Amps and Sound
Justin Weber was on hand showing his beautifully built Amps and Sound Mogwai Headphone Amp. Warm and enveloping best describe this 1626-based tube amp. It’s solid build quality and walnut cabinet bely its $1700 price point. Justin describes the WWII-era 1626 tube as the ‘poor man’s 300b’. Based on what I heard, if you don’t need the 300b’s power output, he may be right! Check them out at http://ampsandsound.com
Jason Stoddard, Mike Moffett and the crew from Schiit were all on hand in one of the busiest booths at the show. They showed their whole lineup from the diminutive Modi2/Magni2 at $99 each to the Yggdrasil/Ragnarok at $2299 and $1699 respectively. The only new item they were showing was the Vali2, which now features a NOS 6BZ7 tube that is user replaceable and supports virtually any ECC88/6DJ8 varriant. This allows for tube-rolling to your heart’s content! I listened to the Vali2 driven by a Modi2Uber through Mr.Speakers Ethers for a bit and found it to punch WAY above it’s price point of $169.
Dan Clark from Mr.Speakers shocked everyone with a brand new Electrostatic headphone prototype based on his extremely popular Ethers. The blue-ringed headphones were paired with the Cavalli Liquid Lightning SS for a fast, light, airy yet full sound that showcases the best features of e-stat headphones. I also heard them on the Head-Amp Blue Hawaii and they sounded fantastic. I look forward to auditioning them in a quieter environment in the future. I’m sure Headphone.Guru will have a review for you once they are in production. Price was TBD.
One of my favorite new products at the show was the Tryst headphone amp from ModWright. Dan Wright was on hand to show his newest addition. The $3,000 Tryst is a transformer-coupled tube amp with a separate power supply. The sound from the Tryst (driven by Dan’s very sexy Elyse DAC) through the Ethers and the LCD-X’s was sublime. It was, frankly, the one time at the show where I said, “That sounds better than my system”…which I hate! That usually ends up costing me money!! Kudos to Dan and MWI.
And now for something completely different! Taction Technology was showing their KANNON Haptic Headphone. At the heart of the headphone is a physical driver that they say will do a proper job of recreating the visceral feel of low frequency waves…that hit-you-in-the-chest feel from low bass. I tried the headphones and you definitely get a feel…whether that truly recreates low bass mph is for you to decide. The street price of the KANNON is slated to be $499.
It’s always a pleasure chatting with one of the true gentlemen of the industry, Ken Ball from ALO/Campfire. He gave me about 30 minutes of his time showing me his new line of IEM’s. The 3 models are Orion, $349, Lyra $749 and Jupiter, $899. The Orion and Jupiter feature balanced armature…single driver and quad driver respectively. The sonic signature is similar with the Jupiter offering greater extension at both ends of the range. They both feature a milled aluminum housing that gives them a unique aesthetic and, says Ball, a sonic advantage over more traditional acrylic housings. The Lyra is something altogether different. It uses a ceramic housing for the absolute hardest and least resonant housing possible. Inside is an 8.5mm beryllium driver. While the other two share a common sound, the Lyra is silky smooth in a different way that left me wanting to hear more…and more.
After I’d listened to the 3 Campfire IEM’s, Ken showed be his two prototypes. First came his new on-ear headphones that use the same beryllium technology as the Lyra, albeit in a larger driver. Lastly, he pulled out the new Continental v5 amp. This is a single-tube hybrid design in a much smaller housing than the awesome Continental Dual Mono (CDM) he showed here last year. The diminutive amp carries the house sound of the CDM, but with no DAC and a single tube. It is in a body that is machined from a solid block of aluminum and feels solid but nicely light in the hand. The pricing is yet to be determined, but expect it to be substantially less than the CDM while delivering all of the sound of its big brother.
Pendulumic was here showcasing their new Tach T1 bluetooth headphones. These are on-ear designs that feature a unique ability to ‘share’ a bluetooth source. Using 2 pairs of T1’s, you can both listen to the same source. For example, you can both watch the same movie on your iPad while traveling. If your TV has bluetooth output, you can watch movies as loud as each of you would like without disturbing anyone else (i.e. sleeping kids). If your sources don’t have bluetooth out, you can add the $59 Pendulumic Bluetooth transmitter and turn ANY source into a Bluetooth source!
Torque was one of the several newer vendors (new to me, anyway) at CanJam this year. Their IEM’s and Over-Ear headphones each feature changeable filters to allow you to fine-tune the sound. The IEM’s come with SIX sets of filters that screw on to the housing to tune them with varying response curves. I tried a few of them and you don’t have to work to hear the differences. They are clear and effective. The Over Ear headphones offer 4 filters that are changed by simple removing the magnetic ear pads and rotating them 90º to one of the 4 filter settings. They range from very neutral to MOAR BASS with 2 steps in-between. They also come with a set of on-ear pads as well.
