DT880 (26)
Stax SR-009 (27, 36)
Hifiman HE-500 (30)
Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor (31)
Westone ES5 (32)
Audeze LCD3 (33, 34, 35, 66, 69)
Sennheiser HE-60 (37, 64)
Hifiman HE-6 (38, 59, 60)
Stax SR-507 (39)
Sennheiser HD650 (41)
AKG K701 (42)
Sennheiser HD598 (45)
Sennheiser RS220 (46)
Phonak Audeo Platinum PFE 232 (47)
Phonak Audeo Silver/Gold PFE 012 and 111 (same device different accessory level) (48)
Jerry Harvey JH3A/JH16 (49)
HE Audio Jades (51)
Sennheiser HE90 Orpheus (52)
Fostex TH900 (53)
Fostex TR50P (54)
Stax SR007 Omega 2 (not sure which version, they belong to HeadphoneAddict) (55, 65)
Grado PS500 (56)
Grado HF2 (57)
Beyerdynamic T50P (58)
AKG K1000 (63)
1) Woo Audio WTF-1 CD Player, Woo Audio WDS DAC, Woo Audio WA5-LE, Audeze LCD2
Smooth good size stage imaging / \ shaped. Bass crisp good kick refined, treble is clean but weak. Somewhat dark, voices aren't focused. LCD2 isn't all that heavy - good comfort. Stage is deeper than expected. Natural soothing signature. Slight roughness in cymbals. I could be ok with this, but I think there is better to be had.
Starting at the Woo table got me my first listening impressions of the LCD2 and it was quite poor, thinking back on it now. I was surprised how light they were considering people on the forums talking about having to lay in bed to listen or having neck problems due to them weighing as much as a brick. This amp was not a good combination with the LCD2. Control was not good as evidenced by the roughness in the cymbals and the lack of center focus.
2) Woo Audio WTF-1 CDP, Woo Audio WDS DAC, Woo Audio WA6-SE, Beyerdynamic T1
Stage is smaller, very | | shaped. Depth is not great. Clarity is excellent, nothing harsh at all. Guitar is very lifelike. New track - stage is more narrow than before but depth is still shallow. Bass is full but not very precise. LCD2 setup was better. Vocal quality is nice, but with no focus it's hard to listen to. Sounds ok, but not for me. Treble seems not too hot, but not laid back.
This was my introduction to the T1, also not a good one. I never did find a T1 setup I liked much. The center gap was just too distracting in this example. Sounds came at me from the sides or slightly towards the front on the sides. The only positive was that, at the time, I was impressed with the clarity, something that is still very good, but was trumped many times as I progressed.
3) Woo Audio WTF-1 CDP, Woo Audio WDS DAC, Woo Audio WA2, Beyerdynamic T70
Big stage, sibilant quite a lot. Stage almost sounds inverted \ / Clarity is ok, vocal is ok. Bass is like T1, boomy and not precise. Extension seems not amazing, but ok.
Wierd sound from this one. I kept feeling like sounds came from behind my ears as it narrowed. I checked to make sure they were on properly and they were. Simply did not like this can. Probably one of my shortest auditions.
4) Zune 8 (flash, my personal device 320k/s mp3), Schiit Asgard, Grado GS1000
Stage is big, but a bit hollow sounding. Slight sibilance. Focus is pretty good, not as good as IEMs. Bass is not deep. Feels like a cave. No punch. Opeth sounded smeared in the upper mids. Getting a bit of wall of sound effect. Vertical stage is poor. Typical crappy lower treble from Grado. Not a fan. Hot treble.
Lots of dislike with this one. I also found later that some IEMs also lack focus, something I had not experienced on any IEM until now, not that I had tried many. The sound felt like it was coming from a cave wall far away and reflecting many times on it's way to me.
5) Zune 8, Schiit Asgard, Hifiman RE262 (my personal universals)
Highs reduced (compared to my WA6 at home). I like the WA6 better. Red Molly (band) sounds good but not as crisp. Sounds flat. Could be source related. Their only source is busy so using Zune. Asgard is silent as far as I can hear with no music playing.
Not quite what I was hoping for with the Asgard. The good thing was no noise with my IEMs, but the sound was flat and uninvolving. Treble response seemed worse. These are already fairly rolled off highs already so being worse really deadened the sound. I was a little annoyed with Schiit only bringing one source. They said last time they were with Sennheiser and just didn't think about it enough this time. They'll be sure to have more next time.
6) Zune 8, Schiit Valhalla, Beyerdynamic DT990
Sound is thick and rich. Treble sounds recessed. Lacks sparkle. Not much sibilance but it is there. Stage is average. Imaging is not bad. Focus is slightly off. Next track - clean sound, decent setup.
Don't really remember this rig too well. No major issues with it, but not something I would recommend.
7) Schiit Bifrost, Schiit Lyr, Audeze LCD2
Bass is really deep. Thunderous. Drum and bass sounds great. highs are a little rolled, probably LCD2 at fault. Bass really punches. Stage is again / \. Precision is excellent. Very clear. Imaging is good to excellent. Focus again is not great in center. Lyr drives with authority.
The first hint that the LCD2 was actually a good headphone was with the Lyr. It really powered the LCD2 well. No major complaints except center image lacking. On a budget this is a killer rig.
8) Sony XA5400ES, Eddie Current Balancing Act, Audeze LCD2
Bass is impressive. Sound is utterly effortless. Stage is better than other LCD2 setups. Bass is just awesome. All over the sound is great. Some sibilance, could be track. Relaxed laid back. Treble is soft but doesn't seem to matter. Smooth and easy to listen to. Excellent save center focus.
