Part 3 of our report covers: HiFiMAN, Holo Audio, iFi Audio, Jays, JDS Labs, JH Audio, Koss, Labkable, Little Dot, Lotoo, Meze, MrSpeakers, Noble Audio, and oBravo.
Find Part 1 our CanJam report here: http://www.hifiplus.com/articles/canjam-at-rmaf-2016-part-1-of-4/
Find Part 2 our CanJam report here: http://www.hifiplus.com/articles/canjam-at-rmaf-2016-part-2-of-4/
Over the course of a number of recent audio shows, HiFiMAN has shown successive prototype versions of its upcoming Shangri-La electrostatic headphone system, comprising both a cost-no-object electrostatic headphone and matching electrostatic headphone amplifier.
For CanJam RMAF 2016, however, HiFiMAN rolled out the finished, production-ready Shangri-La system for the very first time, with a dramatically re-worked version of the valve-powered Shangri-La electrostatic amp and an also significantly re-worked version of the Shangri-La electrostatic headphone. The amp now sports an all-new, angular, cantilevered and wonderfully eye-catching new industrial design created for HiFiMAN by Catalano Designs. The circuit is based on quad 300B valves and quad 6SN7 valves.
The headphone, in turn, also showed some industrial design changes (many of them in keeping with changes applied in HiFiMAN’s v2-series planar magnetic headphones). In keeping with past HiFiMAN practice for top-tier headphones, the Shangri-La electrostat features a sub-micro-meter thickness diaphragm and uses a proprietary process to distribute conductive nanoparticles evenly over the diaphragm surface—leading, we presume, to more even response over entire playing surface of the diaphragm.
HiFiMAN founder Dr Fang Bian has been quite forthright in stating that his aim with the Shangri-La system has been to exceed the performance of Sennheiser’s ultra-expensive HE1 electrostatic headphone system and accordingly the Shangri-La system will be priced at a breath taking $50,000; HiFiMAN will begin taking advance orders shortly with a three-month production wait for each build-to-order system.
Two questions of course come to mind. First, is the Shangri-La system really better than Sennheiser’s HE1 system? The answer to that one will have to wait until the Shangri-La system can be heard at some length in a much quieter setting than that afforded by the extremely noisy big tent at CanJam. The open-back Shangri-La headphone is particularly susceptible to background noise as there is only a minimalist driver frame and also minimalist protective grille on the rear side of the driver. The good news is that these design features help give the headphone astonishing transparency and the ability to resolve ultra-low-level sonic details, but the downside is that the headphones also allow background noise to pass right through, almost unimpeded.
The second question, which many are bound to ask, is whether the world really needs or wants a $50,000 headphone system, no matter how good it might be. The answer to that question will be market driven, of course, but my gut instinct is that there will be more takers than we might think. Sennheiser, for example, has indicated that when it begins production on its comparably expensive HE1 system, there is a very real likelihood that the system will be back ordered for the better part of year—if not more. Stay tuned. Given the rare and exotic nature of this system, we can’t guarantee that it will be possible to arrange a Hi-Fi+ review, but we’ll do our best…
One of my favourite new products from CanJam RMAF 2016 was/is the Holo Audio Spring DAC – Level 3 Kitsuné-tuned edition, with silver O-type transformer upgrade and Jensen capacitor upgrades, priced at $2,399. According to the manufacturer the Spring DAC uses “patented R2R (ladder DAC) technology”, where there are two ladders per each +/- channel. Holo Audio adds that, “this is the first discrete DAC that has linear compensation and this allows for ultimate music reproduction accuracy. (There is a) Dual R2R network for PCM and Dual RSR network for DSD.”
In a brief listening session, I felt the Holo Audio Spring DAC with Kitsuné upgrades sounded very promising. For those who appreciate the general concept of the Holo Audio Spring DAC, but aren’t so sure about the Kitsuné upgrades, a standard version of the DAC sells for $1,699.
The British firm iFi Audio focused on revealing the three new products that together will comprise the firm’s new Pro-series product family—the most ambitious offerings from iFi Audio to date. As the centrepiece of the family we have the Pro iCAN headphone amplifier/preamp ($1,999), which is a high-powered, low-noise, fully balanced amplifier that offers three user selectable front-end circuitry options: solid-state, valve, or valve + (much like the valve setting, but with reduced loop gain and lower negative feedback). Additionally, the Pro iCAN offers its own versions of the firm’s signature 3D Holographic sound circuit (one version optimised for headphones, the other for loudspeakers) as well a version of the firm XBass low frequency correction system.
Expanding the range will be the upcoming Pro iDSD DAC, which in a sense can be viewed as a descendant of both the firm’s Micro iDSD and Micro iDAC2, but on ‘steroids’ ~$1,999). The Pro iDSD is a fully balanced DAC based on quad Burr-Brown native DSD chipsets that is capable of decoding virtually every high-res PCM and DSD format yet conceived (including even the really high-res, hypothetical ones like ‘octo-DSD’, etc.). The DAC incorporates, says iFi, “passive CLC filtering for better suppression of noise”. The Pro iDSD will reprise the Pro iCAN’s solid-state, valve, and valve + front end circuitry options. The Pro iDSD can accept outboard 10MHz, Atomic Clock, or DARS (Digital Audio Reference Signal – AES11) clock inputs, or it can serve as its own clock master for 10MHz or DARS clocking signals.
Last but not least will come the new Pro iEnergiser (~$1,999), which can be used as an add-on companion product to the Pro iCAN or as a standalone product in its own right. Either way, think of the Pro iEnergiser as a bolt-on electrostatic headphone amplifier that can work either in conjunction with a Pro iCAN (via a dedicated, single-cable link between the Pro iCAN and the Pro iEnergiser, which was how the pair was shown at CanJam RMAF 2016) or for use with a standard speaker-orientated amplifier (via a set of speaker tap input/outputs on the rear panel of the Pro iEnergiser). The Pro iEnergiser can deliver 100dB @ 100V (as required by many Stax headphone models) and provides a range of electrostatic headphone bias voltage options including: 230V bias for 6-pin plug connected Stax headphones, 580V bias for 5-pin plug connected Stax Pro headphones, plus variable 500V – 640V bias options to accommodate other makes of electrostatic headphones that also use the Stax-type 5-pin Pro connections. A good example would be the spectacular new MrSpeakers ETHER ES electrostatic headphones with which the Pro iEnergiser was being demonstrated, nicely showing off the exceptional sound quality of which the Pro iEnergiser is capable.