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

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

Meze

The Romanian headphone specialists at Meze are perhaps best known for their high value/high performance Classic 99 headphones, but for CanJam NYC the firm pulled out all the stops to introduce a new cost-no-object flagship planar-magnetic headphone called the Empyrean (final pricing has not yet been determined, but is projected to fall in the mid-$3,000 range). The Empyrean uses a very distinctive and somewhat unorthodox planar magnetic driver developed by Rinaro Isodynamics—a firm headed by Paulo Shymanovych.

The Rinaro driver features a light but rigid diaphragm that is roughly teardrop-shaped, with a circular concentration of voice coil traces at the apex of the tear drop and with semi-circular curved segments of voice coil traces fanning out toward the broader end of the teardrop. According to Shymanovych the portion of the diaphragm with nearly circular voice coil traces acts as a mid/high frequency radiator that is directly aligned with and offers the shortest possible path to the wearer’s ear canal. The portion the diaphragm that has broader semi-circular curved traces has a larger amount of surface area and acts a bass/mid driver.  Shymanovich adds that the upper frequency limit of the Rinaro driver is an astonishing 110kHz (!) and that the driver produces less the 0.1% distortion over the entire audio spectrum.

A brief listen to the Empyrean through the excellent Cayin HA-300 amplifier left me thoroughly impressed with the headphone’s natural presentation and unforced expressiveness and nuance. We look forward to the full production release of the Empyrean headphone and anticipate reviewing it in the future.

MrSpeakers

One of the standout highlights of CanJam NYC had to be MrSpeaker’s new Voce electrostatic headphone ($3,000)—a model that had previously been shown in various prototype iterations under the working title of ETHER ES. Happily, the Voce is now in full production and I feel confident in saying that it not only seems more robust than the pre-production prototypes did, but also sounds markedly better as well. I won’t attempt a ‘mini-review’ on the basis of a brief listen, but suffice it to say that the Voce sounds extremely open, revealing, and expressive, but with virtually none of the drawbacks and artefacts that sometimes affect other electrostatic headphones. Specifically, the Voce offers robust bass plus remarkable freedom from the hints of artificial treble “sheen” that some electrostats exhibit. The Voce is so good that it immediately inspired debates among veteran listeners as to whether it was or wasn’t superior to the iconic (and significantly more costly) Stax SR-009 electrostatic headphone. I won’t try to answer that question here, but will say the Voce offers the sonic potential to be near the top of the top-tier class. We look forward to reviewing the Voce; without a doubt it delivered some of the finest sounds to be heard at CanJam NYC.

Mytek

With headquarters in Brooklyn, NY and manufacturing facilities in Poland, Mytek is a truly international company that specialises in high performance headphone amplifier/DAC/preamps, several of which were on demonstration at CanJam NYC. As a starting point the firm showed its MQA/DSD/PCM-capable portable Bluetooth-enabled Clef headphone amp/DAC, which sells for $300 and looks extremely cool in an almost sci-fi sort of way (as in “Is it DAC/amp or a miniature spaceship).

Next up in the range is the all-new Liberty DAC ($999), which draw heavily from the design of Mytek’s original Brooklyn DAC, but is configured as a 1/3rd rack-width component that stands as a “baby Brooklyn” of sorts. The Liberty DAC is based on an ESS ES9018 DAC device and can handle PCM/DXD files to 32/384 levels, offers native DSD decoding up to DSD 256, and provides a certified MQA hardware decoder. The Liberty incorporates a 300mA/3W headphone amplifier and provides single-ended outputs only.

Standing as an updated and upgraded version of the original Brooklyn DAC is the new Brooklyn DAC+ ($2,200), which is a ½ rack-width, very full function headphone amp/DAC/preamp/phonostage in one neat package.  The Brooklyn DAC+ is based on an ESS Sabre9028Pro DAC device and can handle PCM/DXD files to 32/384 levels, offers native DSD decoding up to DSD 256, and provides a certified MQA hardware decoder. The Brooklyn DAC+ features a 0.82ps ‘Mytek Femtoclock Generator™’ for extremely low jitter and provides both single-ended and balanced analogue outputs as well as a set of single-ended analogue inputs in addition to a wide array of digital inputs. The Brooklyn DAC+ incorporates a 500mA/6W headphone amplifier, plus a very high quality MM/MC phonostage as standard.

Finally, at the top of pyramid is the Manhattan II headphone amp/DAC/preamp ($5,555), which is based on the ESS ES9038 DAC device and features a 500mA/6W headphone amplifier with optional balanced headphone adapter. Like the Liberty DA and Brooklyn DAC+ the Mannhattan II can handle PCM/DXD files to 32/384 levels, offers native DSD decoding up to DSD 256, and provides a certified MQA hardware decoder. The preamp section of the Manhattan II provides two single-ended and one balanced set of stereo analogue inputs and one pair each of single-ended and balanced analogue outputs.

The Manhattan II is offered with an optional MM/MC phonostage board ($1,495) that provides switch-selectable and tuneable nickel-core step-up transformers and provisions for selecting input impedances, transformer ratios, RIAA curves, and gain levels. Additionally, the Manhattan II can be turned into a network streamer with an optional Roon-ready network board ($995) that is compatible with Roon, Airplay, DLNA/UpnP, Spotify Connect, IOS, and Android.

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