The next level for the LCD2. I still didn't like it, but I could see why people were so rabid about it now that I'd heard it on the Lyr then the BA. It reminded me of an HD600 but with none of the clarity problems and far far better bass.
9) Sony XA5400ES, Eddie Current Super 7, Audio Technica AD2000
Sound is nicely balanced. Treble is smooth and present, not laid back, not hot. Vocals are extremely accurate. Bass has nice impact, not boomy. Nicely precise bass. Not sibilant at all even with long SSS sounds in vocals. Stage is average to large. Can be intimate also. Focus is good. Probably the best center I've heard on full size cans. Inside of cans presses on ear, though. Not sure if I can deal with that.
Going in I knew ASR really liked his AD2000 so my expectations were high. For the most part I agree with him. These are great headphones, and I'm sure the Super 7 did it's part to make them sound good as well. The pressing on the ears is something I probably would not be able to deal with later on. The center was not as good as others I heard later, but was still acceptable.
10) Apple iPad, Jerry Harvey JH13
Imaging is great. Bass has plenty of punch and volume. Center focus is perfect. Treble is a bit hot, but not bad. Ultra clear. Bass is clean. Mids might be slightly recessed. Slight smearing in upper mids. Excellent choice. Don't see how you could possibly need more bass than JH13. JH16 really necessary?
Looking back the JH13 really had too much bass for my taste. It wasn't a lot too much, but just enough to where I noticed it. This was one of my final choices when it came to buying my customs. If you need the bass I can certainly recommend these.
11) Esoteric X-05 CDP, Apex Peak w/Volcano, Sennheiser HD800
Stage is large. Imaging is good. Vocals are nice. Center focus is good. Maybe similar enough to AD2000 (center focus). Left to right is nicely seamless. No gap in middle just slightly fuzzy there. Bass is punchy but not very full. Needs more volume. No sibilance. X-05 has the slowest 'fast' forward ever. I think normal speed is faster. Bass goes very deep, but just isn't authoritative. Drum and bass has slight smearing in upper mids. Spatial electronica track is fun with this level of imaging precision. Orchestral is very nice, some of the best I've heard. Precision is so good. Can almost see the instruments. Very really it's rather awesome. Complete except needs more bass volume. Super Impressed.
A little history with the HD800. I heard these shortly after they were released on both a B22/O22 and my own Little Dot MKVI and found them to be rather average and didn't care for them at all. When I put these on I was expecting very little and left entranced by it's classical peformance with this rig. Not something I would recommend for all genres, but classical is very good. Stax and the planars better it in this area though with the right amps.
12) Meridian 808.3, Apex Pinnacle (Balanced), Audeze LCD2 quickly then HD800
Not becoming a fan of the LCD2. Stage is just too separate. Sound is natural but the separation just kills the imagery. HD800 - Sound is similar to the Peak but less effort. Some smear in high mids on Pinnacle with electronic music. Detail is very nice. Again bass is deep but not enough volume to be satisfying. Not enough punch on this setup for sure. Orchestral has no bass impact. It's terrible. Peak sounded better. Imaging is not as good. Not as easy to see instruments. Still nice. Tonality is nice. Cymbals not bad but cringe inducing occasionally.
I found nothing good about the Pinnacle with any headphone I tried it with. Probably the most expensive item there I just did not like at all. The notes speak for themselves.
13) Meridian G08.2, Apex Peak w/ Volcano, Ultrasone Edition 10
Focus is great. But it sounds distant and hollow. Treble is hot but tinny sounding. Weird cans. Vocals are smooth. Not a can I'm interested in.
What's better to follow the Pinnacle than Edition 10s? These are just trash, imo.
14) Oppo BDP-83, Apex Arete, Hifiman HE-300
Highs diminished. Mids and upper bass are nice. Focus is better than expected but still separated. Imaging is average. Fit of course is terrible. Stage is medium to large. Detail is average. Tonality is good. I could make do with this in a pinch. Better overall than the Edition 10 for sure.
These are about what I expected at this price point. A good lower end can that does a lot of things right and not many excellently. The standard Hifiman full size headphone fit is the worst out there. Even Grado is more comfortable than this.
15) Oppo BDP-83, Apex Arete, Grado PS1000
Better than GS1000, more full.. rich. Treble too hot still. Would be fatiguing. Overall not bad though. Stage is small to medium. Imaging is just ok. Focus is average. Bass is more than HD800, but not by a lot. Extension is not quite as good. Sounds like it really has to work for lowest notes.
Speaking of Grado I hopped on their top of the line expecting the same old, and was mostly greeted by it. Hot treble, boosted bass, small sound stage.. it's a Grado. Not interested.
16) Wadia CDP (unknown model), SPL Auditor and Phonitor, Ultrasone Edition 9
Nice isolation. Fit is funky but workable. Sound is just weak except bass. Focus is nice, very small stage. Everything is in front very little on sides. Cymbals are just mush and sound 100 feet away. Treble is non existent.
Not a fair outing for the SPL products. I imagine I wouldn't like the Edition 9s on anything.
17) Wadia CDP, SPL Phonitor, Hifiman RE262
Very fun adjustments. Power is ample. Clarity is good not great. Ability to firm up center vocals with crossfeed is very interesting. No hiss/buzz with IEMs.
This was a really cool stop on my trip around the room. The SPL guy demo'd all the switches and knobs while I listened and it was just as incredible as I expected from what I had read. The thing that interested me the most was once the center image was dialed in, crossfeed was able to lightly blur the center vocals to give them more body, but the adjustment was so small that it didn't make them too fuzzy to be out of focus. Really neat. Would assume any IEM would be a good match with the Phonitor.
