2016 CanJam RMAF Impressions - Denver
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Oct 12, 2016 at 11:46 PM Post #196 of 240

Sophonax

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I was out in Denver for a long weekend visiting family, and I had the opportunity to check out CanJam on Friday. Since I only had the one afternoon at the show, I focused on the things that were of most interest to me (headphones) and didn't pay much attention to anything else (electronics).
 
Overall, it was a great show -- it's definitely grown since 2012, the last time I was there. Not sure if it was the fact that it was in a tent, or if there were more people and exhibitors -- probably some combination of both -- but there was definitely a much more energetic atmosphere than I remember in the past. It was very cool on the one hand, but on the other hand it was also a louder environment and made it a little bit more difficult to do any serious listening.
 
Here are just a few notes from memory. I'll try to list where I heard each headphone and on which amplifier.
 

FULL SIZE HEADPHONES
 
I'll preface this section by saying that I sought out headphones which I hadn't heard before, which is why you don't see some of the usual heavy hitters here like the HD800(S). I also didn't bother with electrostats, since I don't want to open that particular can of worms.
 
  1. Focal Utopia: Moon Audio's table, Dragon Inspire IHA-1 amp. Overall, I was quite pleased with the sound. Good tonal balance, very clear and natural sound, excellent dynamics, and a moderately-sized soundstage. The build quality was excellent, and it seemed like long-term wearing comfort should be good. Maybe the only ergonomic complaint I had was that they almost felt a little too loose on my head -- almost like there wasn't enough clamping pressure to get the pads seated properly. These headphones will definitely make some people happy, although at $4000 the price isn't justified for me personally.
 
  1. Focal Elear: Moon Audio's table, Dragon Inspire IHA-1 amp. For my preferences, these were a clear step down from the Utopia -- not so much in technical ability (which I couldn't judge especially well in the show conditions), but more so in tuning. I noticed a definite lack of presence in the upper midrange / lower treble, which made acoustic instruments in particular fade back into the recording. If you listen primarily to pop, rock, or electronic music, I can see how these would be appealing -- but I listen to a lot of acoustic music, and to me these weren't a particularly good choice for the genre. Build quality was on par with the Utopia though, and I actually found these to be more comfortable than the Utopia as the ear pads seemed to conform to my head a little bit better.
 
  1. MrSpeakers Ether Flow: Moon Audio's table, Pass Labs HPA-1 amp. These were really good -- I would say the tuning was overall neutral, but with a slight, pleasant emphasis in the bass. Fast, dynamic, and with decent spatial characteristics. The build was very nice, and comfort was beyond reproach. If I were in the market for a flagship-tier headphone, these would be on the short list.
 
  1. HiFiMAN HE-1000 V2: Moon Audio's table, Pass Labs HPA-1 amp. To be honest, there wasn't much I liked about this headphone. The overall tonality was fine, reasonably neutral, with nothing out of place -- but the presentation was very laid back and very much lacking in dynamics, especially compared to the Focals or Ether Flow. Comfort was good, but I found the build to be pretty lackluster for a headphone in this price category. Definitely not for me, so much so that I didn't bother listening to the Edition X.
 
  1. Sony MDR-Z1R: Sony's table, Sony TA-ZH1ES DAC / amp. I was generally pleased with this headphone, but I'm just going to come right out and say it -- not as good as the legendary R10, which I had the privilege of owning several years ago. The Z1R was very balanced from top to bottom, more so than the R10 (which lacks bass extension), but it simply didn't deliver the midrange magic that made the R10 so special. To my ears, there was something just a little bit strange going on in the upper mids, though I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly what it was. Overall though, the sound was very even-handed, polite, and well-behaved, which I think is somewhat rare to find in a closed-back headphone. Comfort was outstanding, but the build quality was maybe a little lacking, considering the price -- the adjuster mechanisms felt a little bit loose and plasticky to me. A good effort from Sony overall, but my wallet isn't ready to cough up $2300 for these.
 
  1. Sennheiser HD569: Sennheiser's table, straight from my iPhone 4. Not an ideal source, but good enough to get a general idea. Overall, these were a pretty decent closed-back headphone for the price. Bass was a little bit overblown and muddy, but I suspect this would clean up at least somewhat if the headphone were driven from a dedicated amp with lower output impedance. Mids and treble were nicely balanced. Comfort was top notch, and the build was pretty good -- plastic, but of good quality and construction. I don't think I'd personally buy these, but they're definitely worth a look if you're interested in a closed-back 'phone at this price.
 
  1. Sennheiser HD599: Sennheiser's table, straight from my iPhone 4. Pretty sure these sound nearly identical to my HD598, which in my opinion is one of the best headphones at this price point. Excellent overall balance, with a spacious, mid-forward presentation, though lacking a little bit of bass extension. One thing that did change is the build -- I would say the HD599 is built a little more nicely than the HD598, specifically in the leather(ette?) headband. Highly recommended, but no need for current HD598 owners to upgrade.
 
  1. Beyerdynamic DT1770: Beyerdynamic's table, Beyerdynamic A2 amp. I thought these were pretty good for a closed headphone, but personally I've almost always preferred the sound of open-back headphones. I often find closed headphones to have strange resonances or reflections that result in a less natural sound, and although the DT1770 was better than most other closed headphones I've heard in this regard, it was no exception. Pretty good overall balance though, from top to bottom, though I think the treble was a little bit emphasized in traditional Beyer fashion. Build and comfort were top-notch, also in traditional Beyer fashion.
 
  1. Beyerdynamic T1.2: Beyerdynamic's table, Beyerdynamic A2 amp. I don't know what it is, but I have always preferred Beyer's flat-driver headphones rather than the angled-driver ones, and I still found this to be the case here. I think my DT880/600 is a little better overall, both tonally and technically, than the original T1 and the T1.2. Maybe I'm just crazy -- but if you look at the measurements for the DT880 versus the T1 on InnerFidelity, there may actually be some merit to this.
 
