Canjam London 2018
The Subjective Team head for the big City
s I wake up at 04:30 to the first downpour in almost 2 months I reflect on the irony and sheer good timing of spending the weekend shut inside with some of the most coveted audio gear in the World at the mercy of my subjective eyes and ears. Ladies and my fellow male audio crazees – welcome to the World of CanJam.
Travelling by coach into the City has become the norm for me. As much as I hate losing the freedom of not being on a timetable, I can catch up on sleep whilst someone gets me there into the heart of the Capital. The Westminster Park Plaza, like or loath it’s modern sleek glass fronted design, couldn’t be much closer to the heart of the City and for the last 2 years has replaced the distinctly less modern looking Russell Hotel as the approved CanJam stop for the UK. Armed with a coach ticket and an Airbnb reservation I set off in the early morning grey, dismal drizzle, with high anticipation. I was positive the sun would be shining permanently for the rest of my weekend and everything would be smooth sailing from here on in. How wrong I was…..
On with the show
I arrived 15 minutes after the proceedings kicked off. That gave me an hour or so before starting my volunteering duties. First things first, there were old acquaintances to renew. I met up with Ethan (third_eye) who was in great spirits and looking forward to another packed weekend. My next friend was Levi. The man known on Head-Fi as the prolific musicday had much advice for me already as I was about to enter the main hall. As always, distractions ensued and I ended up sitting down to listen to some iems.
Dita was the first company I sat down with. As a company I had no previous knowledge of, I found their monitors to be on the whole a bit bright and thin sounding for my tastes. Conversely, a signature like this makes percussion strings vocals easy to follow and can even make some micro detail come alive. Their previous flagship – The Answer, was my favourite and apparently extremely sought after. They brought one along to show people what they are capable of. It seems highly likely that we will see something special coming from this company in the not too distant future.
Bold beautiful and bewildering was the choice laid out to me by Vision. An array of choice starting at 2 driver models right up to 13 driver models, with switchable bass mid and high frequency filtering in their 2 top models make for a separate foray into what this Company can deliver and the Subjective Team hope to bring you some more detailed reviews as we receive them.
My first In Ear Monitor was a Westone UM2. I lost them for 2 months after I’d had them for a couple of years. I found them out in my back garden by pure chance. It appears they must have been in my pocket, my trousers were washed and they must have fallen out once they were hung up. I still have the UM2s many years on from then and they work just fine. I’ve had the W40 model, unfortunately, the driver broke for the right channel. I now have a W60 which I have customised with a special hydrothermal plastic method that I will one of these days write and film an article about. It has a good bass response great mids and a sparkle to the high range. I have written a comprehensive review already on this model previously and the link to that is here. The latest signature model is the W80 – an 8 driver combination. I wasn’t expecting to hear too much of a difference from my own to the W80. I was wrong. The slam of the bass in the mid bass region was amazing and the mids and highs were entirely unaffected. The richness and clarity in the rest of the sound signature show that this Company having started the In Ear Monitor Industry all those years ago is still capable of holding it’s own in a fiercely fought area of the audio marketplace.
Westone continues to make In Ears to the same design. They utilise a long thin nozzle that goes deep into the first bend of the ear canal. The standard tip is comply foam which locks the driver in. The signature is clearly affected by the bass qualities of the foam inserts. The driver housings are a small pebble shape and fit inside the outer part of the ear completely. The mix of the deep insertion foam tips and small pebble shape make for an isolation that is exceptional. The level of isolation coupled with a really high level of sensitivity and low impedance is a 3 pronged attempt to create world class fidelity even in loud environments. This means that all of Westone’s range can be played at much lower volume levels than usual – great for the health of your ears. Chamber music can be enjoyed whilst walking beside an A road, if that takes your fancy. Insertion takes some practice but once mastered these universals are a comfortable fit even for small ears and benefit still more from being customised.
I headed back to the entrance to do my stint volunteering. Not much to report of note here, it’s just a great way to contribute something, meet up with people and share notes in the quieter bits. Jude was often around at or near the desk with Ethan and Joe ever present. At one point he came downstairs and asked us for a wristband! He kept on being stopped by the security…. Paul Simon’s Wristband immediately sprang to mind. Happily, Ethan had thought of everything. I looked across at the stack of special passes and there was Jude Mansilla’s name right at the top.
