Official 2017 SF Head-Fi Meet Impressions (August 19, 2017)

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  1. third_eye Moderator

    Post your Official 2017 SF Head-Fi Meet impressions and photos here!
  2. bugstone
    I would love to hear some impressions of the Mr. Speakers Electrostatic vs the Ether Flow.

  3. robm321
  4. bflat
    Great meet for the short time I was there. Unfortunately I only had a max of 2 hrs available today so I keep my auditions fairly focused and mostly on trying out headphones.

    Focal Utopia - not really much to add that is already known but very pleased to see that AK SP1000 drives them with ease in balanced. Great details, smooth mids, and very layered low end. Intimate but well rounded sound stage. Very comfortable to wear. Even with the promotional discount, have to think hard on the price performance.

    Mr. Speakers Electrostats - very brief listen as there were many folks waiting. Magnificent! Hard to describe the high end details but there are layers and layers yet somehow very smooth at the same time. I also feel there's plenty of low end extension and quantity. Best headphones at the meet imho. Downside is that the demo was paired with a BH amp. Even with Mr Speakers expecting to sell for "less than $3K" the added cost of a good amp adds some risk to overall investment. For those who already have an amp, I think it's a no brainer.

    Sony Z1R - not my cup of tea. Lower mids and upper bass is too much for my tastes and I can't really hear sub bass because of that. Mids were fine but highs were sort of all over the place. By that I mean there wasn't a smooth frequency curve and gentle roll off so on different tracks I thought highs were fine, but others a little glaring. But I didn't hear a continuous peak in the highs as others have reported. Sound stage was sort of weird and little difficult to explain. It sounded spacious, but the mids were still somewhat in the head or floating right in my face. Amazingly light for a headphone that size and very comfortable. I do want to spend more time with the Sony though since I only used the SP1000 in my audition. There is definitely "something there" to want me to try different sources and amps.

    Audeze LCDi4 - very impressive product from Audeze. They literally shrunk their LCD into an IEM. It really gives an open back experience. Note, there is basically zero isolation, but at least sound bleed is far less than full size headphones. This is a warmish mids to low end and laid back, but detailed highs. Truly a fatigue free listening experience. For those who love Audeze, these would be the perfect portable.

    Woo Audio WA8 - last time I listened to the WA8, it was the prototype one year ago. Hearing the production version with the built in DAC, the sound is more balanced and more extended on the highs than what I remember. I described the prototype as very thick, muscular sound, but the production is tighter and faster in the lower mids on down. Very impressive transportable and a great choice if you want a very compact desktop all-in-one DAC/Amp.

    I had hoped to give the new Noble IEMs a try, but unfortunately they were not there in the morning. Hope nothing is amiss. As always, it's great to see familiar faces in the community and I continue to admire the great company owners and representatives of their respective brands. I can't imagine how hard these folks work but you can really see how passionate they are about their products and bringing the best experience to their customers. Really gives us 9-to-5ers a lot to think about LOL.

    Odin412 and barondla like this.
  5. Left Channel
    majo123, JaeYoon and barondla like this.
  6. Left Channel
    More photos, all rooms:










  7. Left Channel
    One more, at the 1MORE booth: I waited for permission from that little poop's papa before posting.
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2017
    Alcophone and majo123 like this.
  8. JaeYoon
    Wow. so sad. I live 1 hour from SF. I could've made it lol.

    Totally did not get to go :c but would've loved to hear Questyle QP1R
    Shure or bust likes this.
  9. bosiemoncrieff
    Thanks Ethan for a great Head-Fi meet and an illuminating discussion of headphones and meet organizing. Increasingly, I hope there will be a bifurcation between the more commercial trade-show that is CanJam and the more member-driven meets that, hopefully, will not require a glamorous hotel. While the Doubletree SFO Burlingame is located close to the airport and is easily accessible by car, it is quite hard to reach by any other means. Though I understand this is more of a car vs. public transit question, my passion for urbanism requires me to request a more urban location for meets and CanJam events in the future. CanJam SoCal had the right idea—it was smack in the middle of the city—such that even though the venue was a bit sterile, I accessed easily from Venice via the 733 and a fifteen minute walk by coffee shops and so on.

    San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties are by and large suburban wastelands designed for cars and therefore hostile to people. Downtown San Jose, while much further than SFO, is nevertheless a more attractive location to me than a hotel isolated like an island along a freeway bayshore dotted with hotels and office parks.

    The meet featured just one member rig (thanks again, Ethan, for your excellent DNA Stratus, Utopia, and Susvara). I feel guilty for not bringing my Schiit Stack, as I think Schiit was not represented at all. As per my usual, I will give impressions of gear in no particular order and in bullet form.

