Hi-Fi At High Altitude
The CanJam event at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest always showcases a ton of new personal audio products and 2018 was no exception. The large exhibit room and rotunda outside were packed with manufacturers and dealers from around the world, and each one seemed to have something new and exciting to offer.
Before I get into things, I just want to give a huge shout out and thank you to Jude, Joe, Brian, Warren and Ethan over at Head-Fi, and an especially big thanks to Marjorie Baumert and her team at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest for putting together such a fantastic show. You absolutely rocked it.
We have a ton of stuff to cover this year, so without further ado, let's talk about all the new gear at CanJam RMAF 2018!
Headphones And Accessories
Quick listening impressions reminded me why I liked the original HE6 so much. It had good neutrality and balance with hard impact and a good sense of overall speed. Really a fantastic all-rounder. The HE1000se was also very impressive, showcasing a great sense of openness and deep resolution. I was less impressed with the Arya and HE5se, which both sounded a little bit bright to me, however, both were fresh out of the box when I listened to them, so they may improve a bit with time. I'll reserve judgment for a later date.
One of the show's biggest and best surprises was the HiFiMAN Jade II, a $2,500 electrostatic system that includes both a headphone and amplifier. This is a re-imagining of the HE Audio Jade, which has achieved somewhat legendary status among members of the personal audio community. The Jade II makes an interesting argument as one of the best sounding headphone and amp pairings under $2,500.
The Jade II's sound was grain-free and transparent, as you would expect from an electrostatic headphone, but there were several aspects to the sound that were far from typical. The mids were absolutely the star of the show, offering a warm and lush quality you don't really hear from electrostatics. Vocals were absolutely riveting with great tone and a remarkable capacity for capturing special little nuances. The bass had good extension and punch as well. It's a big departure from what most people think of when it comes to electrostatics, and in this case, it's definitely a good thing. Really a unique headphone at a very appealing price.
Finally, HiFiMAN also introduced a new source, the R2R2000, which can serve as a USB DAC and wireless streaming device ($2,500). It features LHDC (Low-Latency High Definition Codec), which can transmit more than three times the data of a common SBC codec, bringing Bluetooth quality even closer to that of a wired connection. The R2R2000 uses dual PCM1704U-K DAC chips, which I've always found to have very excellent analog warmth, and they seem to be well-implemented here. Perhaps the most impressive part of this tiny little device is the size-to-performance ratio, as it weighs in at just 142 grams and supports a stunning 35 hours of battery life. Overall, it was a very impressive showing for HiFiMAN.
During the development of their flagship VOCE electrostatic headphone, MrSpeakers introduced TrueFlow wave guide technology, which he quickly incorporated into the planar magnetic headphone lineup with the ETHER Flow and ETHER-C Flow. In the time since, Clark has had time to ponder the question, "What if?" He wondered, how would the ETHER be different if TrueFlow technology was built into the headphone from the beginning? The MrSpeakers ETHER 2 answers those questions with a ground-up redesign of the ETHER with TrueFlow at the center of it all.
ETHER 2 is impressive in every possible way. The first thing you notice when you pick up the headphone is the preposterously light weight. At 290 grams, it is less than half the weight of many headphones and nearly a quarter pound less than the ETHER Flow. Then there's the sound. Incredibly smooth, effortless and detailed – it is one of the most liquid presentations I have heard from any headphone. Just from a few short listens, it is quite obvious to me that this is among the very best of the best headphones around.
The ETHER C Flow 1.1 is a nice incremental improvement over its predecessor as well. The most noticeable difference is in the bass to midrange transition, which was an area that I never really liked about the ETHER C. Where it used to feel a bit "sucked out", the ETHER C Flow 1.1 has much better linearity. Midbass finally has some good power and impact behind it, which is especially noticeable on kick drums, guitars and vocals. For my personal preferences, I find it to be a huge improvement as it remedies what I considered a "deal breaker" on the ETHER C.
The ETHER CX also improves upon the bass to midrange transition area, and while it doesn't offer the advantages of TrueFlow wave guides, it does give listeners an option that gets very close to the end game sound of the ETHER C Flow 1.1 at just a little over half the price. Very nicely done!