One of the most exciting discoveries at LAAS 2017 was the ModWright OPPO Sonica DAC Mod ($2,500 USD plus customer supplied OPPO Sonica). I have long felt that the amplifier section is the most critical aspect of a DAC in determining its sound quality, obviously Dan Wright concurs and as a result has upgraded the OPPO Sonica Streaming DAC by adding a tube amplifier section and attendant power supply, taking what was an excellent budget streaming DAC and turning into a world class audiophile product. Sharing space with ModWright was WyWires who were demonstrating their Platinum Series cables which employs a carbon and grapheme ring which offers 17dB EM (Electro Magnetic) attenuation vastly lowering the noise floor.
ModWright TRYST Headphone Amplifier, ModWright Modified OPPO Sonica Streaming DAC, ModWright PS 9.0 Power Supply, ModWright TPS Power Supply all terminated with WyWires Platinum Series Cables.
ModWright Modified OPPO Sonica Streaming DAC with ModWright PS 9.0 Power Supply
ModWright TRYST Headphone Amplifier with ModWright TPS Power Supply
One of the unique offerings of LAAS 2017 was the HeadGear Extreme private listening room, providing an isolated space for select manufacturers to demonstrate their state of the art reference gear. One manufacturer to take advantage of this was HiFiMAN auditioning their $50,000 USD Shangrila Tube Electrostatic Headphone Amplifier/Electrostatic Headphone System. Also for your listening pleasure was the brand new SUSVARA Planar Magnetic Reference Headphones & EF1000 Headphone Amplifier combination ($18,000 USD) providing the stellar performance one expects from HiFiMAN. And so as no category goes uncovered, they were also debuting their RE2000 24k Gold Edition Reference Universal IEMs ($2,000 USD) featuring HiFiMAN’s exclusive 9.2mm Dynamic Topology Diaphragm Driver.
HiFiMAN SuperMini High-Res Portable Player and HiFiMAN RE800 IEMs
Also in the HeadGear Extreme room, Questyle Audio was performing a side by side comparison of their flagship Questyle Audio CAS192D Current Mode/True DSD DAC ($1,999 USD), CMA800P Current Mode Preamp($2,499 USD), CMA800R Current Mode Headphone Amplifier ($1,999 USD x 2) dual mono balanced system vs. their “Gold Stack” Reference System consisting of the Golden Reference versions of the same components ($13,746 USD), utilizing a custom cable set by Kimber Kable, the Focal Utopia Headphones ($3,999 USD) and the Audeze LCD4 Headphones ($3,995 USD), both using Kimber AXIOS headphone cables, showing just how much difference handpicked components and Rogers Ceramic PCBs can make.
Questyle Audio also had their own room on the opposite side of the lobby from the HeadGear rooms in which they were highlighting their new products the outstanding Questyle Audio CMA400i Current Mode DAC/Preamp/Headphone Amplifier ($799 USD) , the first desktop unit to offer a 2.5mm balanced output for IEMs and the long awaited and greatly anticipated Questyle Audio QP2R Current Mode Portable Music Server ($1,299 USD). The QP2R comes with improved mechanicals, an improved DAC (capable of up to 32/384 kHz and DSD256 and can decode ISO files), 64GB internal storage in addition to the micro SD card slot and 4 Current Mode Amplifiers to provide a true balanced output with over 4 times the power output of the QP1R making it capable of driving pretty much any headphone. To make matters more interesting, Questyle offers two separate docks (TBA) for the QP2R, a simple one for use with a computer or charger and one specially designed for use with their 5 GHz Wireless Amplifier System.
HeadGear Extreme room Questyle Audio side by side comparison of their flagship Questyle Audio CAS192D Current Mode/True DSD DAC, CMA800P Current Mode Preamp, CMA800R Current Mode Headphone Amplifier dual mono balanced system vs. their “Gold Stack” Reference System Questyle Audio CAS192D Golden Current Mode/True DSD DAC, CMA800P Golden Current Mode Preamp, CMA800R Golden Current Mode Headphone Amplifier Dual Mono Balanced Reference System wire with Kimber Kable interconnects, power cords and Kimber AXIOS AG headphone cable
Questyle Audio room new products display, the Questyle Audio CMA400i Current Mode DAC/Preamp/Headphone Amplifier and the Questyle Audio QP2R Current Mode Portable Music Server Questyle Audio QP2R Current Mode Portable Music Server in Space Gray and Golden with charging dock, Ultimate Ears UE PRO REMASTERED Capital Reference IEMs and Audeze iSINE20 IEMs.