  1. Beyerdynamic DT1990: Beyerdynamic's table, Beyerdynamic A2 amp. Now this is much more like it! This headphone, to me, is a more mature and even-handed take on the Beyer house sound. The bass is robust, dynamic, and well-extended; the mids are more forward in the mix than previous Beyer models; and the treble has been tamed a bit while still retaining outstanding clarity and extension. Comfort and build quality are wonderful. Price seems very fair. I'll probably be buying one of these.
 
  1. Beyerdynamic Amiron: Beyerdynamic's table, Beyerdynamic A2 amp. This is Beyer's home version of the DT1990, and the tuning is definitely different. These headphones depart significantly from the Beyerdynamic house sound. The bass is warmer and somewhat looser than the DT1990, and the treble is much more subdued. A more relaxing listen overall. Build and comfort were comparable to the DT1990. Overall the DT1990 was much better for my preferences, but the Amiron is worth a listen if you like a warmer, thicker sound. I saw @Allanmarcus's impressions of the Amiron a couple pages back -- not sure why my sonic impressions differ so much from his.
 
Overall top full-size headphone picks: Focal Utopia, MrSpeakers Ether Flow, and Beyerdynamic DT1990. Without considering price, I honestly liked these three headphones almost equally. Considering price, this makes the DT1990 a no-brainer for me.
 

IN-EAR MONITORS
 
I'm definitely an IEM noob, having never really owned a good pair of them -- but I'm starting to look into them as an option for portable listening with good passive noise attenuation. I've determined that I'm willing to spend up to $1000 for a pair of custom IEMs, if I can find a pair that meets or exceeds the sound I can get from full-size, over-ear, portable headphone options on the market -- so this is what guided my listening choices. Obviously I could only listen to the universal-fit versions at the show, but I was hoping to get a general idea of what to expect in the custom versions.
 
  1. Audeze iSine 10: Audeze's table, straight from their iPad. I wasn't really interested in these, but the Audeze guy talked me into giving them a try. Despite the distinct lack of music choices available on the iPad, the iSine sounded really good -- bass was strong and dynamic, and balance from top to bottom was pretty seamless. Very impressive for the asking price. However, I find this to be a strange product. It's essentially an open-back IEM, which offers very little isolation and therefore isn't particularly useful for on-the-go listening. And if I'm listening at home in a quiet environment, I'd much rather just use my more comfortable full-size, over-ear headphones. I'm sure someone will find a good use for these, but they're not for me.
 
  1. Westone W50: Westone's table, straight from my iPhone 4. I didn't really care for these; they sounded overly dark and thick to me. I suspect the frequency response graph would look more or less like a monotonically descending curve from bass to treble. Not nearly enough air and sparkle for my preferences.
 
  1. JH Audio JH3X PRO: JH's table, straight from my iPhone 4. These were decent -- the bass was maybe a little strong and the treble a little dull and lacking resolution. Not bad for the price I suppose, but they left me wanting and I wasn't convinced.
 
  1. JH Audio JH13V2 PRO: JH's table, straight from my iPhone 4. A definite step up from the JH3X. The treble gained some sparkle and resolution, and I was able to tune the bass to a good level using the in-line bass adjuster on the cable. Overall these seemed pretty good, but for the price I'm not sure I would have opened my wallet for these.
 
  1. Noble Savanna: Noble's table, straight from my iPhone 4. As Noble describes on their site, these are definitely linear -- a very different presentation from Westone and JH. These sound much more like the sound I would expect from a full-size audiophile headphone like the Senn HD800. The mids and treble were very clear and open, and the bass, while present, fell just a bit behind in the mix. Sounded great with acoustic music. I liked the sound overall, but since I would be using these primarily for portable listening, I was concerned that the bass wouldn't be strong enough to be heard over the roar of airplane engines or road noise.
 
  1. Noble Django: Noble's table, straight from my iPhone 4. A little more musical than the Savanna, and in my opinion a definite step in the right direction. Bass and mids were a little bit fuller, though they were still light in the bass compared to Westone or JH, and the same concern about the bass being lost in airplane or car noise prevailed. Once again, these were excellent with acoustic music, and better than the Savanna for rock or electronic. These were my favorite IEM I'd listened to up to this point, but I still wasn't sure.
 
  1. Noble Dulce Bass: Noble's table, straight from my iPhone 4. I listened to these more out of curiosity than anything else, just to see what a "bass-heavy" IEM would sound like for Noble. In short, I didn't like these at all. The tonal balance didn't sound nearly as good as the Savanna or Django to me, and the bass, while somewhat stronger, was still weak compared to the Westone and JH options. I didn't even listen to these long enough to determine what specifically bothered me about the tonal balance; I just know that I didn't like them. Pass.
 
  1. 64 Audio U4: 64 Audio's table, straight from my iPhone 4. The first thing I instantly noticed, when I put these in my ears, is how much more comfortable they were for me than any other IEM I had ever used. I think one of the reasons I've avoided IEMs as long as I have is that I never liked the sensation of pressure that they create in my ear. I sat and read through 64 Audio's brochure at their table, and I read about their APEX design -- essentially a slow, controlled leak to equalize pressure in the ear canal. Makes sense to me, and it worked great! No sensation of pressure to speak of. I was liking these before I even pressed the play button. After pressing play, I liked these even more -- the tuning was great, with strong bass and midbass, clean and clear mids, and sufficiently present highs. If anything, these sounded a little bit bass-heavy to me, but overall I was very impressed. Getting warmer.
 
  1. 64 Audio U6: 64 Audio's table, straight from my iPhone 4. I looked at the tuning graphs in 64 Audio's brochure as I listened to the U4, and it looked like the U6 might suit my preferences a bit more, cutting down a bit on the bass and adding some midrange. That's exactly what they did. These were wonderfully balanced from top to bottom -- robust bass that wasn't overwhelming, forward mids that were clear and natural, and nice high-end presence and resolution. The tuning was essentially perfect for me, and combined with the APEX design that greatly increased comfort for me, I knew I had found my winner here. No need to look any further. Vitaliy B took some impressions of my ears right at their booth, and I'll be ordering a custom A6 in the next few days.
 