18) Apple iPod, Fiio amp (couldn't find a model), VModa LP2
Very recessed highs, mids recessed. Bass head cans for sure. Bringing up volume where bass is overbearing results in decent mids with still recessed highs. Stage is small to medium. Imaging is not bad but not great. I know I'm listening to a cheap can.
Probably the bassiest headphone in the room. These were terrible. Nothing positive to say at all. They fit ok I guess. There, that's something positive.
19) Apple iPod, Fiio amp, VModa LP (1?)
Much better but still a lot of bass. Stage is small like LP2. I'd say same can as LP2 but with less bass.
Better balance here, but still not enough to get into recommendation territory. I would avoid these if possible.
20) Apple iPod, Fiio amp, VModa M-80
These are nice. Tiny on ear headphones. Bass is full and good punch but lets the rest of the spectrum through. Mids are quite nice. Highs are just ok. Good clarity, small to medium stage. Comfortable, shouldn't be fatiguing in sound or fit.
These were a shock. The VModa guy handed me these tiny little things and said "This is our top of the line" and I thought.. yeah right. Boy was I wrong. If these aren't outrageously expensive I can easily recommend them. Great tiny little cans that sound like the big boys.
21) Apple iPod, Fiio amp, VModa Vibrato IEM
Seems fragile build. Wires might break quickly. Sound is good. Smooth mids rolled highs. Bass is strong. Maybe a bit too much but not offensive or covering the rest. Lots of punch. Comfortable fit good seal. Sound quality overall is nice. Would recommend. Imaging is good typical of IEMs. Center focus is good. Nice product. $150. Yeah comparable to RE262 in quality of sound.
As good as these sounded, I can't help but remember how weak those wires looked coming out of the body of the IEMs. Sound-wise they are fine, but I probably can't recommend them due to the build quality. The cheaper Phonaks later on sound better and are very well built anyways.
22) Zune 8, Unique Melody Merlin
Forceful even on the Zune. Clarity is ok. Bass is full, good punch but not super punchy. Bass is quite nice. Focus is great, stage is on the small side. Voices are slightly fuzzy, but not because of focus. No evidence of sibilance. Stage can change to be slightly larger. Very good, might be a contender. Tonality is good, not great. Vocals are ok. Better than RE262 top to bottom.
Coming from the 'neutral' JH13 I had no idea what to expect from the 'bass monster' from UM. It turned out at least with this demo, that it was not a bass monster, just a well balanced IEM with solid good bass. Lots of little things with this IEM I did not like kept it out of the running at the end. I think a lot of this is due to overall poor performance with UM's demos, unfortunately. They are working on them, though. As much as I like Matt, I couldn't buy blind (or deaf as it were) and went a different direction.
23) Zune 8, Unique Melody Miracle
Crisp. Center is closer, but stage overall feels larger slightly. Upper mids are a bit smeared but not bad. Bass is punchy and full but tastefully balanced with regard to volume. Balance is nice across full spectrum. Sound is just a touch thick. Less bass than Merlin.
A closer fit to my criteria, but again they just sounded off. Same issues with the demos I believe.
24) Zune 8, Unique Melody Mage
High mids smeared - like the others. Bass is tight and light. Volume could use a bump. Not bad overall though. Miracle is a worthy progression from this IEM. Stage is deeper than Miracle and Merlin strangely. Not my choice.
Notes mostly speak for themselves. Nice to see that as you spend more with UM you do indeed get a better product. This also shows that the Merlin is certainly it's own thing whereas the Mage to Miracle is very easy to see.
25) Onkyo DV-BD606, Headroom Desktop, Beyerdynamic T5P
Bass is solid, not too loud, slightly soft, punchy. Treble is hot, probably fatiguing. Overall is nice. Orchestral is kind of can sounding in a slightly hollow but not tinny way. Powerful rich sound though. Imaging is very good. Focus in middle is still not great, but this can is impressive for closed. Probably my favorite closed so far. Beethoven 9th is really nice on these. Stage is enormous. Very deep but not too hollow. Vocals are surprisingly good.
I had mostly given up on the idea that a closed headphone could sound good, but this one sounded pretty ok. There are several issues I have with it, but overall I can recommend it if you have to have closed headphones and don't want to go the custom IEM route.
26) Onkyo DV-BD606, Headroom Desktop, Beyerdynamic DT880
Comfortable, no extra pressure. Bass goes pretty deep. Focus is ok. Bass has good punch. Volume is not bad, could use a touch more (bass). Mids are nice, highs recessed like HD600/650. Feels like a more complete headphone than the 600/650. Much better bass. Some smearing in upper mids like other cans. Orchestra sounds nice. Rich but too rolled off I think. Fuller bass is appreciated. Better than HD600/650, imo. stage is large and deep. Imaging is good to excellent. Tonality is very good. Clarity is weak but forgivable. Nice.
I had always wondered about these since many years ago when I saw people commenting they were as good as the HD600 I owned. They are like cousins, really. I think the DT880 is just slightly better, but not in all areas. Easy to recommend.
27) Unknown 24/96 DAC (perhaps Woo?), Woo Audio WES, Stax SR-009
Unsurpassed clarity. Comfortable. Texture is amazing. Tonality is perfect. Bass is bottomless. Everything is just effortless. Imaging is very good. Focus is poor. No center at all. Top tier except the center issue. Excellent. New track - Krauss selection has much better center. Slightly fuzzy but near excellent. Still a bit too much sides only sound. Vocals are the only center it seems.
