Canlanta 2013 Impressions
May 6, 2013 at 4:26 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 3

Theogenes

Headphoneus Supremus
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Note: I had intended to post this in the original Canlanta thread, but it's now locked for some reason. At any rate, below is the post I had planned to make
 
[size=small]This was my very first headphone meet, and second audio meet of any kind, and I've got to say-- this was a BLAST!! Travis did an excellent job bringing in a lot of different gear that you simply don't have the option to listen to elsewhere (you just aren't going to waltz into an audio store and listen to a set of Qualia cans, for example). My mom and I both attended (as we are both music lovers who enjoy the gear side of things as well), and it was awesome to get to share the whole deal with her. (If you have any family members who are into music and/or gear, you really ought to bring them to one of these-- it's just a TON of fun!!) I got to meet some pretty awesome people (Travis, of course, was incredibly nice and really enthusiastic about the entire event; Brent [MexicanDragon] was a really cool guy who went out of his way to bring in ousiders like me to the conversation with more well-established Head-Fiers in attendance; Dale from Aurisonics was a really interesting guy who obviously knows significantly more about audio reproduction than I could ever hope to; Neal [n_calvin] had Metallica, Massive Attack, Radiohead and Alice in Chains all on two demo discs he brought, as was every bit as cool a guy as that would suggest; and so many other people!), which is a big part of the fun for me. It was also great to have Headamp, Aurisonics, JH Audio, and Astell & Kern represented there-- for a relative noob to the hobby, getting a chance to put a person and a face to some of the companies that make high-end personal audio a possibility was not just a positive experience, it makes me significantly more likely to purchase from these guys-- so thank you very much for taking your time to bring down and share your awesome gear with us!!! [/size]
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[size=small] During and after the meet, my mom and I discussed in some detail what we heard, what we liked and disliked. Knowing that auditory memory is a highly fickle thing (and also knowing my love for verbose note-taking), I decided I would make some notes about the gear I heard for myself later so I'd have something to refer back to. About halfway into typing it, it occurred to me that somebody else might be interested in my notes as well, so I decided to post them. If them seem a bit disorganized and opinionated, then they simply reflect their author, so please forgive them their grammatical (and other) faults. If any of the statements I've made are inaccurate or misleading, please let me know and I'll gladly correct them. Otherwise, please enjoy my thoughts on the gear, in no particular order!
 
Aurisonics ASG-2: Got a chance to talk to Dale and another Aurisonics guy from across the pond (Peter, I believe?). We didn't get to talk for a particularly long time, but Dale is an interesting guy and obviously puts a lot of thought into his gear. We talked a bit about his design and manufacturing process, and the steps he's taken to make it exceedingly difficult for someone to copy his designs. He talked about working with different musicians and actors to create CIEMs, and we even found that we used the same audiologist for impressions in Nashville (small world!). I got a chance to listen to the ASG-2 twice; once shortly after arrival, and once for a more extended period a few hours later. They were running the demo through a Fiio E11 (which I have and about which I feel somewhat lukewarmly), but the ASG-2 still sounded very impressive. (During my longer subsequent session I used my GS3 as a source into the Meier PCSTEP, and the improvement was noticeable). It has a variable bass control knob that Peter was kind enough to demonstrate for my mom and me, and although I found the bass to be completely overbearing even at halfway, I actually found this feature to be potentially pretty useful (unlike the bass adjuster on the IE8, which I find to be gimmicky and not particularly useful-- I've never turned it up from its lowest setting). At the lowest bass setting, the sound of the ASG-2 was clear and highly detailed, with a  bass response that seemed just shy of neutral. I preferred the sound slightly above the minimum setting, which gave the bass a lot of punch and impact while not overrunning the midrange. The ability to change the bass response to taste could be a boon to travelers and others in high-noise environments, as the bass response seems to be the first thing to go when outside sounds abound. My only potential reservation here is that when the bass setting was increased to the max, I could hear people talking around me a good deal easier, meaning it reduced the isolation, which could be problematic in louder situations. Realistically, though, I don't think many people will ever come remotely close to maxxing out the bass on these, so I doubt it will be much of an issue. 
 
