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I'm exhausted and recovering, but hope to have my final impressions of the show posted tomorrow.
Your extensive show coverage was amazing so far! Thanks for all the love you showed at our booth!
Thanks! That’s high praise coming from the big guys!
As you know from talking that I do this for fun. When my son and I go to RMAF each year to blog about it here, it’s on my own dime which isn’t as easy on a fixed retirement income. So it’s nice to be appreciated by people who enjoy reading about, and by the vendors. When companies have great products and respond the user’s feedback, I like to treat them well too.
Poor products get a “meh” from me, and then I decline to buy and review the product. But if I like it and buy it, then I’ll usually do a review to say thanks for doing a good job. A couple of times I’ve been given products to review, didn’t like them, and returned them with a list of things to fix. Later on I find out the final release or subsequent product fixes most issues, but I had no idea because I don’t hear back from them again [RHA, Unique Melody, among others).
I worry that there might less interest in RMAF this year now that CanJam has left (turned into HeadSpace). I’d like to see that change, and having support from major vendors like you should help keep up the interest. We still had a great showing this year from dozens of headphone gear vendors.
My next post should cover the DanaCables for HIFIMAN, Momentum 3 and HD660s, and JH Audio 2-pin Bluetooth cables.
Okay, so i’m trying to finish up the items that I promised on Tuesday to cover in my impressions. These are some tables that I spent a lot of time at on Sunday, the last day of the Audio Fest.
I previously stated that I normally recommend that cables are the last thing to upgrade, after focusing on the best headphone and source that you can afford, and then to get the proper amplifier for the headphones before messing with cables if you are not totally satisfied. Headphone and amplifier synergy is important, and a headphone can sound bright and etched on one amp but warmer and smoother on another.
In our experience, my HiFiMan HE-1000 V1 and Edition-X have good synergy with the CEntrance HiFi-M8 DAC/amp, so much so that my son and I both own the HiFi-M8 and Edition-X headphones. We never bothered to change the cables. After hearing the Danacables we’ve changed our minds.
My personal HE-1000 V1 do not have the V2 pad upgrade, and I didn’t have them with me, but in the past they’ve played quite well with the HIFi-M8. The year that RMAF CanJam was outside in tents with electrical generators, while the Marriott was being remodeled, my HiFi-M8 and HE1K V1 was a better pairing than the huge reference amp that HiFiMan brought with them (EF-1000?). The Synergy is just really good with what we picked for mobile hifi listening.
So we tried two different cables by Danaable at their booth with their HiFiMan HE-1000 V1 with V2 ear pads- the Lazuli Reference ($999) and the Lazuli Nirvana ($3500). We used one of our HiFi-M8 and also their own amp, the Head-Space amp. We also tried the less expensive of the 2 cables with my son’s personal Edition-X V2, again with both amps. My son and I spent well over and hour at his table mesmerized by the sound.
(Nirvana with HiFi-M8 4-pin XLR out)
We A/B compared the stock HIFIMAN cable to the Danacable side by side with the two identical HE-1000 playing simultaneously on the same amp. We also later used the same cable with our Edition X on their amplifier and then on our CEntrance HiFi-M8, and compared it to our stock 3.5mm cable by quickly swapping the cables back and forth.
(Lazuli Reference on HE-1000 V1 into Head-Space amplifier)
(cable for Audeze, model unknown)
We came away very impressed. Being on a fixed retirement income, I usually draw the line at about $500 for any cable, and most of my removable aftermarket headphone and IEM cables are affordable cables from Moon-Audio, after switching from APureSound cables. I have a couple of headphones with JennaLabs cryogenic treated non removable cable, but I didn’t have a choice for those modded phones.
The Moon Audio cables typically run between $150 - $600, depending on the cable version, connectors, and type of headphone, and they have all clearly improved the micro-detail on whatever headphone I’ve used them on. With my HD800 their Black Dragon cable smoothed the highs and warmed them up a little without losing any detail or air and space. Meanwhile DanaCables start out at $549 for the Lazuli (600 individual strands of OFC copper litz cable), and the Lazuli Reference that uses double (1200 strands) of the same wire brings that to $999 (2m). It goes up from there. We didn’t hear the lowest cost Lazuli cable, but felt that the Lazuli Reference was a good balance of cost to performance. We loved it.
So, why would I recommend a $999 cable? Well, when we tried it with the $1299 Edition-X it tamed the slight upper midrange peak that can colors the midrange, it improved the bass impact, made the treble sound more refined, and almost seemed to improve their efficiency. I have no explanation, but the Edition-X with Lazuli Reference cable on both our HiFi-M8 and their desktop amp sounded more enjoyable than the HE-1000 V1/V2 pads with the stock cable. Period. I’d rather spend time with the Ed-X/Lazuli Reference combo.