Hello, SR-009. These are great, but as I found later, they just weren't involving enough for me. The sound was mechanical, similar to how many asian classical players perform. I could certainly make do with these, who wouldn't, but they were not my choice this weekend. Easy to recommend if this is your listening preference (detail above all else).
28) Woo Audio WTF-1 CDP, Woo Audio WDB-1 DAC, Woo Audio 234 Mono block (pair), Sennheiser HD800
Smooth, effortless. The Stax is still better, but this is nice. Bass still shy on the 800s. Very natural feeling sound. Focus is very good. The drivers are under complete control of the amps. Very nice. Not my thing, though.
For the price, these amps did not impress. I preferred the Peak, and later the B-52 over all of them. Would be curious to hear them on the Darkstar. Never occured to me to try it. These are gigantic and not worth the price unless you have to have amps that will double as speaker amps also. Really no reason for anyone to get these.
29) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels Darkstar, Audeze LCD2
So far easily best amp for the 2's. Not as clear in highs as 009s, but richer throughout mids and bass. Vibrant alive sound. Center focus is the best I've heard on the LCD2. This is fantastic.
Finally I heard the LCD2 performing amazingly well. This was the best setup in the room with LCD2, imo. The 009s were still better in most categories, but the LCD2 was not far behind depending on your tastes.
30) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels Darkstar, Hifiman HE500
Very similar to LCD2 maybe a bit more center focused. Slightly more treble energy. Very clean. Otherwise LCD2 equivalent. The Darkstar is a gamechanger. Completely makes the LCD2 vastly better.
Not much to say except a flavor difference from the LCD2. The Darkstar is flat out amazing and is priced lower than I expected at $3,000. Still probably out of my range for quite a while, but at least is within firing range.
31) iPad, Unknown 6 output rackmount type amplifier, Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor
Focus is perfect. Very clean. Not agressive, but not passive. Very nice. Bass is slightly too quiet. Treble is perfect. Tonality is spot on. Stage is very large. Imaging is great. Vocals are perfect.
I ended up ordering a pair of the UERM as my main goal of this show was to find good customs and buy them. I had virtually nothing to complain about, and once I get them as full customs I'm hoping the bass volume goes up just a touch. Most people I talked to said that was usually the case with all customs due to bone conduction and better seals. Really anxious to get these in my ears. Technically these were not the uber detail or clarity level of the SR009s, or the sheer beauty of the LCD3 with the Darkstar, but they were easily the best custom in the room and that's what I wanted.
32) Emotiva ERC-2 CDP, Ray Samuels Apache, Westone ES5
Focus is good. Bass might be a little too boomy. Extension is great. Treble is not as sparkly as UERM. Bass is great on drum and bass, but overbears slightly. Also sounds like it's having to work on the lowest notes. Imaging is very nice. Very good clarity. Stage seems shallow and small to medium. Tonality is just ok. Slight smearing upper mids. Bass has great punch. Mids have this kind of halo resonance. Makes focusing on voices difficult and distracting. Would say bass is happy medium between UERM and JH13 for those who want to be inbetween.
Was looking forward to these knowing HeadphoneAddict and more were champions of this custom. Came away feeling this was one of the lesser customs I listened to at CanJam. It just felt flat and rough in spots. Despite what my notes say, I can't really remember anything that sounded world class. Was not impressed with them.
33) iPod (then Luxman D-05), Eddie Current 2A3, Audeze LCD3
Not enough power. At maximum it was just barely loud enough to listen to. Sound is passive. This setup just doesn't sound good at all. (later Alex changed sources after my comments to him) Now Luxman D-05 - Much much better probably as good or better than Liquid Fire now. Could still be volume limited for some people, but I doubt it.
My first sit down with the LCD3 was with a really poor choice of setup. Apparently with the speaker room and the CanJam setup, Audeze didn't bring enough sources so they made do with an iPod. This was a mistake that persisted all day Friday and most of Saturday before I mentioned it to Alex. Soon after I walked back by and the iPod had been replaced by a Luxman. The sound was dramatically better due to the higher output voltage allowing for proper volume. At this point this was the best LCD3 setup at the table or at least tied with the Liquid Fire.
34) Unknown DAC, Red Wine Audio Audeze Edition amp, Audeze LCD3
Much better. Bass is full and powerful, but doesn't bleed. Imaging is good. Focus is not great. Fuzzy center. More treble than LCD2 for sure. Better? Not sure. I'd call it just a different flavor. Might be just a touch clearer (than LCD2). Bass is thunderous. nice, but not for me with this setup.
Worst combo at the table after the source change on the Eddie Current. Only the Pinnacle later sounded worse than the RWA Audeze amp. Sound was just flat and boring. Some good points, but not enough for me to recommend. This amp needs to be adjusted for the LCD3 or a new version for it.
35) iPad, Unknown DAC, Cavalli Liquid Fire, Audeze LCD3
Focus is much better. Bass is slightly less volume but better control. Voices are more natural. Highs still rolled a bit, but they are nice. Best combo at this table.
Catering to my needs, this might be the best pairing (at this table) for me specifically, but I think the Eddie Current might be better overall. Later I found the Darkstar to be an order of magnitude better than all of these. At this point I still was not all that much of a fan of the LCD3, but could hear it was a nice setup for others with different priorities.
36) Sony XA5400ES CDP, Headamp Blue Hawaii SE, Stax SR-009
Sounds more alive than WES but mids are slightly fuzzy. May just be this recording (Norah Jones). Bass is good, but a little lacking. Detail is great as expected. About the same as WES. Very nice but not my choice.
