Hello from NYC! Welcome to the conclusion of our continuing coverage of CanJam NYC 2022, thanks to the wonderful Walter Liederman of Underwoood HiFi, without the help of our fabulous sponsors we would not be able to bring you these wonderful experiences. We would also like to thank Ethan and the gang for making it all possible, and Qobuz for providing streaming music for the event.
I opened the morning with a trip to see Justin Weber of Ampsandsound. He was showcasing his 2 top of the line amplifiers, the 300B based ‘Red October” ($12,000) and KT88 based Nautilus ($9,200). Each was being fed by his fixed preamplifier designed to get proper voltage from a DAP. Listening with the Audeze LCD-5s, each amp had its own distinct sonic signature with the Nautilus providing max detail retrieval and punch while the Red October was smooth and buttery. Great way to start the show and a very high bar sonically!
Next stop was the Meze booth where I finally heard the flagship Empyrean headphones ($3,000) playing through a Chord Dave DAC/Headphone Amp. My notes say ‘Very dynamic with smooth yet extended treble with heavy bass.’ They are very comfortable and light for planners…or rather ‘Isodynamic arrays’. From their website:
“ISOPLANAR® DIAPHRAGM MATERIAL The diaphragm is manufactured from a custom developed isotropic thermally stabilized polymer with a conductive layer. Through unique processing methods, an ultralight yet rigid diaphragm has been achieved. SWITCHBACK COIL The switchback coil is more efficient at reproducing lower frequencies and is positioned in the upper part of the driver. SPIRAL COIL The spiral coil is more efficient at reproducing middle-high frequencies and is positioned directly over the ear canal enabling more direct sound waves to enter the ear without any time delays.”
They were also showing their new 109 Pro designed to replace their 99 Classics. They feature a 50mm dynamic open-back driver made of beryllium and carbon fiber. Very lightweight and comfortable with a slightly up-tilted sonic signature and a bit less bass than the planers. Anticipated pricing will be between $600 & $700 a pair.
Next door was the Mytex booth. They were showing off their new Empire DAC/Streamer ($19,900) using Audeze LCD-Xs EXTREME detail retrieval. I heard things never revealed by my LCD-Xs before when listening to the MQA processed version of Dire Straits’ “Your Latest Trick”…a track I’ve heard at least 100 times. Clearly, this is more than just the beautiful casework! They were also displaying their new Liberty DAC II ($1,295) and Liberty THX AAA amp ($1,495). The sound was uncharacteristically warm for a Mytek DAC, which is a welcome change for this treble-averse listener. YMMV.
Across from Mytek was the booth by Rupert Neve Designs. A longtime stalwart in the pro-audio industry, they have been making major inroads into the consumer market of late. They were promoting their Fidelice DAC/Amp ($4,995) and were offering a deal with Alex Rosson Design headphones. The combination was Franky astonishing. Listening to Macy Gray’s ‘Stripped’ album I was amazed by the width of the soundstage while the only note I have after listing to Nina Simone’s “I Put a Spell on You” was “MAGIC”.
Next up was a visit to the Noble booth. There I was introduced to their new Falcon ANC wireless earbuds. These are one of the first to feature the new Snapdragon CODEC and full tailoring of the sound from their app. Once I got a good fitting set of tips, I was impressed by the imaging and solid, but tight, bass. Very nice for $189!
The folks from iFi had three super-sounding values…as usual! First up was the “Go Blu”, a tiny Bluetooth amp/DAC. Want to get the most out of wireless listening from your phone, this may be the way! I sampled the sound through my personal custom IEMs and was blown away by what they offer for just $199. If size isn’t as much a concern, the Gryphon offers both Bluetooth and wired digital inputs and can play files up to DXD768 and decode MQA. The Bluetooth, DAC, and amplifiers modules are discrete and separate to maximize sound quality and minimize interference. This is truly a high-end system in your pocket. Lastly, for those looking for a wired-only option, the HipDac2 is an amazing deal at just $169…with PCM, native DSD, and MQA.
I know Bowie already covered the offerings at Audeze, but I couldn’t resist a chance to chat with my friend Sankar. He let me see the nano-carbon driver behind the amazing Carbon headphones while explaining the origin of the concept. The driver was invented to provide a completely non-metallic headphone for use inside MRI machines. They were also demonstrating their Filter desktop mini-speaker for use in conference call environments that are less than optimal noise-wise. He played me a recording of a call with and without their amazing noise elimination…from barking dogs to crying babies, this is THE tool for home-based business calls!
