CanJam at RMAF 2016 – Part 4 of 4

This is Part 4 of a four-part report on CanJam at RMAF 2016.

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

RHA Audio

The Scottish firm RHA Audio used CanJam RMAF 2016 as a springboard from which to launch three new products: the long-awaited DACAmp L1 ($550 or £399), the new CL750 universal-fit earphone ($139.95 or £99.95), and the firm’s new flagship CL1 Ceramic universal-fit earphone ($499.95 or £349.95).

The DACAmp L1 is iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows compatible and looks like a sure-fire winner. Featuring one dedicated DSC device per channel, the DACAmp L1 supports PCM decoding at up to 32-bit/384kHz resolutions as well as DSD decoding for up to 11.2MHz Quad DSD files. It is also respectably powerful  (300 mW at 16 Ohms), provides line-in, USB A, USB micro-B, and Mini-TOSLINK digital inputs, while also offering both single-ended and balanced headphone outputs. Powering it all is a 4,000mAh lithium ion battery. One of the most appealing aspects of the DACAmp L1 is its gorgeous industrial design, featuring gentle organic curves and satin finishes that make the new amp/DAC a joy to hold in your hand and to use.

The CL750 earphone could in many respects be viewed as an update on design themes established in RHA’s popular MA750 earphone, but re-cast as an earphone optimised specifically for use with amplifiers. The CL750 incorporates what RHA terms an “ultra-wideband CL Dynamic transducer” and ships with high purity OFC signal cables. One caveat, however, is that the CL750 is a very low sensitivity device as earphones go, with a sensitivity rating of just 86dB.  This is fine if you plan on using the CL750 with a DACAmp L1, but don’t even think of driving it from a smartphone (we tried and, well, let’s just not go there…).

The CL1 Ceramic is the most ambitious earphone RHA has ever created and it is a compact, dual-driver model that incorporates both RHA’s new CL Dynamic transducer coupled with a distinctive “ceramic plate transducer said to yield “high-resolution, precise audio reproductions.” Like the CL750 the CL1 Ceramic ships with OFC signal cables, but as a welcome touch the CL1 cables are fitted with detachable sMMCX cable connectors and are equipped with mouldable over-ear hooks for a more secure fit. Like the CL750, the CL1 Ceramic is a low sensitivity earphone (87dB) that is meant for use with amplifiers—not driven directly from smartphones or tablets.

Rupert Neve Design

The legendary British recording studio electronics designer Rupert Neve is widely thought to have created some of the most technically sophisticated and musically satisfying recording consoles ever made. Now, in response to requests from his studio clients and many others, Neve has created a very simple but simply superb sounding headphone amplifier call the RNHP, priced at $499. The rather modest-looking RNHP rejects all the usual trappings and conventions of audio bling, preferring instead to make its mark in the only way that really matters: that is, through exceptional sound quality that—in keeping with Neve tradition—offers an even-handed blend of technical excellence and musicality that just won’t quit.

Schiit Audio

For CanJam RMAF the iconoclastic California-based company Schiit Audio gave the public the US debut of the firm’s impressive new fully balanced, high-powered, low-noise Jotunheim headphone amplifier/preamp, priced at $399. But don’t let the low-ish price fool you: on a technical level the Jotunheim is as advanced as they come thanks to its distinctive Schiit Pivot Point circuit topology. Schiit bills the Jotunheim as a “configurable” headphone amp, in that it provides an internal space that can accommodate one of two optional I/O modules: a fully-balanced AK4490-based USB DAC module or a high-precision moving magnet phono stage with passive RIAA equalisation. Either module adds a modest $100 to the price of the Jotunheim so that even when fully loaded the amp still sells for a tick under $500. Watch for a review in the next issue of Hi-Fi+.

Apart from the Jotunheim, Schiit also debuted three fascinating new full-size traditional audio components that are sure to attract attention for all the right reasons (namely, high performance at sensible prices). These new products were the Saga remote passive/active preamp ($349); the Freya balanced, remote passive/active preamp ($699) with user selectable passive, JFET buffer, or valve gain operation; and the Vidar “intelligent stereo/mono power amp” ($699) with current-feedback gain stages, dual mono topology, and no capacitors or DC servos in the signal path. The Vidar puts out 2 x 100 watts RMS per channel into 8 Ohms in stereo mode, or 400 watts RMA into 8 Ohms in mono mode. Needless to say, these new models will soon do their part to help take the high cost out of high-end audio.

Often Sennheiser’s trade show displays emphasize the firm’s top-tier, performance-über-alles designs, but for CanJam RMAF 2016 the firm focused attention on its newest and best wireless noise-cancelling headphone: the PXC 550 Wireless ($399.95). The PXC 550 Wireless offers sound reminiscent in some respect to Sennheiser’s own Momentum model, but is equipped with the firm’s NoiseGard hybrid adaptive noise cancellation system, plus a new ear cup-mounted touch control panel and voice prompt control system. Best of all, the PXC 550 offers up to 30 hours of battery life, meaning the headphone could conceivably offer high-quality sound for an around-the-world journey on a single charge.

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