Welcome back to our ongoing coverage of CanJam SoCal 2022 and a hearty thanks to our good friends at Underwood HiFi, https://underwoodhifi.com, for their generous support.
I awoke the next morning a year older. My birthday is September 18th which nicely fell on the second day of CanJam SoCal this year. My girlfriend, Classy, and I headed down to the lounge for a nice relaxed breakfast. I had decided to just see what I could and not really stress and enjoy what the day would bring. The hotel made a decent Eggs Benedict so properly fueled we headed onto the show floor.
It was decidedly less crowded Sunday morning as we walked toward the Audeze booth. I noticed a Boulder headphone amp I had always wanted to hear with the Audeze LCD-5 Headphone ($4,500) connected. I sat down to listen and was enjoying it when Warren walked up and said “Have you heard the Wells Audio monoblock system?” At my negative reply, he responded, “Keep that sound in your head and come with me!” We wandered over to the back of the room to the Wells Audio booth. Warren introduced me to Jeff Wells the owner and chief designer at Wells Audio and asked if we could hear the LCD-5 on the monoblocks. The system in question was the Wells Audio Cypher Tube DAC level II ($13,000), the Commander Level III Preamp ($18,000), and two Headtrip III Level II monoblock headphone amplifiers ($30,000). Total cost is in the ballpark of $60K. While we waited for the LCD-5 and its cable to be found I kept busy by trying out the system with the already connected Abyss 1266 Phi. I was flabbergasted. I have never heard anything like that ever, the music seemed to be alive and coming from everywhere. Finally receiving the LCD-5 and settling upon Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” as my track I sat transfixed. The LCD-5 didn’t sound like itself anymore. With both headphones I heard on this system there was magic… the trick performed was the disappearance of the gear replaced by pure music. I re-cued the song and placed the LCD-5 over Classy’s ears and hit play… for a minute she just stood there transfixed and then slowly a smile spread across her face as she exclaimed, “Can we have it?” Jeff Wells went on to explain that he was just glad we got to hear it and that he makes these things to see and show what is possible. All of the gear at his table from the least expensive $800 DAC to the system described above is at the top of their class. All highly recommended, now I just have to figure out how to save $60K.
We headed back to the Audeze table to hear the new MM-500 studio headphones. In my opinion, this is an amazing deal at $1700 especially for checking mixes and purity of sound in general.
We got up and walked around the show floor to head back to the A&K room Classy stopped me with the exclamation of “Oh that’s pretty!” I turned and looked and she was gazing upon the beauty that is the Ode To Laura IEM cable from Eletech (TBA). The cable is just sexy and the tech included is on the cutting edge of cable design.
Back in the A&K room, I listened to the Empire Ears Odyssey again to confirm my opinion of the evening before. I listened to some Jethro Tull, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Agnes Obel, Melody Gardot, and John Coltrane. It handled everything with grace and beauty as well as aggression and slam when called for, confirming my earlier opinion in spades.
It was now close to 12 and I needed to go out to the hotel entrance for a picture with the guys from the Head-fi Watercooler thread. I walked Classy up to the hotel room and then headed back downstairs. We gathered and talked about the stuff we had heard, what we thought was best, and other chit-chat before getting a bunch of photos of the group as a few members were leaving to catch flights. It was amazing to meet them all. We dispersed and I returned to the room and ordered Pastrami sandwiches for lunch.
I headed back down to the show solo and headed over to the Upscale Audio booth to try and hear the Feliks Audio amps. I waited but wasn’t able to get a listen as there was quite the line. By all reports and by the look of the listeners they are outstanding. Hopefully, I will get a chance to audition at a later date.
Walking down the aisle I came to HIFIMAN and sat down at the first open chair as every station except the SUSVARA was driven by the new HIFIMAN EF400 R2R DAC/AMP ($599) which was something I wanted to hear. The first headphone I listened to was the new HIFIMAN Sundara Closed-Back ($399), followed by the HIFIMAN Edition XS ($499), then the HIFIMAN Arya ($1,599) then the HIFIMAN HE1000se ($3,500). All sounded great driven by the EF400. Climbing the proverbial food chain like this showed me how small the differences are between entry-level and high-end in the market today. The differences in detail resolution and tonal accuracy are real but the jumps are no longer as big between price points. HIFIMAN is always pushing the envelope of every price tier and succeeds in having an excellent choice for everyone. When I got to the SUSVARA ($6,000) being driven by a full dCS Lina stack ($29,150), I realized this was clearly a step up in every way but at a combined price of $36K, I would expect it to be as sublime as it was.
