CanJam New York 2024 Impressions Thread (March 9-10, 2024)
Mar 13, 2024 at 3:52 AM Post #391 of 687
CanJam NYC 2024 - Day 2 (Sunday morning)

(WARNING: Possible verbosity ahead! Proceed at your own risk. :beyersmile: )

Having stayed up late on Saturday to post my Day 1 impressions, I could have done with some extra sleep, but it wasn't in the cards. My wife had an 11 AM flight back to Cali from JFK, and I headed downstairs around 8 AM to send her off with a Lyft and a peck on the cheek. I then popped into the hotel Starbucks for an oat latte (extra shot, extra hot) and a small bottle of Evolution OJ, which totaled $20. Everything is bigger in New York, including inflation apparently, but at least the latte was superb (per moi, a Starbucks non-fanboy)! I spotted DMS and GoldenSound by the espresso machine sort of silently staring into space, and speculated they might be nursing an even greater sleep deficit than I was. :relaxed: Then I headed back up to my room, leisurely consumed a Bobo's oat bar along with the drinks, took a leisurely shower, broke down and carefully bubble-wrapped/packed my audio gear, folded and packed my clothes, headed down to the bell desk to check a full-size and a carry-on suitcase, and then officially checked out at the Marriott reception counter at 10 AM on the dot. I'd slept and showered with my CJ weekend entry wristband intact to avoid waiting in line again, so from reception it was quickly down two floors via the escalators and right on into the show.

In my somewhat amorphous preshow planning, the one thing written in ink (metaphorically) was hitting the ZMF room on Sunday morning, when show attendance would be sparsest. And this strategy was rewarded in spades, as there were only a handful of other showgoers in the room upon my arrival. Bevin greeted me warmly with a smile, and I explained that my main goal was to try different pads and/or the mantle mesh on the Caldera (open), a headphone which had greatly impressed me during a home audition a few months ago. Unfortunately, with stock pads and no mesh (all I had on hand then), I couldn't get past the upper midrange peak on some tracks with horns and electric guitars, in particular. I also wanted to audition the Caldera Closed and the Atrium Closed to see if I might like them more than my DCA E3 (I typically only own one closed-back headphone at any given time, as my use cases are limited). I was also curious about the Atrium Open and the Bokeh, but I knew the arrival of the horde was inevitable, plus I had a lot of other listening planned for the day, so I abstained on those.

A quick anecdote: I think my very first CanJam was in LA in 2016. I had my sights firmly set on the new, "astronomically-priced" (LOL, in retrospect) Focal Utopia, had auditioned it first thing, and was 99% sure I'd be going home with one. But I wanted to hear as many other cans as possible to be positive Utopia was indeed the one. At some point, I sauntered by an 8' table (!) in the middle of the main floor (!) manned by Zach and someone else (Bevin?), with two or three beautifully-crafted wooden headphones on display. I'd seen some online chatter about ZMF, and knew they already had something of a devoted fan base. I enjoyed their then-current models, but was looking for a more reference tuning that day, and thus went home with a Utopia. I recount this story to highlight the magnitude of ZMF's ascent in a scant 7.5 years, likely unprecedented in the history of this industry. It's a true testament to Zach and his team's passion, skill, work ethic, and great customer service. Kudos and congratulations to ZMF on their success.

Back to Sunday morning: Bevin asked me which of the multiple (!!) available listening stations I'd prefer to use. There's an old saying about wine: "When buying, serve bread. When selling, serve cheese". In the context of audio, solid-state is bread and tubes are cheese, and I prefer to conduct initial auditions on solid-state. The best available option seemed to be a Holo May/Bliss stack, which had the added advantage of being situated in a far corner with the least foot traffic and congestion in the room. I'd never auditioned either of these components previously, although I did buy a Holo Spring 3 about a year ago to see what all the buzz/hype was about. I thought the timbral accuracy and soundstage depth (tested on speakers) of the Spring 3 (which only operates in NOS mode internally) improved quite noticeably in conjunction with HQPlayer, but not enough to usurp my D/S DACs, and given the extra hassle of having to use HQP, I sold it quickly. The May does have internal over-sampling (OS) and I made sure it was engaged. When auditioning any electronics for the very first time, it's tremendously useful to do so with a very familiar headphone, and I had my Susvara in my backpack. Stupidly, I neglected my own advice, mostly because I wanted to proceed quickly before it got crowded. It turned out I got in almost 90 minutes of listening before the room got crowded and loud, so in retrospect I really should have started with the Sus.

There was an Atrium Closed next to the Holo Stack, so I started with that. I've read that the AC is a headphone with prominent bass (that doesn't extend too low) and a "fun" tuning. I like bass and having fun (sometimes), so bring it on, AC! :relaxed: I plugged in my laptop and started with Joshua, my Miles Davis track du weekend, not really expecting jazz to be in the AC's wheelhouse. I was pleasantly surprised that the bass, whilst having excellent presence in the mix, was not bloated or bleeding into the midrange at all. The AC's tuning is a notch or notch-and-a-half toward warmth, but it's well within the bounds of my preferences. Treble extension and air was very good, as was apparent detail. While neither was top of the class, I didn't feel like anything was missing, per se. The music was all there, and I was highly engaged with it. I moved on to a couple of rock tracks (My City Was Gone by The Pretenders, and In World by Television), which confirmed that the AC renders electric guitar harmonics convincingly and without harshness, and generally knows how to rawk... dude. The AC also sounded excellent on Teardrop by Massive Attack, again showing its chops on female vocals. In summary, the AC was an involving and very enjoyable listen on the sampling of tracks above. But how does it compare to the DCA E3, and am I going to switch, you may be asking? Honestly, I'd have to listen to the AC on my own chain(s) and at greater length to definitively answer that, but the fact that it's not open-and-shut for the E3 (which I love) speaks very highly of the Atrium Closed! The E3 probably has bigger staging, is somewhat more neutral and detailed, costs a bit less, and folds up compactly for travel. The AC has more personality, is easier to drive, can be tuned with different pads, and is more attractive (to myself and, I suspect, the majority). The weight and comfort of the two headphones are roughly equivalent. Given that I don't need a closed-back all that often, and I already own the E3, inertia dictates that I'll stay with that for the time being.