The description that kept running through my head while listening to the ASG-2 was everything I like about balanced armatures, but with an vastly improved bass response. While driving down to the meet, I listened to the Fischer DBA-02 Mk.II, and the ASG-2 sounded to me like a DBA-02 Mk.II with slightly more refined treble and worlds-better bass. If you like balanced armatures for the clarity and detail of the midrange and treble but dislike the underwhelming bass, these are likely going to be a slam-dunk for you. I believe Dale said these would be around the $500 range for the universals (if I'm mistaken here, someone please correct me, as I didn't write it down), and at that price, these are going to be really competitive. In comparison to the JH13FP, I found the highs slightly more emphasized and the bass a bit more impactful on the ASG-2, which suits my preferences. The JH13FP seemed more cohesive, and while I would overall say the JH13FP was probably the "better" IEM by a small margin, I thought the ASG-2 offered a significantly better value. My mom later said that of all the things she listened to, there were only two that she felt pretty confident she would own in the future: the Woo Audio WA7, and the ASG-2. I was looking around trying to get a feel for pricing before we'd even left Atlanta, if that tells you anything. The ASG-2 is an IEM that needed to be made, and I'm glad it was. 
 
HiFiMan HE-6: I went to the meet really interested in hearing a few specific cans, and the HE-6 was high on that list. (I got hear several others from my list, including the SR-009, SR-007, and some Grados, but the T1 and HD800 weren't available, unfortunately). I'll just say that these are obviously world-class headphones from an SQ perspective, and that I will absolutely be owning a pair at some point (hopefully soon). In fact, I thought they thoroughly outclassed the Qualia and R10 headphones in nearly every respect, and I liked them a good bit more than the LCD-3. I got to hear them from a vintage Sansui 9090DB and from one of Justin's headamps (GS-X2, I think?), and they are just phenomenal. They don't have quite the mind-blowingly good bass the LCD-2 has, but they are MUCH better in the treble, with none of the darkness or recessed sound that so defines the Audezes. This is one of the first headphones I've heard I would rather have than my LCD-2s, and that's saying something. If you love the Audeze but find them a bit too dark (as I do), then you owe it to yourself to hear the HE-6. Incredible. 
 
MadDogs w/ Alpha Pads: I was surprised by how good these sounded. I didn't get to listen to them long, but they are a no-brainer recommendation for a closed can in the $300 price range (along with the Momentum). My only reservation about them was that the sound was a bit dark-- but the comfort and impressive sound quality at that price point pretty much negates this complaint for all but the most dark-averse listeners. I hoped somebody would bring a set of LFF Paradox to compare, but unfortunately there weren't any present. My initial impression is that these are a bit better overall than the Momentum for sound quality, but nowhere near as attractive. Also, if one was into listening to a lot of bass-heavy music, the Momentum would probably be a better fit. But the Mad Dogs held their own quite well IMO.
 
Sennheiser Momentum: I had purchased these a few days before the meet and was surprised to see several other pairs about (I think three other people had them as well?). Long story short, these sound GREAT for $350, and are an absolute steal at the prices one can find with a bit of digging (mine were $230 refurbished from Amazon). They strike me as being exceptionally well-conceived and executed perfectly upon that vision: they are visually very distinctive and attractive, they isolate pretty well (although not HD25-well), they are quite comfortable and feel rather luxurious especially for the price, and they manage to create a sound that is applicable to a wide range of music and different listening tastes. For example, listening to rock and metal (Arsis' Unwelcome and Clutch's Blast Tyrant, for example), they manage to capture the texture and tone of the guitars reasonably well, and are fun to listen to. The bass there, while a bit elevated, is not objectionable in the least. Switch to Massive Attack, however, and the bass suddenly becomes GREATLY increased without sounding muddy, indistinct or overblown. I'm guessing they kept the frequency response fairly calm until you get to the really low stuff and then increased the response almost exponentially. This means that you can enjoy rock 'n roll without feeling like the bass is an annoyance and really go bonkers with bassy tracks when you want to. For the more casual consumer who wants better sound but realizes Beats probably aren't it, this is a perfect suggestion-- the sound quality is obviously better (and yes, I have actually listened to Beats before) and it still has the ability to pound out impressive bass on tracks that benefit from it. I actually prefer these to the HD650s-- which is probably at least as much because I don't care for the HD650s as because I like the Momentums. In summary, these are a slam-dunk-- buy your mom a pair for Mother's Day and walk away feeling like the best kid ever
 
Audeze LCD-3: I didn't listen to these for long (they were sitting between the HE-6 and Stax SR-007 and SR-009, you do the math), but I found them to be pretty much what everybody else has said: they're like the LCD-2, but a bit better. (Although I'm leaning towards saying I still like the LCD-2 better for overall bass performance). If you like smooth, you'll love these. If you like treble, you probably won't. I'm not sure I'd trade my LCD-2 for these, and I personally preferred the HE-6 by a good margin. But I can see why people absolutely love them-- they are just incredibly inviting and pleasing to listen to.
 
