CanJam 2012 Report: (errors corrected 10/14/12 10PM and 10/19/12 12:43PM)
I've been here since 12:30PM Friday, and in two days still haven't heard everything in the headphone room, so I haven't even made it to the speakers yet. But, last year I discovered the PSB Imagine Mini speakers and bought a pair, so I'm not really shopping for speakers right now. I do want to find and visit PS Audio, Audioengine, and Apogee (if they're here) and that's about it. I blame any and all parts where my word choice make no sense on OS X Mountain Lion's autocorrect feature.
So, what items have I heard that stand out, that I think will be talked about a lot in the near future?
One big surprise is the new Woo WA7 headphone amp. It's like, "wow :-o " It's warm and vibrant but not dark, and open with great detail and soundstage, transparent, and POWERFUL. Not Schitt or EF5/6 powerful, but at least 3x more power than my WA6 (maybe as much as the WA6 SE?). I have a maxed WA6 at home, full of Vcaps and Blackgates upgrades, plus the Pseudo Dual Power Supply Mod, with $220 worth of tubes, that cost about $1200 with the upgrades and tubes. This $777 amp could possibly be better. I may end up getting one just to compare to the WA6. I find that my maxed WA6 is great with ALL of my IEM, plus my LA7000, Ultrasone, Grados, HD600 and HD800. However, although the timbre and tone is great with my HE-500 and LCD-2 it could use a little more power with these orthodynamics which lack a little PRAT with the WA6. Jack says the cheap volume pot on the pre-pro model will be replaced with the same nice volume pot that I have on my WA6.
My DACmini has been sounding a lot like my WA6 but with extra power, so it drives the LCD-2 and HE-500 a bit better, although the WA6 still edges ahead slightly with the HD800 and Grados. With everything else they are fairly equivalent. I suspect I might like the WA7 even more than both of those amps - not by a huge amount, but the smile and toe tapping factor are definitely a little higher. It's got more PRAT than my WA6 and hits a bit harder with the HE-500 and HD800, and with those two headphones I suspect that the WA7 may pass up both my DACmini and WA6. I wont know for sure until I hear them side by side, and I still don't think the WA7 could ever replace my DACmini, but would rather be an addition to it. Overall, I think if I was trying to decide on a mid-price amp to buy these days, I'd be considering the WA7 and DACmini over my WA6. (stupid thing to say if I decide to sell it later). Don't get me wrong, the maxed WA6 is a fantastic sub $1000 amp, but it's got a lot of competition now. I wouldn't rule out the Schitt Audio amps in the mid-range price category either, but I need to spend more time with them Sunday. I'll take a lot of photos tomorrow, sorry for listening to gear more than snapping photos.
Another item to keep an eye on is the CEntrance HiFi-M8 (Pronounced HiFiMate), which is a battery powered transportable/portable DAC/balanced amp for full size headphones (and still has low enough gain for IEM). As you all know, I've been a big fan of the CEntrance DACport and DACmini from the start, and still think they are the best bang for the buck in their respective categories. This prototype version has a little more power than the DACport, even without the battery installed yet, and in this configuration it should have a battery that lasts over 8 hours using the iPod digital dock interface and amp. In a nutshell, this sounds like a portable DACmini. WooHoo! Yeah, that's right, it's a 24/192 portable USB DAC for laptops, AND an iPod digital dock, and a balanced headphone amp that sounds as good as their full size desktop DAC/amp. It's also about 1/3 the size of the DACmini.
If you want to listen to Hi-Fi audio from your iPhone 5 or any lightning port equipped Apple device, you'll NEED something like this digital dock, since Apple's new products don't offer analog output anymore. The Lightning port is ALL digital, and the $29 "Lightning to 30-pin adapter" from Apple has cheap DAC inside that's no better than an iPod headphone out. I have the Apple adapter, and there is no point amping my iPhone 5 with my Pico Slim when my 6th Gen Nano sounds similar to the iP5 Lightning adapter > LOD > Slim). With this you can simply plug in the original Lightning sync/charge cable that came with your iPhone 5 (or Touch/Nano), and get digital into the M8 without needing to lug around a laptop to use with USB. It will also work with the older iPods using their respective 30-pin to USB sync cable.