Another new-to-me IEM company was Empire. I spoke at length with company president Catherine Young and learned about their extensive lineup of custom IEM’s, each of which can also be made as universals…same price either way. They were showcasing their Olympus line of audiophile IEM’s at the show. They start at $429 for the 2 balanced-armature driver Supra II and go up to the 14 (FOURTEEN!!) balanced armature driver Zeus XIV which will set you back $2099. I tried the Zeus and was impressed. So I tried a few others and found that they carry a similar house sound, with subtle changes in frequency curve that never felt like someone was abusing the EQ sliders. Find out more at http://empireears.com
Sankar Thiagasamudram and Marc Cohen were showing off their flagship LCD-4’s featuring the new 200ohm driver. They are the first planar headphone that I would say have a wide soundstage…quite an accomplishment. They were being driven by the new King amplifier. Quite a nice synergy. They also had the new Deckard class-A amp driving the first on-ear planar headphones, the Sine. I heard these at CES in January and loved them. My time with them in SoCal did nothing to change my mind. I think they are my favorite closed-back offering from Audeze! At $449, that’s exceptional. They also showed off their new lightning headphone cable for iOS devices. This may put them WAY ahead of the curve if the rumors about a headphone-jack-less iPhone7 are true. Until then, “all it does” is give you a DAC/Amp combo inline to allow your iPhone to properly drive EL-8’s!
Pioneer showed their Master One hand made headphones and Android-based DAP. The MasterOnes are built one-at-a-time and take a full day to make just one. They sounded beautiful driven by am amp that, sadly, they don’t import. The player is a full Android device that allows you to use their built-in app to play virtually any format and even lets you install another app of your choosing if you like someone else’s. It also has wifi and bluetooth to allow you to use the web browser, Tidal and/or any other streaming service.
Woo Audio & Abyss
Jack Wu shared a room with JPS Labs. Jack was showing off variety of his high-end Tube amps as well as an updated version of the very popular WA7 Fireflies DAC/Amp, but the BUZZ was all about the new WA8 Elite portable amp. A full-tube design with DAC in a small form factor would be enough to draw the attention of tube lovers, but add a battery that allows you to roam freely while enjoying the tube sound and you have a real attention-grabber! The $1799 ($1899 in gold) amp is available for pre-order now. Shipping is expected in April.
JPS Labs was showing their Abyss headphones, but was chatting about their upcoming on-ear version that is expected sometime this year. Not many details were available, but they are expected to be somewhat less expensive than the Abyss.
Jeff Wells wouldn’t let a little thing like a car accident keep him from CanJam! Despite having someone hit his car the day before the show, he was on-hand showing off his big-boy-pants Head Trip amp as well as a new un-named prototype that was drawing all the attention. Visually interesting and sonically mind-blowing, this amp will look and sound great in any situation. And with 15w of pure power, it will drive anything out there!!
Warwick Audio Technologies
Warwick was here showing a prototype design for a new driver technology. An electrostatic design at heart, the drivers feature a special multi-layered approach that allows for a lighter faster diaphragm that should improve on the inherent advantages of e-stat designs. It does require a different amplifier topology and output, but they are in discussions with stat amp designers to make amps based on their needs. Look for this new tech to start creeping into offerings from veteran stat headphone makers!
Riva Audio was back again this year. This time, the bluetooth speaker makers were showing their new, smaller Riva S speaker. This tiny room-filling speaker can be used as a mini sound-bar for your TV or can be taken with you to the beach or pool with a 13-hour battery life and increased water-proofing. With its built in mic, it is also comfortable in the board room as a conference call device. Add a 2nd one, and you can have true stereo.
New to this year’s event was Industry veteran and value leader Emotiva. They have long been at the forefront of proving that audiophile doesn’t have to mean budget-busting. They have 3 headphone-specific offerings. First is the $499 Stealth DC-1. This is a 24/192 DAC with balanced outputs and headphone amp built in. It can act as a digital preamp with AES/EBU, BNC, Coax, Optical and USB inputs! It has a wireless remote as well. Next up are the Little Ego and Big Ego. These USB DAC/Amps are meant for the audiophile on the go. They are USB bus powered designs that can handle up to 32/384 source material. They also offer digital filter options and a ‘headphone blend’ mode that is said to expand the soundstage width. The Big Ego adds separate line-level, headphones and optical digital out. The two Egos are $169 and $219 respectively.
Linear Tube Audio
Company founder Mark Schneider joined CanJam to showcase the Head-Fi darling MicroZOTL amp. ZOTL stands for Zero hysteresis Output Transformer-Less design. It features a unique topology that defies the convention that you need TONS of power to drive planars. I’ve heard the HE1000’s and LCD-3’s through the MicroZOTL and it drives them both with exceptional ease. The amp uses a 12AX7 in the input stage and a 6SN7 in the output stage. I’m also a big fan of the Lexan top…Obviously nothing to hide! More info at http://www.lineartubeaudio.com/microzotl/