CanJam NYC 2018 Show Report from Ultimate Headphone Guide: Part Four

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


The legendary German headphone manufacturer showed two new headphone models at CanJam NYC: one, the HD660S, that is already released and the other, the upcoming HD820, that is slated to go into full product release later in the year.

The HD660s ($499) is the successor to the HD650 and the latest in a long line of high performance headphones that began years ago with the debut of the then-ground breaking HD580. What is particularly significant about the HD660s is that it represents a serious attempt on Sennheiser’s part to create a medium-priced high-end headphone that captures much of the sonic essence of the much higher-priced HD800/HD800s-series models. Based on a too-brief listening session, I would say Sennheiser is well on the way toward this goal, which makes the HD660s an extremely attractive option in its price class.

The HD820 (projected price $2,399) will be Sennheiser’s entry into the ultra high-performance closed back headphone market segment and as such the HD820 does everything it can to channel the sonic goodness of the open-back HD800 and HD800s models. Astute readers will note that the HD820 is significantly higher priced than either the HD800 or HD800s. When I inquired about the price differential a Sennheiser spokesman indicated that the HD820 has higher build costs from a material perspective and is also more labour intensive to build than the open back models are. One very cool design touch is that the HD820 ear cups feature Gorilla-glass driver viewing windows on their back surfaces so you can see the technology within on display.

The sound of the HD820 is similar, but not identical, to the HD800s, but with—of course—far less intrusion from room noises, which are most blocked out by the closed back design.


Shure was not showing new earphone or headphone models at CanJam NYC, but what it did display was a greatly expanded range of option earphone cables (fitted with MMCX-type connectors on the earphone ends) including: a Lightning signal cable, a USB Type C signal cable, a self-powered Bluetooth cable, and a cable with an inline headphone amp/DAC module.


The German headphone amplifier specialist SPL showed its very full-featured Phonitor X balanced headphone amp/DAC ($2,799) with special crossfeed and lateral imaging control functions. SPL comes from the pro sound world and its products have the purposeful and well-built look and feel that is so much a part of the pro audio world.

Clearing up a possible point of confusion, an SPL spokesperson indicated that the simpler and lower priced SPL Phonitor E headphone amp can indeed be ordered with a built-in DAC, as can the Phonitor X (the Phonitor E was not on display and CanJam NYC, but several enthusiasts had asked me to check on the availability of the Phonitor E with a built-in DAC—a question to which the answer is “yes”.

Stereo Pravda

The Russian firm Stereo Pravda showed the latest and least costly new member of its essentially hand made SB-series earphone. The newest model is called the SB-5 and it features five drivers plus a new signal cable and will sell for $2,000. Having heard various Stereo Pravda SB-series earphones over time, I think the design has great sonic promise, but my one complaint is the SB ear tips, which are quite unconventional and don’t necessarily work well for all listeners. My thought is that if the ear tip issue could be sorted out, the SB models might win much wider acceptance.

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