The Edition-X has always been a lively, punchy, and fun headphone that can be driven by just about anything, while the older HE1K V1 are a more laidback and refined sounding reference headphone. But with the stock cable the HE1K seemed to be lacking somewhat in the air and space between notes, almost like listening to a speaker in an anechoic chamber. It sounded more “dead between notes”. But side by side with the same HE1K on the Danacable, the missing ambience and air from the stock cable was more noticeable, but also the Danacable energized the HE1K midrange more to bring out midrange detail. I almost thought I was listening to my newer HE-1000se instead!
Again, I can’t scientifically explain this, but my son heard the same things, and Dana Robbins seems to have heard all of our impressions from other people in the past. He operates out of Colorado Springs, so we’re going to meet for coffee one of these days to discuss his cables more. I hope to get a couple of review samples to spend some time listening with my HE-1000se and HD800s. I’d love to try the Lazuli $549 cable on Edition-X as well. I would devote that experience to it’s own review in the proper forum section.
If I do get a cable for HIFIMAN headphones I’ll try get a Moon-Audio Black Dragon to do a comparison. I already have a Black Dragon for my HD800s, and Silver Dragon for LCD-2 V2 and HE-560/HE-6, but I’m thinking of converting the LCD-2 cable to one for Edition-X and HE1K V1 and selling the Audeze headphones (heavy).
Even if that review doesn’t happen, from this experience I feel that DanaCables is a worthwhile contender and they do have a 30-day money back guarantee, so buy with confidence.
My son and I tried out the $399 Sennheiser Momentum 3 wireless and $499 HD660s and really enjoyed both, one being a Bluetooth noise canceling headphone and the other a mid-fi desktop/transportable wired headphone. Although I’m not so sure the HD660s can be called mid-fi anymore.
I spent more time with the Momentum 3 vs our V-MODA Crossfade Wireless II with aptX than I did to the HD660s, but I did get a good feel for the HD660s last year and again this year. They look and feel like the HD600/650 that we’ve come to know and love. I posted my best pics in the previous posts, and stole these new pics from the Sennheiser website.
The HD660s are a more efficient and easier to drive open headphone, that loses the veil of the HD650 while keeping the lush mids and warm bass, and keeps the crisp detail and space of the HD600. It’s a good marriage of qualities. They come with a single ended and balanced cable, and a 1/4” to 3.5mm adapter. It seems like a very good deal for $499.
I have owned the HD600 since 2009, and love to use them on my Eddie Current ZDT tube amp. I’ve also owned but sold two pairs of the HD650 over the past 10 years, before putting them away for my 600’s despite the upgraded bass of the 650. I also have a brand new set of HD6XX that have been in the box since they arrived from Massdrop last year. I bought them out of FOMO, but I’m reluctant to replace my HD600 with them.
However, the bass slam and crisp treble along with the full midrange of the HD660s would be the thing that might make me retire my HD600, or least let the 660s in bed with them. I’m not sure the HD600 will ever be too old to be relevant.
It wasn’t until Sunday that we got to spend time with the Momentum 3 wireless (M3 from here on). It was more of a challenge, with all of the Bluetooth signals flying around the Colorado Ballroom, to get them connected to my son’s iPhone at the same time as his V-MODA Crossfade Wireless II (Crossfade II from here on). Some people who demo’d the M3 didn’t “forget” them on their phones, and sometime the music would switch to playing something else on an unknown device!
Once we wiped the Momentum 3 to factory settings we were able to listen to them uninterrupted, although the iPhone 8+ still had issues with quickly switching between the two bluetooth headphones for direct comparisons. We found the the M3 to have good bass presence, with impact only slightly behind the V-MODA which are known for their bass. In fact, sometimes the Crossfade II bass is a little too boosted with some program material, although well controlled, and I can imagine that the M3 might be a little more balanced so that problem doesn’t occur. The M3 bass could work with a very wide variety of program material, and was still strong and well controlled.
Obviously the detail and clarity of a wireless headphone won’t match that when wired, but the M3 midrange and treble was also well balanced and clear, making them my favorite Momentum on ear that I have tried before. I’ve often said that the older Crossfade sound signature might be something like what I’d expect from a closed HD650, and so now I think the M3 tone and sound signature would be more like having a closed HD600.
The more recent Crossfade Wireless II with aptX do have better treble and clarity than the original, matching the M3 or maybe with slightly more treble detail if any. The Crossfade II might be more like a closed HD660s when used wired with an amplifier. Unfortunately I did not have time to try the M3 when wired from the HDV820 amp or HiFi-M8 (actually we just forgot). They charge via USB-C cable included, but also have a 3.5mm audio cable, and a carry case to protect them.
The M3 seemed to be lighter weight than the Crossfade II, and maybe didn’t feel as solid as the Crossfade II, but sound isolation was almost as good with noise cancelation turned off. With noise cancelation turned on it was no contest. In the large ballroom the drone of people talking and the HVAC faded into the background with the M3. You can listen to the M3 at lower volumes with the active noise cancelation turned on, and so you’re less likely to become fatigued after a long listening session.
