This past weekend I had the privilege of attending one of the headphone world’s most important events: CanJam SoCal 2016, for which Hi-Fi+ proudly served as a media sponsor.
CanJam SoCal was held on March 19-20, 2016 at the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel in Costa Mesa, CA., and I’m pleased to tell you that this year’s even was even bigger and better than last year’s (which is really saying something). There were more vendors on hand, more elaborate demonstrations and displays, and daily ‘Meet the Designers’ and ‘Meet the Editors’ sessions for the many enthusiasts in attendance. (Although I’m the Publisher of Hi-Fi+, I do make frequent contributions to the magazine—especially as pertains to headphones, earphones, and personal audio—so that I was invited to represent our magazine on the ‘Meet the Editors’ panel.)
As always, CanJam SoCal constituted a celebration of all things headphonic, with surprising new product launches as the order of the day. If there was any problem with the even, it might be that there was too much great equipment to see and hear (and too many great companies to meet and greet) than could fit into a single, two-day event. Therefor, let me acknowledge that will I think I met with most exhibitors, I know there are a few that I missed—and for this I apologise in advance. No slights were intended; I simply ran out of hours in the day.
Below, please find Part 1 of our four-part SoCal CanJam 2016 report highlighting—in alphabetical order—a set of exhibitors ranging from Airist Audio to Cardas Audio.
Airist was showing its new Heron 5 headphone amplifier ($999), which represents an effort to deliver top-tier (or certainly very nearly top-tier) performance at a modest price. The single-ended amplifier is said to provide “Class A performance” but without ever becoming “hot to the touch” and it offers extremely wide bandwidth (1Hz – 101kHz, ± 0.2db), high power (5Wpc @ 32 Ohms), phase linear performance (<2 degrees phase shift across the audio band), and exceptionally low noise (S/N ratio 132dB A-weighted). A brief listen led me to think the Heron 5 may well redefine value for money in its class.
Airist also showed a prototype of its upcoming Sandpiper, 24/192-capable ladder DAC, whose bandwidth and phase linearity deliberately complement those parameters of the Heron 5 amp. Pricing and final specifications for the Sandpiper are yet to be finalised. Judging by the sounds we heard at the Airist table, however, the Hereon 5/Sandpiper pair is definitely one to watch.
At headphone shows in the recent past, ALO Audio has often highlighted its brilliant, Vinnie Rossi-designed Continental Dual Mono hybrid valve/solid-state portable headphone amp/DAC ($1,495). However, for SoCal CanJam 2016 ALO was previewing it new, also Vinnie Rossi-designed Continental V5 portable single-valve amplifier ($699), which of course places the acclaimed Vinnie Rossi sound within reach for a broader range of enthusiasts (and within an admirably compact form factor, too). Knowledgeable enthusiasts I spoke with at the show were quite favourably impressed with ALO’s ‘baby’ Continental.
The California-based firm AmpsandSound specialises in building what could be considered new old school, high performance valve-type headphone and integrated amplifiers, as well as high-sensitivity horn-type loudspeakers, and custom cable solutions. But for CanJam SoCal the stars of the show were the AmpandSound Kenzie headphone amplifier ($1,500) and the Mogwai combination headphone/integrated amplifier ($1,700).
The Kenzie and Mogwai could be seen as two variations on a common theme with the former model optimised for maximum headphone versatility and thus providing separate, dedicated 32 and 600-Ohm headphone jacks. The latter model, in turn, is a comparatively powerful 3Wpc integrated amplifier that provides both 8-Ohm speaker taps plus a 32-Ohm headphone jack. Both units feature extremely high quality, custom-wound, US-sourced transformers, ALPS volume potentiometers, choke-filtered power supplies, triode strapped outputs, and lovely hand-rubbed walnut casework. The Kenzie, specifically, uses NOS WWII-era 1626 triode valves.
What about the sound? Well, in a too-brief demonstration session, I listened to the Kenzie in conjunction with a pair of MrSpeakers Ether C headphones and found the combination effortlessly revealed extra layers of evocative, emotional content in familiar recordings. What can I say? Sometimes fine sound and terrific music just get a grip on you and won’t let go.