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Hi-Fi+ Visits CanJam NYC – Part 2

Hi-Fi+ Visits CanJam NYC – Part 2

This is Part 2 of Hi-Fi+’s three-part photo-essay covering the recent CanJam NYC event.

Dekoni

Dekoni is a firm I met for the first time at CanJam NYC and whose mission is to offer extremely high quality, memory foam-based ear tips for small universal-fit earphones and custom memory foam-based ear pads (clad either in protein leather or sheepskin leather) for full size headphones. Dekoni’s Bulletz memory foam tips for universal-fit earphones sell for $15, which the firm’s Elite-series ear pads for full-size headphones sell for $49.99 (in protein leather) or $69.99 (in sheepskin leather). I found the full-size pads very comfortable indeed.

Echobox Audio & Snugs

At a CanJam NYC press event Echobox Audio discussed recent changes to its ever-evolving product line, including a price drop for the firm’s Finder X1 earphones (from $199 to $149 for the standard model, and from $229 to $159 for the Android and/or Apple-specific models with in line remote/mic modules). Also new from Echobox were the new entry-level Traveller Ti (for Titanium) earphones ($99) and the firm’s new flagship model called the Nomad ($399).

The Nomad could, in a sense, be considered a Finder X1 ‘on steroids’, but with welcome new features such as higher quality, user replaceable MMCX-type signal cables and set of both standard and Comply-type ear-tips.

The firm also announced its collaboration with the British company Snugs, which produces custom-moulded ear-tips made of flexible medical-grade silicone that can be fitted to Echobox’ various earphones—in essence giving the earphones many of the benefits of custom-fit in-ear monitors, but for a fraction of the price. Although Snugs ear tips can be built from traditional earmould impressions, the company recommends use of it less invasive and more comfortable 3D scanning process, which—based on my personal experience—yields excellent results (the entire scanning process is about as simple a having a doctor take a look inside your ear canals with an otoscope, and it typically take only about 5 minutes per ear).

Watch for an upcoming review of the Echobox Nomad as fitted with Snugs tips.

On one final note, Echobox indicated it is very close to production release of its long-awaited Explorer streaming DAP (digital audio player), which will sell for $599 and should be released around the time this blog appears.

Effect Audio

Effect Audio is a maker of specialised, very high-performance signal cables for headphones and earphones.

The firm’s headphone range features two levels of silver-conductor cables: the Thor Silver II+ 4-wire (starting at $899) and the Silver II+ 8-wire (starting at $1,499).

Then Effect offers similar ranges of copper-conductor cables: the Ares II+ 4-wire models (starting at $349) and the Ares II+ 8-wire version (starting at $549).

Finally, Effect offers specialty IEM cables ranging from the Ares II models (starting at $149) and ranging all the way up to the Mars Gold-Plated OCC Silver cables (starting at $999).

Empire

Empire is a CIEM specialist that is now teaming with Stephen Ambrose, whose ADEL (Ambrose Diaphonic Ear Lens) technology is said to relieve excess pneumatic pressure within the ear canals of CIEM wearers, thus promoting hearing health while also improving sound quality. I got a brief chance to hear Empire’s flagship Zeus XR earphone ($2,729), which in essence is two earphones in one, thanks to external voicing control switches that allow users to select the voicing of either of Empire’s best regarded top-tier models. The dual-voicing feature seems to me to be a very good idea in that it gives listeners freedom of choice in selecting the voicing profiles they prefer or that may work best with a given recording.

The Zeus XR was fitted with the ADEL system, but I really wasn’t able to reach any definitive conclusion regarding the possible merits of the ADEL technology.
 

Final

For many years the original FI-BA-SS universal fit earphone has stood as a prime example of the Japanese firm Final’s highest level of craftsmanship and sonic accomplishment in a compact universal-fit design. For CanJam NYC, though, Final revealed the successors to its earlier flagship model with the new FI-BA-SS-T25 ($1,279) and the FI-BA-SS-T35 ($1,249). Both models, in keeping with longstanding Final practice, are based on single balanced armature design and place a great emphasis on exquisite timbral purity.


 

 

FiiO

The good folks at FiiO were highlighting their remarkably full-featured X5 Gen III digital audio player ($399), which is based on a pair of AKM 4490 DACs (the same found in multi-thousand dollar DAPs from other manufacturers) and which offers both single-ended and balanced outputs. Perhaps most significantly of all, the X5 Gen III is based on Android 5.1 Lollipop and can therefore access and apply a host of music-related apps as found on the Google Play store.
 

Focal

The French firm has been making waves with its flagship Utopia headphones and their somewhat scaled back siblings in the form of the also excellent Elear headphones.

However, all this emphasis at the top of the Focal range has had the effect of diverting attention away from the firm’s new entry-level headphone, called simply the Listen (priced at $299). Those familiar with Focal’s earlier generation offerings will spot an immediate family resemblance between the new Listen and the Focal models that preceded it.
 

HiFiMAN

As at the CES 2017 event held just a few weeks ago, HiFiMAN’s display focused on three key new offerings: the Shangri-La electrostatic headphone/amplifier system ($50,000), the new RE2000 universal-fit earphone ($2,000), and the new Edition 6 planar magnetic headphone ($6,000).

