2015 Show Report
& Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2015
Report By Rick
This year there was way too much at CanJam to do the show justice in just one day. The world of portable audio, headphones, and cans moves so fast every year I see three times as many prototypes coming from the portable audio world than from the hi-fi world. This year there were more Kickstarters, Indiegogo campaigns, and debut prototype technologies than you could shake a stick at. They were good too, really good! Hi-fi innovations from the top brands seem to come from dark smoky rooms and years of research and prototyping, with 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars in marketing launch campaigns. Portable audio innovations come from a few late nights with a bunch of Redbull and a hackathon followed by a crowd funded scale up launch. A few things I learned this year:
1. Portable audio is great for the hi-fi industry. Every college student with a great set of custom IEM is one more future hi-fi enthusiast. They learn to appreciate what great sound is and will pursue better quality as they get more time, money, and space. This will drive a new wave of innovation in hi-fi and hopefully speed up the curve of innovation while preserving the integrity of source material. CanJam is full of 20 and 30 somethings, the rest of RMAF is beginning to look more like Florida than Silicone Valley if you know what I mean.
2. Head Stage is becoming the new Soundscape. Through innovations in technology to simulate multi-directional listening to provide simulated space; plus headphones and amps are getting more accurate with lower noise floors. Some recordings now throw a soundscape that seems to be outside of your ears.
There were so many cool products this year here are some highlights:
HifiMAN came with the new, but not brand new, HE-1000 ($2999). One of their planar magnetic headphones is their Edition X (a prototype reduced cost version of the
HE-1000) and the Edition S (a prototype budget friendly portable). The HE-1000 was my favorite set of cans at the show and I listened to it on several different amps and the soundscape (yes soundscape not headstage) was incredible with many of the best amps at the show. The Edition X and Edition S seemed to have a lot of promise as well but were not ready for production. The
HE-1000 wasn't the most flat headphone tonally, yet was reasonably flat and never became overly bright or warm. I was able to listen to the HE-1000 on the
über setup from
Questyle CAS192D ($1,999) and two Questyle CMA800R mono amps ($1,999
each). This let you dial in the L/R balance and the noise floor was probably the second lowest at the show. I wish I could have spent more time with this system.
Cavalli Audio carries and almost cult-like following and I soon learned why when I was set up with a demo of
Cavalli's all new portable amp featuring 360mW RMS into 15 Ohms and a 15 hour lithium battery plus two sets of the all-new
Mr. Speakers Ether V-Planar headphones ($1,500), which were very capable in their own right. I ran through the gamut from the
Cavalli prototype portable (target price under $700) and the transportable Liquid Carbon ($599). It was amazing how close these two amps were on the same headset. The Liquid Carbon had just the slightest bit more shimmer in the cymbals in the uncompressed Dr. Chesky drum demo I was listening to compared to the portable. It had just the slightest bit darker noise floor and just the slightest bit more grunt in the low bass, but overall if you hadn't heard both of them you wouldn't miss anything with the portable. With portable audio like this you benefit by having the ability to take it anywhere with you. Also had a chance to listen to the Liquid Crimson, which had been so popular at the show that it sold out! The Liquid Crimson with the HE-1000 was the best portable audio experience I was able to have at this show. Would love to get more time with the Ether to really give it a shot on its own, but there were no glaring issues and many things to like with the
Cavalli amps, and at the price it may give the HD 800 a run for its money!
Named after Eric Clapton's song Layla, this JH
Audio 12 driver three-way fourth order crossover IEM has four high, four mid, and four bass drivers in each monitor. The Layla ($2,595) is available in custom finishes, colors and even in full carbon fiber ($500). The Layla has a flat balance top to bottom with a user adjustable bass gain switch +0/-10dB. The monitor also has a configured +13dB boost at 60Hz at full volume. The soundscape is not its strong suit but for true tonally accurate monitoring headphone the Layla has to be considered the top of the line for JH Audio...
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