Overall top IEM picks: JH Audio JH13V2 PRO, Noble Audio Django, and 64 Audio U6. These are all good choices around the $1000 mark, but the U6 was the clear winner for me on comfort and sound.
 

In conclusion, going to a show like CanJam is an invaluable experience that I'd highly recommend to anyone. There's practically nowhere else you can hear so many different audio products in one spot. If you're even thinking about spending more than $1000 on audio gear, the costs of traveling to a meet like CanJam are pretty minimal when compared to how much money you can waste buying and selling gear, searching for the perfect setup. I was happy to find two headphones that I really liked and will probably end up purchasing (Beyerdynamic DT1990 and 64 Audio A6). Hopefully I'll be able to make it out again next year!

 
Oct 13, 2016 at 12:06 AM Post #197 of 240

nmatheis

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I apologize - my post was not very clear about it.  Correct - the $2K comment had to do with the Empire Zeus.

Nik - did you end up listening to the Ether Flow?  We have discussed them at the RHA table before you had a chance to audition them, and I told you that they are a must listen!
Curious about your opinion of them...


Yes, I did grab a listen to both open and closed Ether Flow. I think it's because I listen to IEM most of the time, but I definitely preferred the closed version. The open version possessed a more diffuse soundstage than I like. The closed version were very good, though. I ended up taking home AQ Nighthawk and Meze 99 Classics, though. And if I thought my wife would let me, I would bright home HFM HEX v2, as well :wink:
 
Oct 13, 2016 at 1:24 PM Post #200 of 240

CEE TEE

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  1. Beyerdynamic Amiron: Beyerdynamic's table, Beyerdynamic A2 amp. This is Beyer's home version of the DT1990, and the tuning is definitely different. These headphones depart significantly from the Beyerdynamic house sound. The bass is warmer and somewhat looser than the DT1990, and the treble is much more subdued. A more relaxing listen overall. Build and comfort were comparable to the DT1990. Overall the DT1990 was much better for my preferences, but the Amiron is worth a listen if you like a warmer, thicker sound. I saw @Allanmarcus's impressions of the Amiron a couple pages back -- not sure why my sonic impressions differ so much from his.

Agreed with above, I have been meaning to post a few comments...was really busy but did get to listen to a few things.
 
Had a "sneak peek" of the new "Amiron home" after asking about it since I saw some news about it's release and wondered about the name and the sound.
Mario Gebhardt was actually out from Germany and shared a pair that he had in a case.  I guess they did have it out later at the show.
The sound was much warmer than I expected and I think this will surprise US listeners.
We have a lot of Beyerdynamic headphones around our office and I usually find some treble that needs a warmer tube amp to perform their best.
This headphone, however, was very interesting and warm enough to use with any rig, digital + solid state.
The target, I understand, is a non-fatiguing and enjoyable listen.  I think they did that and this a very interesting direction for Beyerdynamic.
If you get a chance, do listen to is as I agree with Sophonax' description above.
Also, the headband design is pretty nice...

 
Maybe we can get a loaner going on this one?  
wink_face.gif
 
 
Oct 13, 2016 at 1:41 PM Post #201 of 240
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Yes, I did grab a listen to both open and closed Ether Flow. I think it's because I listen to IEM most of the time, but I definitely preferred the closed version. The open version possessed a more diffuse soundstage than I like. The closed version were very good, though. I ended up taking home AQ Nighthawk and Meze 99 Classics, though. And if I thought my wife would let me, I would bright home HFM HEX v2, as well
wink.gif

 
Funny, you prefer closed back (in general), but would consider the HEX v2 ??
In my original post, I mentioned those made me feel naked. They are SOOOO open  
wink_face.gif

 
This hobby is quite surprising at times - I liked the HEX v2 and Nighthawk a lot, too.  But our taste in Ethers (open vs. closed) is exactly opposite. Go figure...
 
Oct 13, 2016 at 2:58 PM Post #202 of 240

darinf

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Finally getting caught up after a great show...
Thanks to everyone who came by the Darin Fong Audio booth and listened to our Out Of Your Head demo.
 
Just in case you missed our booth or you couldn't make it to Denver, you can listen/watch the same demo we had running at our booth using your headphones. Go to our online demo page: http://fongaudio.com/demo.
 
But even better, for the first time, we have extended our 50% off show special to everyone! For one week only, you can get Out Of Your Head for 50% off (normally $149, now $75).
The 50% off code is "OOYH-RMAF2016-50OFF"
Just go to our website for all the details: https://fongaudio.com/rmafcanjam-2016-show-special-extended/
 
Thanks again to everyone for a great CanJam!
 
Oct 13, 2016 at 3:22 PM Post #203 of 240

miceblue

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All righty here are my 2016 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest/CanJam at RMAF impressions! This was my first time at a CanJam event, let alone RMAF, so I was super excited to attend.

First of all, a big thank you to jude and crew for getting CanJam set up. Without their hard work, this event wouldn't have been possible.

Also thank you to AxelCloris, Hansotek, and Muinarc for offering a place to stay during the event.
Function > form, and this definitely nailed the function aspect.

^ Maybe form too? Re-defining the pillow top mattress. lol

And thank you to Hiyono for providing the ride back to my dorm.



Three-Point Sentence Summary of RMAF 2016:
  1. LOTS of great stuff to see and hear, not enough time
  2. I had a bunch of stuff I had planned out to see in the 2 days I was there, but I didn't get to all of them.