Empire Ears was on hand with their extensive line of custom and universal IEMs. The one everyone wanted to see and hear was the Legend EVO. These feature an 8-driver architecture including their Weapon X bone-conducting driver…from their website: “Bone conduction completely bypasses the outer and middle ear components by sending vibrations directly through the skull to stimulate the hair cells inside of your cochlea. Through bone conduction, we can perceive ultrasonic hearing (beyond 20kHz) Bone conduction is generally perceived to have a lower, deeper tone because the skull conducts lower frequencies more efficiently than air.” I found them to have exceptional midrange and treble, but something was ‘different’ about the bass. I’m guessing this was from the bone conduction and may simply be something to get used to.
Spirit Torino is an Italian brand that I first heard about 2 years ago. They were on hand showing their new Valkyria headphones ($12,000) that I saw last month in Florida at the Florida Audio Expo. These offer the most out-of-head imaging I’ve experienced..and this was through the exceptionally affordable Geshelli Audio DAC($399) and Amp ($399).
After having to skip the Final booth due to a line 2 people deep at every chair, I was able to circle back and grab some time with 2 new offerings. The first was the $179 ZE3000 true wireless items. I enjoyed what I heard from the brief listen. I was more impressed by the sound from the UX3000 wireless over-ear headphones. It was clear that they focused on great sound first and let the rest follow from there. A great value at just $179.
One of the biggest introductions in the headphone world this year has been the Chord Mojo 2 DAC/Amp. I’ve had an OG Mojo since its launch and was really hoping the new version didn’t impress…but I was wrong. The new Mojo has a much-improved sense of air and dynamics. In addition, there’s a much more extensive menu system of options all controlled from the device. This really is a game-changer.
Among the vendors showing in private rooms, my first stop was Head Amp. Justin Wilson was there with his usual complement of excellent amplifiers of his own design, including the Blue Hawaii driving Stax SRX-9000’s (sublime). But the buzz was about the new RAAL amps. There was the new PDT-1 which was driving the Meze Elite’s providing a very wide image and an inherent ‘Rightness’ and the VM-1a ($6,500) which was designed to drive their own SR1a ribbon Earfield Monitors. Both were winners in the sonics and looks department!
Sharing the room with HeadAmp was Dan Clark Audio. Andy and Sue Regan were on-hand to show off the DCA offerings through a variety of high-end amps. The star of the show was the Stealth ($3,999) flagship headphone. These semi-open back headphones really showcase what Dan has been able to achieve. Lightweight, dynamic, and with a near-flat sonic signature, these reveal everything the music has to offer without coloring it…or feeling uncomfortable after hours of listening. At the other end of the cost spectrum, I was impressed by the $899 Aeon Noirs as well!
In the next room, Jack Wu of Woo Audio was showing his newest iteration of his WA-7 ($1,400) which now has an internal power supply. This has been of the best ‘desktop’ systems for years and this new change will make that even more convenient by eliminating the need to place the outboard PSU. Jack was also debuting his new amp, the $9,000 WA-23 Nuna. This is a sexy-looking amp! I heard it through the new Abyss Diana TC headphones ($4,500) and it left me wanting to spend an extended listening period with it!
Last, but certainly not least, was a visit to the DCS room. Here, the HiFiMan HE-1000s and Susvaras sounded the best I’ve ever heard them! The DCS Bartok DAC with built-in Headphone Amp ($18,500) and the DCS Rossini clock ($9,000) all combined to be among the absolute best at the show…and perhaps the best overall sound in a headphone system I’ve heard. The Bartok HPA without the clock sounded very good through the Focal Utopias, but the addition of the clock and through the HiFiMan, it was on a whole new level. The detail retrieval was astounding without ever becoming analytical.
Overall, my nominations for best in show couldn’t be more different. DCS is a leader in digital innovation that lives on the edge of new technology while AmpsAndSound are as old school as it gets, with point-to-point wiring and hand wound transformers. Yet in the end, they both create exceptional sound and push what our hobby can achieve. Kudos to both brands for their achievements!
Once again we would like to thank Underwoood HiFi for sponsoring our coverage of CanJam NYC 2022, and supporting the quest for high-quality audio, I suggest you visit their site to find incredible deals on amazing products.