I had the chance to stop by the 2012 THE Show as well, while I happened to be in the SoCal area (well, specifically San Diego) for about a week. Drove up from San Diego and attended the show for just 1 day, Saturday 6/2. I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity to listen to some of the latest headphone-related gear, which I did as quickly as possible. Some of the gear that I was able to listen to included: SR-009/EC Electra, HD700, HD800 (yet again), LCD-2 and LCD-3 (on some new amps), HiFiMan HE-400, and the new Schiit amp & DAC. I ran into a couple of unexpected surprises too, which I'll write about later....
My impression of the show overall was actually fairly positive. I hadn't been to the inaugural 2011 show and had never been in OC (that is, Orange County) before either so I had no idea what to expect. It was a nice area, decent enough mid-size hotel, and a pretty good vibe. It was organized well too. Coming after my experience with RMAF since 2007, it was obviously a lot smaller, but about as busy - there was tons of foot traffic while I was there.
I did have my camera to take a few pics. Since I was in a hurry to speed through the show, I actually put my DSLR on auto mode instead of using full manual as I usually do.
For now the only equipment impression I'll offer is on literally the only pair of speakers I bothered to sit down and listen to at the show (seen in the 3rd from last pic), which were the PMC IB2S in the combo Dynamic Sound Systems / Plinius / Analysis Plus room. This room sounded surprisingly good to me. The source was the brand-new Plinius Tiki network DAC (based on the CD-101, I was told, and ~$4750 in the USA) and the amps were by Plinius too. I commandeered the iPad transport for some music I know pretty well - Massive Attack, and Goldfrapp, for a trip-hop bass test, and man did these speakers belt it out! I was amazed that they actually did justice to this type of music! (Because there are few speakers I've heard that do.)
The Plinius Tiki looked like a really interesting DAC. I'm officially tempted to buy one, as I've been wanting to plug my OII/BHSE into my PC to be able to listen to some 24/96 material I have on it. If I could listen to my 24/96 material with a source that sounds just like my CD-101, that would be so much better!
HeadRoom's vendor table w/ balanced LCD-3 and HD800
- AKG K340 on Eddie Current Balancing Act (source: Sony XA5400ES). While I was at the EC table, I noticed someone nearby was carrying his own headphones, which appeared to be the AKG K340 (and in superb condition I might add - the owner said he was the original owner and had owned them for 20+ years). Always a surprise to see the K340 anywhere since it's out of production and really not discussed much on Head-Fi, and one of the better OOP headphones too, IMO. It's the sort of headphone you really don't see much these days, even at meets. I asked if I could listen to his pair, and he obliged, so I plugged them into the Balancing Act to find out what they sounded like on a really nice amp. I'd sorta forgotten what the K340 sounded like as it'd been a while since I last heard a pair and wasn't disappointed. I thought the combo sounded great - clear throughout the spectrum with a nice balance, nice treble, and no major sonic complaints. I was almost certain it wasn't the bass-heavy version of the K340 since it seemed to lack some bass quantity though. The K340 is one of the few headphones I still respect & appreciate and my recent experience reinforced that opinion. I think if I weren't a stickler for not owning OOP headphones, I'd probably re-acquire a pair, well if I had a high-power amp to drive them too, of course.
The unexpected surprise here was that I thought the K340 was still a great headphone even with all the new headphones that have come out - good enough to go toe-to-toe with some of them. And now that headphone amps have actually grown more powerful over the years with higher output ratings, I suspect that there are a lot more amps now that can easily drive them.
- AKG K550 @ HeadRoom's table. I almost missed these completely at the show and got a quick opportunity to listen as I was leaving. The only reason I wanted to hear these was because they were closed headphones, which I admit to still having a curiosity for.
To make it short, they weren't terrible, but they weren't that good either. Based on my short listen, I thought they were roughly on my "average" scale, at best. I can't really go into more detail as I listened very briefly on unfamiliar music. There was something about them that just screamed average-sounding.
- Stax SR-009 (EC Electra & Sony XA5400ES in balanced mode): I felt like the SR-009 deserved another chance from me with the only other commercial amp brand that I respect other than HeadAmp.
