CanJam SoCal 2016 Report, Part 4

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Headphone amps and amp/DACs
CanJam SoCal 2016 Report, Part 4

 

Wells Audio

Bespoke amplifier builder Wells Audio introduced two new models that will, in essence, represent the ‘alpha and the omega’ of the Wells headphone amplifier line up. At the top of the top table is the new Wells Audio Headtrip Reference head amplifier ($14,000 including an outboard power supply), while at the opposite end of the pricing spectrum is the new Wells Audio Milo (~$1,499), which was shown in prototype form only.

The Headtrip Reference, as you might expect, is basically a hot-rodded version of the already superb Headtrip, while the Milo attempts to capture much of the sound of Wells’ excellent upper-middle-tier Enigma amp, but at a much lower price point.  We predict the relatively affordable Milo will be an instant winner when it arrives in full production form. Note, though, that the unconventional chassis shown in our photos will be changed to something more traditional as the design moves toward full production.


 

Westone

The Colorado Springs, CO-based in-ear specialist Westone showed three significant new products at CanJam SoCal 2016. First up was a pre-production prototype of a clever new self-powered, Bluetooth cable that will be compatible with most of the firm’s newer generation CIEMs and universal–fit earphones and that is expected to sell for about $150. Westone’s Bluetooth cable should arrive on the market around June of this year.

Next, we have Westone’s new Skeleton-series CIEM’s, which are billed as CIEMs “perfect for any active lifestyle.” The Skeleton name derives from the fact that Skeleton-series earpieces do not entirely fill the wearer’s ears as would typical CIEMS; instead, Skeleton earpieces feature and inner section that fills the wearer’s ear canals, per se, but then has a skeletal outer perimeter frame to help reduce weight while accurately positioning the earpiece within the outer ear. The Skeleton models also look too cool for words. There are two Skeleton models: the single-driver S10 ($249.99) and the dual-driver S20 ($349.99).

Finally, Westone is on the cusp of release a new Ambient AM Pro series of universal-fit earphones that—check this out—deliberately allow ambient environmental sounds (e.g., the sounds of fellow musicians onstage or of a live audience) to be combined with high-accuracy music playback without, says Westone, compromising the frequency response of the earphone in any way. Westone uses so-called SLED technology to make this combination of reproduced + ambient sound possible; then, to allow users to control just how much ambient sound is allowed to pass through, Westone fits its Ambient AM Pro-series earphone with externally adjustable TRU audio filters. There will be three Ambient AM Pro models: the single-driver AM PRO 10 ($189.99), the dual-driver AM PRO 20 ($339.99), and the triple-driver AM PRO 30 ($439.99). Expect the Ambient models to arrive about the time you see this blog appear online.

Woo Audio

For the past several shows, Woo Audio has been showing various iterations of its compact, battery-powered, entirely valve-driven, transformer coupled WA8 Eclipse headphone amp/DAC. Now, the WA8 Eclipse is finally in production and it looks and sounds better than ever. The WA8 sells for $1,799 in black or space grey, or $1,899 in gold. 

The WA8 is a Class A, single-ended triode design and can, at the user’s option, be set for two-valve or three-valve operation. The DAC section of the WA8 is based on an ESS ES9018K2M SABRE Reference DAC and supports decoding of files at up to 24/384 resolutions. The unit sports a 3400mAh lithium ion battery, which affords up to four hours of playback time.

What words cannot easily convey is that the WA8, which is quiet enough to use with CIEMS and powerful enough to drive virtually any full-size headphone, manages in every way to sound like a larger and more cost amp/DAC than it actually is.

WyWires

In recent headphone shows, WyWires has been winning friends with its Red-series headphone cables, which are priced at $299/5-foot pair. For CanJam SoCal, however, WyWires founder Alex Sventitsky rolled out an even higher performance headphone upgrade cable in the form of his new Platinum-series headphone cables, priced at $899/5-foot pair (or slightly higher when terminated with connectors for Sennheiser HD800/HD800S headphones). For self-evident reasons of cost, Platinum cables are intended specifically for use with true, top-tier headphones.

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