This prototype M8 has a pair of 3-pin XLR connectors for balanced headphones, with 1/4" jacks in the center of each XLR like Headroom was using, so it can also drive a pair of single ended phones at the same time. They asked for customer feedback about what people want, and they listened and will be offering another version later with one 4-pin XLR output and one 1/4" jack. Customer demand also says "if going balanced, offer as much or more power than the DACmini", even if it gives less battery life, and so they are looking to do just that.
As it stands right now, with my LCD-2 r1 it sounds just like a portable DACmini, and a step up from the wonderful sounding DACport in terms of power, soundstage, micro-detail, air and transparency. It has as much PRAT as the DACmini, even when the prototype's power falls between the DACport and DACmini. The final product should offer more power than the already punchy DACmini, can run on wall power for desktop use (or was it USB, I forget); and with higher power it's expected to run off battery power for about 5 hours when portable with an iDevice, depending on listening volumes. That's enough to get you through a flight from from NY to LA, if they don't drop you out the door with a parachute for playing your music too loud.
While I haven't heard the digital dock feature (it's in progress), the digital dock with it's upgraded internal DAC will be much better than using an analog input via LOD from an older iDevice's built-in DAC. It will support as high as 24/192 via iDevices if Apple supports bitrates that high. And you can still feed it from a Samsung Galaxy or other similar Android device into the USB port that's intended for computers. The USB DAC sounded good enough that IF people who don't need the optical and coax input, and prefer the USB and iPod digital input they might forgo buying a DACmini and get this, unless they need the DACmini PX which drives speakers quite nicely as well. And, Michael Goodman says that with the appropriate gain setting it should have noise levels low enough to be able to use it as a balanced pre-amp via the XLR outputs.
I'm looking forward to seeing where the development goes with this, and I think they may be able to bring one of the versions mentioned to market within 3-4 months. I think the market this is intended for is more for the full size balanced and single ended headphone listener who is on the go a lot, rather than those looking for an ultraportable balanced IEM rig. To me, I get more benefit from running my balanced portable amp into full size headphones to take advantage of the extra power, than using it for balanced IEM where the benefit is less.
Next, there was the V-MODA M-100 that caught my eye, or should I say ear - This is a $299 MSRP closed headphone that I think stands above other similarly priced phones such as the Shure SRH-840, Senn HD25-1 II and Amperior, Monster Inspiration, and even the Beyer DT-1350. I heard all of these today, and the M-100 (or M-80) is the one I would buy personally for stuffing in my travel bag or using around the house with just an iPod, etc. When I first heard them it was on the new Stello DAC/amp and I was very surprised by their performance.
I believe it's also better than the Denon D2000 and Ultrasone HFI-780, even though there aren't any here to compare, as this is based on my comparisons of those to the SRH-840 in the past. I'd also rather listen to the M-100 than the new Denon D7100, although the much more costly TH-900 were a lot better in side by side comparison of closed phones (as they should be). I'd actually prefer the Fostex T50RP over the D7100, although the T50RP have less detail and air than the M-100, which come in behind the slightly more aggressive HD25 and Amperior due to their warm and laid back nature. I'll post later what I think of them vs the new Sennheiser Momentum and Sony MDR1 when I hear them on Sunday.
With a 5th and 6th Gen Nano it sounds fairly well balanced and transparent, without the typical "closed headphone" colorations, with better detail and transparency than I expected. This was a bit better than with the iPhone 5 which sounds a little duller with everything. Maybe the 5 will improve as I put more hours on the headphone amp? Anyway, I found that the M100 scale up nicely with an iPod/Pico Slim, and even more with the new $2700 April Music DAC/amp that Moon Audio was showing off. They are revealing enough without trying to add "EQ" themselves that It's pretty clear that my new iPhone 5 doesn't sound as good as my previous 4S or iPhone 4 did (I brought all 3 to CanJam).
There's not really a V-shaped frequency response that would make up for a poor source and amp, that might be lacking in the bass or treble. I've found a lot of consumer earphones and headphones try to "jump start" the sound with a colored frequency response. These don't do that. As a matter of fact, the sound is a little laid back and relaxing, so if you feed it a darker sounding source like the 6th Gen Nano then you may find the highs slightly recessed vs with a 4th and 5th Gen Nano. But with a typical clear and crisp sounding source and amp they really shine.