HiFiMan HE-400: How these things are $400 is an absolute wonder to me. These are KILLER cans for that money. Justin had them running from a PICO DAC/amp out of an iPad (via CCK), and although the bass was a bit reticent, I chalked it up to a result of powering a planar dynamic from a portable unit in meet conditions. Again, a no-brainer for somebody in this price range. I thought they were superior to the Mad Dogs, but I can see somebody preferring the darker sound (and closed-back design) of the Mad Dogs in some circumstances. Somebody without Stax money to burn but interested in great sound should definitely consider these!
 
HiFiMan HE-500: I was glad I got to listen to these. After reading a good deal about these and the HE-6, I wasn't sure if one or the other would be a good fit for my preferences. After listening, I liked the HE-500 quite a bit, but I decided I wouldn't trade my LCD-2s for them. While they sound very good (and I like their tonal balance better than the LCD-2), they lack the additional clarity, fluidity and emotional rightness of the HE-6. Prior to attending the meet, I had thought about possibly snagging a pair of these as a stop-gap prior to consolidating my gear down to one or two top-notch cans, and I still see how this is viable for some people. However, I decided that as good as these are, they aren't going to satiate what I now recognize as HE-6 lust. Great cans, though.  
 
Stax SR-007 & SR-009 from BHSE: All the ludicrously high accolades you've heard about these are pretty much exactly right. They are clearer, more effortlessly detailed, and emotionally involving (without being euphonic) than anything I've ever heard. In switching back and forth between them, I always found myself initially liking the SR-007 more, but liking the SR-009 after a couple minutes of listening. The SR-009 seems to be a bit better balanced and maybe a touch better in the mids than the SR-007. When I first sat down to listen (I grabbed these several times when people walked away), I was fortunate to hear a Radiohead album I was extremely familiar with. The SR-009 just does everything right: the texture, tone, detail, soundstage, and coherence of the sound were all pretty much perfect. I've read a few reservations about the bass, but I thought the bass was excellent. While not quite as impactful as the LCD-2, it wasn't the anemic MIA sound that I've heard some associate with Stax gear--  the bass was most definitely there, and it sounded GREAT. My mom and I agreed that if we could have anything we heard that day, it would easily be the Stax from the BHSE. I preferred the SR-009 and she preferred the SR-007, but naturally, reasonable people can differ. 
 
Stax Lambda (didn't see the model number): I didn't get to listen to these for long, but wow, I was really impressed. These were easily 85-90% of their vastly more expensive brethren in sound quality, and were more comfortable than their bizarre-looking design might lead one to think. I could listen to these pretty happily in my own setup-- and might just do so, one day. 
 
JH Audio JH13FP: The folks at the JH Audio table were great to talk to and very knowledgeable. They had universal versions of a few of their IEMs available, and as I wasn't particularly familiar with their lineup, I asked which one had the most neutral response. The young lady pointed me towards the JH13FP, and as I wasn't able to get the CLAS they had up and running (missing a cable I needed, ironically enough), I listened straight out of the headphone jack on their iPad. The thing that struck me about the sound was how cohesive it was-- the music just seemed to work together somehow. I initially thought the treble was a bit understated, but later chalked this up to being in comparison with the ASG-2, which has a bit of a treble emphasis. Overall, I thought the sound quality of the JH13FP was excellent, and a bit better than the ASG-2. Personally, though, I'm more likely to get the ASG-2, given the price point, availability of universals, and variable bass control for use in different scenarios. One interesting tidbit: the young lady intimated that there might be a universal version of their IEMs coming out in the future. If so, color me highly interested-- particularly if it brings the price point down a bit. 
 
Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies: These were hooked into a pair of HD650s, and while they sounded very enjoyable playing Norah Jones, I found it to be a bit too lush for my tastes. As such, I might have been a bit more dismissive than is wholly warranted. (I'm not a big fan of the HD650). My mom listened to my T5p on the WA7, a combination I didn't get to hear, and had nothing but superlatives for the sound she heard. Of all the gear we got to listen to, she found only two items she feels confident she will purchase at some point, and the WA7 was one of them. In fact, I'm going to go on record as guessing she gets one before any other audio purchases, which means a lot (she's a music and gear junkie like me). I believe the gentleman who brought this said he had the $100 tube upgrade option from Woo as well. 
 