    Warning: my comments only concern classical. If you do not like classical music, please disregard. Also, they were colored by my mood, biases, experiences, what I had for breakfast (banana nut muffin and vegetarian quiche from Thorough Bread and Pastry off Church and Market in San Francisco), etc.


    • I heard Ether E in prototype form in LA in the Quiet Room fed by Yggdrasil. Why they didn’t bring an Yggy today I have no idea. The DAC MrSpeakers had was intolerably sibilant; Birgit Nilsson and Wolfgang Windgassen were made so painful that I had to turn down the volume more and more as the audition went on. The build quality is sturdier than it was in March. The headphones are liable to start making static at random times, but if you tap the grill it goes away easily. The sound signature has the “bottom” that e-stats are sometimes said to lack, though it does not stray far from neutrality. I am loath to say more, however, as the DAC was so totally deficient as to make the audition barely productive.
    • The other new e-stat is the Sonoma Audio system. It is reasonably transparent and reasonably neutral. The soundstage is forgettable. The ear pads are not the last word in comfort—a bit firm and with noticeable clamping force. At $5,000, they are outclassed by a number of systems; HD600/Jotunheim/Mimby comes damn close, and while I won’t say it definitively beats it, it approximates the sound for a fraction of the money. Sonoma Audio’s e-stat problem is that the cans just sound boring and are priced at a used-car level. The levels of detail retrieval do not beat SR-009 or SR-007 or K1000 or HD800 or Utopia driven by an adequate system. They do several things quite well, but are priced so aspirationally that they demand a “killer app” which they do not possess. Their coming to market represents “adding a leaf to the tree of knowledge” but not a competitive product.
    • SR-007 was a first-listen for me (thanks HeadAmp!) and the more Hifiman & Co release new headphones every ten minutes, the more I admire Stax and Sennheiser for taking time to R&D products before bringing them to market. 007 is a remarkably relaxed and easy listening experience, more of an HD650 to 009’s HD800 (think tone, forget soundstage).
    • I confirmed yet again that I’m not a holy grail-er; I’m a flavor-er. SR-007/009 make a remarkable pair, and I can’t imagine owning a BHSE and not owning both. Reference and euphony are for different moods, and the marriage would undoubtedly be a happy one. The transparency, musicality, relative comfort, and stature year after year has established these as two of the greatest of all time.


    • Susvara, we meet again! Condition were better than in LA and my audition was much, much longer.
    • The funny thing here is that you get more for your money with Sonoma. I heard Susvara on the Stratus, on GSX, and on Woo’s new 8k toy that I will never ever buy. In each case, it was veiled, lacking in detail retrieval, not especially transparent, and frankly dull. Like HE-6, it is very power-hungry, comparable with my K1000. But after HD800, for instance, I find myself straining to notice details that HD800 rendered plainly. In Kleiber’s Tristan Prelude, for instance, even though the bass line was slightly louder during the climax than on HD800, the airiness of HD800, pinpoint imaging, extraordinary instrument separation, and gobs of detail demonstrated it to be the clearly technically superior headphone.
    • If Fang thinks this is the future of headphones, he’s gone off the rails as far as classical is concerned. It’s a middling contender. Though it sounds a bit out-of-head, it also carries an overriding faintness of detail that remains no matter how loud (and I pushed it to nearly ear bleeding levels) it gets, a sense that the sound is far-off and distant. I did not A/B them, but if memory serves, it is a step backward from HE-6.
    • For $6,000, it is a bad joke worthy of opprobrium and contempt.
    • LCD-4 has a clear identity. I don’t especially like that identity (out of GSX) but it gets that it’s the bass king and has a rather impressive sound. It doesn’t really work for classical and has half-hearted treble, but I respect its project. For $4,000, though, I can’t say it delivers on the sound. I would stick to LCD-X, preferably used (or just get the HE-6).
    • Omg, Abyss, you are cray cray. Your ergonomics are terrible. Your design is terrible. Your power requirements are absurd. Your sound signature is fat in the bass but still energetic up top. For classical, I found the experience like a house of mirrors. Not neutral. Not accurate. Not especially transparent. But once a year, a delightful joy ride as if on acid.


    • Utopia sounds very, very good. It sounds like an HD600 but better in every way. Better treble, better bass extension, quicker, more detail retrieval, higher ultimate transparency. I enjoyed hearing it on I think four different amps, and though I liked it a lot, I had difficulty seeing it as justifying the cost. I am watching the promotional sale of them for $3k with interest. I think 4k as a misfire, but for 3k they might be able to move more inventory. 2.5k would be a coup.
    • HD800S is very good—in some ways better than Utopia—but ultimately just an HD800 made to appeal to a wider list of genres. It bloats the bass and shrinks the soundstage. Stick with HD800; it’s worth it.
    • I’ve learned to always bring K1000 to meets; it’s a privilege to share its weird awesomeness with fellow enthusiasts. I loved it on DNA Stratus. I didn’t dislike it with GSX. But it was best with Woo’s new flagship amp. Again, priced to definitely not sell, but an excellent piece of engineering despite that. Price aside, probably the best non-electrostatic amplifier out there (but Ragnarok still wins value for dollar).
    • There’s still a K1000 on the classifieds that has been languishing despite its excellent price. If it hasn’t sold, buy it.

