Apex Hi-Fi focuses on high-performance headphone amps/preamps and amp/DACs, with all sales and marketing tasks handled by industry veteran Todd Green of Todd The Vinyl Junkie (TTVJ) fame.
For CanJam, Apex rolled out its ambitious new Teton valve-powered, single-ended, output –transformer-less (OTL) headphone amplifier/preamplifier ($5,000), which—during a too brief listen—was sounding very fine indeed.
In case you are wondering, almost all Apex amps are named after mountains and/or mountaineering terms and thus promise, um, “peak” listening experiences.
Astell & Kern
Astell & Kern is a division of iRiver, which—almost overnight—has soared to prominence on the strength of its popular AK100 and AK120 portable high-resolution player/DAC/headphone amps. The AK100 and AK120 have been well-received thanks to their well-conceived features sets, excellent sound quality, and incredibly chic, fashionable industrial designs (which look so cool that they might even induce a bit of design envy among the Apple folk).
For CanJam, however, Astell & Kern took a slightly different tack, and launched the new AK10 USB DAC/headphone amplifier ($299), which one Astell & Kern spokesperson described as “an AK100 without the display screen or onboard file storage.” Thus, the AK10 is positioned as a perfect add-on for listeners who like to store and play favorite music files from a PC, Mac, or tablet device. Like its bigger siblings, the AK10 is beautifully designed and a joy to look at or to use (it is also astonishingly compact.).
Many audiophiles (this author included) consider Audeze’s LCD-3 planar magnetic headphones as a “Top-3” product that is a very desirable device through which to enjoy music. For some listening contexts, however, one potential drawback is that the LCD-3 is an open-back design that is, of course, not suitable for use in noisy environments.
Never ones to rest upon their laurels, however, the Audeze team has been hard at work creating a new very high-performance planar magnetic headphone called the LCD-XC ($1,799). The XC features a new driver (different from the one used in the LCD-3) that incorporates a “waveguide-like” frame said to improve efficiency and minimize unwanted interactions with the headphone cup. The result is a closed-back ‘phone that offers plenty of noise isolation, yet that retains (most of) the open, energetic, and highly articulate sound of the LCD-3. Cool.
Interestingly, having created a new driver for the LCD-XC, Audeze went on to apply the driver in a new open-back model, called the LCD-X ($1,699). Both the LCD-XC and LCD-X are easy to distinguish from the flagship LCD-3 in that both feature machined aluminium frames in lieu of the hardwood frames used in the earlier LCD-2 and LCD-3.
Finally, Audeze showed a proof-of-concept prototype of its upcoming DDA-1 DAC/headphone amplifier with—get this—built-in DSP correction. In theory, the DSP system could be used to achieve hyper-accurate, ultra-flat frequency response with any of Audeze’s headphone models, but might also allow user-adjustable voicing curves. At show time, price and time of release information for the DDA-1 were not yet available.
The Chinese firm AURALiC Ltd. was out in force at CanJam, showing its impressive new VEGA Digital Processor ($3,499), which is a combination high-res DAC/balanced-output preamplifier, coupled with the firm’s TAURUS MkII fully balanced headphone amplifier/preamp ($1,899). For optimal sound quality and versatility, the VEGA supports PCM files up to 384/32 resolution, DSD64 and DSD128 files, and DXD files, while offering six digital filter modes to allow users to fine-tune the VEGA’s overall sonic character.
But brand new for the CanJam show were the firm’s cool new Gemini 1000 ($995) and 2000 ($1,995) combo headphone stands/headphone amplifiers. The upper sections of the Geminis features sleek, curvaceous headphone stands produced under license from Klutz Design, while the bases of the stands incorporate powerful, Class A headphone amps. The Gemini 1000 uses a Class A single-ended design while the Gemini 2000 features a Class A balanced-output design.