Comparing Stax rigs at this level is something I have little experience with, and by the end of the show I felt I really needed more time with stats to have more qualified findings. I felt that all stat rigs were excellent and that the variance was so close that it became difficult to order them. If on a 10 scale, all stat rigs were at least a 9, with the best around a 9.5 so you can see how little room there was for positioning all of them. I think my impressions of what I heard are still valid, but my conclusions may not be when compared to other stat rigs. That said, I think both the WES and BHSE were about on par, but slight differences giving them pluses and minuses in different areas that ended up cancelling each other out overall. The sources were different also, so I can't be sure on this.
37) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels A-10 Thunderbolt, Sennheiser HE-60
This is nice. Spectrum is really perfectly balanced. Hot treble but not irritating or fatiguing. Mids are seamless with highs and lows. bass is punch and rich/full. Not overbearing at all. Focus is excellent. Detail is excellent. Wow. Stage is large but can easily be intimate.
I've heard the HE-60 before on a DIY xStata or whatever it's called, but this was so completely better than my memory of that experience. Even though the HE-60 is a dated design I can easily easily recommend this setup. Is it the absolute best out there? No, but I really could find no fault with this setup. I'm starting to think I'm just not a stat guy as they seem to have problems engaging me in the music. The exception was the HE90 I listened to later.
38) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels Darkstar, Hifiman HE-6
Focus is absolutely perfect. Slight sibilance. Never heard the HE-6 even close to this. Bass is incredible. Thunderous but detailed and precise. Sound is very much alive. Agressive with out being irritating. Definately not laid back. Top rig.
At the time this was the top rig I'd heard. It was eclipsed only by a couple others. If you have a good source and $4200, this is a no brainer, especially if you like your treble on the hotter side. The Darkstar (and all RSA amps) shows it's dominance again.
39) Oppo BDP-95, Cavalli Liquid Lightning, Stax SR-507
Lives up to it's name. Ultra smooth. Very nicely balanced. bass is just a touch shy - but control is excellent and not boomy at all. Vocals are excellent. Very live sound. Very clear, no hint of fuzziness anywhere. Focus is good to excellent. Stage is very large, detail is great. I'd say this is equal to the A-10/HE-60 in both overall quality and also spectrum balance.
No complaints really. Excellent setup. No idea what prices are on all of this, but I would imagine it's similar to the A-10/HE-60, so really it's whatever you prefer. SR-507 is certainly easier to get hold of.
40) MDHT Havana (I believe) DAC, ALO Prototype Single Ended Triode, Audeze LCD2
Norah Jones - Smooth and natural. Focus is good not great. Vocals are slightly smeared/sibilant. Imaging is good. Probably the most natural sounding setup - in a play to the audiophile kind of way. Laidback and relaxing. Orchestral is good, but maybe a bit too boomy with space (not to be confused with bass boom).
If you want to melt into your chair and take your mind off, well, anything, this is the setup for you. Most relaxing rig in the room easily. Certainly not the most accurate, but great regardless.
41) Bottlehead Nagra Reel to Reel, Bottlehead Crack, Sennheiser HD650
Muffled, very veiled. Laid back to an extreme. Stage is very | | Center is virtually non existent. Don't care for this at all.
Shortest of all my auditions. I'd heard HD650 before and wasn't impressed, but I think this setup was worse. Nothing positive to say at all.
42) Bottlehead Nagro Reel to Reel, Bottlehead Crack, AKG K701
Changing to the K701 doesn't change much except being less veiled and cleaner. Still | | shaped. No center.
Better, but not by much. Also have never been a fan of the K701and this setup sounded similar, not really worse, than when I had heard them before.
43) Invicta by Ressonessence Labs DAC/Amp, Sennheiser HD800
Plays from SD card and shows resolution with LED on face. Sounds quite good for an all in one device even with HD800. Sound is well controlled and balanced. Detail is good for dynamic. Not quite as good as the Peak setup, but darn close.
All you bedside rig users take note of this DAC/Amp. This thing is less than half the width of a standard component (about the same depth) and has everything but the kitchen sink, and sounds great while doing it. Not something I would recommend as a main rig all in one, but for the space concious it's hard to beat.
44) HHB UDP-89 Universal Player, Red Wine Audio HPA Isabellina, Sennheiser HD800
Airy, weak. Not good at all. Volume is maxed and still not loud. It is listenable though. Loud enough for most but just barely.
Notes speak for themselves. Not a recommended combo.
45) HHB UDP-89 Universal Player, Apex Butte, Sennheiser HD598
Completely different than HD580/600/650. More forward and live. Sounds pretty good. Good clarity for the price. Fit is comfortable. Imaging is nice. Center is not good, but really this is enjoyable. Bass is there and enough. I'd say comparable to the HD650 (the bass). Nice cans for the money. Better than 600/650 for sure.
Aside from the awful color.. brown and cream.. really?.. These are great headphones. A worthy successor to the 600/650 series. The 800 felt like a complete disconnect from the 600/650. With a ton of power the 600/650 could sound very clear and live like the 598s did with this moderate amp, but it also required balancing and a more expensive amp. The 598 does all of this in unbalanced with not so high an amp need. Really great and easily recommended. Great product.
46) Rotel RCD-1072, Sennheiser RS220 Wireless
Sound is nice and clear, no wireless artifacts. sound is like a veiled 598. It is just ok, a bit distant. Bass is lower quantity. Impressively no noise with the wireless. Good stuff if you need wireless. Impressed.
Not much more to say. Jude commented that he could recommend this as a primary headphone to people just getting into the hobby or people with priority on speakers that just want a good headphone without the wires. I agree completely. Controls on the headphones were easy to manipulate as they are shaped for easy identification simply by touch.