By this time, a Caldera (open) had long since been delivered to my station. It was stock oak, and Zach subsequently informed me that it was sporting the thick pads, although he had to look them over a bit to be confident in that assessment, and they indeed didn't seem too much thicker than stock to my untrained eyes. I was also interested in trying out the mantle mesh, but this pair didn't have it, so in the interest of time efficiency I proceeded without it. I played the same tracks as I had on the AC, and heard more of a resemblance in the tuning between the two than I expected. The Caldera was more resolving, and staged bigger, but it was just a matter of degrees. The good news was the midrange peak that had bothered me on the Kingwood Caldera with stock pads didn't really bother me with this pair, although a bit of extra energy was still perceptible there. OTOH, the capacious stage and weightiness of bass notes that I loved so much in my home demo were less in evidence at CanJam. This version of the Caldera was less idiosyncratic and more "mainstream", which I considered a mixed bag. The differences were hardly surprising given the different woods, pads, chains, listening environments, and times of day (I listen mostly in the evening at home), but their magnitude did perplex me a bit.

I clearly wasn't going to solve that mystery on the spot, so why not listen to the Caldera Closed instead? To be honest, I don't love the aesthetics of the stock oak(?) with dark accents, but I spotted a CC in Queensland Maple that was pure class and beauty (see rearmost headphone in photo, below), and asked to audition that one. The first thing that struck me was its general congruence with the ZMF house tuning. Overall, I concluded that the CC was somewhere in-between the Caldera and the AC, but actually closer to the latter. In this instance, closed/open seemed more differentiating to me than planar/dynamic.

zmf.jpg

I played a few more tracks and rotated through the cans trying to get a better handle on their relative strengths and weaknesses, including Flight of the Cosmic Hippo by Bela Fleck & The Flecktones to test sub-bass extension (AC lost there, but the Calderas were pretty even). I also briefly tried the suede pads (about which I'd heard great things) on the Caldera (open), but didn't like the feel on my skin, or their (dulling) sonic impact, and quickly returned to the thick pads. At some time toward 11:30, the room filled up and got noisy, and I became aware that someone wanted my spot, so I called it a wrap and thanked Bevin on my way out.

So what were my grand conclusions from this session? Of the three headphones, I have a clear preference for the Caldera (open) overall. It's the most technical of the lot, and probably the most versatile across genres. It was too close between Atrium Closed and Caldera Closed for me to declare a preference there, not to mention that I didn't get to experiment with different pads, let alone different amps. Apologies for my vagueness, but given the number of variables in play and my very limited past exposure to ZMF cans, I lack ultimate conviction in my assessments. My gut feeling is there's probably a Caldera (open) in my future, but pursuing that isn't on the front burner because........


My next stop was a return to the Raal 1995 table where the Immanis had so wowed me the day before. Someone was listening to the Immanis on the VM-1a, but Raal also had an iFi iCan Pro setup available, so I got to audition the Magna (and subsequently the Immanis) on that. For some reason, possibly some test track burnout, I decided to forgo plugging in my laptop and just listened to some tracks from Raal's limited local playlist. Word was that the Magna sounds similar to the Immanis, but has a more intimate soundstage. I looked for a track that might be flattered by intimacy, and chose Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, which I hadn't heard in years, but always liked. My first impression was "wow", which soon morphed into "WOWWW!!!". What I was hearing was pure seduction in audible form. So much space between instruments and vocals, so much purity and richness of sound. I didn't need or want to analyze what I was hearing, as much as to just admire and enjoy it. The Magna, in other words, was "getting out of the way of the music" in spectacular fashion. The Immanis became available, and I immediately switched it over onto the iCan chain and listened to the same track. The stage was a bit wider than with the Magna, but otherwise they sounded surprisingly similar to me. If you can't afford the Immanis, you should sleep well in the knowledge that you're not missing much at all with the Magna. OTOH, if you're a sucker for a grand, cinematic soundstage (I plead guilty, Your Honor!), the Immanis may well be worth the extra scratch to you.

The next tracks in succession after Wicked Game were Seeya by deadmau5 and Return to the Sauce by Infected Mushroom, both of which feature molar-rattling bass. And the Immanis delivered the low-end goods with both power and startling definition! Overall, it was a tour de force performance, and in the space of fifteen minutes I confirmed what I already suspected yesterday: that I have to own one of these cans. This is what the future of headphones sounds like, and it's available for purchase today.... except that I'm the rare Head-fi'er who doesn't need to own the latest, greatest toy by yesterday, not to mention I've got a potentially large tax bill looming over my bank account in about a month. So, I'll contact Danny in the near future and we'll plot the best way forward. I'm leaning heavily toward the Immanis, but would ideally like some listening time at my home with it and the Magna before choosing which model to live with. Now if I may, a few random thoughts. I think the comfort of both headphones is excellent. Clamp is moderate, but not loose, and they're relatively light. Build quality and feel is about 9 out of 10 for me. One minor nit is if you tilt the cups outward, the pads kind of catch on the frame. I'd also like to see a tad more clearance between the head strap and frame, but I never felt the latter contact my head, so I guess it's adequate. I didn't play around too much with adjusting the cup positions, as the headphones just seemed to fit me very well as they were.

One clarification: I noted a high noise floor when listening to the Immanis through the VM-1a amp on Saturday. When I pointed this out to Danny the next day, he said the issue was something with the DAC, and that the amp is actually very quiet, especially for a tube amp. I will also note that in my very limited testing, the Immanis didn't sound markedly better on the VM-1a compared to how it sounded on the iFi iCan Pro, which did surprise me a little. But you probably shouldn't put too much stock in that assessment given the circumstances.