Questyle Audio CMA400i Current Mode DAC/Preamp/Headphone Amplifier with Focal Elear Headphones and Kimber Kable AXIOS cables. Questyle Audio CMA600i Current Mode DAC/Preamp/Headphone Amplifier with MrSpeakers ETHER C Headphones, Questyle Audio CMA800i Current Mode DAC/Preamp/Headphone Amplifier with Audeze LCD3 Headphones and Kimber Kable AXIOS cables throughout. Questyle Audio CAS192D Current Mode/True DSD DAC & CMA800P Current Mode Preamp with Sennheiser HD800 Headphones, CMA800R Golden Current Mode Headphone Amplifier Questyle Audio CAS192D Golden Current Mode/True DSD DAC, CMA800P Golden Current Mode Preamp, CMA800R Golden Current Mode Headphone Amplifier Dual Mono Balanced Reference System wire with Audeze LCD4 Planar Magnetic Headphones using Kimber Kable interconnects and Kimber AXIOS headphone cables throughout.
Questyle Audio 5 GHz Wireless Amplifier System
Questyle Audio T2 Wireless Controller/Transmitter with Questyle Audio QP2R & Dock
Partnering with Questyle, Ultimate Ears exhibits universal examples of their epic CIEMs
Ultimate Ears UE7 PRO IEMs
Ultimate Ears UE11 PRO IEMs
Ultimate Ears UE18+ PRO IEMs
Ultimate Ears UE PRO REMASTERED Capital Edition IEMs
Sharing the room with Questyle was Bruce Ball’s HeadSonix, US distributor for Echobox, Meze, Cozoy and Shozy
Cozoy was premiering their TAKT Lighting In-line DAC ($160 USD) for use with Apple devices and TAKT Pro Micro USB In-line DAC ($299 USD) excellent matches for their hera IEMs ($169 USD). Also on display they had the hera lightning IEMs ($185 USD), and their higher performance REI Micro USB In-line DAC ($550 USD), an incredible price/performance value.
Also new on the scene was Shozy with their Alien ($279 USD) and Alien + ($499 USD) DAPs. Shozy was also debuting IEMs with their wood cased Zero ($55 USD) and carbon fiber backed Hibiki ($60 USD). Definitely a manufacture to keep an eye on as they portend great things. Cozoy hera IEMs, Cozoy hera lightning, Shozy Zero IEMs, Cozoy TAKT Lighting In-line DAC, Cozoy TAKT Pro Micro USB In-line DAC, Shozy Hibiki IEMs, Cozoy REI Micro USB In-line DAC, and Shozy Alien + DAP
Cozoy hera IEMs, Cozoy hera lightning, Cozoy TAKT Lighting In-line DAC and Shozy Zero IEMs
Cozoy hera IEMs with leather case
Cozoy REI Micro USB In-line DAC
Cozoy TAKT Pro Micro USB In-line DAC
Shozy Alien + DAP
Shozy Hibiki IEMs
The long awaited Echobox Explorer DAP ($599.99 USD) is finally here, available in four woods and employing a Texas Instruments chipset it promises to be both beautiful and good sounding. Echobox has also introduced two new IEMs to complement their popular Finder ($229.99 USD), the entry level Traveler ($99 USD) and their new flagship Nomad ($299 USD) with replacable MMCX IEM cables employing Titanium enclosures and PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone) drivers.
The Echobox display in the HeadSonix room.