47) Zune 8, Phonak Audeo Platinum PFE-232 (Gray filters, lowest bass)
Very small and light. Good fit. Highs are a bit smeared and very distant. Mids are ok. Bass overpowers a lot. I'd never want more bass than gray filters. Detail is weak. Imaging is ok. Center is ok. Not an IEM I would recommend. Very veiled. Odd sound.
The salesman walked me through this elaborate speech/demo before I listened to them. I was impressed with the information, but that feeling fell instantly when the music started rolling. These are plain awful. The real insult came when he told me the price afterwards was $600. I was shocked at how bad they sounded for that staggering price. Absoutely cannot recommend.
48) Zune 8, Phonak Audeo Silver/Gold PFE 012/111 (same unit, different options package) Gray filters
Very nice, Similar to RE262 but a bit hotter treble. bass is forceful but not bleeding. Much better balance. Superior to the Platinum in every sonic respect. Focus is still not great but it is ok enough. Pricing is much more in line at $100-150 depending on options.
The rep was surprised at my response to the PFE 232 so he had me try the entry model. These were better in every way. I would say they are equal or slightly worse than the Hifiman RE262. Similar signature but slightly more emphasis on bass than the RE262.
49) iPad, Jerry Harvey JH3a, Jerry Harvey JH16
Switch for bass amp w/on is +3db lowest. Off = ruler flat says Jerry. Bass variation is very large. w/off is not bad but need a bit more. On and slightly turned is just right. Focus is very good. Imaging is excellent. Slight sibilance, not terrible at all. Detail is approaching stats. Highs are hot but clear. May or may not be fatiguing. Stage is large but can be intimate. Vocals are smooth and realistic. Tonality is great. Very good product really like the bass. I'll have to think on this one. the battery is a problem for me. Sound is not quite as good overall as the UERM. Dial in bass is so nice though. It really satisfies. Full range sounds great even at low volume especially the bass which is usually bad at low volume. Amps really control well. Faintest details are brought out. Jerry says stationary version possible if demand is high for the current setup, but right now focusing on trying to finally be done with this unit.
As a non-portable listener, I knew going in I would likely not get the JH3a/JH16 combo due to being tied to a 6 hour battery. The sound was very good, but a couple nitpicks left the UERM as the top dog, so I ordered those. As an outsider looking in during this whole JH3a debacle I had no baggage to hash out with Jerry so I felt it would be inappropriate to bring up those topics. I judged the unit soley on it's performance ignoring any of the issues bringing this product to market has had. If I had needed a portable unit the choice would have been tough, but I probably would have gone with the JH3a merely due to the fact that the 3a unit is so small and is a single device instead of carrying a CLAS, amp, all the connecting cables, as well as the DAP. I really laughed inside when I saw people carrying around their 3-4 stacked 'portable' bricks. My version of portable is my Zune or phone and some IEMs. To sum all of this up, is it worth the price after all the changes? Yes, I believe so, but I did not find them to completely outclass all of the other custom options. The ES5 was worse, but not much behind, and of course I found the UERM to be better. High end customs, portable amp, portable dac all together for $1800? Yes it is a good deal.
50) Meridian G08, Ray Samuels B-52, Sennheiser HD800
Best 800 rig in the room. Better than Peak easily. Focus is excellent. Tonality is right on. Clarity is very good. Bass is much better. Rich and full. A bit more volume. Enough to satisfy me. Easy to recommend to anyone for any genre. Impressive.
The best dynamic rig I heard all weekend by far. Nothing really to complain about. If you love your HD800s but want to improve them, I would recommend looking at a B-52 if it is in your budget (not cheap!).
51) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels A-10 Thunderbolt, HE Audio Jades
Hello bass! As loud as the bass is, it doesn't bleed or cover mids. Detail is very good. Sense of space is excellent. Better headphone with this rig than the SR-009 and BHSE/WES.
These are out of production so will be hard to find, but if you can find them and can afford an A-10, they will really satisfy. These had the best bass of any stat I heard save the HE90.
52) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels A-10 Thunderbolt, Sennheiser HE90 Orpheus
53) iPod, Fostex HP-P1, Fostex TH900
Nice balanced sound. Bass has good punch. Volume is ok could use just a touch more. Nothing bleeds. Mids are good but slightly recessed. Highs are very clear. No sibilance. Highs sparkle but aren't hot. This is nice. Stage is medium. Center focus is good not great. Imaging is average. Most sounds feel like they are grouped at 10 and 2 with only vocals in center. Vocals are nice but could be better. Fit is very comfortable. Not heavy, no clamp. Cable is one of the best OEM I've ever seen. Kind of a woven cloth. Could easily recommend.
This was all before I heard the price. These still sound good just as my notes say, but my recommendation is not strong now. There are better options at this price. I wouldn't blame anyone for liking these, but I would question their money decisions. A guarded recommendation here.
54) iPod, Fostex HP-P1, Fostex TR50P
Sound is rather poor. This is the first planar I've heard that really sounds like the music is on a line coming from each side. Mechanically the sound is recessed but very clean. Center vocals are very nice somehow though. A bit recessed but smooth. For large cans I expected them to be circumaural but they sit on my ear about 1/2 of it. Ears touch inside of cans. Not uncomfortable but annoying. The longer I listen the more I get accustomed to this double wall and it's not as bad, but coming from the TH900 it was starkly bad at first.
After the praise I see on Head-fi about this headphone I was very disappointed, even though the price is very low. I then remembered that on Head-fi these headphones aren't really that good until they've been heavily modified so that relieved me somewhat. I certainly can't recommend them in stock form, even at this low price.