Having been so impressed with the deadmau5 and Infected Mushroom tracks on the Immanis, I was curious how the Hifiman Shangri-la would handle them, so I walked back over to the Mimic Audio room, where it was connected to the Viva estat amp. I noted yesterday that I thought the Shang sounded better on my home chain than it did on the Viva amp, in part because I had no way to add a bass shelf with the show setup. In any case, I listened to the Infected Mushroom track on the Shang, and it did a highly credible job with it. Staging was a bit narrower than on the Immanis, but detail retrieval was on par. Bass impact on the Shang was quite good, and frankly better than I expected, although Hifiman headphones (including Susvara) tend to image bass somewhat narrowly and centrally. In live music or on good speakers, bass usually sounds much broader, which may be one reason many listeners perceive Hifiman cans as bass-deficient. (Sorry, I'm just spitballing rhetorically here.) In any case, the track sounded a bit more organic on the Immanis, which I preferred, but I also enjoyed it very much on the Shang. Suffice it to say that the show conditions and variables make it impossible for me to opine meaningfully on the relative merits of the Immanis and Shangri-la, except that if you index highly for bass, Immanis is the clear choice.

At that point, I headed up a couple floors to the Revel & Rye Restaurant and ordered a pepperoni, mushroom, and arugula pizza. The atmosphere was relaxing, the seating was plush, and the pizza was delish. I felt refreshed and ready to sprint down the homestretch, to be recounted in the next installment of this sprawling, overlong opus.

Ciao for now.
Good to finally read some more in-depth headphone impressions in the ocean of IEM focused posts. Personally, I have no interest in IEMs and do not really understand the recent rise/flood of IEMs in the hobby. It has almost become trendy to say, "I am successfully transitioning from headphones to IEMs". What the hell does that even mean? It is like saying "I am successfully transitioning my transportation methods from planes to cars". They are just totally different experiences; IEMs will never fully replace headphones. Anyway, rant over and thanks again for a great headphone post. :)
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 5:23 AM Post #392 of 687
This was my first canjam and I had a lot of fun, got to try a ton of gear and even got my first ear impressions done! I took my wife with me to show her that I am not alone in my madness and she was quite shocked. By far the most enjoyable setups were the LCD-4z + TT2 + Mscaler, could of used some more power though. This thing just screams to be used with my cen.grand amp! I was also thoroughly impressed with the CRBNs, I had not thought the bass would be that enjoyable but it was done quite well! Had a nice chat with Chris where I just gushed how I loved the LCD-i4s so much, he told me that they are in fact working on another IEM, might release sometime the end of next year!

AEF9CAC1-119D-4090-B94C-858883D67282.jpg


I was able to finally try out ZMF headphones! Zach was oh so accommodating, and tried his level best to pronounce my wife's name. I applaud his effort in doing so, Zach you are AMAZING. I got to try most of his stuff, my favorite was definitely the Caldera with the Holo stack. Since there was no one behind me (near the end of the show), I got to spend some quality time with this setup. Overall ZMF headphones do mids so well across the range, they remind me of flathead earbuds (think TGXear) only bigger.

d1e2a0c5-01f4-4ccf-9318-aade540aa6e9.jpg


Was able to try out the Nightjar Singularity and the Subtonic Storm. I can see why the Singularity is so loved, I was cranking the poor 475 amp so much I got it clipping! I got to speak with the legend Mr. Masuda and his wife, and learned quite a bit of how his amps are made, especially the 465.

susvara465.png


Speaking of which this setup was great though in high gain it was definitely too "bright" for me. I was more impressed with how the little 475 amp was able to power the Singularity. It sounded very open and the delivery was utterly effortless and even more impressive when considering its running off some AA batteries!

These were my favorite setups and on to one headphone that has disappointed me, the Hifiman Susvara. I heard it on two setups, one with the hifiman serenade/prelude and one with the Topping D90/Mass Kobo 465. The Susvara is heavily dependent on power and the prelude amplifier just did not cut it. Vocals came out shouty, mids were lacking body, and bass felt incredibly light. I hear the 475 sounds much better in low/medium gain and unfortunately I didn't have enough time to try that but on high gain it was just too bright for me. I think the cen.grand amplifiers would pair much better with the Susvaras! Bass was just lacking overall with the Susvaras and I'm sure I can EQ some in but I don't think it would match how well the bass is on the LCD-4z (I asked for the 4s but they didn't have them sadly).

I got to try a bunch of IEMs and the stands outs were definitely the UM Mest MKII, Subtonic Storm, and Nightjar Singularity.

0CA6CA61-DE61-4475-9ABE-A026C6A0F083.jpg


Of particular note, the Singularity did bass extremely well, this is a single DD that just dominates one of the legends, the EX800ST, everything is just better here and almost sounded as wide with the 475 amp. The Subtonic Storm was very impressive, I didn't think BA's can sound this good and even the bass was delivered in an effortless manner though I feel like it was lacking some tactility that planars and good single DDs tend to provide.

It was a surreal experience getting ear impressions in a loud convention hall and then suddenly as your ears are being filled you hear nothing! I was told the LCD-i4s are hit or miss and have a failure rate of 50% for custom ear molds, I hope I can get them done but we shall see!