So, that might be my only complaint, that in order to make an audiophile really happy you need to feed them a good diet of detailed source and amp, although they don't need a lot of power. I'd say the HD25 are a couple of dB louder at the same volume setting, and I might use 3 more clicks on the iPhone volume to match the sound levels. But even then I don't need to take the iPhone 5 past 50-70% on the volume, depending on the recording. Comfort and seal is a step up from the previous "on ear" M80, and it's managed to surpass those which I almost bought after last year's CanJam. So, I don't have to crank up the volume to drown out noise that's leaking in from outside.
The M-100 come with two removable cables, one with a microphone and buttons, and if I recall correctly the other without Mic that includes an attachment for piggybacking another pair of headphones in-line with the M-80. I don't recall if this setup has the two pairs of headphones in "parallel" or "serial". I can ask that tomorrow. [edit, it's in parallel). They fold up fairly tightly, and come with a small hardshell case so they don't get crushed when packed in your backpack or luggage. Isolation was maybe slightly less than the HD25 or SRH-840, not sure about the DT-1350, but better than the Monster Inspriation or even the Fostex TH-900. I don't specifically recall how the isolation is vs the T50RP, but may also be better than those. On a very tight budget, the T50RP are still a safe choice for closed headphone, but they can sound even more bland with a dull source and amp.
Speaking of Fostex TH-900 - Last year after RMAF I griped about the prototype TH-900, saying that they had a sucked out midrange, sloppy bass, and tizzy treble, to the point where I told the Fostex people that I preferred the T50RP for those particular reasons. Well, they've been fixed. I actually don't have much to complain about the sound now. Well, okay maybe the treble is still slightly aggressive, but not in a fatiguing way. Bass control was much better with better speed and detail in the lows, and the mids were warmer and fuller than before. Transparency was excellent now, using the April Music DAC/amp combo (wish I could recall the name, because that's another standout item I heard). My second gripe is that closed headphones should isolate more of the outside noises, but even my LA7000 with thick wood cups don't isolate any better than these. Overall the sound is pretty competitive with what I recall hearing from my LA7000 closed phones. I need to hear the new Sony MDR1 that Jude has, and it would be neat to compare these. I'm probably not in the market for these, due to the price and all the high-end phones I already have.
I spent a lot of time listening to the HiFiman HM-901 and their new 600 series IEM. I'll post the model number of the IEM tomorrow, as my mind was too full to absorb everything today. I've been a big fan of the HM-801, finding that it offered better performance than my iPhone + Pico Slim, and better than my old iMod + Vcap dock and name your amp. My gripe about it were the button arrangement for moving up and down and left/right, such as for going deeper into the menus to select my music. Sometimes I'd push the button to go right and deeper into the folder hierarchy, when I wanted to go up, etc. The new model now uses a scroll wheel with a center click button to select things. This does mean having to steal a quick glance at the screen more often, but it's more intuitive. The volume pot is also unique, and I can't really describe it so I'll add photos later.
The sound quality is even better in terms of treble extension and detail, with a good sense of ambience and space. It's just as refined sounding as the HM-801, but with a little better extension. The amp section is similar to the HM-801 amps and there will be two balanced amps and one single ended amp. I listened to a balanced amp module using my single ended Westone 4 and the 4-pole balanced TRS plug HiFiMan IEM. It can be left in balanced mode, even with single ended headphones, and although there may be a little more crosstalk in the midrange that way, Fang thinks it will actually enhance the soundstage size with SE headphones. I also tried it with the HE-500 which it had no trouble driving. Fang says it puts out about 500mw of power. I believe the amp has a voltage swing over 4v each way, but I'll double check tomorrow.
This is a worthy contender to replace my HM-801, and now with the iPhone 5 lacking analog out there is NO way for it to sound this good with ANY amp unless you get a costly digital iPod dock to go with it. I believe Fang also said the 901's voltage is internally regulated so that the DAC and amp see the same voltage levels even as the battery runs down. It can accept up to 128GB SD Cards, when they become more readily available (already tested with that size). They are working on adding stuff like ExFAT format, but for now I think it requires FAT32, or NTFS for the largest size SD cards.
Rather than include a headphone jack, plus a separate 3.5mm jack for analog line-out, and another 3.5mm for coax digital input like the 801, it offers the headphone output plus a proprietary dock connector for everything else (taking another cue from Apple). All the usual HM features can be accessed via the dock, including digital input and analog output to act as am S/PDIF DAC, and analog output when using it as a 24/96 FLAC player, and S/PDIF output to feed into another DAC (if I recall correctly). Not only will there be portable line-out and digital docks, but there is also a desktop dock with multiple analog and digital connections, with a remote control. I'm pretty sure that the docks are optional.