    ^ Circled items are places I really, really wanted to visit; starred items are places that I wanted to go to; checked items are places that I actually got to visit; items with a circle next to the check mark are ones I have impressions to write about
  3. Because I had so much stuff I wanted to see, I opted out of finishing the CanJam scavenger hunt (people who did finish should rejoice since their odds of winning just increased by 1 less person). I know some people were visiting exhibitors just to get the sticker, so I wanted to not be that kind of person and actually spend the time talking to exhibitors.



[rule]
I was there only for Saturday and Sunday since I had class on Friday afternoon, and Monday morning. Friday for me wasn't completely irrelevant to RMAF though, I attended a hearing and communication neuroscience research symposium event, which was pretty interesting.

Going straight from the symposium to the airport, I went through the TSA and yatta, yatta. I went on a shuttle bus to get to my gate, which was oddly enough across the runway strip, and on the bus, I met another Head-Fier going to RMAF! I'm considering getting a Head-Fi sticker to put on the back of my smartphone because that's how I found the other Head-Fier. That was awesome to meet someone else, a complete stranger, going to the same event and it turned out he was staying at the same hotel as me.

On the actual airplane flight, I made the list of places I wanted to visit at CanJam (see above list), though I wasn't sure if I'd get to all of them since I also volunteered to help out at the Questyle booth with bSquared64 and Netforce. In this case, I had the unique opportunity to visit RMAF both as a visitor/guest AND as an exhibitor.













Denver's airport is pretty dang massive. I had no idea it was the largest airport in the USA!




The airport is so big, they have a bunch of directory maps around the area just like a shopping mall.




Dever, being the mile-high city, has some beautiful sights too. If I was visiting longer, I would have liked to explore the city a bit.


Aaaand off to the Marriott Hotel!





[rule]


If there was one exhibitor I wanted to visit at RMAF (not CanJam at RMAF), it was Audio Precision. I had always been curious about measuring equipment ever since stumbling across Innerfidelity. Bill Rich of AP showed me around the room, showing me their lineup of products. Surprisingly, their least expensive piece of equipment was only around $6-8k; I was expecting at least $10+. I've seen AP gear before in videos like from Head-Fi TV, LH Labs, etc., but I haven't seen one in person before.


Anyway, when I got there at 9:30 AM on Saturday, there wasn't anyone in the room, so I took the opportunity to ask if I can get my STAX SRS-2170 system measured. It took Bill some time to find the right cables, so I was thinking maybe I was the first person to get my gear measured. Getting the SR-207 on the G.R.A.S. dummy "head," it was apparent to me that the measurements acquired from this session wouldn't be perfect: the seal of the headphone on the "head" wasn't nearly ideal due to the shape differences of the earpads and the actual "head," and there was a bunch of background noise from the hallway about 3 feet away (no thanks to the 2-channel guys across the hall showing off how loud their speakers can get while playing Adele's "Hello" song).
Hello? It's me.

I was wondering if after all this time you'd like to shut up please.

To go over...measurements.


When things were finally set-up, Bill went over a typical headphone measurement procedure. I opted to have a diffuse-field compensation curve applied to my measurements since that's the one STAX has traditionally targeted in the past, as opposed to the free-field one. In retrospect, I probably would have asked to have no compensation curve so that I can apply my own post-data collection, getting the raw data output. He said their DF and FF compensation curves weren't perfect, so that makes interpreting the results more complicated.

Test conditions: 2.00 Vrms input through the SRSM-252S amplifier (a typical input from a DAC), 100 dB measured SPL at 1 kHz to simulate a very loud listening condition that I wouldn't even try listening to, but would be interesting to see the behavior of; on the SRM-252S, the volume knob was around 11 o'clock, which I almost never reach.



After that, we measured the parallel output of the SRM-252S. To my surprise, the left channel has a much higher noise floor and distortion than the right channel (0.05% versus 0.0005%)! What the heck? We spent about 20 minutes trying to debug the system, trying everything from changing out the RCA cables to grounding the SRM-252S to chassis ground, and nothing seemed to fix it. At the end of the day, I don't use the parallel outputs, but that was still a mighty discovery. I'll have to open up the amp and see if there's any loose solder joints or something.



Bill was super nice about the whole session, and he handed me a thumb drive with the PDF and Audio Precision project files on it. If anyone is interested in them, I've uploaded them here:
https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/2816447/STAX.pdf (3 MB)

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/2816447/STAX.approjx (85 MB)

NOTE: The project file can be opened using AP's free measurement software (Windows only), but the amplifier measurements probably won't work since those require live data, and obviously you won't have an AP setup at home with my amp:
https://www.ap.com/download/apx500-measurement-software-18/



[rule]
There was a room near the Audio Precision room in the Marriott hotel that said Crystal Cables on the sign. I had heard some stuff about Crystal Cables, so I went into the room kind of jokingly. This was no joke.

If there was one exhibit from the whole weekend that blew my mind, this was it. Glass CDs. Enough said.

I recall jude talking about glass CDs from one of the events from Japan and I was mildly curious about it since I had never heard of one before. Fast forward a few years and here I am sitting on a couch listening to differences between CD, High Quality CD, Ultimate High Quality CD, and glass CD; quite literally a glass CD. The exhibitor moderator showed me the glass CD and let me hold it: heavy as a rock. Then he took his metal pen and whacked the CD really hard, and the CD rang for a good 7 seconds.

Apparently Audio Technique (http://www.audiotechnique.com/) is a Hi-Fi magazine based in Hong Kong. They were demoing these different CD mediums through the same system (Naim SACD player, Crystal Cables), and were all from the same mastering (at least between A/B tests).





The difference was very clear to me: CDs compared to glass CDs are no joke in terms of the sound difference. Glass CDs offer way more dynamic range, better imaging, and an overall sense of clarity that a typical CD, HQCD, or even UHQCD just could not offer. I was literally speechless for what I was hearing, and this is just CD quality audio!

The one downside? Glass CDs are around $1500 a piece..... : (

Call it the oil of the snake, if you will, but I trust what I heard.



