2015 RMAF Show Report – CanJam Report (Part Two)

Show report
2015 RMAF Show Report – CanJam Report (Part Two)

You can read part 1 of this report here.

Headphones, Headphones, and More Headphones…

The first time I visited CANJAM the vendors barely populated half of their designated ballroom. At the 2015 CANJAM, there were so many exhibitors that not only was the main room filled to capacity, but the large atrium area in front of the hotel’s primary restaurant was also SRO with headphone and portable audio vendors. Mentioning everyone would be impossible within my word allotment. So here’s the stuff that grabbed me by the ears.

Full-sized Headphones

Stax was not planning to unveil a new headphone at RMAF, but a leak from a Japanese website forced the maker’s hand. Stax had no technical information on the headset other than the fact that it uses a similar driver construction to their flagship SR-009 and the SR-007, but instead of a round driver, it is shaped so it fits in the “traditional” Pro Lambda enclosure and headband. Price will probably be above the $935 SR-507, but below the $2350 SR-007mk2.

Audeze had a constant knot of folk clustered around its new duo of flagship products, the LCD-4 headphone and The King headphone amplifier and preamplifier. Both components share the same price of $3995, but The King has a four-week Indiegogo campaign from Oct. 5 through Nov. 4 where you can pick up one for only $2950. Ten units, priced at $2750 were scooped up within the first several hours—and Audeze raised $40,818 in under a day!

Sennheiser HD-630VB ($499) is an audiophile headphone with a twist. At first blush this over-ear closed can looks like a regular high-quality headphone, but the first tip-off that something different is the cable is on the right rather than the left to accommodate the variable bass feature that can deliver + or – 5dB at 50Hz via a large knurled knob. I gave these easy-to-drive, 23-ohm impedance ’phones a good long listen and while the bass boost feature didn’t float my boat, the sound from these closed cans was excellent.

Fostex T50RP Mk3 ($179) – Fostex T50 drivers have proven to be the components most desired and used by modifiers and rebuilders (they’re found in the such as MrSpeakers’ Alpha Dog and Alpha Prime models, for instance). And so Fostex looked at all the ways other folks had improved their basic design by upgrading the enclosure and then decided to try it for themselves in its T50RP Mk3. Some listeners were so impressed by the results that they claimed the T50RP Mk3 beats all the modifiers’ and rebuilders’ efforts. I’ll wait until I get one in my hands to see (and hear) if that’s true, but even if it only equals third-party efforts, it will be a game-changer for some headphone firms.

Beyer Dynamic DT1770 Pro ($599) – If the Beyer Dynamic DT-770 and the Beyer Dynamic T-1 Tesla had a baby it would be the DT1770. The design combines the shape and ergonomics of the DT770 with a Tesla 2.0 triple-layer compound membrane. This 250-ohm impedance, closed headphone has a sensitivity of 102dB at 1mW at 500Hz with less than .05 percent harmonic distortion. Nominal headband pressure (which is a spec few manufacturers include) is approximately 7.2N. The DT-1770s were both comfortable and excellent sounding. They reminded me of my own pair of DT770s but with more finesse, delicacy, and definition.

HiFiMan, who has made a big splash with its flagship HE-1000 headphones, had a prototype of their newest creation, the Edition X. Although there was no pricing information yet, the Edition X’s frequency response figure of 8Hz to 50kHz coupled to low impedance of approximately 25 ohms means this could be the ultimate HiFiMan headphone for portable use. I listened, I liked, and I want one.

Enigma Acoustics Dharma D1000 – ($1190) The Enigma Acoustics Dharma has a very interesting driver complement that combines an electrostatic element with a paper-based dynamic driver. The electrostatic handles the highs up to 50kHz while the paper cone woofer extends down to 15Hz. The Dharmas sounded glorious and were reminiscent of my old Quad/Cizak hybrid speakers of many years ago, only better.

MrSpeakers Ether C ($1499 - $1599) – If you are looking for a closed enclosure headphone that doesn’t sound like a closed enclosure headphone you need to hear the Ether C. I spent some time going back and forth between it and the open Ether, and all I can say now (before a detailed review) is the differences between the two are less than you would expect. As to the question of which is better overall, that will require some serious, and very enjoyable, listening time.

In-Ear Monitors

Astell&Kern AK T81E Tesla universal in-ear monitor ($899) – Astell&Kern knows how to make superb portable players, but rather than reinvent the wheel and produce its own headphones, the company has partnered with Beyer Dynamic to produce special editions specifically for A&K. At CANJAM, Astell&Kern showed their latest collaboration, the T81 Tesla in-ear monitor. Packaged with the usual A&K panache, these super-lightweight in-ears come with a variety of fit options including three different sizes of Comply foam tips. They sounded great driven by an AK Jr.

Noble Kaiser 10U ($1599) – It’s almost impossible not to recognize the new Noble Kaiser 10U universal-fit in-ear monitor. First, there’s the color: bright red and silver machined aluminum. Then there’s the unique shape. But its inside is equally special with 10 balanced armature drivers in each enclosure. As you might expect, this driver count means that the Kaiser 10U is large for an in-ear, but it was so light and fit so well using Comply medium foam tips that they stayed in place—and sounded super-bodacious—during my listening. These have a ridiculously high “I want” factor.

Unique Melody Maestro ($1419 universal, $1619 custom) – Despite a noticeable language barrier, the folks at Unique Melody demonstrating their internationally desirable Maestro in-ears spoke with a very clear voice. This 12-driver-per-side in-ear uses a four-way crossover design and has 109dB sensitivity. Although I listened closely to detect driver integration issues, I heard none during my audition.

Headphone Amplifiers

Due to space limitations I’m forced to give headphone amplifiers abbreviated coverage. Besides the Audeze The King, which I’ve mentioned during the first section of my report, the other standout headphone amplifiers were from Cavalli Audio. Alex Cavalli displayed two solid-state prototypes, one of which will be an Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign soon. I listened to both amps and was mightily impressed.

The last product in this report actually isn’t a headphone amplifier. Rather, it’s an active, battery-powered impedance-matching device made specifically for balanced-armature in-ears. The UE Line Drive ($149) is optimized for the UE900s and custom in-ear Ultimate Ears monitors—and it’s designed to work with any balanced-armature design.

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