Beyerdynamic DT880 from Aripower Extreme: I must be a Beyerdynamic type of guy, because I really enjoyed the sound of these. I didn't get to listen for long, but I found the sound clear, involving, and not overly tubey in a way I really liked (the Aripower is a modified Singlepower Extreme, and is thus tubed). The 880s had velour pads on them and they were quite comfortable as well. For what these sometimes go for used, I'd call them an absolute bargain. I believe the gentleman who owned the DT880 said they were the 600 ohm version. 
 
HiFiMan HM-601: I listened to these briefly on a pair of Beyer Pro cans (990 32 ohm, I think?). I thought it sounded pretty good, but there was something slightly artificial about the sound that kept me from being fully pulled in. I'm not sure if it was the DAP or the cans though, and I was listening to unfamiliar material (soundtracks mostly). But it definitely got me thinking about the possibility of using a dedicated DAP while on the go instead of my phone-- an option I'll have to consider more fully in the future. 
 
Astell & Kern: Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to listen to this. Each time I walked by, someone was already giving them a listen. I heard really good things about the sound, though. 
 
Sony Qualia and MDR-R10: Given their consideration as end-game cans and general unobtanium status on Head-Fi, I was very glad to have the opportunity to listen to these (from a Larocco amp, I believe). But honestly, I didn't find either one of them to be overly impressive. I liked the R10 a great deal more on Metallica's One, but preferred the Qualia quite a bit more on gentler material. I didn't find either of them to provide appreciably better sound than the HE-6 or even my T5p. I am very grateful to have been afforded a few minutes of listening time with these, and it's helped me understand my different taste and priorities from others in the headphone world, but these just weren't for me, especially at their astronomical price points these days. 
 
Anyway, them's my thoughts. If there was anybody else there that would like to post their impressions as well, I'd love to hear them!! Thanks again to Trav and everybody that made Canlanta 2013 such an AWESOME event!!
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EDIT: I somehow completely forgot to mention one of my favorite items from the whole event, the Stax IEMs that MexicanDragon brought. They definitely weren't the most comfortable things I've ever tried, but the sound was absolutely stunning. Detail, clarity, bass response, these things had it all, and for roughly $700 new with both the IEMs AND the energizer, I'm not sure there's much out there that can compete on a sound-quality-per-dollar-spent criterion. The only thing I didn't like was the fact that they're open-backed, as that undermines the utility of IEMs for me most of the time. But the sound that they make is pretty much good enough to look past the comfort and design issues IMO. Extremely impressive little buggers!!!
 
May 6, 2013 at 7:10 PM Post #2 of 3

TwoTrack

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^ Great report.  My thoughts:
 
Good event. Lots of good sound. Couple of observations:

Headamp stole the show with their Stax 009 + Blue Hawaii amp + Oppo 105 which remains the best sound I have heard in portable audio for three years, now updated with the newer Stax of course.

The X Sabre Matrix DAC looked and sounded incredible for $1,100. Amazing Ayre-like cut aluminum build quality. ESS 9018 reference chip. USB/AES/COAX input.

The Schiit Lyr with my PS500s were a great combination. So was the ALO Pan Am. The Lyr that Ham Sandwich had installed Gold Lion tubes in was really special. May need to buy one of these.

My friend Chuck had an EAR CD player with a Cary integrated with lots of tubes driving a Stax Gamma system. Terrific sound.

The Astell & Kern hirez player with Wolfson chips was at the show and I like the sound but at $700 was too expensive imho for what it was. Maybe $400-500.

The Headamp Pico portable was also a good match with the PS500s.

I enjoyed yet again the Audeze 2 and 3s but I think my PS500s sound a bit more open in the midrange. The low end is much better on the Audezes but they are just not comfortable. Very big and heavy.

The modified Fostex TR-50 cans sounded very good.

The Aurisonic IEMs and JH Audio IEMs both sounded great but I like the Aurisonic better at the $500 mark.

Bottom line: Lots of enthusiasm around portable audio. Definitely a growth area for quality audio.
 
May 6, 2013 at 10:27 PM Post #3 of 3

Theogenes

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My apologies, there is already a Canlanta 2013 impressions thread here. At the request of another forum member, I'm going to copy my thoughts there, and I'd encourage anyone else with impressions to do the same. Hope this didn't cause too much confusion!
 

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