[rule]
At this point of the event I was making my way down the Marriott's floors. On the 2nd floor was Schiit Audio and a bunch of other brands I was more familiar with (OPPO, MrSpeakers, McIntosh, etc.).

I stopped by the Schiit Audio speaker room to say hi to Jason Stoddard. Inside their room were their new speaker amps. I wasn't familiar with the exotic-looking speakers they were using, but the demo of O-Zone Percussion Group's "Jazz Variants" sounded great to me.





[rule]
Back onto the mezzanine level of the Marriott, I stopped by the Evergreen Ball Room to check out some of the CanJam exhibitors. I stopped by Acoustic Research since there wasn't anyone there and they were showcasing 2 portable media players, AR-M2 and AR-M20.





I first listened to the M20 with a pair of closed-back Sennheisers that I wasn't too familiar with (there was a HD650 on the M2, but given the louder Evergreen room, I wanted some isolation). It sounded pretty good to me and I didn't hear any real flaws from it using the closed-back Senns. The interface was buttery smooth, which is something I highly value in a portable media player. The one gripe I have with it is that it lacks physical media control buttons, which will get annoying if I want to change tracks when the M20 is in my pocket.

Switching over to the M2, I honestly didn't hear much of a difference from the M20 using the same headphones; perhaps better imaging, but that was about it. The M2 uses a class A amplifier as opposed to AB in the M20, and because of this, a larger battery and heat-sink plates were added to the M2. Consequently, the player is bulkier, but easier to grip since the protruding battery fit my hand better. Added are media control buttons, and an analog volume knob, which like the user interface, felt buttery smooth to use. The one down side to the M2 versus the M20 is the battery life, which is essentially slashed in half from 16 hours to 8.5 hours.

Both units look absolutely gorgeous in my opinion, and look way more sleek and utilitarian than the Astell and Kern players (in my opinion).

They still have the 20% show discount going on at their online store:
http://www.acousticresearch-hifi.com/

For what it's worth, I thought the M20 sounded just fine ($560 USD with the 20% discount, and free shipping), so if you're looking for an attractive affordable DAP, this might be worth looking into.



[rule]
I saw Final's booth and I was impressed by their display. Of the CanJam exhibitors, Final probably had one of the busiest tables since it seemed like they had all of their products on it.







I tried the full-sized headphone with the dynamic and balanced armature drivers in it and I was somewhat impressed. I couldn't really tell where the crossover frequency was unlike the EnigmaAcoustics Dharma D1000, but it was evident to me that the faster balanced armature driver was mainly for the higher frequencies, which gave the headphone a kind of uneven-sounding sense of detail (being more detailed in the highs versus the mids and lows). Interesting design.



[rule]
To be perfectly honest, I was just curious about E-MU's earcups since they look beautiful. Chan Ming Tat was there and he urged me to give the headphones a listen, and I did so. Actually, my favorite one was their least expensive one, their Walnut series.



The general sound signature of E-MU's lineup seemed to be pretty warm and smooth. As I moved up their line, they seemed to get more bassy and a bit more airy.



[rule]
As I exited the Marriott and entered the big CanJam tent, I immediately saw iFi Audio at the front entrance. They were quite busy though, so I moved on arbitrarily to the left side of the tent where I found Sonoma Acoustics with no visitors. I spent nearly 1.5 hours at their booth talking with Dr. Andrew Demery. Ironically, Martin Roberts, the CEO of Warwick and creator of the Model One system, was there but he didn't do very much talking.



Having a background with STAX electrostatic headphones, and knowing Sonoma workstations from Blue Coast Records/Cookie Marenco, Dr. Demery and I had a lot of common ground to start on.

To start off, Dr. Demery explained to me a little bit about the system before I gave them a listen. It's basically an all-in-one unit: USB cable/voltage power supply/DAC/amp/headphones and is priced at $5000 USD. A hefty price for sure, but given that a SR-009 is $4k by itself, and most electrostatic amplifiers are upwards of $1.5k, it's actually priced really, really competitively.

That being said, this is also its bane. Having an all-in-one forces you to use their system, whether you like it or not, and it's a closed environment. The headphone connector (which looks like a BNC connection but with 8 pins) is completely different from any electrostatic headphone out there, and it's biased at over 1 kilovolt. Yes, KILO volt.

The DAC portion has a typical ESS Sabre DAC chip, so it does the usual 32/384/DSD128 processing. It can take USB and S/PDIF inputs.

For analog inputs (RCA), it actually has has an AKM 32/384 ADC to convert the signal back into a digital format.

No matter what the input signal is, it does some DSP so that the response at the headphone is similar.




If you thought that was pretty unique, wait until you hear about how the headphone is made.

This electrostatic headphone uses a single-sided diaphragm. Wait...what? Yes, single-sided. It's described here in Tyll's video:

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5G12Bfa4r1o[/video]


Essentially, they created the diaphragm so that it can be mass produced. It's quite a novel method in my knowledge of how electrostats are made. It's basically a piece of super flexible and fairly thick metalized polymer ("foil," for the sake of discussion), a honeycomb-sectioned plastic grill pressed on top of that, and a piece of (orange-tinted) silk laid over that. By using this method of creating the diaphragm, it almost makes for a closed-back headphone in a sense that the driver ("foil") is facing your ear while the plastic and silk face the outside and there's no perforated metal stator. The "foil" itself is semi-transparent (like sunglasses) and you can see through the driver like you can with a typical electrostatic headphone. The honeycomb-patterned plastic pressing against the "foil" tensions sections of it when it's put into the driver mount frame, and it moves when the "foil" is charged, kind of like the top of a drum.


mind = blown

The earcups and bales are made of injected magnesium, so the headphone itself is ultra light despite how "thick" it looks. The earpads and headpad are of a sheep leather.






Everything about this system screams one-of-a-kind to me. Holy smokes, the amount of thought and R&D put into this system is just incredible.

