CanJam at RMAF 2016 – Part 3 of 4

This is Part 3 of a four-part report on CanJam at RMAF 2016.

Earphones and in-ear monitors,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs


The Chinese firm Lotoo is known for its powerful and robustly built high-res digital audio players and for CanJam RMAF 2016 the firm was showing a proposed new product bundle (price TBD) consisting of Lotoo’s flagship Lotoo PAW Gold DAP as reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issue 129 and the ENIGMAcoustics hybrid electrostatic/dynamic headphone as reviewed in Hi-FI+ issue 138.

In the Abyss booth adjacent to the Lotoo exhibit space, the firm was also showing a new Diana Edition version of the PAW Gold—a version with higher gain than the standard model and that is offered in anticipation of Abyss’ upcoming Diana planar magnetic headphone. Abyss president Joe Skubinski observed that he had found very few DAPs that could drive his firm’s admittedly power-hungry headphones, but that Lotoo's PAW Gold (and specifically the PAW Gold Diana-edition) fitted the bill quite nicely. The Diana Edition model is expected to sell for about $2,379 (or roughly $179 more than the standard PAW Gold).


Thus far, Meze Headphones is perhaps best known for its full-size 99 Classics headphones as reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issue 134, but at CanJam RMAF 2016 (as at some of the other headphone shows leading up to CanJam RMAF) Meze focused on showing a cost-reduced version of the 99 Classics called the 99 Neo (priced at $250, versus the $309 price of the Classics).  Where the Classics feature gorgeous oiled-finish walnut or maple ear cups, the 99 Neo instead offers less costly but functionally identical all matt black ear cups—a trade-off I suspect many buyers might willingly embrace.

Further, Meze continues in its launches for two similar but not identical ranges of universal-fit earphones: the 12 Classics that—you guessed it—sport hardwood walnut earpiece sleeves surrounding aluminium enclosures (priced at $79) and the 11 Neo that features a full aluminium earpiece enclosure offered in Gun Metal or Iridium finishes (priced at $59). Both models offer a lot of value for money, so that the primary question may be whether you prefer the look of wood or metal.


MrSpeaker’s display at CanJam RMAF featured the firm’s recently released ETHER Flow and ETHER C Flow planar magnetic headphones (priced between $1,799 and $1849 depending on signal cable options chosen). Both ETHER Flow models could be observed throughout the show and on demonstration in various manufacturers’ booths, where the Flows were rightly treated as ‘reference-grade’ planar magnetic headphones. The ETHER Flow, by the way, is reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issue 141.

But perhaps an even more significant part of the MrSpeakers display involved the now finalised ETHER ES electrostatic headphone, which is expected to sell for “under $3,000”, but is intended to compete with any high-end headphones on the planet, regardless of the price. Based on impressions from the show, I expect the ETHER ES will be a sonic force to be reckoned with, to say the least. MrSpeakers president Dan Clark told Hi-Fi+ that the ETHER ES design is finished from a sonic perspective, but that there are a few production-related items remaining to be fine-tuned and finalised. Have we finally got a headphone that can meet or beat the performance of the legendary Stax SR-009? Only time will tell, but indications thus far are positive indeed.


Noble Audio

 The Santa Barbara, California-based firm Noble Audio used CanJam RMAF 2016 as its opportunity to reveal the firm’s new Katana universal-fit earphones and CIEMs to the US audience (the model had its world debut at CanJam London a few months back).

To review, the Katana is the latest Noble design and one that features nine balanced-armature-type drivers per earpiece. Perhaps of greater importance than the sheer number of drivers used is the fact that, for the first time in its history, Noble collaborated directly with the balanced armature driver specialist Knowles to create drive units purpose built to Noble’s specifications specifically for use in the Katana. The Katana thus takes its place as, in essence, a ‘separate but equal’ co-flagship model alongside the firm’s famous Kaiser 10 model. The Katana universal-fit earphones sell for $1,850. Katana CIEMs are offered in three formats: the Katana SLA ($1,650) with 3D-printed earpieces, the Katana C (starting at $1,850) with custom-moulded acrylic earpieces, and the Katana Prestige (starting at $2,850) and available with custom-machined earpieces offered in a variety of exotic solid materials.

oBravo Audio

The Asian firm oBravo Audio is perhaps best known for its full-size HAMT hybrid dynamic/AMT-driver equipped headphones and HRIB hybrid dynamic/ribbon-driver equipped headphones. In particular, oBravo’s HAMT-1 was very favourably reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issues 120 (main review) and 121 (an even more positive follow-up review).

But at the same time, oBravo has quietly but steadily been working to apply these same hybrid concepts to a range of what may well be some of the finest universal-fit earphones ever made. Having heard several models in the range in the past, I can only say that their performance benefits are so significant that, in a way, they force listeners to toss out most if not all of their preconceived notions as to what universal-fit earphones can be and do. Continuing this theme, oBravo took the opportunity at CanJam RMAF 2016 to show a preproduction prototype of its latest universal-fit effort: the EAMT-0 Zeus, which uses a 16mm dynamic driver and a miniature second-generation oBravo Heil AMT (Air Motion Transformer)-type driver. The sound is impressive indeed, but pricing—as of the show—was yet to be determined. Stay tuned for more information later on.

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