Firstly, hello! I like to go by the name of “Flux” online, and without getting too long-winded in my introduction, I bring to you the first of many reviews I look to post on AAC.
This is my second time visiting New York for a CanJam (NYC 2020), although this most recent visit was primarily to visit with friends and colleagues instead of studying every single booth on the Marriott Marquis show floor.
The first place I checked out was the MusicTeck/Unique Melody booth.
Featured in-ears included the VE Phonix and Oriolus Traililli.
I let Ms. Flux try out DAPs here, but I’ll spread through word of mouth that Oriolus Traililli was decent, and the Phonix was okay as well, but not worth their MSRPs in my opinion. This will be a trend for the rest of the show.
It’s been a while since I owned or tried anything from Mytek. Brooklyn DAC (OG) is one I tried to see the extent of MQA back in 2018-2019. The THX amplifier sounded, well, like a feature-packed 789 that had an okay user experience. Plugged into the Manhattan II, I thought the Mytek THX paired with the Utopia was bass light and a bit strident. Kinda reminded me of the sterilized experience from the 1266 and Formula + Powerman Abyss setup.
Their big streamer “Empire” was kinda mediocre, but admit that they were using a prototype with an XLR jack that was affixed upside down and was not functioning, the ¼” is all I have to go off of. Did it sound good? Sure, but did it sound $25k good? No.
Audeze, you’re next:
Infamously, I made some intoxicated comments in 2020 about how baller the Nagra Tube Dac and Classic PSU were with the LCD4 even when I was sick with a head cold at New York’s CanJam that year, and this time they brought the best of both worlds to showcase the LCD5’s on. It gave people another opportunity at the Weiss 502 (CanJam Socal 2021), and bring a Nagra HD Dac with the same PSU added on. This time around, though, I was merely confirming what I already knew. The LCD5 was better using the Nagra’s headphone out, as the Burson connected to the Nagra’s signal out fuzzed up the midrange and imposed a “Schiit solid state” type of sound signature. Surprisingly enough, the HD dac got the LCD5 to workable volumes relative to the noise on the show floor, whereas Susvara was only barely audible for most folks in 2020 on the tube dac. The Weiss in this environment allowed me to hear that it is a good dac, but it isn’t one I’d use in any of my current systems.
I didn’t check out any of the middle tier LCDs, I already have had my opinion solidified for a couple years now on them. My partner and I did have the opportunity to talk with Sankar about the FLTR and CRBN (in addition to the SmrtImage MRI model of the CRBN) and was able to try their estat on both the Z10e again and the Mjolnir energizer fed by the Denafrips Terminator II. I preferred the CRBN on the Termi setup, as I felt I got a more authoritative drive from the solid state Mjolnir over the Z10e. I think the CRBN benefits from having a solid state direct-drive energizer and an authoritative macrodynamically-abundant DAC.
Following Audeze, I visited Audio46 next:
The T+A planars and speakers were a highlight of the last couple years I’ve been in hifi in terms of buzz in the high end audio Discord servers. People trying the Solitaire and potentially enjoying it more than Susvara. I first got to try the Stellia on the iFi Pro iDSD and thought that was a fun combo if you are doing beep boop music. The bass shelf was enjoyable and iFi has made the hobby quite fun with their adjustable xbass and xspace settings. The Solitaire and accompanying amp were okay. I didn’t like the bass, or the midrange, or the treble. Each area had issues considering the price tag and performance I received out of my experience. Using my phone, I had some local tracks that told me exactly why I gave up on the high end planar chase. Bass that never satisfies me with tuning or dynamism, midrange that always has some type of haze or weird sheen/color to it, and treble tuning that is a dice roll in tuning and disappointing levels of refinement. Was it a good planar setup? Sure. Plenty of worse options at the show. But I was left disappointed with T+A and likely won’t be returning to their line.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually liked the 109 prototype at the Meze booth. They had Empyreans connected to a dCS Bartok, Dave, and other more expensive stacks. I’ve not jumped on the modern Meze train just yet, but the 109 was actually pretty decent for what I hope the used market will eventually do to this open back dynamic. It’s bright, kind of like a Beyer DT880, a bit hot in the sibilance region and you’ll likely need a warm-ish stack as of right now to tame the 109 down to reasonable levels. No clue about impedance of the driver, the sensitivity, etc. but I heard some potential from Meze. I just hope the Empyrean doesn’t dictate every single product release in (Meze’s) future.