And I have to say this setup sounded really good. Again, I just have to say how much this headphone reminds me of the SR-007 and Qualia 010 at the same time - it's sort of like an electrostatic version of the Qualia, for me anyway, except with more mid-range and bass quantity (but sacrificing the treble a little). I listened to some of my reference music that I brought and this setup just sounded absolutely awesome. As I'd previously heard the SR-009 at RMAF 2011 on the BHSE and XA5400ES, to my ears and foggy memory, it seemed to sound no different and just as good.
- Senn HD700 > HeadRoom Desktop Amp > Marantz CD-67SE: I used some of my own music to check this headphone out. Not that I really had any interest to buy one, just wanted to hear it to find out what it was like. I thought they were average, and I mean that in the most negative sense possible. For $1K headphones, these flat-out were unacceptable-sounding. Then again I also think the HD800 is vastly overpriced too. The HD700 sounded like $500 headphones, at best, to me. They were sort of like a smaller-scaled version of the HD800 (smaller soundstage, less air span) but without the clarity and frequency extension, and subtracting some sonic texture at the same time. I think anyone who can spend up to $1K would be better served by either the LCD-2 r2 or some other headphone.
The HD700 made me think of my Audio-Technica AD2000, but that wasn't because of any sonic similarity. I thought of the AD2K because I was mentally comparing the HD700 to it and I kept thinking how much better the AD2K was, despite its own sonic limitations.
- Senn HD800 and Audeze LCD-3, balanced @ HeadRoom (HeadRoom BUDA & UDAC > Wadia CDP): The only reason I wanted to check out both of these was to find out if driving them balanced on a proper dual-differential source (because my own source isn't), on a different amp than mine, would change my relatively neutral opinion of them. Note for those who haven't read any of my previous write-ups: I've heard both headphones balanced on my own setup at home, which consists of the Plinius CD-101 and HeadAmp GS-X. The setup did not change my opinion. I came away from it thinking the HD800 and LCD-3, while probably very good for most people, were still just merely relatively above-average to me and not anything truly excellent that could remotely compete with my electrostatic setup.
- Audeze LCD-2 r2 & LCD-3, balanced @ Audeze (Auralic Taurus & ARK MX+): I wanted to find out the same thing as at HeadRoom's table - would the Auralic gear change my opinion of either the LCD-2 or LCD-3? Nope, they didn't. The LCD-3 still sounded a lot like what I expected it to. The LCD-2 also sounded good but not like anything unexpected. There was no "transformation" for me.
- HiFiMan HE-400 & Audeze LCD-2 r2 @ Schiit (Mjolnir & Gungnir): I listened to both headphones balanced out of the Mjolnir and went back and forth between them more than once. No, the Mjolnir didn't change my opinion of the LCD-2 either, even out of the brand-new Schiit gear. Out of the Mjolnir, the LCD-2 didn't really sound that much different compared to the other amps I heard. Not that it was anything bad or underwhelming, it just didn't make a difference for me. The HE-400, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. I thought it sounded pretty good and at its price, not a bad value either. It was relatively clear-sounding for me and had a nice amount of treble, with some nicely punchy bass. Compared to the LCD-2, it seemed brighter, and thinner in the mid-range, and it threw a wider & deeper soundstage.
- Audeze LCD-2r2, balanced @ Eddie Current (Balancing Act & XA5400ES): There's a recurring theme here with the LCD-2.
I wanted to see if the Balancing Act would transform the LCD-2 for me. It didn't really do much for me though and the LCD-2 still sounded a lot like it did at all the other vendors' tables. However, I think I'd have to say that out of all the amps I heard with the LCD-2 over the course of the day, I felt like it sounded the best (marginally) out of the Balancing Act. It seemed to have the most fluidity and the widest soundstage with that amp, and the highest sense of tactility too.
If I had to pick the one amp that I felt was best with the LCD-2 at the end of the day, I'd go with the Balancing Act. The HeadRoom, Auralic, & Schiit gear, while probably good, just didn't make an impact on me at the show.
Btw, for anyone who's missed my previously-written opinions of the LCD-2, LCD-3, and HD800, my reviews of them can be found on this page: http://www.head-fi.org/a/asr-head-fi-threads-compendium