It was an incredible experience seeing the faces behind this passionate hobby of ours. I can't wait to see everyone again in the future and hopefully I'll have more time than I had this time around.
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 5:55 AM Post #394 of 687
CanJam NYC 2024 - Day 2 (Sunday morning)

(WARNING: Possible verbosity ahead! Proceed at your own risk. :beyersmile: )

Having stayed up late on Saturday to post my Day 1 impressions, I could have done with some extra sleep, but it wasn't in the cards. My wife had an 11 AM flight back to Cali from JFK, and I headed downstairs around 8 AM to send her off with a Lyft and a peck on the cheek. I then popped into the hotel Starbucks for an oat latte (extra shot, extra hot) and a small bottle of Evolution OJ, which totaled $20. Everything is bigger in New York, including inflation apparently, but at least the latte was superb (per moi, a Starbucks non-fanboy)! I spotted DMS and GoldenSound by the espresso machine sort of silently staring into space, and speculated they might be nursing an even greater sleep deficit than I was. :relaxed: Then I headed back up to my room, leisurely consumed a Bobo's oat bar along with the drinks, took a leisurely shower, broke down and carefully bubble-wrapped/packed my audio gear, folded and packed my clothes, headed down to the bell desk to check a full-size and a carry-on suitcase, and then officially checked out at the Marriott reception counter at 10 AM on the dot. I'd slept and showered with my CJ weekend entry wristband intact to avoid waiting in line again, so from reception it was quickly down two floors via the escalators and right on into the show.

In my somewhat amorphous preshow planning, the one thing written in ink (metaphorically) was hitting the ZMF room on Sunday morning, when show attendance would be sparsest. And this strategy was rewarded in spades, as there were only a handful of other showgoers in the room upon my arrival. Bevin greeted me warmly with a smile, and I explained that my main goal was to try different pads and/or the mantle mesh on the Caldera (open), a headphone which had greatly impressed me during a home audition a few months ago. Unfortunately, with stock pads and no mesh (all I had on hand then), I couldn't get past the upper midrange peak on some tracks with horns and electric guitars, in particular. I also wanted to audition the Caldera Closed and the Atrium Closed to see if I might like them more than my DCA E3 (I typically only own one closed-back headphone at any given time, as my use cases are limited). I was also curious about the Atrium Open and the Bokeh, but I knew the arrival of the horde was inevitable, plus I had a lot of other listening planned for the day, so I abstained on those.

A quick anecdote: I think my very first CanJam was in LA in 2016. I had my sights firmly set on the new, "astronomically-priced" (LOL, in retrospect) Focal Utopia, had auditioned it first thing, and was 99% sure I'd be going home with one. But I wanted to hear as many other cans as possible to be positive Utopia was indeed the one. At some point, I sauntered by an 8' table (!) in the middle of the main floor (!) manned by Zach and someone else (Bevin?), with two or three beautifully-crafted wooden headphones on display. I'd seen some online chatter about ZMF, and knew they already had something of a devoted fan base. I enjoyed their then-current models, but was looking for a more reference tuning that day, and thus went home with a Utopia. I recount this story to highlight the magnitude of ZMF's ascent in a scant 7.5 years, likely unprecedented in the history of this industry. It's a true testament to Zach and his team's passion, skill, work ethic, and great customer service. Kudos and congratulations to ZMF on their success.

Back to Sunday morning: Bevin asked me which of the multiple (!!) available listening stations I'd prefer to use. There's an old saying about wine: "When buying, serve bread. When selling, serve cheese". In the context of audio, solid-state is bread and tubes are cheese, and I prefer to conduct initial auditions on solid-state. The best available option seemed to be a Holo May/Bliss stack, which had the added advantage of being situated in a far corner with the least foot traffic and congestion in the room. I'd never auditioned either of these components previously, although I did buy a Holo Spring 3 about a year ago to see what all the buzz/hype was about. I thought the timbral accuracy and soundstage depth (tested on speakers) of the Spring 3 (which only operates in NOS mode internally) improved quite noticeably in conjunction with HQPlayer, but not enough to usurp my D/S DACs, and given the extra hassle of having to use HQP, I sold it quickly. The May does have internal over-sampling (OS) and I made sure it was engaged. When auditioning any electronics for the very first time, it's tremendously useful to do so with a very familiar headphone, and I had my Susvara in my backpack. Stupidly, I neglected my own advice, mostly because I wanted to proceed quickly before it got crowded. It turned out I got in almost 90 minutes of listening before the room got crowded and loud, so in retrospect I really should have started with the Sus.

There was an Atrium Closed next to the Holo Stack, so I started with that. I've read that the AC is a headphone with prominent bass (that doesn't extend too low) and a "fun" tuning. I like bass and having fun (sometimes), so bring it on, AC! :relaxed: I plugged in my laptop and started with Joshua, my Miles Davis track du weekend, not really expecting jazz to be in the AC's wheelhouse. I was pleasantly surprised that the bass, whilst having excellent presence in the mix, was not bloated or bleeding into the midrange at all. The AC's tuning is a notch or notch-and-a-half toward warmth, but it's well within the bounds of my preferences. Treble extension and air was very good, as was apparent detail. While neither was top of the class, I didn't feel like anything was missing, per se. The music was all there, and I was highly engaged with it. I moved on to a couple of rock tracks (My City Was Gone by The Pretenders, and In World by Television), which confirmed that the AC renders electric guitar harmonics convincingly and without harshness, and generally knows how to rawk... dude. The AC also sounded excellent on Teardrop by Massive Attack, again showing its chops on female vocals. In summary, the AC was an involving and very enjoyable listen on the sampling of tracks above. But how does it compare to the DCA E3, and am I going to switch, you may be asking? Honestly, I'd have to listen to the AC on my own chain(s) and at greater length to definitively answer that, but the fact that it's not open-and-shut for the E3 (which I love) speaks very highly of the Atrium Closed! The E3 probably has bigger staging, is somewhat more neutral and detailed, costs a bit less, and folds up compactly for travel. The AC has more personality, is easier to drive, can be tuned with different pads, and is more attractive (to myself and, I suspect, the majority). The weight and comfort of the two headphones are roughly equivalent. Given that I don't need a closed-back all that often, and I already own the E3, inertia dictates that I'll stay with that for the time being.