Apologies for the horrible photo of the prototype. Meze representatives indicated shooting for about $600-$700, and instead this should be placed just ever so slightly above the current 99 classics, but I personally don’t think it’s worth considering until it comes within striking distance of the dt880’s price. Shame that they still can’t catch lightning in a bottle with 99 classic pads.
First and foremost, thank you to Seb for being an amazing representative at the “iffy” booth. By far, their Pro signature stack was the best amp and dac combo from the same company (considering Chord, Mytek, Woo, etc.) I tried for conventional headphones. The tube modes give awesome customization, and their 6922 are actually 5670 tubes adapted to 6922. Pretty cool since that’s what all the hipsters were doing in 2015-2018 to their Schiit hybrid tube amps.
I enjoyed the Gryphon with both the Verite open on display and my IER-Z1R. The Neo was also pretty good too for a more minimalist desktop approach. Props to iFi for being very open and flexible with plugging in your own source as well. Bluetooth (BT) for those who didn’t have dongles, they had dongles for people who couldn’t do BT, and I cannot emphasize this enough, the xbass and xspace options on the gear are tastefully done in their default configurations. It gives people who like to tinker with gear something to experiment with. Even if it’s a known quantity like a file or album, I find myself not always wanting to hear it in the same way I did before. I love that about iFi’s gear, and I hope it continues to be a feature on their products moving forward.
Also, props to iFi for slapping a Powerstation on the table. I love mine at home and brought it with me for my gear at the meet that was held off-site.
Above, my HD800 and CH-800S
Below, a CanJam visitor hearing Hifiman’s Susvara
I’m saddened that I couldn’t hang out with Bloom at CanJam, but was happy to already be familiar with Steve from my visit to Bloom Audio’s booth at SoCal in 2021. Showcasing the new Hifiman EF1000, Bloom had more of a desktop focus this time and their premium cable option Eletech was adjacent to Bloom’s booth space. In SoCal, they helped exhibit Campfire, various high end in-ears, and Eletech cables. This time, the EF1000 was the primary highlight, followed by the Questyle CMA Fifteen. While I think the Questyle was okay, I still found my typical issues with their AIO’s sound imposed on my transducers. I don’t want to outright say it’s bad, but I think you’d have to be taming a bright headphone with one of their AIO’s.
As for the EF1000, I did not try it with the Susvara. I understand that’s what Hifiman tried to showcase it with across multiple vendor tables, but I wanted to evaluate the amp. There was a Hugo TT2 + Hugo MScaler hooked up to the amp, so the following should have that caveat. I felt my biggest gripe with the EF1000 while using my HD580, HD800, and Utopia was the treble. It sounded a bit hashy, a little unrefined. I believe this to be the case based on the 6 6922/ECC88 tubes creating some harshness on my dynamic drivers. With the Susvara I think it will be similar to how I perceive the Warwick Aperio and Shangri-La Sr system from Hifiman. Overpriced, unoptimized, all for aesthetics. Was the amp worth $12k? Nah. I can think of power amps and tube pre’s that cost half that to give you similar or better results. Using a Pass Labs (First Watt too) or Bryston power amplifier would give you more mileage per dollar. But hey, at least you can bundle both together for $15k.
As for Eletech, my S.O. tried out some cables, I personally liked the look and sound of the Plato. My S.O. mentioned hearing cable differences in in-ears, so that was pretty cool to hear someone from outside audiophile space comment on the differences. If I decide to buy another in-ear to replace the Dunu Luna and Sony IER-Z1R, I’ll likely pick something from Eletech.
Probably one of very few highlights of the show came up afterwards,
I love Dunu’s Luna. Most of you reading this may not know, but I used to be a big Campfire Andro and Vega fan until I heard the Luna. It gave me Andromeda (but better) technical chops, with bass that was addictive and fun (not the same tuning) like the Vega.