Day 1 The final hour
I had to celebrate! Freedom! I was released from my volunteering duties and I ran for the hills. Well…I walked back into the main hall. I had some money to spend and I’d watched the CanJam preview. The Shanling stand was my next port of call. There was a hole burning in my pocket. If only the M0 sounded decent enough I intended to splash a huge 79.20, money which I could justify having saved a fortune by using the Airbnb app. I had an extremely good feeling about my first ever booking with airbnb. Tremendous reputation. Lots of reviews. Money back guarantees. The home was only 10 minutes walk from the Park Plaza. Nothing to worry about there.
The Shanling M0. That is unfortunately all I can tell you about Shanling’s products. This company have managed to pack in an awful lot to an extremely small package. The M0 has dsd playback, album display, gain settings, eq settings, filter settings, USBC, 512 Gb external storage, bluetooth in and out allowing for wireless playback and bluetooth headphone output, usb dac functionality both otg and pc, usb out to perhaps a Chord Mojo (I have one of them), a decent gui, fast start up, gorgeous looks and a size so small it would fit in a belly button if you had no pockets to spare. How could the sound possibly be any good with all this stuff featured? I had a listen and within 2 minutes was convinced. This sounded just great! The flavour of my Obravo Erib In Ears was immediately evident to me. I have had these bad boys for long enough to know what they are like at their best. The Erib’s sounded at their best. I rushed over to the hifiheadphones stand and purchased a titanium model. They had that or black. The blue and red versions look far nicer to me, but I was not prepared to wait. No sir! The M0 sold out by Sunday afternoon. No surprise there.
Last few bits
My last few bits before the sunset on the Park Plaza – 1. I turned my beloved, cherished AKG K1000 Bass Heavy Headphones over to Negura aka Raz. A veteran of many previous meets and a lover of high end esoteric gear he asked me if he could spend the night with them. With a pang of longing I waved goodbye to them. 2. The social aspect had to be sorted. What to do that night? The weekenders staying for the 2 days arranged to meet at the top of the Plaza at 1815. There was no way I was going to be able to get my pal Dillan out of the hall by then. Impossible! Other plans would have to be made. I made my way to the HiFiMan stand and between Francesco of HDPhonics, Mark and Dillan and myself we hatched a plan to meet up once everyone had got themselves ready at their respective hotels and Airbnb’s. Simple…….
The Airbnb from hell
I cannot begin to tell you how bitterly I regret that Airbnb booking. The place was dreadful! It was a dingy, squalid, airless cell of a room with a communal bathroom cum toilet that was swimming in water. There were no curtains in the cell and no paint had been inside this prison block since it had been thrown up back in the 1960’s. To cap it all, there was no way of locking our cell door from the outside. That meant we had to take all our valuables back out with us. At this point my companion announced “I can’t stay it’s not safe”. We set off with as much luggage as we started with and headed running fashionably late as usual to find our 2 long-suffering pals. I tried not to think of what the later night would bring at my hostel.
Thank goodness Raz let me borrow his Focal Clears is all I can say. After an enjoyable evening out, I sat in the cell with the Clears plugged into my new Shanling M0 and was able to forget about my surroundings until such time as sleep took me.
The next day
As you can imagine I woke up very early. I got up and out of the flat and walked around the streets waiting for the day to begin. And what a packed day it was! The highlights are as below. There was not enough time to get round everywhere, then again there never is. At least not if you want to properly experience an Audio Show. It’s not just about listening to as much gear as humanly possible, surely? There are people to interact with. There is gear to admire, to peruse , to talk about, to get a feel for , to learn the history about, in short, this is a hobby; it’s not a race to the finish line. It’s an amble around the track watching the grass grow. Therefore, it is with regret that I cannot bring you my thoughts on the Stax SR009S, the electrostatic successor to the legendary SR009, the HiFiMan R2R 2000, a DAP unique in it’s utilisation of R2R in such a tiny package, the Shure KSE1500, an electrostatic in ear package that Jude has described as one of the best IEM’s he ever heard.
I had the briefest of listens to the Chord M scaler, a one million tap addition to their quest for the ultimate digital experience. The M Scaler connects to the Hugo TT2 or Dave or Qutest and the music file is up scaled to a huge 768 kHz bitrate. I listened to the Hugo TT2 and M Scaler stack using the Focal Utopia headphones and Meze Empyrean’s. I then listened to the same headphones through the Hugo 2. All combinations were a breath-taking experience. The TT2 M Scaler combo was complemented by the world class qualities of the Empyrean. I seriously can’t recall a more enthralling first listen. I played Supremacy from Muse’s 6th album The 2nd Law. I was utterly spellbound. The illusion of a full size set of speakers coupled with the astonishing intimacy and clarity; that’s what listening to a truly high class set of phones can bring. I am reassured as to why so many like minded people have immersed themselves in this obsession with perfection.
