We hope every one had a great time at CanJam this year, it was awesome to be in SoCal and see everyone again! New faces and old friends alike it was truly a breath of fresh air to gather together and share the same space and love for music and Hi-Fi!
This year's show was particularly exciting with the launch of some cutting edge new flagships from Meze Audio, Audeze and a product refresh from Hifiman. Plus we had a chance to hear an all new portable from iFi Audio and a brand new tube amp from RAAL!
Thankfully we got the chance to hear this years new products this year thru our own set up, which consisted of the Mytek Manhattan II DAC fed USB from either a Samsung or Apple Tablet playing a combination of local files and lossless streaming files thru Qobuz. Our demo playlist included the following tracks:
Audeze's newest open-back planar flagship was nothing short of outstanding! I had a chance to spend a few moments with it right at the end of the show and WOW what a treat that was. I started with System of a Down's "Mind," and sure enough LCD-5 came correct. That opening bass line was deeeeep, with a ton of power and nuance. No lack of texture and LCD-5 was able to accurately sustain the trailing edge of each note right up until the riff as a whole goes silent. It was crazy to both hear and feel that vibrato of the strings but that little added detail really adds to song's overall appeal for me!
Then... in typical S.O.A.D fashion the track EXPLODES, the scream and roar of guitars, the visceral grit and power of Serj's voice, explosive drums and those deep powerful bass lines. LCD 5 presented everything with a natural full bodied tone with just enough airiness up top. I appreciated LCD 5's improved dynamic contrast too, I noticed a cleaner more discernible change in both macro and micro dynamics.
Tho I wondered... could LCD 5 present more delicate acoustic music with the same nuance and POWER it did Nu-Metal? Sure enough, it did. Listening to Sarah Jarosz's "Simple Twist of Fate," LCD-5 presented the right mix of body and depth. Sometimes other headphones or systems will over-emphasis the opening cello, adding way too much body and reverb. LCD-5’s presentation, however, was clean with proper body and all of that cello's natural beautiful body reverb. The staging was deep as well with LCD-5 sustaining Sarah's voice deep into the stage as her trailing edge of her every note drifted off into silence. The sound was hauntingly real! All in all I have to say with LCD-5 Audeze has perfected their house sound. A perfect blend of seductive tone and outstanding detail!
iFi's new GO Blu was an absolute blast to listen to and demo! I got the chance to barrow it mid-show during a coffee run. As I scurried about I found GO Blu was not only super easy to get connected but even simpler to operate! It felt excellent in the hand and sounded awesome. With the Meze 99 Classic I didn't miss a single second of Michael Jackson's Beat It, the combination was lively and engaging. Plus I with Bass Boost on board I could easily add a nice low end bump without excessive mid-range bleed or bloat!
It was great to hear Hifiman’s HE R10P again, I love it's powerful bass and lively present vocals. Em's voice was crystal clear alongside riding atop deep powerful bass, and I was totally floored by the exceptional new finish the HE R10P is shipping with! The polished metal accents and brown leather strap give R10P a needed touch of class and refinement!
I've been a big fan of AB-1266 Phi TC's presentation ever since I heard it. With our GS-X Mini, Phi TC retains that powerful unmatched speaker like bass and massive open sound but gains a little needed body and fullness in the mids. With GS-X Mini and Phi TC I can enjoy deep funky bass lines and Pharrell Williams outstanding voice. Hands down this was the best I’ve ever heard Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
It's been some time since I last heard Utopia, but still I remember it's natural clear and present midrange. I started my listen with Led Zeppelin's “Whole Lotta Love” and sure enough with Robert's voice was front and center. With a vivid full bodied true to life tone and a raw presentation! Listening thru Utopia it truly sounded like he was there in the show room hall with me! While it's stage was still a bit intimate everything was well layered with plenty of breathing room. Nothing sounded cramped or overshadowed, drums were snappy, powerful and had the right amount of body and CRASH. The harmonica wailed and guitar's sang. All in all I felt Uptopia perfectly recreated everything that makes this track so powerful and engaging!
For my next track I started up “Lemon Drop” by the Pistol Annies. The track features a prominent POWERFUL kick drum right from the onset, it's a well produced piece of music and I enjoy their uniquely rock'n'roll take on country music! Sure enough as the track began Utopia presented that big kick drum with aplomb, the guitar work was sweet and clear and the ladies gorgeous vocals were front and center! Even with so many new options I felt Utopia still held a spot among the new flagships, it's detailed and exciting presentation commands attention and delivers pure ecstasy!
As luck would have it tho after packing up I happen to run into Danny and we got to talking which lead to my a lovely night deeply entranced into the magical combination of Raal's PDT-1A!
What I've been most impressed with is the bass, texture and tone are excellent with enough clarity to enjoy proper vibrato in bass guitars, the double or upright bass and cello's. Strings ring out with a natural timbre, a correct proportion of fundamental and harmonic tones with proper and texture weight to them. Time and time again I found myself surprised by how well Elite was able to render low level reverb trails as well, on tracks like Hotel California Kick drums are presented with all of their innate explosiveness with no loss of power, dynamic contrast or any added body. I found the mid-range tonality to be absolutely gorgeous, with no lack of texture, presence or weight while still maintaining a constant effortlessness. Vocals are clear, present and natural with a slight fullness and I find the top end to be well extended with some slight but appreciated emphasis and sweetness.
