Both the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and CanJam, the well-loved personal audio-centred show-within-a-show faced physical plant obstacles and setbacks that might have stopped lesser shows in their tracks. What happened?
Well, in simple terms, the Marriott Denver Tech Center hotel, which is the traditional home of RMAF and CanJam had been undergoing massive renovations since about November of 2015, and had promised the renovations would be complete in time for the 2016 show. However, late in the game and as the show dates loomed large it became apparent to all involved that the renovations couldn’t and wouldn’t be completed and that—worse yet—virtually all of the traditional CanJam exhibit spaces and many of the RMAF exhibit rooms would be unavailable for use.
Now you might think these circumstances would spell certain disaster for both shows, but the fact is that RMAF, headed by the indefatigable and unsinkable Marjorie Baumert, and CanJam, promoted by Head-Fi founder Jude Mansilla and CanJam event promoter Ethan Opolion, simply refused to let that happen. Instead, Baumert, Mansilla, and Opolion rolled up their sleeves and went to work, no doubt burning copious quantities of midnight oil in the process, and through sheer love for our hobby and the industry that supports it, they turned what could have been a royal mess into one of the most vibrant and upbeat audio event I’ve attended in a long, long time. As anyone who attended the event could tell you, we owe these remarkable people a huge vote of thanks.
So how did CanJam solve its daunting, “there is no room at the inn” problem? The answer was to construct a giant tent pavilion in what was formerly the front parking lot of the Marriott Tech Center and to move most of the personal audio exhibitors out there. (See, we’ve been telling you right along that personal audio is truly a ‘big tent’ way to experience high quality music playback, and now we’ve got proof…). Next, CanJam, um, ‘borrowed’ a couple of additional ground floor exhibit spaces to house some of the overflow number of manufacturers who wished to exhibit. As a result, the tent venue notwithstanding, CanJam at RMAF 2016 had more exhibitors than ever before and drew enthusiastic crowds on all three days of the show.
What follows are product highlights from most of the manufacturers I visited, though let me offer apologies in advance to any I may have missed. It was a very big show and Editor Alan Sircom and I did our best to cover as much of the event as we could.
· Part 1 of our report covers: 1MORE, 64 Audio, Abyss Headphones, AmpsandSound, Abyss Headphones, Astell & Kern, Atomic Floyd, Audeze, Audio-Technica, AudioQuest, Aune, Aurender, Base Audio, Beyerdynamic, and Bryston.
Following close on the heels of its very successful E1001 Triple Driver earphones and C1002 Dual-Driver capsule-type earphones (as recently reviewed in Hi-Fi+), the value minded firm 1MORE has now directed its attention toward a timely new full size Bluetooth enabled over-the-ear headphone called the MK802, which is priced at a modest $149.99. The MK802 is no mere ‘me-too’ Bluetooth model, however, but rather breaks new ground in several significant ways, while following the established 1MORE ethos of offering exceptional value for money.
Specifically, the MK802 features Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity with aptX coding, offers a frame and ear cup housings made of TR-90 synthetic titanium, and—get this—a driver whose diaphragm is made of Beryllium. By design, the MK802’s ear cup-mounted controls are compatible with Apple iOS and Android give users fingertip access, says 1MORE, to “control Bluetooth, 1MORE App, volume, select songs, take calls, and activate voice control.” Rarely has so much technology and value been offered for so little.
64 Audio, formerly 1964 Ears, took the opportunity to preview two indirectly related upcoming universal fit earphone models that should appear later in Q4, 2016; the models are known, respectively, as the U18 Tzar (~$3,000) and the TIA Fourté (~$3,500). Both models use 64 Audio’s new TIA (tubeless in-ear audio technology), where 64 Ears uses what is in essence a set of enclosure-less, bore tubeless balanced armature drivers running as direct radiators that load into front-vented, “frequency shaping acoustic chambers” that provide all the damping the drivers require.
The TIA Fourté is a four-driver earphone (with a low, low mid, hi0mid, and high frequency driver array) where each driver in the array uses TIA technology. The TIA Fourté is, then, the most pure expression of what TIA technology can do. According to 64 Audio, benefits include “extended depth and frequency response.”
The U18 Tzar is more of a transitional, hybrid earphone that uses a very sophisticated 18-driver array (with eight low-frequency balanced armature drivers, eight balanced midrange drivers, one balanced armature hi-mid driver, and one TIA-type high frequency driver. Interestingly, the U18 Tzar positions it high frequency TIA driver directly in the earphone’s output stem, so that—in keeping with the TIA concept—no bore tube is required.
In passing, we should note that 64 Audio and Stephen Ambrose (inventor of the ADEL—Ambrose Diaphonic Ear Lens—system) have decided to go separate ways. However, 64 Audio still firmly believes in the concept of reducing unnecessarily high in-ear pneumatic pressures—the very problem that ADEL technology was originally created in order to solve. Now, as an alternative, 64 Audio has introduced its own APEX (Air Pressure Exchange) system, which provides “a pneumatically interactive vent” that is said to relieve “air pressure caused by miniature speakers in a sealed air canal.” We have review samples of APEX-equipped 64 Audio monitors coming later this year and hope to make a full Hi-Fi+ report on the technology.
Abyss has a new planar magnetic headphone called the Diana coming in the fairly near term, but the firm chose not to show the model at CanJam as it is still ironing out some supply chain issues that could potentially influence the configuration of the final product units. In a nutshell, though, the Diana is intended as a lighter and noticeably more compact and elegant planar magnetic headphone that is planned to incorporate many of the strength of the firm’s excellent but undeniably bulky and unorthodox-looking flagship AB-1266 planar magnetic model.
Compared to the early days, the AB-1266 is now offered in configurations whose price now starts at $4,500 (where in the beginning the AB-1266 sold for well over $5,000). Despite the hefty price tag, however, the AB-1266 continues to sell briskly so that the challenge for Abyss, says company founder, is keeping up with demand.
In other news, Abyss has teamed with Lotoo to distribute that firm’s powerful PAW Gold digital audio player, which is one of the few devices of its type with sufficient ‘grunt’ and ‘oomph’ to be able to drive the power-hungry Abyss headphones. In fact, Abyss has collaborated with Lotoo to create a new ‘Diana Edition’ version of the PAW Gold that offers extra-high gain.