Member of the Trade: In-Ear Fidelity
- Feb 3, 2011
Many thanks to the headfi staff, especially @third_eye for all their efforts in organizing another amazing CanJam. Thanks also to each and every one of the very friendly and helpful vendors there. You guys all rocked Only problem - there was way too much kit there to properly audition in only two days and I didn't cover more than about 20% of what I'd hoped to hear.
Some thoughts in a rough chronological order of my two days there:
Great venue. OMG, this place had best bottled water I have ever tasted. Or was I just experiencing a placebo effect?...
This is the "upgraded" version of the Xelento, made by Beyerdynamic for Astell & Kern. The Xelentos are one of my all-time favorite headphones, so any possibility of an improved Xelento meant this IEM was first on my list, so I headed straight for the A&K booth at 10am Saturday.
The previous A&K T8ie was only a fairly subtle tuning difference from the Xelento. That's not the case here - the T9ie is a totally different headphone. They have almost completely gone away from any type of V-shape to what looks more like a Etymotic type of neutral/reference sound. That's fine - I'm sure a lot of people will love it. But for me, it feels like all the Xelento magic is gone. The low-end is good, with a gentle rise into the sub-bass, but the mids have been almost completely removed (bear in mind the FR graph below is raw, so DF compensated it'll look like there's a chunk missing from the mids) and the treble rolls off a little sooner than those of the Xelento. The Xelento's aren't perfect - they have a slightly heavy mid-bass. But I feel A&K went a bit too far here. If I want an Ety-like signature, I can use an Ety. Etys are one third of the price, have better treble extension and better isolation. Sadly, I think this one's a miss - at least for me
P.S. A&K also had some "Billie-Jean" IEM on display. To me it lacked low end punch and didn't appeal at all, so I didn't even bother to measure them. Sorry, A&KVery nice headphone. For the price, an amazing headphone. Super light-weight and comfy too. I lack the equipment to measure over-ears, but it sounded great. Allegedly this one's very close to the Harman target response curve.Thankfully the race to be the first IEM with 256 BA drivers per side seems to have been abandoned. Most manufacturers are now concentrating on a smaller number of BAs with the occasional dynamic driver or estat/piezo combo. The Khans are very pleasant-sounding headphones - perhaps a tad bright for me, and with the usual fit issue I always have with multiple drivers stuffed into one large enclosure. But I can easily see how people like the sound of these:
P.S. In the end, I didn't eat any of their twizzlers.They look really weird. They sound amazing. Completely different to any other headphone experience I've had. I would have loved to have been able to A/B these against the HE1. The HE1 was/is great, of course, but both HE1 and SR1a had controlled environments (RAAL didn't allow us to use our own source material) with a very noisy environment for the RAALs. That doesn't make for the easiest of comparisons. But I'd have to say the SR1a was the best sub-$60,000 audio experience I had at CanJam.The new mystery IEM from 64 Audio looks uncannily like the Tia Fourte. It sounds uncannily like the Tia Fourte. Its frequency response also looks uncannily like that of the Tia Fourte (many thanks to 64 Audio for allowing me to measure them):
Now I've seen larger differences in FR than this just by swapping L and R earbuds in the coupler, or from changing cables. I would say the Fourte ii (yes, I know they haven't named it yet, but c'mon, it's obvious) is a step in the right direction, but the changes from the original Fourtes are ridiculously tiny. If you "upgrade" to these from the first generation Tia Fourte, you're pretty much just paying for a placebo effect. You'll get a much bigger change in FR by keeping your gen 1 Fourte and just swapping out your eartips.I continue to be very impressed with Rob Watts and the effort he puts into getting every last decimal place in accuracy from his DAC designs and I'm a big fan of the Hugo2 as a portable source. I'd previously auditioned Chord's new M Scaler using my KSE1500s, but honestly hadn't heard that much of an improvement. This time I had Rob guide me to make sure I was listening to an appropriate test track and was pressing the right buttons on the M-Scaler and was using appropriate headphones. This time... I also couldn't hear a significant improvement. I wouldn't say there wasn't a change in depth, but it was soooo subtle to my ears. In a portable device I could use every day, maybe. In a desktop device I'd rarely use, that's a tough call, even if money were no object.Big thanks to Sennheiser for actually allowing us to listen to some of our own source material this time (via Tidal). That was much appreciated. Yes, it's a very, very good headphone. I'd still have liked the opportunity to A/B it against some other TOTL headphones to see just how much better it really is. I think an SR1a/HE1 shoot-out would have been fun and instructive.The Empire Ears Valkyrie is not a bad IEM. It's just not entirely to my (admittedly) picky taste in FR. The Empire Ears Wraith is a little more interesting - more balanced/neutral sort of sound. Both the Valkyrie and the Wraith are fairly large, multi-driver IEMs, so the usual fit issues apply. Overall, I still prefer the sound of the older EE model, the Legend X. Legend X is still physically large in comparison to my Xelentos, but it's an awesome-sounding IEM:
