Saturday started with me visiting the good people at Benchmark, a linchpin pro-audio company who found a niche in personal audio (as well as home audio) with their incredible HPA4 Flagship Reference Headphone/Line Amplifier ($2,999 USD) featuring THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier technology, and offering an optional remote control or rackmount faceplate. They were also demonstrating their DAC3 B ($1,699 USD fixed output), DAC3 L ($1,899 USD includes Hybrid Gain Control), and DAC3 HGC ($2,199) Digital to Analog Converters. The DAC3 HGC incorporates their HPA2 Headphone Amplifier internally and comes with a remote control.
Though a new name to me, Tralucent Audio has been serving the pro-audio community with universal IEMs since 2010. For the edification of CanJam attendees, they were showing all three of their universal IEMs; the Tralucent Audio 1Plus1.2 ($635 USD), the Tralucent Audio 1Plus2.3 ($2,065 USD), and the Tralucent Audio Plus5.2 ($2,360 USD), along with their cable offerings.
Sharing space with Tralucent Audio was Ranko Acoustics, offering a truly impressive array of IEM and audio cables as well as connectors, cable DACs, and a portable amplifier. They even offer their own custom formula audiophile solder containing both silver and copper.
Next on the docket was Ice Lab sharing space with ArtVano and Meccaudio. On display was their truly impressive Premium Series Universal IEMs, the three balanced armature TRIZ ($469 USD) and their six balanced armature SICE ($750 USD, $859 USD for custom). While the two IEMs had an identical sound signature, the SICE offered higher resolution, more detail and deeper bass extension. Interesting enough both are available with a choice of 2 pin .078mm CM or MMCX connections. Definitely, something to keep an eye out for.
ArtVano is a company dedicated to design, and in furtherance of this goal, they build their IEMs from exotic materials including valuable woods, resin gnarl, gemstone, and forged titanium metal. They also have a penchant for organic shapes as can be seen by their PISLO PX ($1,659 USD), which had an open and airy sound, though their shape made it impossible for me to get a seal, which may be intentional. They were also showing their OTATO OA-S ($569 USD) and OTATO OA-06 ($666 USD) IEMs, along with their M4 copper and silver alloy IEM cables ($1,689 USD). What was unclear was whether their ARETS IEM was being shown as an ArtVano or Meccaudio since one of the pair had the ArtVano logo and the other the Meccaudio Logo, it was also unclear whether or not it used electrostatic drivers, but the sound was impressive.
The standout product of the Meccaudio line was the Meccaudio TITANS RHEA ($2,599 USD) which had a smooth yet detailed presentation. Of course, they also had their full line of IEMs and IEM cables on display for attendees to partake of.
SHENZHENAUDIO is a Chinese online Audio Retailer who brought a host of new-to-the-US manufacturers filling up a whopping five booths, making them the second largest display in the main hall. The first of their manufactures that I encountered was FAN Acoustics who had a large spread of IEMs, IEM cables (both wired and wireless), cable DACs and accessories including an IEM cable with a built-in DAC/Amp. What really caught my attention was their FJ5 Electrostatic Hybrid IEM ($2,300 USD) with two Electrostatic, two Moving Iron (BA) and 1 Moving Coil (Dynamic) drivers, though sonically the winner for me was their WK28 IEM with 14 Balanced Armature drivers.
Next under the SHENZHENAUDIO umbrella was Yulong Audio manufacturer of high-performance budget DAC/Amplifiers. From their sexy DAART CanaryII DAC Headphone Amplifier ($300 USD) to their flagship DA10 768K DSD DAC Headphone Amplifier ($1,000 USD) which employs the AKM AK4497 DAC chip and the XMOS XU208 bringing USB support to DSD 512 and PCM 32/768 kHz.
Another SHENZHENAUDIO offering was Matrix Audio who specialize in high-performance DACs, Music Streamers, and Digital Interfaces. Their flagship Music Streamer/Headphone Amplifier the Matrix Audio element-X ($2,999 USD), offers 24 bit (32 bit via IIS LVDS) 768 kHz PCM and 22.4 MHz (45 MHz via IIS LVDS) DSD decoding as well as MQA, supports both USB drives and NAS storage devices and has both dual 3 pin XLR and 4 pin XLR headphone outputs and provides 1700mw@33 Ω with up to 28 dB of gain (switchable between high and low). Matrix Audio’s newest product is the Matrix Audio element-M ($1,799 USD), a scaled-down version of the Matrix Audio element-X with only single-ended output. For those who simply want a DAC, there is the Matrix Audio X-SABRE Pro MQA ($1,999 USD) with full internal MQA decoding. And not to be overlooked is their amazing Matrix Audio X-SPDIF 2 Digital Interface ($379 USD) employing a femtosecond clock and an FPGA processing unit.
Shenzhen ShuangMuSanLin and VMV, so good they had to have two names, actually S.M.S.L. is the parent company and VMV is their Hong Kong division. Under the VMV brand, they were showing their new VMV D1 High-Resolution Digital to Analog Converter ($1,299.99 USD), VMV P1 High-Resolution Headphone Amplifier (TBA), and VMV D2 High-Resolution Digital to Analog Converter (TBA). With the D1 and P1 clearly meant to operate as a pair, while the D2 is slightly larger, their unique two chassis design, with the power supply in a separate attached housing, reveals their dedication to sonic performance. Under the S.M.S.L. banner, they had their S.M.S.L. SH-8 Balanced Headphone Amplifier ($189.99 USD) and S.M.S.L. SU-8 DAC ($249.99 USD) for the more budget minded seeking products that will handle all formats.
At the end of the row was the SHENZHENAUDIO table displaying a smattering of their wares, including DACs, Amplifiers, IEMs, DAPs, Bluetooth IEM receivers and cable DACs. They drew my attention to the Topping D70 DSD512/32 Bit/768 kHz DAC/Preamp ($499.99 USD with remote control) which they had running through an S.M.S.L. SH-8 Balanced Headphone Amplifier. Another item that caught my eye was a tiny tube amp from Bravo Audio Ocean the FM137 ($119.98 USD).
Another great attraction at CanJam So Cal 2019 is their continuous schedule of thought-provoking Seminars, one of which was hosted by Headphone.Guru’s own Frank Iacone. The subject was “The Convergence of Two Channel and Personal Audio”. On the panel were Rob Watts of Chord Electronics, EveAnna Manley of Manley Laboratories, Andy Regan of MrSpeakers, Jason Stoddard of Schiit Audio, Robert Greene of Absolute Sound, and Jason Lord of The Source AV, and the event was hosted by the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society.
The Seminar was equal parts entertaining, informative and as mentioned above, thought-provoking and played to a packed house. The walk away is that the two disciplines are slowly but surely being brought together by manufacturers willing to cater to the needs of both, such as; Schiit Audio, Manley Laboratories, and Chord Electronics, as well as personal audio manufacturers, such as MrSpeakers, who push headphone sound quality to approach the very best in loudspeakers, and Two Channel dealers like The Source AV who embrace the personal audio community. We also learned that Andy Regan doesn’t like the term “Two Channel” as descriptive of audiophile two Loudspeaker listening, as Headphones are for the most part two channel, and that the “old guard”, as represented by Robert Greene, will not embrace personal audio until headphones can reproduce the same depth of field produced by loudspeakers (as most recordings were created for a two-channel loudspeaker set up), which given the current state of the software aimed at just that, is a real possibility, in the digital realm at least, we just have to convince them to listen.
With that, Saturday closed for me, I will take up Sunday in my next installment, Stay tuned for Frank Iacone and Bowei Zhao’s coverage coming soon.
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