BUT, how does it sound? To me, to be perfectly honest, it sounded kind of boring. It didn't do anything particularly wrong, but it didn't do anything particularly special either. Keep in mind that this was in the CanJam tent and not the Marriott hotel, so the source was USB-fed audio and not the mastering analog tape that they had in the hotel. The source material, and maybe the noise, could very well be a factor for these impressions. If I had more time, I would have went upstairs to their room to listen to the tape masters. This is Sonoma Acoustics we're talking about here, and analog and DSD recordings are their forte.

If I had to compare it to a STAX headphone, it sounds like a hybrid between the SR-007 MKI and the SR-009. It has the musicality of the 007, but the texture and detail retrieval of the 009.

Dr. Demery and I spent some time talking about the history of headphones and how we both think it's ridiculous to see audiophiles doing certain things to their systems just to alter the sound a little bit. Eventually we landed on the topic of headphone measurements and we discussed how the Model One was tuned. According to him, the Model One was tuned to neither the diffuse-field, nor the free-field, nor the Harman target response curves. Instead, they tuned it to how their monitoring speakers sound. Given that they directly work with musicians, artists, and recording engineers, I'd think they've got the tuning down for their preferred sound.

Perhaps the sound was boring to me, but if they need accuracy for their professional work, then accuracy is what they've got, and I think they did a fantastic job at it.



[rule]
I didn't get a chance to hear the Omni at the last Portland meet, so I was eager to give these a try. If you like mids, this is the headphone for you. Quite a lovely sound! Buttery-smooth mids, warm tonality overall, and just well-voiced for all mids alike. The treble seemed to be toned-down to maximize the enjoyable, harsh-free, experience. Well done on the tuning for this headphone, ZMF.



[rule]
Whew, iFi Audio's booth was a fun visit. They had two tables, one with the classic iFi Audio products, and a second table with their new Pro series products. I was most interested in their iCAN ESL electrostatic energizer, and I brought with me the SR-207 to give it a listen.






Not bad, not bad at all! Usually e-stat energizer products have seemed more of a miss than a hit compared to full-on amplifiers. Energizers rely on an external power amplifier and step-up the voltage to the correct high-voltage bias (580 V for STAX's Pro bias). Uniquely, the iCAN ESL can accept inputs via speaker taps, 4-pin XLR, or...HDMI. What? HDMI? Yes, the same HDMI you use for a TV.

There are a TON of customization options to toggle with on the Pro series products, actually maybe too much. The iDSD and iCAN Pro both have switches to toggle to a tube circuit (as opposed to solid state), as well as a gain switch; the iCAN Pro has X-Bass and 3D/Crossfeed toggles; the iCAN ESL has an e-stat bias selector, output selector, and input-source selector. It's pretty confusing, but all I needed to do is select the 580 V bias on the e-stat bias selector, and adjust the volume accordingly.

The tube circuit actually sounds pretty nice. At first they were toggled on and I was noticing the SR-207 to sound warmer than I remember. Then I toggled them off and it sounded more like the SR-207 I know. Sound quality-wise the iCAN ESL was more dynamic than my SRM-252S, and it had a blacker background as to make instrument separation more apparent. That being said, I don't know how much of the sound was attributed to the iCAN Pro since the ESL was using the special HDMI input from it. I'd be interested in giving the iCAN ESL a listen with a less synergistic setup.

It was kind of funny when I was at the iFi booth. I was listening to the iCAN ESL with the SR-207 and iFi Audio representatives from Japan happened to visit. They seemed surprised that an actual STAX headphone was being used with the iCAN ESL. Actually, a good handful of people were surprised to see a non-SR-007/009 STAX headphone at all, including the iFi representatives themselves.

I've always liked how iFi Audio and their Skunkwork Laboratories are constantly creating products that would otherwise be really niche for a more affordable price, while looking really pretty and fully-functional. Talking to Vincent at the iFi booth, it was interesting getting to know a little more about their octopus mascot for 8x (octa) DSD, or 512 MHz sampling rates. I'll have to try up-sampling Daft Punk's "Derezzed" song to DSD512 some day!


Anyway, here's a video of Cotnijoe explaining the Pro series stack.

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBpNoSbyzwc[/video]




[rule]
HIFIMAN was on my list because of the Shangri-La. I took the opportunity to listen to it when no one else was around it.
http://hifiman.com/shangri-la/index.html
$50,000 USD for the system, and it's only being sold as a system

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jnuh-VB7Xqs[/video]


The Shangri-La system as a whole has a pretty interesting design. The amplifier uses some custom-made 300B tubes, the exterior of the amp is glossy black, the volume knob has LED indicators around it to let you know what volume it's at, the power button is right next to the STAX plug outputs, and it has a 3.5 mm auxiliary input jack on the back. Aesthetically speaking, I like it as a piece of art, but I prefer function over form, and having the volume at the top of the "shelf" is really awkward.








The headphones themselves seem to have a very similar design to the HE1000: wood decals on the outside, metal grille on the outside of the earcups, and a similar-adjusting headband. The driver is sub-micron thickness and it's coated with nanoparticles that probably give it the ability to be electrically charged. It also uses a dust cover that has nanometer-sized holes for sound transmission and they prevent dust from getting onto the drivers. If you don't know about electrostatic headphones, any specks of dust that get on the driver causes it to distort at that portion.






As for the sound, it's not my cup of tea. It seems to want to be the SR-009, but ends up being way too bright and doesn't have enough bass for my preferences. The Shangri-La amp has 2 outputs, so I did A/B tests with the SR-207. To my surprise, the 207 has more bass quantity, but the Shangri-La had better texture, similar to the SR-009. The 207's mids sounds shouty at times, but the Shangri-La sounded bright and strident. The 207 has a delicate treble, whereas the Shangri-La's seemed a bit grainier in comparison, similar to the 009 in my experience. For instrument separation and soundstage, the Shangri-La is way better. Like the HE1000, the Shangri-La seems to have a deeper soundstage than wide, and a sense of dynamics that the 207 just can't match. Like the 009, it sounds lightning quick and it easily picks up the most delicate textures of a recording.