Echobox Explorers in the HeadGear Planet room
Echobox Finder, Nomad and Traveler IEMs
Another rising star is Meze Headphones offering two models of over ear headphones, the 99 Neo ($249) and 99 Classics ($299 USD available in Walnut Gold, Walnut Silver and Maple Silver finishes) along with two of models IEMs the 11 Neo ($59 USD available in Gun Metal and Iridium finishes) and 12 Classics ($79 USD). New for the show Meze now offers 2.5mm balanced cables in Copper (TBA – $100 – $150 USD) and Silver (TBA – $200 – $250)
Meze Headphones’ display in the HeadSonix room featuring the 99 Neo Headphones, 11 Neo IEMs, 12 Classics IEMs, and 99 Classics Headphone
Meze 11 Neo IEMs and 12 Classics IEMs
Meze display in the HeadGear Planet room
Meze 99 Neo and 99 Classics
Meze 11 Neo and 12 Classic IEMs
Meze 99 Neo Headphone with Silver 2.5mm Balanced cable
Audio-Technica was showing their AT-HA5050H Tube Hybrid Headphone DAC/Amplifier ($5999 USD) along with their ATH-A2000Z Art Monitor® Closed-Back Dynamic Headphones ($649 USD). The impressive sounding Class A amplifier has eight ¼” single ended outputs with four output impedance settings.
Audio-Technica ATH-SR9 Sound Reality Over-Ear High-Resolution Audio Headphones and Audio-Technica ATH-A2000Z Art Monitor® Closed-Back Dynamic Headphones
Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT Wireless Over-Ear Headphones with Pure Digital Drive and Audio-Technica ATH-DSR7BT Wireless Over-Ear Headphones with Pure Digital Drive
Gingko Audio was offering two unique demonstrations side by side. On one side they were demonstrating their ARCH (Acoustic Resolution Clarifier) Isolation Feet, by having an amplified speaker upon a platform supported by spikes and then the platform by four of the isolation feet, then measuring the energy transferred to the platform and then the table below. The second demonstration was direct comparison of stock headphone cables to DanaCable headphone cables driven simultaneously from the brand new DanaTone Head-Space prototype Headphone Amplifier using the HiFiMan HE1000s and the MrSpeaker ETHER C Flows. Both demonstrations were jaw dropping and proof that great things are happening at Gingko Audio.
Gingko Audio’s Norm Ginsburg demonstrates the ARCH Acoustic Resolution Clarifier
DanaTone Head-Space prototype Headphone Amplifier and DanaCable Lazuli Cables
Chord Electronics with their Field Programable Gate Array DACs is deservedly one of the most popular DAC manufacturers, so it was no surprise that they are once again trying to set the bar with their new, soon to be released, Poly Portable Streamer (TBA approx $600). The Poly can be directly plugged into the Mojo DAC ($599 USD) and even comes with a protective enclosure cover. Of course, they also had the world conquering DAVE DAC/Amplifier ($13,000 USD) on hand for your edification.
Chord Electronics Poly and Mojo
Chord Electronics Hugo2
Chord Electronics DAVE
Cardas Audio has been one of my favorite cable manufacturers since the 80s, yet they are always coming up with something new and at the show they were debuting their Clear Beyond interconnect ($3,750 USD for 1 meter). Of course, they were also showing their A8 30th Anniversary Edition IEMs ($350 USD) which incorporate Cardas’ Golden Spiral curve in the body design and employ a 10.85mm Ultra Linear, Contour Field, Dual Magnet Driver, and a special Cardas cable that is designed to minimize cable stress, even when the cable is tugged.
My next visit was to Santa Cruz Audio who set out to build IEMs for Pro audio and arrived at something much more interesting. They began with the understanding that IEMs could provide isolation equal or better than most active noise cancelling headphones, but were confronted with the difficulty of constantly having to remove an IEM to have a conversation (something that occurs rather often in the studio), so they added stereo microphones, a small amplifier and a mixer to allow the wearer to mix in ambient sound, as needed, without removing the IEMs. A built in amplifier meant better sound with cell phones and portable players and also gave them the ability to actively contour the sound to have an extremely accurate frequency response, the resulting product was the SC1000 IEM ($585 USD).
Santa Cruz Audio SC1000 Amplified IEMs with active ambient sound control
Santa Cruz Audio SC1000 Amplified IEMs with active ambient sound control
Gary Alan Barker is a writer who has been a member of the Audio Industry since 1978, having acted as technical writer for several high-end audio companies, and been an electronics hobbyist since 1960. He has also been a musician and writer since the mid 1960s.