55) Apogee Mini-Dac, DIY Kevin Gilmore Solid State (KGSS) 300v, Stax SR-007 Omega 2 (not sure which version)
Silky smooth. Rich sound top to bottom. Bass is full and slightly boomy but in a good way. Mids are awesome. Treble seems rolled but detail is still good. This setup is not as good as the 009 WES/BHSE technically, but it is more enjoyable. Vocals are as good as it gets. No sibilance at all. No chance. Fun rig. Might think about this if I return to full size cans.
Notes speak for themselves. Stats on a medium budget. Can't go wrong with this.
56) Meridian G08.2, Apex Butte, Grado PS500
Really not bad. Bass is a bit strong but fairly well balanced for a Grado. Treble is still hot but it is smoother and cleaner. Bass impact is very good. Extension is decent. Really has to work on lowest notes. Stage is medium to large. Left to right cohesiveness is very good. Center image good, not great. Detail is better than expected, it's rather good. Bass behing heavy hurts classical but it's certainly acceptable. Imaging is very good on sides. The bass is fairly clean but can have problems with the bass line gets complicated. When this happens the bass gets muddy and starts to sound like 1 note bass. This doesn't happen often though. This is the only Grado I can say I like. I won't buy it but I will recommend it.
Coming into the PS500 I had found no Grados I could say I liked really at all. These surprised me and I think if Grado continues in this direction they will breathe new life into their product line. Recommended if you are a Grado fan searching for something a bit more neutral. I will note that I have not heard any of the RS Grados which are supposed to sound quite different than the rest. I've heard all of the SRs, PSs, GS, and HF, however.
57) Meridian G08.2 Apex Butte, Grado HF2
Treble is quite hot. Certainly fatiguing. Bass is better controlled and lower volume than PS500. A little too quiet at a volume where the treble doesn't make my ears bleed. Not a fan. Center image is pretty good. Stage is small to medium. Has an odd sense of a very large space way behind the stage though. Makes hiss on old recordings stand out a lot. Orchestral sounds like a wall of sound. No thanks.
Being designed for Head-fi, I expected them to sound similar to the PS500s I had just heard, but they were very offensive. The treble just hurt to listen to. I hope everyone who uses these uses an EQ to balance them out. Can't not recommend strongly enough.
58) iPod, Beyerdynamic T50P
Center image is terrible. Vocals are awful. Bass is boomy and not very well defined. Stage is small to medium. Highs are veiled. Basically nothing good to say about this except it is a comfortable fit.
Honestly I would prefer a pair of Koss Porta-Pros over these, even if same cost.
59) Hifiman HM-801 DAP, Hifiman EF-6, Hifiman HE-6
With volume up all the way orchestral is decently loud. Center image is still nonexistent. Winds are heard at 10 and 2 not 11-1 where they should be. Jazz piece on now. Center is a bit better, but now I'm getting some not so great vocals. Too much detail and it's harsh (vocals). Some light sibilance. May be recording though. Next song is better in all respects, but stage still sounds on the small side. This setup is completely different than with the Darkstar and Boulder. Granted price range, but I would not enjoy these headphones with this amp and possibly player. Not good.
So people on Head-fi were asking me to give the EF-6 a try. I wasn't interested at all cause I was pretty sure what the outcome would be, but I listened anyways. I was right and it was really not good. Each song sounded very different in it's presentation. It felt like the amp was unstable it was so different. I'm still not sure what to do for a cheaper alternative to the Darkstar to power the HE-6. Is there a good alternative?
60) Wadia 151 Power Dac Mini, HE-6
Has volume to spare, but doesn't sound like it is really controlling the drivers all that well. Center focus is decent but fuzzy. overall sound is better than the EF6 easily. Frankly the EF-6 sounds unstable. Vocals are nice except the focus issue. Not a setup I would recommend but not terrible.
I'm not sure of the price of the Dac mini, but if it is cheaper than the Darkstar + your source, I'd say we've answered the question from my last summary. I still wouldn't say it's good, but it is ok enough to listen to without much complaint. The Dac Mini is fairly small also making this a good bedside rig. I still think the Invicta/HD800 is an ultimate bedside full size rig, though.
61) Oppo BDP-95, Cavalli Liquid Fire, Audeze LCD2
Percussion piece playing. Bass seems bottomless. It is loud but not covering. Timbre of drums is good. Strikes are clean. Voices in the baground sound like they are indeed coming from the drummers behind the drums. Depth cues are well done here. Stage is medium to large. Jazz piece now. imaging is very good. Center focus isn't all that great. Vocals on this track sound like they are actually off center. Need to hear a different track. Next track. Vocals are still off center sound like coming from 12:30-1:30.. strange. My own disc now, jazz piece Tupelo Honey - still off center. The Liquid Fire at the Audeze table did not have this problem.
Turns out the Oppo's output was to blame it was just barely lower output on one channel. This had gone unnoticed by listeners or at least un-reported until Sunday when I heard it and mentioned it to Alex (Cavalli, not of Audeze). He then listened and confirmed my report. Not much he could do there so it had to stay as is. With the Liquid Lightning being balanced, I could not tell nearly as much drift, but it was barely perceptible, or could have been placebo since I was really listening for it. The Liquid Fire with the LCD3 was better, but this wasn't bad if I estimate based on a properly outputting source.