The new RE-600 IEM sound better than any previous HiFIMan IEM that I've owned or heard, easily besting my RE-252 and RE-262. I compared them to a pair of borrowed AKG K3003 IEM and found that the 600's had a more natural sounding midrange, with better bass control vs the AKG which had slightly boosted and looser sounding bass at times. And the 600's had a smoother and more refined treble vs the slightly hot treble of the 3000's, but without ever sounding rolled off or dark in any way. They're probably closer to the neutral but warm sounding Westone 4 than the "fun colored" earphones like the AKG, which I didn't think were better than even my Westone 3. I did not know know if the AKG had the highs boosting tips, or the bass boosting tips, because it sounded like they had both at the same time to me. But Fang tells me the 3003 were using the standard tips. Personally, I would not buy the AKG when HiFiMan and Westone make better universal fit IEM at a better price. And no, I have not heard the Sony EX1000.
RSA Intruder portable balanced DAC/amp - The HiFiMan HE-500 and HE-6 continue to impress, and I was impressed with the RSA Intruder's ability to drive the HE-6 even more powerfully than the SR-71b Blackbird. It seems that the biggest difference is the high gain of 21 vs 11, with the same voltage swing as the SR-71b. The Intruder's gain of 21 would more easily overdrive the HE-500, but allowed it to take the HE-6 to higher volumes with better bass impact than the SR-71b. The low gain is still 1, and mid gain is still 6. The increased versatility of this might convince me to sell my SR-71b and buy this, eventually. It's only about half an inch longer/deep than the SR-71b. Ray will have a separate balanced portable DAC to pair with the SR-71b, so I might wait to see what happens with that first.
Monster Trumpet - These sounded like a cross between the Turbine Copper and Turbine Gold, offering the bass impact and warm mids of the Gold with the detail and air of the Copper. Unfortunately I don't like the look, and can't say that they are better than the HiFIMan 600's. Maybe someday I'll borrow a set and compare them. Based on looks alone I'd be buying the 600's. The Gratitude sound similar but with a more distant midrange, with a less forward sound stage.
Monster Inspiration - They had a $199 passive model of on-ear headphones that I thought demonstrated some issues with bass control and detail, but the $299 active noise canceling phones in passive or active mode sounded a bit better. The person at Monster thought the passive model I heard might actually be the pre-production model and not final. The NC circuit didn't seem to do a lot of EQ, which wasn't needed, but it did help with the ambient drone of the HVAC system and the crowd noise in the large hall. The NC circuit did add some bass boost, but not at the expense of worse control. In contrast, my ATH-ANC& sound terrible if I'm not using the active cancelation circuit, and while they can be used passively I don't bother to if I run my battery down. I neglected to ask what the battery life was like, sorry.
If I needed NC phones, I'd prefer these over my original ATH-ANC7, but if I didn't need NC or wanted better SQ I'd pick the V-moda M100. Jude says some of the other Monster headphones were pretty good, and maybe I'll check them out tomorrow, but I just didn't like the looks of them as much as the Inspiration. Comfort was good, and despite having a rectangular shaped "on ear" fit, they felt good on the ears and didn't rock back and forth like the DT-1350 (which also sounded a little more detailed but more colored, while offering better passive noise blocking). In the past I tried the rectangular ATH-SQ5 and I prefer these, but I still think that they are overpriced (then again, I also think the HD25-1 II and Amperior are fairly overpriced as well).
Cypher Labs Algorythm Solo -dB - This is the new balanced output model, with RSA style balanced jack, and USB computer input capability in addition to being a portable digital iDevice dock. The sound quality was excellent, but they decided to lower the output voltage from 2.1v in the previous model to 1.2v, even from the balanced out as I was told, so that it would work with the Rx Mk3 and IEM better. So my SR-71b amp in high gain acted like it was driving the HE-6 when I was actually using the much more efficient HE-500. The ALO Rx Mk3 had a higher gain and could drive the HE-500 better when paired with the CLAS, but there didn't seem to be much interest in bumping the balanced output to 2V, since most portable amps are set up to use with the 1V output of an iPod line out dock for driving IEM.
