At CanJam Philips signaled that it is very serious about the high-performance headphone market by demonstrating three new models from its Fidelio range. The demonstration set consisted of the flagship Fidelio X1 ($299), which is in production now, and the upcoming L2 ($299) and the Bluetooth-connected M1-BT ($279). The L2 and M1-BT are due to arrive in Q1, 2014.
Ray Samuels Audio
Ray Samuels is rightly known for his fertile imagination and restless, always-looking-for-sonic-improvements approach to product design. So it is that for Can Jam 2013 Mr. Samuels introduced his new F-35 The Lightning * fully balanced portable headphone amplifier ($499).
* In keeping with long-standing company tradition, Samuels names most if not all of his products after famous manned and unmanned military aircraft.
According to Samuels, the diminutive Lightning is the world’s smallest fully balanced (as in, balanced inputs and balanced outputs) headphone amplifier, but don’t be fooled by the amp’s size. As Samuels demonstrated at CanJam, the tiny Lightning can drive even the most difficult headphone loads with exuberant authority. As Samuels promised with a grin, “it’s a real little butt-kicker,” and so it is.
While Schiit Audio’s name may cause more than a few raised eyebrows (audio “potty” humor, anyone?), their equipment represents, as Hi-Fi+ review Nicholas Ripley observed, “good, honest products at a good honest price.”
For CanJam 2013, Schiit continued in this vein, introducing the Vali subminiature tube hybrid headamp ($119), and previewing the upcoming Ragnarok ($1499), which is billed as a “universal amplifier:” that is, an integrated amplifier that puts out 100 Wpc @ 4 Ohm, but that also works beautifully as headphone amplifier.
The Vali, we noted, produced a hearty, ultra-funky sound that should please PRAT (pace, rhythm, and timing) enthusiasts, while the Ragnarok should be good fun when it emerges as a fully finished product.
Sennheiser introduced two mid-priced models at CanJam: the updated HD 25 Al (for Aluminium) headphone ($329.95) and the HD 26 Pro ($319.95).
Interestingly, the HD 26 Pro is drawn from the Pro Audio side of Sennheiser—not the consumer headphone group. The pair you see in our photos below actually belong to HeadFi.org founder Jude Mansilla, who graciously loaned them to the Sennheiser team so that they might have a set to display at CanJam.
High-res, DSD-capable players were the main focal point of Sony’s CanJam display, with several key models on display. Amongst them were the HAP-S1 high res DSD DAC with headphone amplifier and full-color display screen ($1,000), the somewhat simpler UDA-1 high-res DAC/headphone amp ($799.95), and the very cool DSD-capable portable PHA-2 high-res/headphone amp ($599), which seemed to garner the lion’s share of attention.
Also on demonstration were Sony’s new NDR-1R headphones ($299), which a Sony spokesman said he hopes will become a benchmark at its price point.
For CanJam 2013, though, TEAC was showing its entire four-unit stack of Reference 501 components, including the AI-501DA integrated amplifier, the PD-501HR CD & DSD disc player (which is not, however, an “SACD” disc player), the HA-501 headphone amplifier, and the UD-501 digital media and DSD streamer. In terms of look and feel, these are roughly ¾-size components that, by reputation, are chockfull of performance and features for their relatively modest size and price.
In the past few months Westone has been hard at work revising its two ranges of universal-fit earphones: the UM series and the W series. In the UM range, Westone now offers its new UM10, UM20, and UM30 ‘phones (the UM-30 is priced at $399), while in the W range it offers the W10, W20, W30, and flagship W40 ($499).
Why have two ranges of universal-fit earphones? A Westone spokesman said the UM range is targeted toward and voiced for customers who will likely use the ‘phones onstage to monitor live music performances, whereas the W-series models are intended for use in listening to what Westone terms “mastered music.”
Interestingly, the W40 will replace the critically acclaimed Westone TrueFit 4R, which is a very tough act to follow. The W40 incorporates four balanced armature drivers with a “multi-stage” crossover, all fitted within a new housing equipped with detachable, user replaceable signal cables.
Woo had two active demo areas at RMAF—one in the CanJam area and the other in an upstairs RMAF room.
Downstairs in the CanJam room, Woo was showing a prototype valve-type upgraded power supply for its popular WA7 Fireflies valve-powered headphone amplifier/DAC. Specifically, Woo invited A/B comparisons between a WA7 driven by the OEM solid-state supply vs. an identical WA7 fed by the prototype valve-type supply. The sonic difference, we soon discovered, was unexpectedly large and beneficial. At present, price and availability for the valve-type power supply are yet to be determined.
Upstairs, Woo was showing its spectacular 234 Mono monoblock headphone/loudspeaker amplifiers ($15,900/pair). Interestingly, the 234 Monos can be configured to drive headphones or speakers and to operate with the user’s choice of 2A3, 300B, or 45-series valves. The amps ship with a tray full of beefy, plug-in-type adaptor modules that support the following range of output options: Plate output, LO-z; Plate output, HI-z; Cathode output, LO-z; Cathode output, Hi-z; and speaker output. These visually stunning amplifiers weigh a daunting 60 pounds, each. In our view, the 234 Mono is one of the best sounding amplifiers that Woo Audio makes, which is saying a mouthful.