Much has been written about the Shangri-La system already, so that suffice it to say that it is an all-out assault on the state of the art, with production beginning about now. If HiFiMAN is able to free up a sample of the system in the midst of fulfilling back-orders, Hi-Fi+ will attempt to bring its readers a review of this remarkable system.

The RE2000 is a dynamic driver-equipped earphone that sports what HiFiMAN calls the world’s first ‘Topology diaphragm’, where the driver’s thin metal diaphragm dome has received a geometrically precise overlay (or partial coating) of an ultra-thin layer of nanomaterial. Basically, HiFiMAN discovered that by varying the exact geometry of the overlay (picture an almost snowflake-like pattern of material applied on the face surface of the dome), it was possible to both control and enhance the frequency response and distortion characteristics of the driver. The result is a dynamic driver that sounds like no other—in a good way.

When I heard the first prototypes of the Edition 6 planar magnet headphones at CES, my thought was that they showed promise but were perhaps not as differentiated from HiFiMAN’s excellent HE1000 v2 headphones as I had hoped they might be. However, HiFiMAN has been hard at work on the Edition 6, mostly in terms of making extensive (but internal) revisions to the headphone’s ear cup frames, and the results as heard at CanJam NYC were simply spectacular. Between January and now, the Edition 6 has taken huge strides in terms of openness, transparency, and detail, so that it now sounds almost like a ‘junior’ version of the Shangri-La electrostat. We can’t wait to hear the final production versions.

Kimber Kable

The Utah-based firm Kimber Kable has been making serious inroads into the high-end headphone world through its Axios-series headphone cables ($830, 2m), which are among the best we’ve heard (a Hi-Fi+ review of the Axios cables is slated for later this year).

However, Kimber decided to pull out all the stops to offer the finest headphone cable it knows how to make, in the form of the Axios Ag ($4,500, 2m), which uses pure silver conductors. About now you might be wondering if any headphone cable could possibly be worth that sort of money and all I can tell you is that A) I know of at least one case where the Axios Ag won over a staunch cable sceptic, and B) don’t listen to this cable unless you can afford it, because to hear it is to want is. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

 

Lotoo

The Chinese firm Lotoo is now teaming with Abyss Headphones/JPS Labs in a distribution arrangement and one outcome of the new arrangement is a special version of Lotoo’s flagship PAW Gold digital audio player (or DAP), called the PAW Gold Diana Edition ($2,399), which is intended specifically for use with the upcoming and decidedly power hungry Abyss Diana planar magnetic headphone.

At the other end of the pricing spectrum, though, Lotto showed its adorable little PAW Pico ‘micro DAP’ ($199), which is somewhat smaller than a Zippo cigarette lighter, for those of you who remember what those look like. The tiny player offers 32GB of internal memory (but no micro SD card slot), is DSD 64/1280-capable, provided GPS and motion sensor functionality (though I’m not 100% sure what those are for) and playback time of ~10 hours per battery charge. All in all, the little player gives you a lot of musical enjoyment for not a lot of money.

Matrix Audio

Digital audio can be a world where specsmanship holds sway, but frankly we’ve never seen a DAC preamp with more spectacular baseline specifications that Matrix Audio’s new X-Sabre Pro DAC/preamp ($1699.96). The X-Sabre Pros is based on ESS’ new ES9038PRO DAC device and supports PCM files at rates up to 32/768 while also providing decoding for DSD files up to (no, this is not a typo) DSD1024 (!). The X-Sabre Pro offers digital inputs for AES/EBU, coaxial and optical S/PDIF, I2S, and USB, with both single-ended and balanced analogue outputs. As expected, the unit offers “ultra-low phase noise oscillators, multiple low noise/low dropout power supply regulators, and no less than seven different digital filter options.


 

Meze

Meze headphones, whose 99 Classics model already enjoy a reputation for superb value for money, showed a pre-production version of its upcoming 99 Neo, which foregoes the Classic model solid hardwood ear cups for simpler wood-material ear cups finished in a matt satin black ($249 – $259). For those who care more about sound quality than the look of fine hardwoods, the 99 Neo offers the 99-series sound at a price significantly lower than that of the 99 Classics models.

MrSpeakers

Hot on the heels of MrSpeakers’ ETHER Flow-series full-size planar magnetic headphones come the all-new, more compact and cost-reduced ÆON planar magnetic headphone, which will sell for $800.  The ÆON is a closed-back design that is lighter than its larger ETHER Flow-series siblings by several ounces and that uses an all-new planar magnetic driver about 2/3’s the size of the ETHER driver. The impedance of the ÆON is very low—in the 12 -14 Ohm range, meaning the a ÆON can be a fairly easy load to drive, provided one’s electronics offer a decent amount of current-delivery capability. Voicing for the ÆON is somewhat different to the ETHER models, with a slightly more midrange-forward character that many CanJam attendees found simply enchanting.

Watch for an upcoming Hi-Fi+ review of the ÆON.

Mytek Digital

Mytek is perhaps best known for its MQA-capable Brooklyn DAC/preamp and Manhattan II DAC/preamp, but headphone enthusiasts will likely be most interested in the prototype of Mytek’s upcoming Clef portable battery/USB-powered, Bluetooth 4-equipped, MQA-capable, high-res USB DAC/headphone amp. The longer you stare at the Clef’s proposed list of features and functions, the more impressive the little device seems, especially in light of its tentative $299 price. Expect the Clef to arrive in Q2 of 2017.

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