My son wore his V-MODA Crossfade Wireless II on a flight to Japan and back this past January, and he wished that he had the noise canceling feature to remove the plane’s engine drone. I think he had to switch to his JH Audio Custom’s to finish the flight, because he complained that they got uncomfortable after 4-5 hours on the trip (he started asking me about Westone Custom’s temperature sensitive ear tips).
The M3 turn on and off by unfolding or folding them up. This could be an issue for someone who wants to walk around with them hanging around their neck. Fortunately I’m not that person. I was also a little concerned about the headband on the outside of one ear cup digging into the ear pad of the opposite cup when they are folded closed - I worried that this could wear out the opposing ear pad or compress it to prevent a seal when they were unfolded to be used. But the Sennheiser rep said this hasn’t been a problem.
(these are powered up, so will you hear your phone ring if they're not on your ears?)
A very cool feature is that these M3 act like a Tile so that you can find them with the Tile App if you left them somewhere, just like you'd use a Tile tag to find your keys or purse. i was surprised that the Momentum True Wireless don't seem to have this feature, but I thought they did. The TW would be much easier to lose than the M3.
In my report from Saturday at RMAF I posted my impressions of the JH Audio 4-pin Bluetooth cable with my Roxanne Custom IEM. TLDR I loved it. On Sunday I brought my JH 13 Pro and JH 16 Freqphase to their table to try out the 2-pin Bluetooth cable.
I should note that the JH 16 V2 came out a few years ago, and they have been using the 4-pin cable on them since that time, so the 2-pin Bluetooth cable isn’t really built with the older JH 16 Freqphase in mind.
This may explain why my son disliked the 2-pin cable with his JH 16 Freqphase on Saturday, while I loved the 4-pin cable on the Roxanne (well controlled "bass-city" but it responds quite well to EQ down the bass if you want to crank up the volume louder than 50%). With the 4-pin cable the volumes attainable with Roxanne were insane, without clipping or loosening bass. The bass was like two 12” subs in a car with a 500 watt amp, and with the iPhone bass reducer on the bass was like one or two 10" subs in a car on a 200 watt amp. Tight, powerful, and controlled.
But, if I understand correctly, the current lineup with 2-pin cables are the JH 13 Pro and down, and I hear that the JH 11 Pro are their biggest seller. They do offer all the IEM with the 4-pin cable for an up-charge on the lower models. But the 2-pin cable is designed with those IEM in mind.
My son’s comments about the 2-pin were that the midrange was too forward and congested, and the BT cable just didn’t sound clean. I didn’t believe it, because my JH 16 Freqphase are usually so easy to drive with anything and so clean no matter what. But I tried my own pair with the 2-pin cable and I felt the same way as him.
The 2-pin BT cable took the lush midrange and moved it forward but added a little congestion to the JH 16 freqphase, totally unlike how the Angie took the midrange and moved it forward while adding clarity and transparency vs my Roxanne. I'm told its a good match with the JH 11 and 13, so I tried that next.
And yes, with my JH 13 Pro the 2-pin BT cable was JUST LIKE HEAVEN. I mean it’s like they were made for each other! I was totally blown away by the balanced sound and power. It was like using my JH 13 Pro on an external amp instead of iPhone lightning adapter. Without being able to side by side compare the BT to listening wired with an amp, I can’t comment on the final amount of micro-detail, but I certainly didn’t feel like the BT cable was lacking in any way during my brief demo. It was simply beautiful music, and did not require mucking around at all with any EQ.
I was kinda bummed because it means that now I will have to buy both a 2-pin BT cable for my JH 13 Pro AND a 4-pin BT cable for my Roxanne. Oh, I am definitely going to own these. My only concern is that I don't want to risk a JH13 earpiece falling off the 2-pin cable if I decide to wear them with the BT cable hanging off my neck. So far, after 10 years of ownership my 2-pin connector still hangs onto my cables pretty tight, because I don't install and remove cables frequently.
JH Audio also had some of their artwork and styles on display, and I’d bet that they can do just about any faux finish that you want (wood, metal, carbon fiber, stone, plastic, glass). See my Roxanne art with the Angel sitting on my right ear and Devil whispering into my left ear. I provided this artwork from what I found online, and my son did his JH16 Freq just like mine but reversed, so red would be on the right.
So, I failed to mention the PS Audio room, with their new in house speaker system. We really enjoyed the sound, balanced and transparent and spacious, but it was a crowded room and we didn't get to spend enough time there. I'm looking forward to it next year. I have the Perfectwave DAC Mk2 with network Bridge II, and was almost convinced to upgrade the the DirectStream DSD boards. At $2400 show price I still need to wait a year.
I had to add the missing pics to my last post ^
I copied my review from MacBook Notepad and the pics were there, then gone when I posted.
Everyone is out partying this weekend