I particularly enjoyed listening to the Slim Shady LP as I found the bass line to have excellent power and THUMP without smearing the grit and texture present in Em's voice, and that balance is really what I find most engaging about Elite, well textured powerful bass that doesn't detract from or over power vocals even on mixs that are a little overbearing in the lows such as the original cut of "Bring Da Ruckus" and "Wu-Tang 7th Chamber" off their debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
The amp itself is also dead quiet with no music I don't hear any humming or buzzing what so ever and with music playing I really appreciate the inky blackness that PDT-1A presents. All in all this combo is outstanding and I'm excited for us starting offering Raal's PDT-1A alongside of Meze Elite.
It's always good to get to listen on the Ether C Flow, at the moment it's the headphone I use to mix and monitor my own recordings and peer deep into new music when I’m looking for new test tracks. Hearing it on the GS-X MK2 tho certainly gave me a taste of what it can do with a truly top class amplifier behind it. Still, Ether C Flow remains one of my go to closed backs for it's linearity, transparency and outstanding comfort! A quality that it retains on everything from the iFi Zen Dac all the way on up and thru to the GS-X Mk2!
Take 5 is one of those classic Jazz songs we're all familiar with, it has a special place in my mind tho as I've had a chance to hear it off Robert Honablue's mastering console in his home studio. Honeablue, for those who don't recall, worked as a recording engineer for CBS Records which allowed him a chance to serve as the sound engineer for Zeppelin, Dave Brubeck, the band Chicago and many others.
So Take Five is a piece I'm intimately familiar with and one of the very few pieces of music I've actually heard right the engineer's console exactly as the artist intended. Going into the Stealth listen I was a bit concerned it would be too bassy for my tastes. The Ether C Flow I'd heard prior had outstanding balance top to bottom, which I love about it, and Stealth’s tuning has a bit more bottom end. Thankfully this was not the case!
I was pleasantly surprised to find Stealth slightly elevated sub bass rendered low frequencies with life like nuance and slam. For me what I love about the Dan Clark Audio line of closed back headphones is there transparency and linearity. Any mixing I do in my own home is with an Ether C Flow and it's clear that Stealth retains that level of balance, detail and nuance but also adds just a touch of musicality and weight while maintaining that same DNA. Now there are times where I find my Ether C Flow a bit lean in the midrange, times where I find myself open to a bit more musicality. With Stealth however I could adjust the placement of the headphones to adjust it’s mid-range presentation, and once dialed in I experienced an unmatched natural clarity from top to bottom. The double bass was rich and heavy without any excessive emphasis on it's harmonic overtones nor a lack of definition, it's beautiful tone and impact were present within the mix without drowning out the piano, drums or horns. I also appreciate the crystal clear timbre of the brass in particular, a slightly sweet burnished tone with excellent texture. Best of all Stealth's well extended but non-fatiguing top end capture both the delicate airiness of the high hats and immediacy of the snares. It's perfectly balanced tone top to bottom combined with it's excellent passive isolation lined up well with how this song sounded right from the master console.
Audeze's new electrostatic headphone CRBN on our Blue Hawaii SE was easily best in show for us. If you remember, the 009S was supposed to bring a fuller mid tone and denser bass quality to the STAX 009 sound, and to some extent it achieved this goal. CRBN however proves it self a more well rounded compliment and upgrade for 009 owners than the 009S itself! It's linear extended bass response has better texture, slam and timbre. Additionally the midrange has a denser more immediate tone with an exceptionally cohesive response. One of my issues with 009S was that it had a slight u-shaped presentation, male vocals had a heavier from the chest tone on their lower registers but also sounded a bit distant at times. With CRBN however there's noticeably better balance and cohesion throughout it's mid-range presentation without ever sounding too heavy or distant. Both male and female vocals sounded perfectly natural throughout their entire register, everything from that depth and body that comes up from the chest to the delicate airy quality of a breathe taken before a change in verse of volume.
Best of all, CRBN maintains this amazing naturalness with no loss of extension on both ends of the spectrum. One of my favorite test tracks is Beck's - Guess I'm Doing Fine. For me the track as a whole present a beautiful amount of contrast textures and complimentary tones and harmony. The heaviness of the electric bass, the delicacy of the acoustic guitar, the wail and moan of the harmonica, the beautifully percussive edge of a full bodied piano and his uniquely sweet airy voice. A lot of times tho various headphones and setups will place slight emphasis on some elements over others. Some overemphasis the bass a bit, adding weight such that it starts to detract from the delicacy of the guitars and vocals, others push his voice and the piano work a bit forward and lack some of the electric bass beautiful weight and vibrato. Some systems even over-emphasis the guitar and harmonic which ultimately distracts your attention from his voice.
So you can imagine how absolutely delighted I was when CRBN presented everything exactly as it should well layered within a spacious stage, fully rendering the beautifully textured vibrato of those heavy strings and kept it perfectly within the mix without overpowering any other elements. Capturing and conveying the unique tone of his voice, the delicacy of the guitar work, the wail and moan of the harmonica without being strident and all of the body and percussive tactility of the piano. Hearing this track thru the Audeze CRBN on our Blue Hawaii Special Edition was unforgettable, I cannot say I've ever heard this song presented as perfectly as what I experienced!
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