I did really like the variable bass level knob on the Rx Mk3, which could boost the bass without causing clipping at high volumes. If I didn't already have a balanced portable amp then yeah, maybe I'd buy the CLAS and Rx Mk3 together, but I'm not convinced it was better to drop the DAC output voltage to non-standard levels for balanced amps, when the gain of the amp could have been tweaked for iEM instead. As stated before, with the new all digital iPhones and iPods our best option for Hi-Fi sound quality is to go with a digital dock and forget the Apple $29 DAC adapter. This would fit the bill.
JHA Audio JH16 + JH3A - This was just as impressive as before, and still on my wish list for getting after I'm done paying to get 3 kids through college. I must be a basshead, because like with the ALO Rx Mk3 I liked to crank up the variable bass level knob close to max. Or, I just didn't have as good of a seal as I should have. :-p JHA has a new tuning technique that ensures proper phase alignment of the drivers in all models, and not just in the JH3A setup. I'll get to try the regular JH16 demos with the new design on Sunday.
Stax SR-009 with Cavalli Liquid Lightning and Headamp BHSE - This year Justin was using an Oppo BDP-93 like Alex Cavalli used last year as source, and this sounded much better than when Justin was using the Sony SACD as source, which sounded a little sharper and aggressive, and slightly brighter. I take back my comments that the SR-009 are too bright with the BHSE, and I really enjoyed the pairing better. The rigs were in separate parts of the room, and it was not nearly as easy as last year to bounce from the BHSE to the LL and back to compare them, so I can't offer comparisons. Needless to say, I'd be happy with either rig.
CablePro - Ted has a new headphone cable that did seem to energize my HD600 more than when used with my APS V3 cable, and I preferred it a little more. It's called the Freedom Cable and it's a completely new design and geometry from previous cables he's sold. I'll post the name later, when my mind is fresher. I still really like his Reverie cables too.
1964 Ears 6-driver demo of a custom IEM - The universal fit demo was better than most universal IEM, although not as good as my JH13Pro or ES5. They should just sell these like the demo and forget the impressions, if they could get the cost down another couple of hundred bucks.
MrSpeakers Mad Dog modded Fostex T50RP - These definitely add more air, space and detail to the more dark and muted stock T50RP, but some of the warmth that I love about the T50RP was gone. They sounded good, and a lot more like a high-end ATH closed headphone, but they had that 4K- 8K plateau that colors the sound like the ATH and didn't sound as open and transparent as the V-Moda M100 on a good source and amp. I tried these with a Burson DAC/amp I think.
Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3 and prototype closed headphone - I still prefer the LCD-3 over the other two, and the LCD-2 r2 is still a bit better than my LCD-2 r1 (or is it r3 now that the cable connector is different). I'm going to have to make the change to an r2 once and for all, even though the r1 on the right DAC and amp are fantastic. I've just finally gotten my LCD-2 broken in so that they don't clamp my head too tight, and I'm reluctant to change that. Might have to stick with used. If the LCD-3 were closer to $1,300 - $1,400 I'd probably already own a pair (and would have bought them long before I had to fight to keep my head above water to pay for kid's college - now it's too late). The closed headphones had tight fast bass, but not enough of it to make me happy. They didn't have the colorations that typically plague a closed headphones, so already on the right path there.
Westone 4 - Still a great jack of all trades all around good IEM for most everyone. Thinking about upgrading to the removable cable version. Will spend more time with them and my balanced TWag cable Sunday. Not quite as smooth as the HiFiMan 600 IEM, but has a little more PRAT when amped well, like with SR-71b or Pico Slim. I think the W4R would be great with the balanced SR-71b to energize them.
Moon Audio Black Dragon cable for HD800 - I though this was a good match for my HD800 to take that slight edge off the highs, just like my Locus-Design Hyperion cable, but at 1/3 the price. Very good detail, but a little warmer than the stock cable. I have the modular cable system where my Silver Dragon cables for HE-500 and LCD-2 have a mini 4-pin XLR connector in the middle of the cable, so I can change the end with the plug to have either a full size 4-pin XLR plug, a single ended plug, or an RSA portable amp balanced plug. To save money I'd probably buy just the Black Dragon part that connects to the HD800, and use my shorter silver dragon adapters to make the final connection to the amps.
That's it for now!
Edited by HeadphoneAddict - 10/19/12 at 11:44am