    Odds and Ends

    • The DNA Stratus is cool, but I am spoiled by Schiit on power. It has some power, but Rag is half the price and appreciably more powerful. Nevertheless, awesome seductive sound.
    • GSX Mk2 is neutral but a little dry for my taste. One man’s wire with gain is another man’s “meh, lacks personality.” It didn’t live up to its price, though, that’s for sure; again, go with Rag.
    • Chord Dave sounded amazing. Component completely disappeared. Totally transparent. But you should buy Gumby or Yggy, because Dave’s price is not competitive (unless you draw a tech salary, in which case, go all in, get the MSB Select DAC and an Orpheus HE-1). Ditto Hugo.
    • The whole portable music player thing is stupid. I have a portable music player; it’s called an iPhone.
    • Music players came, in 2001, and now, as of a few weeks ago, are dead. Apple has killed off every iPod except the iPod Touch (aka the iPhone without the phone). On the go, ambient noise is so bad that whatever infinitesimal gain over my iPhone there is is immediately negated by one’s environment. Get N90Q. Get Sony 1000X. Or PXC 550. Or QC 35. Mobile rigs consisting of more than phone, transducers, and (if you must) wire are comic enterprises through and through. The concept of such a thing recalls a favorite childhood book of mine, Mrs. Armitage on Wheels:

    Thanks everyone who came. It was great fun.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2017
  10. mahesvara
    The meet was great. I mostly tried out headphones because I had limited time to spend.

    I had the most fun at the Audeze booth where I got to try out the LCD-XC, LCD3, LCD4, and LCDi4. Although the LCD4 is a lot more expensive and the newest flagship, I like the LCD3 and LCD-XC a lot more due to my preference for warm, gooey sound with strong bass. The LCD4 is a lot more neutral. What amazed me is how the LCDi4 is so close to the LCD4. Not my thing though regardless of how impressive the earphones are (which they are!) because I can't use them on the train or at work. The Audeze representatives are among the nicest people I've met :)

    The Ether Electrostat driven by the Blue Hawaii SE is quite amazing with MrSpeakers's hallmark tonal neutrality. Prior to hearing the Ether ES, I have thought the Aeon already produces a full-bodied soundscape. Compared to the Estat, the Aeon sounds almost thin and dull. Dan Clark is a wonderful, friendly host who explained in details what's cool about the Estat, when it's coming out, and what the price range is going to be (less than $3K, but I think many already know that)

    The Susvara at the Woo Audio's booth gives me very mixed feelings. You'd need to turn the volume knob of the WA33 (regular version) past 1 o'clock to be able to drive the Susvara to listenable levels. The Susvara is perhaps the chillest headphones I have ever heard and it makes the Aeon sound unrefined. It's something you listen to while trying to fall asleep. Although it sounds really good, it however is not impressive (to me) by any stretch. I like the Ether Estat a lot more, but this is definitely due to the fact the Susvara is just way too chill. I'd also list it under the over-priced category given that the Ether Estat costs less than half its price.

    I last visited the Sonoma Acoustics room. Their estat headphones are great especially for being a all-in-one system. But the Sonoma headphones also fall under the chill category. I'd say they sounds lovely and very comparable to the Susvara but not something I'd buy.

    If you put a gun to my head and tell me to buy something at the show, I'd buy the Audeze LCD3. It left the deepest impression on me.

    P.S.: I see one person carrying a Chord DAVE around. I really wanted to see it drive the Blue Hawaii but didn't want to bother him.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2017
    Matro5 likes this.
  11. Mkoll
    DAVE + Blue Hawaii driving an SR-007 and SR-009 was wonderful. A true endgame system, for now. I'd like to hear that combo with the MrSpeakers electrostat!

    Hugo 2 + DNA Stratus was a great combo with the Utopia or Susvara. Really lush and detailed sound. I think I preferred the Susvara there by a tad though $6k is cray cray. Spending that much dough should mean getting into electrostatics or speakers.

    I was pleasantly surprised by how good the iSINE10 and iSINE20 sounded, especially the bass response. Quite an accomplishment. But IEMs aren't really my thing.