I was smitten by the Hugo 2. It was powering an Audeze LCD 4 when I arrived at the stand. The LCD 4 needs lots of power to get the drivers working to the fullest potential. To my shock; yes, the LCD 4 was being pushed along quite merrily with volume to spare on the Hugo 2. The website for Chord gives the following specs; Power output @ 1kHz 1% THD: 94mW 300Ω. The minimum power requirement on Audeze’s website; >100mW 200 ohms Sensitivity 97 dB/1mW. So we are just in the range for this masterful Audeze beast. And the Hugo 2 doesn’t need the mains…
The Chord story continues. I met a gent called Abby at Tekzone’s stand. He was in the market for portable equipment and was fascinated by my Samsung S7/Chord Mojo stack. A conversation ensued, and I escorted the fellow across to Westone to show him the W80. He then looked to be heading elsewhere and I offered to lend him the S7/Mojo to which he delightedly agreed. Of course you can tell what happened next. I couldn’t find the gent! I had a team of mates scouring the hall looking for the man armed with the vaguest of descriptions. My friend Levi aka Musicday of Head-Fi was on the ball. He said we must look more slowly. Sure enough Abby was blissfully unaware of the commotion and was listening intently to the Chord Hugo TT 2 with my Mojo understandably discarded to the side. Drama seems to follow me wherever I go…
Full-sized Headphone Report
I loved the styling and sound of the Aeon Flow I listened to the closed version and it was on a par with my ATH W1000Z Woodies.
I was disappointed to not like the Voce so much as when I loved it when @ElectroMod gave us a sneak preview of it in Milton Keynes. Whether my tastes have changed in the last year or because of all the other competition which perhaps suit my musical tastes better. I think if I’d had the chance to listen to a pair the Aeon Flow Open would have been more to my liking.
Whilst I was in the room everyone else that listened to them seemed to really appreciate them.
The Empyrean was on many people’s lists to listen to. I first heard it down on the Chord Stand and hooked it up to the Hugo2. It was a great pairing. I found the Meze to be effortless and natural in it’s presentation. A hallmark of many of the true greats, the Meze had a wide soundstage. It isn’t needing huge amounts of power which is a pleasant change although by no means the exception, being that both MySphere Focal and HiFiMan have headphones that can now perform without needing 20 kilos of muscle. I was able to listen to the same song through the same equipment to the Focal Utopia. The Meze has now well and truly ripped my rose tinted glasses off. I was using them over the last 2 years to listen to Focal’s flagship.
The Diana didn’t strike as a particularly well styled headphone on Jude’s preview but somehow the looks have grown on me. The Diana stands out from the crowd with its more fun cosmetics than the gruesome looking 1266 phi. Incidentally I didn’t get the chance to listen to their latest flagship. The Diana even worked through my Shanling M0 but the diminutive Shanling on high gain is at the last but one notch of its volume wheel. Changing to Chord’s Mojo adds finesse and power and gives the Diana enough punch and excitement to take it to no.2 in my list of top headphones (that I don’t own).
I have the Mobius on preorder from an Indiegogo campaign as does half of Head-Fi by the sound of it. The good news is that all UK orders should be at UK addresses by the 2nd week in August. The Mobius was a triumph. In it’s price range of RRP 350 sterling, and considering I purchased at 269 USD, it’s a must for audiophiles, gamers, or Smyth Realiser clients that have got through all 4 sets of nails waiting for the final phase in the production stage that I am confident will be the future of headphone technology. The audio quality is of Audeze’s standards which is a massive reassurance for me. The 3d audio presentation was very similar to a cinema experience, easily enough to convince me I’ve got the audio bargain of the year. The LCD4 was another product that’s been admired by myself for some time. I previously owned the LCD2 rev 1 as my first decent headphone but it ultimately was superseded by my HD800 purchase back in 2013. The 4 is superb. It’s like putting a tonne weight soft cushion on your head but if you have the muscle tone for them, they deliver in the sonics with a smooth rich spacious sound. It needs lots of power. I’m pleased to say that the Hugo2 has plenty enough to make the LCD4s sound as good as I’ve heard them.