Perhaps in future meets, I think HIFIMAN ought to use a better DAC source than their HM901s portable media player. I seriously think this is a limiting factor of the system, but given that it's probably their best DAC...eh, I dunno. It just seems wrong to me that a $50,000 full-sized system is being fed with a signal from a portable media player.



At the end of the day, given the price, I'd take the Sonoma Model One over the Shangri-La given that you have to buy both as a system. I haven't heard the Orpheuses before, so I can't tell you how they compare to those.



[rule]
At this point of the convention, I was kind of bummed out that I didn't get a chance to visit the places I wanted to since there was way too much cool stuff to see and not enough time. Ordering "The Ever Popular "Joe"" from The Original Pancake House lifted my spirits though. That was a dang good omelette, and the pancakes were even better!







I've had breakfast with Head-Fiers before in Seattle, so this was a familiar atmosphere to me. Talking about headphones and stuff like a bunch of nerds is fun stuff.



[rule]
This was quite an interesting panel! jude and Tyll Hertsens were there, as well as Paul Barton (PSB Speakers), mrspeakers, Sankar Thiagasamudram (Audeze), and Naotaka Tsunoda (Sony). So it was a mix of headphone manufacturers/designers and two big people in the personal audio community.

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrObN8YIRq8[/video]


Personally, I've found the diffuse-field target curve to be my ideal "neutral" sound, but evidently there is a lot of factors to consider when designing and tuning a headphone.



[rule]
Cavalli Audio and MrSpeakers were next to each other in the CanJam tent, so I gave both their products a listen. The Liquid Lightning and SR-007 MKI is still my dream rig, so I had high expectations for the Liquid Lightning 2T. Holy smokes that did not disappoint. My favorite e-stat amp of the show (including iFi iCAN/iCAN ESL and HeadAmp Blue Hawaii). The sense of dynamics and imaging was just incredible, and with its smooth sound overall, it's just sublime listening experience. Of course, it's also quite expensive, so there's no getting around that unfortunately.

I was listening to both the MrSpeakers Ether ES and the SR-207 on the LL 2T. The Ether ES is a very nice electrostatic headphone indeed and I really enjoyed it for music listening. It has a typical MrSpeakers house warm sound that makes it a rich listening experience, and paired with a pretty smooth response treble response, I think it has a very approachable sound. I can nitpick a few things, but for music, I think the Ether ES is really nice. It's more of a SR-007 than a SR-009 in that regard.



On the Cavalli table were a few Liquid Spark portable amplifiers. The Spark looked really bold, nice, and shiny. Being shiny makes it a serious fingerprint magnet though and the folks at Cavalli said they were going to change the finish on it, which is some good news. The design of the unit itself seems to be more of the case of form over function, at least to me. It's pretty, but the volume knob and gain switches are too hard to adjust for what I'd use it for, which is unfortunate. Even in my pocket, I think the volume knob would be pretty difficult to adjust. One design choice that I did really like was the inclusion of inputs on both sides of the unit so you can orient it in whatever direction you want. Too many times have I encountered portable units only to have a hard time using it because the interconnects got in the way of operation and/or I had to seriously bend them in my pocket to route them.






Sound-wise, I didn't find anything wrong with it. It kind of sounded boring to me, but that might not be a bad thing. Very clean overall, and it paired nicely with the Ether Flow C.



[rule]
I chat with the folks at Astell&Kern a bit about their AK Recorder. At $999, it's actually reasonably priced to me for its performance and availability of recording formats. However, I think it's really lame that you have to pair it with one of their 300-series portable media players. Dreams = broken

If anyone saw my recording rig, it's pretty ridiculous and not elegant at all. I have my Nikon D7100 camera, a MoVo shock mount on the hot shoe, Zoom H4N (2016) recorder mounted on the MoVo....heck I'll just show a photo.

^ A few people gave me weird looks with the straw rig and asked what it was. lol

Anyway, I just wished the AK Recorder was more accessible because I think content creators can do some great things with it.



Given that I've never heard a JH Audio in-ear monitor before, I wanted to give the Michelle a try since it's new and apparently the most affordable(?). It sounded just okay to me on the AK320 player. It sounded thick and warm, while having a peak in the treble that gave it some sizzle. Nice for vocalists and bassier genres; maybe not so great for drum sets. The upper-midrange and treble just kind of had an odd timbre to me.



[rule]
Since people were packing up at the event, I made my final swoop around the other half of CanJam tent since I still didn't get a chance to visit most of them. I ended up stopping by the Etymotic Research booth to chat with the folks there for a bit. I had zero expectations for the visit since I typically haven't cared too much about them, honestly. I've only heard good things about them though, and they were one of the first companies I had ever heard about for in-ear monitors, alongside with Ultimate Ears back in the early 2000s.

I briefly introduced myself and that I was interested in hearing any of the ER4 in-ears since I've seen a lot of critical acclaim for them, and some folks at the Audio Engineering Society convention last week were talking about them. They let me try the ER4SR (Studio Reference). Holy cow, they sounded really similar to my SRS-2170, no joke! They blew my mind. I literally listened to them for 2 minutes tops going through my usual reference songs to see if it can pass the tests, and it did with flying colors. I asked the representatives for more information about these and I could/can not believe these only use 1 balanced armature driver, ONE. I've heard a handful of in-ears before from this hobby, and apart from the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitor, this was the only in-ear that seriously surprised me for its accuracy (to my ears). One driver! If I dare say, this is a true IEM that lives up to its acronym, In-Ear Monitor (it bugs me when people call $10 in-ear earphones IEMs). It's no wonder that the ER-4 series of IEMs are often targeted and used by sound-related engineers.