After the full HIFIMAN experience, I decided to try and hear an amp designed with the SUSVARA in mind; the Zähl HM1 Reference Desktop Headphone Amplifier ($7,999). I headed over to the Headphones.com booth and had better luck than with the Feliks Audio Envy as the chair was empty! Connected to the amp was the Dan Clark Audio EXPANSE ($3,999.99) with a HiFi Rose RS150B Reference Network Streamer ($4,995) providing the tunes. Only 50 of these amplifiers are being made a year. The EXPANSE and the HM1 made beautiful music together. I just sat and listened for about 15 minutes while the show spiraled around me. This is truly a great amp, possibly the best solid-state amp I have heard. If I was still running a recording studio this would be on my shortlist to buy along with SSL bus compressors, Rupert Neve mic preamps, Manley Vari-MU compressors, and AEA ribbon mics as a valuable asset.
I walked past a bunch of full tables of gear I wanted to try but didn’t want to wait for and came to the Schiit Audio table. I saw the New 10 tube OTL and OCL amp the Schiit Audio Folkvanger ($1,799) being driven by the Schiit Audio URD CD transport (TBA) and Schiit Audio Yggdrasil OG ($2,599). I really wanted to hear both the URD and the Folkvanger. The DAC is my reference at home so I know its sound very well. The Folkvanger is insane. It sounds like nothing I have ever heard in a good way driving the Sennheiser HD800S. I really enjoyed this combination.
I headed out to the Woo Audio room again and took out my Aroma Audio Thunder to audition with the WA7 version 3 ($1,399). I had loved the previous version with IEMs on my desk at home 10 years previous and was looking to see if it would be a good fit in that use case again. It definitely is! Some of the best sound I have heard from those IEMs and I enjoyed a rather long listen. I checked my watch and made a value judgment and skipped listening to the WA23 though I regret it now.
Heading back to the Musicteck booth to double-check my previous thoughts I ran into Gary Alan Barker and had a longish conversation about all sides of music playback. It was enjoyable getting to know someone as passionate as Gary is about music reproduction.
As I was walking by the Effect Audio booth I noticed the collaboration IEM between them and Elysian Acoustic Labs the Effect Audio Gaea ($1,299). I took out my Hiby R2/mojo 2 stack and played through some test tracks. I landed on Melody Gardot’s “From Paris with Love”. The vocals were lush and detailed, the whole song seemed made for these IEMs. After my listen I was told they were designed for female vocals. I mentioned the track that had jumped out at me and we had a laugh. I was surprised by this IEM it ended as one of my favorites for the weekend and not just on female vocals.
It was quickly closing in on 5 PM so I made my back to the Raal Requisite table. I picked up the Raal Requisite SR1b attached to the Raal Requisite VM-1a amplifier and just played something random. After everything I had heard, I still loved this. The sound was just amazing. I listened for a few minutes, put down the headphones, and walked out of the show with a smile on my face.
As the week after the show has sped by, and work, family, and other obligations of life have made their pressures felt, I think back and ponder what I have learned from CanJam SoCal 2022.
- Friendships of like-minded individuals are important and help us grow not only in pursuit of this hobby but as people.
- There was no bad gear at the show. Just the best representation of each designer at each price point. Your preferences, just like in the music you listen to, are what should guide you.
- A system is sometimes greater than its parts.
- This is really a crazy hobby and we are all insane!
I missed a lot at the show. I totally wanted to hear the WA23, the ampsandsound Red October, and quite a few other things. If I missed you I hope to catch you next time. Hopefully, I will get out to New York. However, this is why a checklist of must-hear stuff is so important to maximize your show effectiveness. I had done my homework and the things I needed to check out for my system I got to, everything else was gravy, yummy, yummy gravy.
The pre-chorus of “Bad” might very well be the motto of the product designers and engineers that have brought us all this gear. I for one can’t wait to see just what is possible!
“Well, they say the sky’s the limit
And to me that’s really true, ah
But, my friend, you have seen nothin’
Just wait ’til I get through“
~ From “Bad” by Michael Jackson
Stay tuned for further coverage coming soon thanks to our good friends at Underwood HiFi, https://underwoodhifi.com, home of the best deals in high-end audio.