By this time, a Caldera (open) had long since been delivered to my station. It was stock oak, and Zach subsequently informed me that it was sporting the thick pads, although he had to look them over a bit to be confident in that assessment, and they indeed didn't seem too much thicker than stock to my untrained eyes. I was also interested in trying out the mantle mesh, but this pair didn't have it, so in the interest of time efficiency I proceeded without it. I played the same tracks as I had on the AC, and heard more of a resemblance in the tuning between the two than I expected. The Caldera was more resolving, and staged bigger, but it was just a matter of degrees. The good news was the midrange peak that had bothered me on the Kingwood Caldera with stock pads didn't really bother me with this pair, although a bit of extra energy was still perceptible there. OTOH, the capacious stage and weightiness of bass notes that I loved so much in my home demo were less in evidence at CanJam. This version of the Caldera was less idiosyncratic and more "mainstream", which I considered a mixed bag. The differences were hardly surprising given the different woods, pads, chains, listening environments, and times of day (I listen mostly in the evening at home), but their magnitude did perplex me a bit.

I clearly wasn't going to solve that mystery on the spot, so why not listen to the Caldera Closed instead? To be honest, I don't love the aesthetics of the stock oak(?) with dark accents, but I spotted a CC in Queensland Maple that was pure class and beauty (see rearmost headphone in photo, below), and asked to audition that one. The first thing that struck me was its general congruence with the ZMF house tuning. Overall, I concluded that the CC was somewhere in-between the Caldera and the AC, but actually closer to the latter. In this instance, closed/open seemed more differentiating to me than planar/dynamic.

zmf.jpg

I played a few more tracks and rotated through the cans trying to get a better handle on their relative strengths and weaknesses, including Flight of the Cosmic Hippo by Bela Fleck & The Flecktones to test sub-bass extension (AC lost there, but the Calderas were pretty even). I also briefly tried the suede pads (about which I'd heard great things) on the Caldera (open), but didn't like the feel on my skin, or their (dulling) sonic impact, and quickly returned to the thick pads. At some time toward 11:30, the room filled up and got noisy, and I became aware that someone wanted my spot, so I called it a wrap and thanked Bevin on my way out.

So what were my grand conclusions from this session? Of the three headphones, I have a clear preference for the Caldera (open) overall. It's the most technical of the lot, and probably the most versatile across genres. It was too close between Atrium Closed and Caldera Closed for me to declare a preference there, not to mention that I didn't get to experiment with different pads, let alone different amps. Apologies for my vagueness, but given the number of variables in play and my very limited past exposure to ZMF cans, I lack ultimate conviction in my assessments. My gut feeling is there's probably a Caldera (open) in my future, but pursuing that isn't on the front burner because........


My next stop was a return to the Raal 1995 table where the Immanis had so wowed me the day before. Someone was listening to the Immanis on the VM-1a, but Raal also had an iFi iCan Pro setup available, so I got to audition the Magna (and subsequently the Immanis) on that. For some reason, possibly some test track burnout, I decided to forgo plugging in my laptop and just listened to some tracks from Raal's limited local playlist. Word was that the Magna sounds similar to the Immanis, but has a more intimate soundstage. I looked for a track that might be flattered by intimacy, and chose Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, which I hadn't heard in years, but always liked. My first impression was "wow", which soon morphed into "WOWWW!!!". What I was hearing was pure seduction in audible form. So much space between instruments and vocals, so much purity and richness of sound. I didn't need or want to analyze what I was hearing, as much as to just admire and enjoy it. The Magna, in other words, was "getting out of the way of the music" in spectacular fashion. The Immanis became available, and I immediately switched it over onto the iCan chain and listened to the same track. The stage was a bit wider than with the Magna, but otherwise they sounded surprisingly similar to me. If you can't afford the Immanis, you should sleep well in the knowledge that you're not missing much at all with the Magna. OTOH, if you're a sucker for a grand, cinematic soundstage (I plead guilty, Your Honor!), the Immanis may well be worth the extra scratch to you.

The next tracks in succession after Wicked Game were Seeya by deadmau5 and Return to the Sauce by Infected Mushroom, both of which feature molar-rattling bass. And the Immanis delivered the low-end goods with both power and startling definition! Overall, it was a tour de force performance, and in the space of fifteen minutes I confirmed what I already suspected yesterday: that I have to own one of these cans. This is what the future of headphones sounds like, and it's available for purchase today.... except that I'm the rare Head-fi'er who doesn't need to own the latest, greatest toy by yesterday, not to mention I've got a potentially large tax bill looming over my bank account in about a month. So, I'll contact Danny in the near future and we'll plot the best way forward. I'm leaning heavily toward the Immanis, but would ideally like some listening time at my home with it and the Magna before choosing which model to live with. Now if I may, a few random thoughts. I think the comfort of both headphones is excellent. Clamp is moderate, but not loose, and they're relatively light. Build quality and feel is about 9 out of 10 for me. One minor nit is if you tilt the cups outward, the pads kind of catch on the frame. I'd also like to see a tad more clearance between the head strap and frame, but I never felt the latter contact my head, so I guess it's adequate. I didn't play around too much with adjusting the cup positions, as the headphones just seemed to fit me very well as they were.

One clarification: I noted a high noise floor when listening to the Immanis through the VM-1a amp on Saturday. When I pointed this out to Danny the next day, he said the issue was something with the DAC, and that the amp is actually very quiet, especially for a tube amp. I will also note that in my very limited testing, the Immanis didn't sound markedly better on the VM-1a compared to how it sounded on the iFi iCan Pro, which did surprise me a little. But you probably shouldn't put too much stock in that assessment given the circumstances.

Having been so impressed with the deadmau5 and Infected Mushroom tracks on the Immanis, I was curious how the Hifiman Shangri-la would handle them, so I walked back over to the Mimic Audio room, where it was connected to the Viva estat amp. I noted yesterday that I thought the Shang sounded better on my home chain than it did on the Viva amp, in part because I had no way to add a bass shelf with the show setup. In any case, I listened to the Infected Mushroom track on the Shang, and it did a highly credible job with it. Staging was a bit narrower than on the Immanis, but detail retrieval was on par. Bass impact on the Shang was quite good, and frankly better than I expected, although Hifiman headphones (including Susvara) tend to image bass somewhat narrowly and centrally. In live music or on good speakers, bass usually sounds much broader, which may be one reason many listeners perceive Hifiman cans as bass-deficient. (Sorry, I'm just spitballing rhetorically here.) In any case, the track sounded a bit more organic on the Immanis, which I preferred, but I also enjoyed it very much on the Shang. Suffice it to say that the show conditions and variables make it impossible for me to opine meaningfully on the relative merits of the Immanis and Shangri-la, except that if you index highly for bass, Immanis is the clear choice.