I had the briefest of listens to the Shangri La Jnr. It’s great to see the Snr. being downscaled into a much more cost effective proposition. Not only for the Minister’s of State; a Member of Parliament could afford a Shangri La now….. Meeting up with Josselin and @mark2410 both present at the stand shows that HiFiMan are still big supporters of Head-Fi’s contribution to their continuing success. The r2r200 was hooked up to the Shangri La Jnr. so I was unable to try it separately this time round. There is an excitement surrounding the inclusion of r2r technology inside such a tiny device that merits more research in a different time but maybe in the same place? A year goes by so quickly after all…..
This company are new to me. They have a new distributor in the UK. ZMF make wooden headphones all but one of which is a close back design. The Auteur is the flagship phone and is an open back design. It reminds me of the LCD2 rev 1 sound signature being that feels smooth with a slight roll off in the higher frequencies. I didn’t listen long enough to form any meaningful conclusions having met up with @negura @Ithilstone and @dill3000 by this time.
The last visit of the flagship headphones – it had to be didn’t it? Francesco is a man who knows an awful lot about headphones, having been mixing with them in studios professionally for 20 years. He told me to head over to the Final stand and cast my ears over the D8000. An hour later I did exactly that. The Final range is not to my tastes cosmetically, also I have picked up the odd headphone and IEM from time to time and none of the sound signatures have appealed to me. However, if Francesco is telling me to listen to a pair of headphones by golly I am going to give them a good going over let me tell you! These headphones are deceptively heavy but I found them extremely comfortable to wear. They had a decent enough sound with some punch and nothing very much to complain about. In the time I had to listen to them I didn’t find a personality to these headphones. I felt they lacked character, there wasn’t the feeling that I was listening to a 3k pair of headphones. Meze intend to bring the Empyrean to market at under this price level. I am confused as to why I’m not hearing what others are clearly hearing; whether this was because having heard the Empyrean nothing was going to be good enough for me or possibly I had listening fatigue by this time is difficult to guess at. The old adage goes; if you’re interested in these headphones don’t take my opinion as gospel, seek out the truth that only your own ears can tell you for certain. And if you’re spending 3k on a set of headphones that is the same outlay as a semi decent second hand car. Don’t do it on spec, or at least make sure it’s sent to you on approval. Even better, compare it to other headphones.
Bits and bobs
Cayin N8 DAP
This was unveiled by the advanced mp3 player stand. It is Cayin’s 25th anniversary product. Importantly, it answers the question “what can they possibly have left to do to make a Digital Audio Player unique?” The styling of the N8 is an attention grabber. It reminds me of the Star Trek transporter device. It’s a futuristic looking device yet with some quite retro looking big gold knobs on the side. The big bold design makes a statement. This is exactly what a flagship should be setting out to do in my opinion. They should look sound and feel different. The exotic appeal carries on under the hood too. The N8 has a switchable filter which transforms it from a detail retrieving linear system into a softer warmer signature at the touch of a button. The DAP will power a reasonably hungry full size headphone. The Sennheiser HD800 is at the limit that a Cayin N8 can do produce enough juice for. I was able to have 10 minutes with the N8. It was a very enjoyable listen, especially with 2 such unique hardware configurations. I wished I had been able to try the Empyrean on this – maybe next year!
Sonarworks Headphone Calibration System
I had heard of Sonarworks through the Head-Fi forum for a few years now. This is a German Company. Their claim is that all headphones come out of the factory without being setup to their full potential. The full potential is an almost flat frequency response as opposed to the jagged peaks and troughs shown up in the FR graphs many of us are familiar with. Sonarworks can individually retune a headphone for 99 Euros if you send it to their labs. They don’t physically alter your phones, instead they are measured and a specific eq is set up to flatten the response curve. Alternatively an app can be purchased which has taken a mean of some 300 headphones and gives a flattened response for each of them at the click of a button. A set of Beyer Dynamic DT880s was used as a demo. I was impressed by the difference in sound quality particularly the clarity in the mids was immediately evident. This SQ might become even more enjoyable over time, as one’s ears become accustomed to the new type of signature. I shall be taking advantage of the discount being offered and make this the 2nd purchase from the show.
CanJam is more than an Audio Show. The sum of its parts can be ripped apart, analysed under a microscope, critiqued or praised. It comes from the spirit of Head-Fi. Ok, sure it’s now a commercial enterprise. But the ties that bind us still exist. That’s the huge friendship that spreads across both hemispheres sharing a common interest in the pursuit of excellence. Camaraderie that keeps the hobby alive. An obsessive quest that will keep this industry striving for better products. If you’re not part of CanJam you run the risk of not getting your gear out there for discussion. My journey this year was eventful to say the least; but I’ll do it all again next year and I will look forward to seeing you there too!