    Tyll called the LCD-4 a "sonic helmet" in his review and that's a perfect descriptor of it. It is humongous. Sounds really good but you'll get a neck muscle workout if you move your head around. Only slightly exaggerating.

    I was impressed with ZMF's Eikon and Atticus. The Atticus is lush and warm and the Eikon is more neutral. I preferred the Eikon. Got to listen to the upcoming Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid with them and I've joined the drop!

    I've had my eye on Questyle's CMA400i for awhile now and I wasn't disappointed. Bruce from Questyle said they'd be shipping in about 2 weeks.
    Pokemonn likes this.
  12. CANiSLAYu
    First time attending a meet and I had a great time. I spent the most time at the Audeze and ZMF tables. I was truly impressed by the iSine 20 with the lightning cable and Tyll's recommended EQ settings from his review. For my taste I liked it better than LCD i4 driven by my AQ DragonFly Red as I liked the bass better with the iSine 20. I'll be ordering one in the near future.

    At ZMF it was nice getting to meet and talk to Zack. One my my major goals was to try out closed back headphones and I spent a lot of time comparing the Atticus and Eikon. I ended up preferring the more 'fun' Atticus versus the more linear Eikon and picked up a pair in beautiful camphor.

    I also had my first e-stat experience with the Sonoma Model One and the MrSpeakers e-stat. I'll kind of echo what bosiemoncrieff said about them. Clamping force was a bit much and the pads were stiff and very snug on my slightly above average sized ears. What interesting was how it felt like a vacuum when putting them on. Sound-wise, they were nice, but I expected more based on the asking price. I also question the headroom on the amp. It may have been the recording, but I was playing some Rage Against the Machine and had to go to 2 o'clock to get to a listenable volume (not the case with other songs).

    I found the MrSpeakers e-stat much better. I was shocked by how light they were and they are extremely comfortable. I'll echo bflat here. I'm sure the final production model will be a good value for its asking price, but once you factor in an amp it's still a serious commitment. These were a great listen. The best way I can summarize it is how "life-like" they sounded.

    I briefly auditioned the Aeon. I previously owned the Ether C Flow and prefer it to the Aeon. I also don't care for the shape of the cup and it wasn't a great fit for my ears.

    Other observations, I finally got to listen to the Focal Utopia and I was pleasantly surprised. Based on what I've read I thought the bass would be lacking, but it was good quality and sufficient quantity. Also listened to the Susvara and I thought it sounded great, but it's a tough proposition when you can get a used HEKv2 for under $2K.

    Thanks to third_eye for organizing and all of the contributors for making a great event!
  13. Left Channel
    Greetings from the wastelands. I hate to say it but I probably would have selected the SFO location myself, one important factor being the convenience it offered the exhibitors who came from as far away as New York for this small event.

    I cruised up from Cupertino in my little electric vehicle in only 30 minutes, with the environment and my patience no worse for the wear. Downtown San Jose would have been much closer as the crow flies, but it takes just as long to go that shorter distance and park. And in my experience running monthly Meetups around the Bay Area, a San Jose location drastically reduces attendance by San Francisco residents.

    The City of San Francisco, while much more fun to visit, turns almost any event into a full day trip for most folks from the South Bay, and I might not have been able to spare the time. I miss living in SF, but it took Hamilton to get us up there the one time so far this year. [Fade out to the sound of wind blowing across the wastelands.]
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2017
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  14. moedawg140 Contributor
    Mannequin Challenge at the 1MORE booth! :poop: :joy:
    Left Channel likes this.
  15. Matro5
    A quick thank you to everyone at the meet. This was my first dedicated HeadFi meet and I had a great time in the hour or two that I was there. I had my young son with me and everyone was incredibly friendly and kind to him, especially the guy at the Audeze booth and the woman at the Century Stereo booth. Thanks for making us both feel welcome.

    The highlights of the show for me were the LCD4 out of The King at the Audeze booth and the Utopia out of just about everything. I think the LCD4 may have had my favorite sound overall, but the weight is certainly noteworthy. In comparison, the Utopias essentially disappeared on my head. Same with the HD800s, which I also enjoyed, and feel could be the best value on the market. End-game sonics for many at something close to sane prices. The Stax 009s were also sublime out of the HeadAmp, but I only had a few short moments to listen because the little one was ready to head home.

    For comparison, I own the Audeze Sines, HD700s for work, and Grado PS500. I left the show incredibly impressed with what's possible at Summit-Fi, but also unsure that I need to upgrade any time soon. My Sines with upgraded pads are an excellent portable / closed solution for me, and my HD700s out of the Lyr2 are comfortable for hours on end when I need to concentrate at work. After my experience at the SF Meet I know there's more out there, but at the moment I don't know if I want to dedicate all of the time, room and $$ necessary to reach that level.

    We'll see how long that lasts :)
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