At that point, I headed up a couple floors to the Revel & Rye Restaurant and ordered a pepperoni, mushroom, and arugula pizza. The atmosphere was relaxing, the seating was plush, and the pizza was delish. I felt refreshed and ready to sprint down the homestretch, to be recounted in the next installment of this sprawling, overlong opus.

Ciao for now.
Thx for this journey through your Canjam Experience. :)
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 7:42 AM Post #396 of 687
Thx for this journey through your Canjam Experience. :)
Indeed! @BassicScience Thank you for the wonderful writeup. You know how to CanJam with class!

After bringing home the Bokeh from CanJam and spending a few days with it I am thoroughly impressed with how accommodating it is with my gear and DAP. Very smooth and pleasant closed-back. I'd recommend trying it later at your next CanJam.
 
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Mar 13, 2024 at 9:56 AM Post #397 of 687
The CanJam circuit is much more than the actual 2 days of the show. It is as much about listening in private rooms, outside shops and set ups people bring into their apartment or private suites.

That is not what CanJam is for the majority of people who attend. Your group of friends who travel to all the shows is not representative. No one invited most of us to any private rooms, other the Sennheiser's limited HE-1 demos. Most people who attend CanJam NYC are from the tri-state area. They come into town, go to the show, and go home.

I want to be clear that I don't mean that as a slam. It is great that you have built this little IRL community that revolves around Head-Fi. Absolutely nothing against that, although it would not be for me.
 
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Mar 13, 2024 at 11:00 AM Post #398 of 687
What a fantastic weekend! Thanks to everyone who travelled in from near and far, this CanJam was our biggest show to date, and surely one for the ages! Mark your calendars for CanJam NYC 2025, which will take place on February 22-23, 2025 once again at the NY Marriott Marquis.
:beerchug:
I'll be there :beerchug:
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 11:09 AM Post #399 of 687
CanJam NYC 2024 - Day 2 (Sunday morning)

(WARNING: Possible verbosity ahead! Proceed at your own risk. :beyersmile: )

Having stayed up late on Saturday to post my Day 1 impressions, I could have done with some extra sleep, but it wasn't in the cards. My wife had an 11 AM flight back to Cali from JFK, and I headed downstairs around 8 AM to send her off with a Lyft and a peck on the cheek. I then popped into the hotel Starbucks for an oat latte (extra shot, extra hot) and a small bottle of Evolution OJ, which totaled $20. Everything is bigger in New York, including inflation apparently, but at least the latte was superb (per moi, a Starbucks non-fanboy)! I spotted DMS and GoldenSound by the espresso machine sort of silently staring into space, and speculated they might be nursing an even greater sleep deficit than I was. :relaxed: Then I headed back up to my room, leisurely consumed a Bobo's oat bar along with the drinks, took a leisurely shower, broke down and carefully bubble-wrapped/packed my audio gear, folded and packed my clothes, headed down to the bell desk to check a full-size and a carry-on suitcase, and then officially checked out at the Marriott reception counter at 10 AM on the dot. I'd slept and showered with my CJ weekend entry wristband intact to avoid waiting in line again, so from reception it was quickly down two floors via the escalators and right on into the show.

In my somewhat amorphous preshow planning, the one thing written in ink (metaphorically) was hitting the ZMF room on Sunday morning, when show attendance would be sparsest. And this strategy was rewarded in spades, as there were only a handful of other showgoers in the room upon my arrival. Bevin greeted me warmly with a smile, and I explained that my main goal was to try different pads and/or the mantle mesh on the Caldera (open), a headphone which had greatly impressed me during a home audition a few months ago. Unfortunately, with stock pads and no mesh (all I had on hand then), I couldn't get past the upper midrange peak on some tracks with horns and electric guitars, in particular. I also wanted to audition the Caldera Closed and the Atrium Closed to see if I might like them more than my DCA E3 (I typically only own one closed-back headphone at any given time, as my use cases are limited). I was also curious about the Atrium Open and the Bokeh, but I knew the arrival of the horde was inevitable, plus I had a lot of other listening planned for the day, so I abstained on those.

A quick anecdote: I think my very first CanJam was in LA in 2016. I had my sights firmly set on the new, "astronomically-priced" (LOL, in retrospect) Focal Utopia, had auditioned it first thing, and was 99% sure I'd be going home with one. But I wanted to hear as many other cans as possible to be positive Utopia was indeed the one. At some point, I sauntered by an 8' table (!) in the middle of the main floor (!) manned by Zach and someone else (Bevin?), with two or three beautifully-crafted wooden headphones on display. I'd seen some online chatter about ZMF, and knew they already had something of a devoted fan base. I enjoyed their then-current models, but was looking for a more reference tuning that day, and thus went home with a Utopia. I recount this story to highlight the magnitude of ZMF's ascent in a scant 7.5 years, likely unprecedented in the history of this industry. It's a true testament to Zach and his team's passion, skill, work ethic, and great customer service. Kudos and congratulations to ZMF on their success.