Many thanks to @McMadface for letting me listen to his pair of these, right after he had purchased them. I had a pretty limited listening time with them, because we were in such a rush on the Saturday, but they sounded very good to me with the bass switch up. An IEM with a built-in EQ (bass/mid/treble) - very cool!Very competitively-priced electrostats. Their booth location was pretty noisy at the time I was there, but from what I heard they sounded fine. At this price ($500, albeit without an electrostatic amp), I'm sure these will sell.I've been a fan of DUNU for a while and was wanting to try out both these IEMs. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the Titan 6 to fit in my ears. During some unsuccessful tip-rolling, one of the supplied SinFit Cp360 tips came off in my ear canal and fishing that out was a fun experience. I then ran out of time to measure it, so I can't give any impression on the Titan 6, other than to tell you that its silicone tips can easily slide off its nozzle. The DK4001 is much better, ergonomically, than anything I've ever seen before from DUNU. It's just beautiful, with 5 drivers packed into a very tiny shell. I really like the build of this IEM and had no issues at all with fit, comfort or seal. Its sound was very good, but, to my ears, still not quite at the level of the Xelentos. I wish that resonance peak were pushed a little farther north:
There has been lots of buzz around this IEM. For my taste, it rolls off slightly too soon at both ends, but otherwise it's not bad:
FiiO's FH7 also seems to have got a lot of people excited. I wasn't quite as thrilled by it. It's not bad, but it's a little bright in its stock (neutral) configuration and FiiO hadn't brought any of the other filters with them, so I was only able to listen in that "neutral" configuration:
I didn't get time to try the FiiO M11, but I did get a quick look at the M5. Wow - nice device! Of course, kudos really goes to Shanling here for their M0, which is clearly what FiiO have copied with the M5. But the M5 has some additional features, its UI seems is snappier and the clip case (that comes with the M5) looks to be better than the one you can buy (separately) for the M0. Retail price will apparently be around the same as that of the M0 (~$100).This audition didn't go quite as planned. The demo QPM instantly ate my 256 Gb microSD card, wouldn't read it, and then stubbornly refused to give it back. Apparently this was a known problem with this particular QPM model, but not known to the folks manning the TSAV booth. I still don't know if Bruce ever managed to extract it. I fear it ended up in that place in the sky where all good SD cards go when they die...For a large-ish multi-driver universal IEM, this fit my ears remarkably, unusually well - almost like a custom IEM. Apparently Jomo scanned many ears in order to find an average ear shape, and they claim the Trinity should fit about 75% of people. It fit great on me. The sound wasn't exactly what I like (a bit too much mid and lower treble for me), but despite the dynamic driver for the lows, they are not vented, which means they actually have very good isolation:
This one was a real puzzle for me. I'd heard the SP1000 before and was kind of meh on it. The SP2000 specs (on paper, at least) still aren't as good as something like the DX220 (which is less than 1/3rd the price). A&K were kind enough to let me measure a couple of SP2000 (stainless steel and copper variants) on my RME unit, and the measured specs came out even worse - IMD and THD higher than those of my V40 smartphone. Its z-out is disappointingly high, given the price. The first copper unit I tested also had a sizable channel imbalance - but these were pre-production units, so (hopefully) units sold will have more careful QC. But holy crap, the SP2000 sounds amazing. This literally gave me a sleepless night. I cannot figure out why it sounds so good when it measures so poorly. I asked Rob Watts about this and he suggested this may be down to some distortion that I simply like the sound of. (In comparison to the DX220, the QP1R also has high levels of THD, but also sounds very good to me.) I'd love to find out what's going on, but in the meantime, who cares? In terms of pure listening enjoyment, the SP2000 is, to my ears, a wonderful-sounding DAP. This is the one product from CanJam that I'm actually thinking about pulling the trigger on. (It releases in August.)Almost forgot - I also listened to a new $300 earbud from Moondrop which sounded really great. Apparently this was an upgrade to the Liebesleid, but the vendor's English wasn't all that good, so I didn't catch its name. Anybody know? (It looked exactly like the Liebesleid, with that notch on the L bud.)
Apologies to all those vendors I didn't get to. Don't take it personally. There just wasn't enough time! Next year though...
I'm surprised they let you measure all those