62) Woo Audio WTF-1 CDP, Woo Audio WDB-1 DAC, Woo Audio WA22 (unbalanced), Beyer T1
Beethoven Violin Concerto, Anne Sophie.. Very clean and involving. Jazz Court and Spark Hancock/Norah Jones.. balance is very nice. Bass is full and just a touch boomy. Impact could be better. Mids are very nice. Treble is smooth, but not laid back much. Center image is decent but too distracting for me. Vocals are nice, but dispersed too much with center focus issue. A nice sound all around. Detail is good not great. Pretty good for dynamic on par with HD800 I think. More bass than HD800, but not quite as well controlled.
Probably the best I heard the T1s at the show. I wasn't really impressed with them on any rig. Never did find a combo that gave me a good center image with this headphone. Possible that there is a combo out there that is great, but it wasn't present at CanJam. I think the headphone is capable though.
63) Bottlehead DAC, Bottle Head Paramount 300b dual monoblocks, AKG K1000
Impressions will be tainted by room noise as these are ear speakers and there is practically no isolation. Imaging is excellent. Center image is perfect. Tonality seems off. Things are a bit too solid and thuddy. Flute sounds weak with very little resonance. voices sound flat. Detail all around is poor. Max volume appears to just barely be on the loud side. Bass is barely sufficient for orchestral (only some) or acoustic. Rock, metal, electronic, rap - stay away. The volume control for this is on a separate device, kind of weird. Not sure if I'm getting all the blocks and put out.
Really have no faith in these impressions. People on Head-fi laud the K1000 for their detail, but I found it was the worst thing about them tied with the poor bass response. I have a feeling these would sound significantly better in a quiet room, but I think the bass would still be lacking.
64) Apogee Mini Dac, KGSS, Sennheiser HE-60
Nothing really to complain about. Nice balance. Center is good. Vocals are just slightly harsh, but this is a nitpick. Hard to find any fault with this setup. Doesn't really involve me in this the music. It's not sterile, just can't really put my finger on it. I think I might like them on the A-10 better. More involving.
After some thought, I decided I definitely preferred them on the A-10. The KGSS is a decent mid range stat amp, but can't really keep up with the big boys.
65) Oppo BDP-95, Cavalli Liquid Lightning, Stax SR-007 Omega 2
Treble is more present than with KGSS. Overall balance is very good. Center is nice. The Oppo's output is slightly off so I'm estimating center based on what I can actually hear. Detail better than KGSS also. Really nothing to complain about. Fun but more accurate sound.
As Larry said, His O2s sounded better on the Lightning than his KGSS. These were the only 2 amps I listened to the O2s on today. I had heard them before in ASRs rig in Dallas with an Ayre DAC and BHSE and thought they were good there also, but I can't remember any details from that long ago.
66) Meridian 808.3, Apex Pinnacle, Audeze LCD3
Center completely missing. Bass feels a little light compared to the Fire or 2A3. Very | | soundstage. Don't like this combo at all. Voices that should be center come from 10 and 2 with a gap in between. Very distracting. Everything else sounds fine, but I just can't listen to this.
Of all the combos in the room at any price, this was the worst example of a poor center focus. A single person singing came from 10 and 2 at the same time while the very center was completely void. Shockingly bad considering the prices.
67) Stello CDT100, Cary Xciter, Cary CAD-300 sei, Beyerdynamic T1
Center focus is good to great. Voice is natural and clear save some fairly bad sibilance. Treble is smooth otherwise, but a little too hot. Would be fatiguing.
Another bad T1 combo. The sibilance and hot treble killed it for me. I'd never heard any Cary gear before so I was excited to try it out. It didn't fare so well even with a different headphone....
68) Stello CDT100, Cary Xciter, Cary CAD-300 sei, Sennheiser HD800
Better overall, but still bad sibilance. Smoother mids. Bass is tighter slightly. Bass volume is a bit less. Still can't listen to this setup. Different track seems to have some sibilance, but not as bad.
Changing to the HD800 improved things a good deal, but I still did not like the Cary gear. Oh well.
69) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels Darkstar, Audeze LCD3
Perfect in every way. The only thing anyone might choose instead is 009's or HE90 for the absolutely last shred of detail. I did not want to take these off.
No matter the track, no matter the genre.. This combo was great every time. After about 25 minutes I realized I still had them on and needed to get them back to Alex and reluctantly took them off. $5k is a lot of money for me, but I'll figure out some way to get this combo eventually. Other than the HE90 on the A-10, this was best in show for me.
A few bonus things I wanted to throw out there. Here is an approximation of the bass of all the custom IEMs I auditioned. Keep in mind these were all demos. 1 being very low volume, 5 being just right, and 10 being way way too much.
JH3a/JH16 3, 5-10 (bass amp off, then on and adjustment range)
My top 5 setups of the meet:
1) 52) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels A-10 Thunderbolt, Sennheiser HE90 Orpheus
2) 69) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels Darkstar, Audeze LCD3
3) 51) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels A-10 Thunderbolt, HE Audio Jades
4) 38) Boulder 1021 CDP, Ray Samuels Darkstar, Hifiman HE-6
5) 50) Meridian G08, Ray Samuels B-52, Sennheiser HD800
As you can probably tell from the above. I found every headphone I listened to sounded best on Ray's amps. I am not being paid or getting any special favors. I didn't even buy anything from the guy. They really sounded better than the rest. The Boulder $25k CD player I'm sure did it's fair share, but I really think the amps made enough difference themselves to get them into these spots on my list.
Thanks for reading my impressions. Let me know if I have a typo somewhere or if you have a question. I will do the best I can to bring up any further details from memory, but the way I was doing this was by putting everything on paper, mostly forgetting about the previous rigs, and focusing on the one I was listening to at the time.
Edited by Maxvla - 11/2/11 at 10:04pm