Back to Sunday morning: Bevin asked me which of the multiple (!!) available listening stations I'd prefer to use. There's an old saying about wine: "When buying, serve bread. When selling, serve cheese". In the context of audio, solid-state is bread and tubes are cheese, and I prefer to conduct initial auditions on solid-state. The best available option seemed to be a Holo May/Bliss stack, which had the added advantage of being situated in a far corner with the least foot traffic and congestion in the room. I'd never auditioned either of these components previously, although I did buy a Holo Spring 3 about a year ago to see what all the buzz/hype was about. I thought the timbral accuracy and soundstage depth (tested on speakers) of the Spring 3 (which only operates in NOS mode internally) improved quite noticeably in conjunction with HQPlayer, but not enough to usurp my D/S DACs, and given the extra hassle of having to use HQP, I sold it quickly. The May does have internal over-sampling (OS) and I made sure it was engaged. When auditioning any electronics for the very first time, it's tremendously useful to do so with a very familiar headphone, and I had my Susvara in my backpack. Stupidly, I neglected my own advice, mostly because I wanted to proceed quickly before it got crowded. It turned out I got in almost 90 minutes of listening before the room got crowded and loud, so in retrospect I really should have started with the Sus.

There was an Atrium Closed next to the Holo Stack, so I started with that. I've read that the AC is a headphone with prominent bass (that doesn't extend too low) and a "fun" tuning. I like bass and having fun (sometimes), so bring it on, AC! :relaxed: I plugged in my laptop and started with Joshua, my Miles Davis track du weekend, not really expecting jazz to be in the AC's wheelhouse. I was pleasantly surprised that the bass, whilst having excellent presence in the mix, was not bloated or bleeding into the midrange at all. The AC's tuning is a notch or notch-and-a-half toward warmth, but it's well within the bounds of my preferences. Treble extension and air was very good, as was apparent detail. While neither was top of the class, I didn't feel like anything was missing, per se. The music was all there, and I was highly engaged with it. I moved on to a couple of rock tracks (My City Was Gone by The Pretenders, and In World by Television), which confirmed that the AC renders electric guitar harmonics convincingly and without harshness, and generally knows how to rawk... dude. The AC also sounded excellent on Teardrop by Massive Attack, again showing its chops on female vocals. In summary, the AC was an involving and very enjoyable listen on the sampling of tracks above. But how does it compare to the DCA E3, and am I going to switch, you may be asking? Honestly, I'd have to listen to the AC on my own chain(s) and at greater length to definitively answer that, but the fact that it's not open-and-shut for the E3 (which I love) speaks very highly of the Atrium Closed! The E3 probably has bigger staging, is somewhat more neutral and detailed, costs a bit less, and folds up compactly for travel. The AC has more personality, is easier to drive, can be tuned with different pads, and is more attractive (to myself and, I suspect, the majority). The weight and comfort of the two headphones are roughly equivalent. Given that I don't need a closed-back all that often, and I already own the E3, inertia dictates that I'll stay with that for the time being.

By this time, a Caldera (open) had long since been delivered to my station. It was stock oak, and Zach subsequently informed me that it was sporting the thick pads, although he had to look them over a bit to be confident in that assessment, and they indeed didn't seem too much thicker than stock to my untrained eyes. I was also interested in trying out the mantle mesh, but this pair didn't have it, so in the interest of time efficiency I proceeded without it. I played the same tracks as I had on the AC, and heard more of a resemblance in the tuning between the two than I expected. The Caldera was more resolving, and staged bigger, but it was just a matter of degrees. The good news was the midrange peak that had bothered me on the Kingwood Caldera with stock pads didn't really bother me with this pair, although a bit of extra energy was still perceptible there. OTOH, the capacious stage and weightiness of bass notes that I loved so much in my home demo were less in evidence at CanJam. This version of the Caldera was less idiosyncratic and more "mainstream", which I considered a mixed bag. The differences were hardly surprising given the different woods, pads, chains, listening environments, and times of day (I listen mostly in the evening at home), but their magnitude did perplex me a bit.

I clearly wasn't going to solve that mystery on the spot, so why not listen to the Caldera Closed instead? To be honest, I don't love the aesthetics of the stock oak(?) with dark accents, but I spotted a CC in Queensland Maple that was pure class and beauty (see rearmost headphone in photo, below), and asked to audition that one. The first thing that struck me was its general congruence with the ZMF house tuning. Overall, I concluded that the CC was somewhere in-between the Caldera and the AC, but actually closer to the latter. In this instance, closed/open seemed more differentiating to me than planar/dynamic.



I played a few more tracks and rotated through the cans trying to get a better handle on their relative strengths and weaknesses, including Flight of the Cosmic Hippo by Bela Fleck & The Flecktones to test sub-bass extension (AC lost there, but the Calderas were pretty even). I also briefly tried the suede pads (about which I'd heard great things) on the Caldera (open), but didn't like the feel on my skin, or their (dulling) sonic impact, and quickly returned to the thick pads. At some time toward 11:30, the room filled up and got noisy, and I became aware that someone wanted my spot, so I called it a wrap and thanked Bevin on my way out.

So what were my grand conclusions from this session? Of the three headphones, I have a clear preference for the Caldera (open) overall. It's the most technical of the lot, and probably the most versatile across genres. It was too close between Atrium Closed and Caldera Closed for me to declare a preference there, not to mention that I didn't get to experiment with different pads, let alone different amps. Apologies for my vagueness, but given the number of variables in play and my very limited past exposure to ZMF cans, I lack ultimate conviction in my assessments. My gut feeling is there's probably a Caldera (open) in my future, but pursuing that isn't on the front burner because........


My next stop was a return to the Raal 1995 table where the Immanis had so wowed me the day before. Someone was listening to the Immanis on the VM-1a, but Raal also had an iFi iCan Pro setup available, so I got to audition the Magna (and subsequently the Immanis) on that. For some reason, possibly some test track burnout, I decided to forgo plugging in my laptop and just listened to some tracks from Raal's limited local playlist. Word was that the Magna sounds similar to the Immanis, but has a more intimate soundstage. I looked for a track that might be flattered by intimacy, and chose Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, which I hadn't heard in years, but always liked. My first impression was "wow", which soon morphed into "WOWWW!!!". What I was hearing was pure seduction in audible form. So much space between instruments and vocals, so much purity and richness of sound. I didn't need or want to analyze what I was hearing, as much as to just admire and enjoy it. The Magna, in other words, was "getting out of the way of the music" in spectacular fashion. The Immanis became available, and I immediately switched it over onto the iCan chain and listened to the same track. The stage was a bit wider than with the Magna, but otherwise they sounded surprisingly similar to me. If you can't afford the Immanis, you should sleep well in the knowledge that you're not missing much at all with the Magna. OTOH, if you're a sucker for a grand, cinematic soundstage (I plead guilty, Your Honor!), the Immanis may well be worth the extra scratch to you.

