CanJam NYC 2017
My history with CanJam NYC goes all the way back to the very first one held in 2006. If memory serves, it was held at the same American Legion Hall in Babylon, New York that the un-official Head-Fi East Coast meet was held (and still is) every year. Back then, CanJam was a lot more grassroots – only a handful of vendors were parading around their wares, attendance was in the hundreds not thousands, and some of the attendees had tables themselves, generously showcasing their own reference systems for other Head-Fiers to hear.
But times have changed. And I mean that in the very best possible way. CanJam NYC is now a massive brouhaha with tons of vendors showcasing a vast array of products for attendees to fondle. When I finally arrived at the Marriot Marquis in Times Square, I was amazed to see just how big this “meet” has gotten. I even personally congratulated Jude Mansilla, founder of Head-Fi, to that effect, as we both reminisced about the good old days when it was just a few of us standing around a table screaming at each other over whether we preferred Grado or Sennheiser headphones. Ah, memories.
Anyway, it’s good to be back. There were just too much to listen in the short time I had but here are a few highlights from the show.
Schiit Audio had a huge booth this year that was just jam packed to the brim with people. It was arranged in ascending sonic order where the left side of the table featured their entry level products such as the new Fulla 2 ($99) and the right side ended with their reference system, the Ragnarok balanced headphone amplifier ($1699) and Yggdrasil multi-bit DAC ($2299). The Rag was connected to either a Focal Utopia ($3999) or Mr. Speakers Ether Flow ($1849) for the demo. And bless their little Schiity hearts, the Macbook Air that you see next to it had several decent Grade-A choice cuts to choose from, including Pantera, Megadeth, and even some old school Korn (hey beggars can’t be choosers). Obviously, any critical listening would have to be done back at Metal-Fi HQ, but overall I thought it sounded superb. My only gripe with the Raggy/Yggy combo is its size; these two puppies are full size components and really need a dedicated space which I don’t I have. Anyway, it was great to see a strong showing from Schiit.
Dr. Fang and HIFIMAN were also at CanJam in full force, showcasing all of their latest goodies. Obviously, there was a big crowd hovering over the new Shangri-La system, which was created squarely to usurp the new Sennheiser Orpheus system as both the best sounding and most ridiculously priced system on the market, clocking in at a cool $50k! I luckily got a few minutes with it and it did sound impressive. $50k impressive? Not on your life, but impressive nevertheless. One very annoying aspect of this demo was that the source was a HFM-901 that had hardly any tracks on it. The rockingest tune I could find was an old Led Zeppelin one. Anyway, at least I can say I heard it.
Rob Watts of Chord makes some of the best sounding components in the world, and his new reference DAC with built-in headphone amplifier dubbed the DAVE ($13k) can only be described as simply breathtaking. It was connected to a pair of Utopias and it was by far and wide the best system I have ever heard. In fact, if it was half the price, I might even start saving my pennies for one. It was connected to a notebook that had an active TIDAL account so I wound up shooting Witherscape, Bolt Thrower, and Megadeth through it. If there was only one system I had to live with for the rest of my life, this would be it. Absolutely stunning.
I had the pleasure to talk to the original engineering staff who pioneered the SACD for Sony. After Sony abandoned the project, these folks started their own boutique firm under the moniker Sonoma Acoustics where they continue to evangelize the format and developer their own line of hifi products. I apologize for the quality of the picture above, but what you see there is one half of their Model One electrostatic system ($5k), a headphone and matching amp/DAC combo. Did you know that the M1 was exclusively used to mix Daft Punk‘s Random Access Memories? No lie. It features a unique transducer design where a very thin laminate (less than the thickness of a human hair) is machine tensioned against a piece of Fomex. A stainless steel mesh is then layered behind it and then energized to flex the laminate. And I got to tell you, it sounds fantastic! I would need to formally demo it since the M1 is a very hard to drive headphone and leaks a lot (it’s open back). But based on some first impressions, I thought the M1 had the best bass extension I’ve ever heard in an electrostat! I think more people need to hear the M1 and I hope to get an official review sample at some point.
iFi Audio wasn’t officially at CanJam but one of their nice reps was. And he brought with him the soon to be released Pro iCAN ($1699) and iDSD (~$2000) reference stack. Unfortunately, the day I arrived I couldn’t listen to it since he had forgotten the power supply. I was told that the iDSD is due out in the next few months depending on its final feature set. My review of just the Pro iCAN will be up shortly. Hint: it’s a winner.
Meet Unique Melody’s ME.1, a planar magnetic IEM a la Audeze’s iSine. This is a prototype that is due out in the next month, month and half, and priced somewhere in the $700-800 range. It features a 22mm driver and a unique back plate that maybe customizable. The good news is that these little IEMs have outstanding bass performance and provide much more isolation than the iSine (review will up shortly). The bad news is that they are very hard to drive, i..e you can’t just stick these into your smart phone or tablet. They need a lot of juice. UM is still figuring out their exact specifications but I am excited that Audeze is going to have some real competition now. I should be able to get a review sample when they are finally released in early Spring. Watch this space.
Mr. Speakers has just released a new closed-back headphone called the Aeon that takes a lot of the technology they used in the Ether Flow but in a more affordable package (normally $799 but they are currently offering a special pre-order price of $699). I got to listen to it briefly through a prototype Cavalli Audio tube amplifier called the Tungsten. They are an incredibly good looking pair of headphones to say the least, featuring carbon fiber components in a very handsome blue shell. They also feature an entirely new planar magnetic driver developed completely in-house. My short time with them gave me an impression that they were a tad laid back for my tastes with some recess in the treble. Although I also thought they were very airy and open sounding for a closed-back design as well. Show conditions are tough to critically evaluate anything so I am hoping to get a pair in-house for a full review. It is amazing though just how far Mr. Speakers have evolved over the years from their days modifying Fostex T50s! Kudos to Dan and the entire team over there!
If you’re a headphone nut that lives in the Tri-State area, I highly recommend CanJam NYC. It’s a lot of fun and gives you the opportunity to hear many systems you wouldn’t normally have access to otherwise. And although I tend to gravitate to uber expensive setups just for the experience, there were plenty of entry-level and moderate priced systems to listen to as well. All in all, it is a great show! Do it.