The Luna at the show was not working properly, so I gave the rest of their lineup a crack at my ears.
In a few words, I am impressed with what Dunu has done at every single price point. When other companies have something priced at $___ USD, I usually am left saying “well at least for half price it’ll be okay”. Their models, both in prototype and production, were phenomenal.
Zen Pro was a very nice alternative to Luna, technically encroaching on their retired flagship. If I didn’t already have a Luna, I would most certainly have purchased a Zen Pro at this event.
The Vulkan/Vulcan was impressive and I hope that their pricing stays in the quoted range. Much easier to work with on fit compared to the blessing 2, also had multiple tuning ideas which makes me interested in what Dunu chooses. I liked v1 more than v2, but both were enjoyable.
There was a Falcon Pro C which was unanimously (in my group) applauded as being a straight upgrade to the original Falcon Pro.
And finally from the in-ears, the Titan S should be considered as an alternative to the standard recommendations under $100 USD in-ear market.
I avoided the SA6 simply because I thought it was better to give feedback on the Vulcan line than trying something the community already applauds.
Dunu continues to set bars for price/performance in the in-ear space.
Woo Audio featuring the Stax X9000:
Fed by a WA11 Topaz, the 3ES and X9000 had lovely synergy here. One of my biggest issues with estats is treble peaks and timbre. The SR-009 and 009S have some of the worst timbre in headphones, and they always get paired with gear that takes that sentiment for me to 11/10 with the Chord Dave, Blu MK2, and Headamp Blue Hawaii. In the separated Woo room, I found the X9000 to be calmed down by the 3ES, equipped with 4 300B tubes, a 5U4G rectifier, and a pair of 6SN7s. I liked how technical the x9000 sounded, seeming to stem from how the 009 series is applauded on headfi, but with tuning and technical ability that is more reminiscent of the SR-007 (mk1, from the Omega II designation), it’s true predecessor.
At this setup, I felt confident in saying that the CRBN was outclassed by the X9000, not because of amp synergy, but because of just how technically capable the Stax is compared to the Audeze. I still enjoy the CRBN, but I see now how far behind it is in the estat space.
I did not get to check out the Abyss Diana TC in this room, nor the Woo Audio WA-23. However, the Diana TC seemed to be the thing to get the most criticism in this room from my group of friends and it’s disappointing seeing the Diana Phi get replaced by something worse.
Red October (R.O.) is this amplifier’s name, and may as well sink with the Nautilus as being some of the weirdest sounding tube amps I’ve heard in recent memory. Seeming to be a Nautilus-based amp for sound with 300Bs in place of KT88s, the R.O. was an amplifier that was doomed from the start for me since the Nautilus is already my least favorite tube amp from SoCal, and didn’t need to be modified further. Alas, here we are, and I didn’t appreciate the artificial treble from the Nautilus, I still don’t think the R.O. with 300Bs improves enough about the amp design to warrant being in the price tier it exists in. I personally think the A&S Agartha is still the best amp I’ve heard from Ampsandsound, even though I know the marketing material for the Nautilus is all about the transformers and wiring and such. It might look cool, it might fit into an aesthetic, but it’s a pass from my ears. Looking forward to other A&S releases in the future.
Empire Ears, surprisingly another highlight:
I was already familiar with the Legend Evo X (LEX) from SoCal. I heard whispers around discord about the Odin so I made sure to try it in NYC. In short, top-tier and my favorite in-ear to date. The LEX has a fun tuning, but the Odin is excellent with my listening levels and the intended use cases of me actually using in-ears. The Odin hits a sweet spot of performance compared to the other multi-kilobuck offerings I have tried from Unique Melody, Vision Ears, 64Audio, Jerry Harvey, etc. Decently tuned with a little 1-2 kHz shout, but I like what it offers compared to the Dunu Luna and Sony IER-Z1R that I brought with me to the show.
Thank you to Head-Fi and its sponsors for putting on an event in NYC, especially when it had been a tumultuous couple years since the last one.