I gave the ER4XR (eXtended Response) a listen and for me, I thought they had a little too much bass. I asked the representatives about it and they said it's pretty much exactly the same as the SR but with a +4 dB boost in the bass. They handed me their information sheet for the two models and yup, it looks like the XR has a higher bass response based on their measurement graph. It wasn't quite my cup of tea for stock sound signature.



[rule]
After Etymotic Research, I saw Andykong at Cayin a few booths over, and I stopped by to say hello. Friendly fellow! I would have liked to hear the i5 portable media player, but alas, time was not on my side.



[rule]
valkolton was at CanJam at RMAF! I was really surprised to see him in-person after hearing about him for many years and talking to him via Head-Fi. I've been a big fan of V-MODA's products ever since 2007 when I bought my first "expensive" in-ear earphone, so I was happy to finally meet the guy behind it all.

I still think their Zn is a good product, but Val let me give the new FORZA a listen...I'll just say I was impressed. : )



[rule]
At the last-minute, right before I helped Questyle pack up, I decided to get the ER4SR after all; thanks Netforce. : p


They seriously impressed me that much, and it's still within a student's budget relative to a lot of other things out there at the event. I figured I'd get the SR over the XR because I can always add a few decibels of bass through an EQ if I really need it when listening to music. For the most part, I'd rather have my version of a neutral sound (SR) than not (XR) for every-day use in the event where I can't use an EQ (like listening to YouTube videos for example).

You can most definitely count me in for making a review of these.

^ Pretty much quite literally at the last minute (the event ended at 5:00 PM).



[rule]
After helping pack up things for Questyle, I headed back to the airport to catch my flight. While waiting at the seating area before boarding, I saw someone with a V-MODA M-100; cool beans. Then when I got my seat in the airplane, I saw moedawg140 just a few seats away from me!

When we landed, moedawg140, Hiyono, and I talked about the event for a few minutes before heading back home



[rule]
At this event, I met a lot of really cool people, as well as some people I knew. Seattle-folks had a good representation with Barra, curbfeeler, bimmer100 from Kitsune HiFi, and a few others. I ran into nmatheis too.

Then I met a few people who knew of me through my YouTube channel, which was really neat to hear about.

And of course jude himself. I would have liked to ask him a few questions, but he was always running around the venue being busy jude, hahaha.

Apparently "The Admiral" David Robinson was also there. MrSpeakers got a freaking hilarious photo with him as he stood up on a chair to match his height. At the time I had no idea who David Robinson was though (I don't follow sports at all), so I guess I missed my chance to snap a photo with a national icon.



Anyway, super fun stuff. Thank you for taking the time to peruse though this post!
 
Oct 13, 2016 at 9:23 PM Post #205 of 240

nmatheis

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Funny, you prefer closed back (in general), but would consider the HEX v2 ??
In my original post, I mentioned those made me feel naked. They are SOOOO open  :wink_face:

This hobby is quite surprising at times - I liked the HEX v2 and Nighthawk a lot, too.  But our taste in Ethers (open vs. closed) is exactly opposite. Go figure...


Ahh... To my ears with LPG, both Nighthawk and HEX v2 sound very natural. Ether Flow sounded too diffuse, but I didn't try it out of my LPG. Don't really think that would've changed my perception significantly, though. I forget who, but someone else I spoke with at the show also preferred Ether Flow C over the open version for the same reason.
 
Oct 13, 2016 at 10:32 PM Post #206 of 240

miceblue

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Does Cavalli still make the Liquid Lightning 2?

I like the iFi rack, how much is their energizer alone?

No, which is unfortunate.

I'm not sure about the pricing of the iCAN ESL. They're still working on the ESL and iDSD, so the pricing might not be finalized yet.
 
Oct 14, 2016 at 12:25 AM Post #207 of 240

Barra

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Funny, you prefer closed back (in general), but would consider the HEX v2 ??
In my original post, I mentioned those made me feel naked. They are SOOOO open  
wink_face.gif


This hobby is quite surprising at times - I liked the HEX v2 and Nighthawk a lot, too.  But our taste in Ethers (open vs. closed) is exactly opposite. Go figure...


Ahh... To my ears with LPG, both Nighthawk and HEX v2 sound very natural. Ether Flow sounded too diffuse, but I didn't try it out of my LPG. Don't really think that would've changed my perception significantly, though. I forget who, but someone else I spoke with at the show also preferred Ether Flow C over the open version for the same reason.

The original ether had a light delicate signature which has been improved upon with more bass and texture in the new flow version - same very comfortable fit. However at first listen to the new flow at this RMAF, I preferred my HEX. Dan asked me to come back and try the other setup using a better DAC and man, what a difference. Now I am not sure which is better. My guess is that the ether flow can scale higher than the HEX with the right equipment, but the HEX can scale down to an iPhone and make it sound fantastic. The ether flow needs a great system to show its full potential.
 
Oct 14, 2016 at 12:58 AM Post #208 of 240

Allanmarcus

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Not sure if anyone else noticed, but audio technica was there. I finally got a chance to listen to their headphones. While I lost my notes, I do remember their stuff just wasn't for me.

They also had a $6000 headphone amp
http://www.audio-technica.com/cms/accessories/bd963a3646968df5/index.html

Since I will never buy it, I didn't as it too mush mind. I did notice that it's single ended, but has different jacks for different impedance headphones.
 
Oct 14, 2016 at 9:39 AM Post #209 of 240

Demo3

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  The original ether had a light delicate signature which has been improved upon with more bass and texture in the new flow version - same very comfortable fit. However at first listen to the new flow at this RMAF, I preferred my HEX. Dan asked me to come back and try the other setup using a better DAC and man, what a difference. Now I am not sure which is better. My guess is that the ether flow can scale higher than the HEX with the right equipment, but the HEX can scale down to an iPhone and make it sound fantastic. The ether flow needs a great system to show its full potential.


Dan said the same thing to me but I did not have a chance to get back by his table.
 
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