The next tracks in succession after Wicked Game were Seeya by deadmau5 and Return to the Sauce by Infected Mushroom, both of which feature molar-rattling bass. And the Immanis delivered the low-end goods with both power and startling definition! Overall, it was a tour de force performance, and in the space of fifteen minutes I confirmed what I already suspected yesterday: that I have to own one of these cans. This is what the future of headphones sounds like, and it's available for purchase today.... except that I'm the rare Head-fi'er who doesn't need to own the latest, greatest toy by yesterday, not to mention I've got a potentially large tax bill looming over my bank account in about a month. So, I'll contact Danny in the near future and we'll plot the best way forward. I'm leaning heavily toward the Immanis, but would ideally like some listening time at my home with it and the Magna before choosing which model to live with. Now if I may, a few random thoughts. I think the comfort of both headphones is excellent. Clamp is moderate, but not loose, and they're relatively light. Build quality and feel is about 9 out of 10 for me. One minor nit is if you tilt the cups outward, the pads kind of catch on the frame. I'd also like to see a tad more clearance between the head strap and frame, but I never felt the latter contact my head, so I guess it's adequate. I didn't play around too much with adjusting the cup positions, as the headphones just seemed to fit me very well as they were.

One clarification: I noted a high noise floor when listening to the Immanis through the VM-1a amp on Saturday. When I pointed this out to Danny the next day, he said the issue was something with the DAC, and that the amp is actually very quiet, especially for a tube amp. I will also note that in my very limited testing, the Immanis didn't sound markedly better on the VM-1a compared to how it sounded on the iFi iCan Pro, which did surprise me a little. But you probably shouldn't put too much stock in that assessment given the circumstances.

Having been so impressed with the deadmau5 and Infected Mushroom tracks on the Immanis, I was curious how the Hifiman Shangri-la would handle them, so I walked back over to the Mimic Audio room, where it was connected to the Viva estat amp. I noted yesterday that I thought the Shang sounded better on my home chain than it did on the Viva amp, in part because I had no way to add a bass shelf with the show setup. In any case, I listened to the Infected Mushroom track on the Shang, and it did a highly credible job with it. Staging was a bit narrower than on the Immanis, but detail retrieval was on par. Bass impact on the Shang was quite good, and frankly better than I expected, although Hifiman headphones (including Susvara) tend to image bass somewhat narrowly and centrally. In live music or on good speakers, bass usually sounds much broader, which may be one reason many listeners perceive Hifiman cans as bass-deficient. (Sorry, I'm just spitballing rhetorically here.) In any case, the track sounded a bit more organic on the Immanis, which I preferred, but I also enjoyed it very much on the Shang. Suffice it to say that the show conditions and variables make it impossible for me to opine meaningfully on the relative merits of the Immanis and Shangri-la, except that if you index highly for bass, Immanis is the clear choice.

At that point, I headed up a couple floors to the Revel & Rye Restaurant and ordered a pepperoni, mushroom, and arugula pizza. The atmosphere was relaxing, the seating was plush, and the pizza was delish. I felt refreshed and ready to sprint down the homestretch, to be recounted in the next installment of this sprawling, overlong opus.

Ciao for now.
Fantastic writeup, thanks!! Were you auditioning the Shang Jr or Sr?
 
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Mar 13, 2024 at 11:13 AM Post #400 of 687
Fantastic writeup, thanks!! We're you auditioning the Shang Jr or Sr?
The Shang Sr was in that room. I've heard it better than it was presented at the show but one must consider show conditions and equipment will impact perceptions. Plus the obvious personal preferences.
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 11:25 AM Post #401 of 687
How to Start a Headphone Business by ZMF is up:



I noticed someone else was recording so I only grabbed a couple of seminars this go around, hopefully they'll post them here! This allowed me to spend more time on the floor and get some great footage and impressions of the booths. :beerchug:
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 11:40 AM Post #402 of 687
Hey everyone, I just shared the:

Ask the Reviewers AMA from this NY Canjam to my YouTube just this morning. Took a bit to get the audio right, but I think it turned out ok.

Sorry for the wobbly video at times. I switched between camera resting on my knee, to holding it. Next time I'll bring a tripod.
Fun side note...by the end of the AMA my left ass-cheek was dead asleep 😆
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 11:41 AM Post #403 of 687
Hey everyone, I just shared the:

Ask the Reviewers AMA from this NY Canjam to my YouTube just this morning. Took a bit to get the audio right, but I think it turned out ok.

Sorry for the wobbly video at times. I switched between camera resting on my knee, to holding it. Next time I'll bring a tripod.
Fun side note...by the end of the AMA my left ass-cheek was dead asleep 😆

Thanks!! Did you happen to get the talk on psychoacoustics or see if someone was recording?
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 11:47 AM Post #404 of 687
Thanks!! Did you happen to get the talk on psychoacoustics or see if someone was recording?
Are you referring to the Susan Rodgers talk at the DCS room? If so, I caught it, but did not record the entire event. To be honest, when I record I don't listen as well and I was really interested in what she had to say. Hindsight, I could have watched later like I am with the AMA.
 
Mar 13, 2024 at 11:52 AM Post #405 of 687
My first NY canjam (of many) was a ton of fun - perhaps I made a mistake by starting with the Warwick Aperio 😂 - will post our photos soon!
 

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