Below, please find Part 3 of our four-part SoCal CanJam 2016 report highlighting—in alphabetical order—a set of manufacturers ranging from JDS Labs to Puro Sound Lab.
JDS Labs showed its Element headphone amp/DAC, which is surprisingly powerful, yet sells for a modest $349. Specifically, the Element puts out a substantial 1.5Wpc @ 32 Ohms, while offering very low noise, two master gain settings, low output impedance, and microprocessor-controlled relays to prevent turn-on clicks or pops. The on-board DAC can decode PCM files to resolutions of 24/96, while also offering wide dynamic range and low noise.
Linear Tube Audio isn’t a household name just yet—not even in audiophile households—but once you learn a bit more about the provenance of the company’s product designs that could change. I say this because many of Linear Tube Audio’s product designs have been licensed from the legendary David Berning, creator of the critically acclaimed Berning OTL amplifiers.
For headphone enthusiasts, Linear Tube Audio offers the Berning-designed Micro ZOTL 2.0 valve-powered headphone amp/preamplifier priced at $1,100 with its standard switching power supply (little know factoid: low-noise switching power supplies are one of Mr Berning’s specialties), or $1,595 with a beefy outboard linear power supply. The Micro ZOTL 2.0 features two analogue inputs and single-ended headphone outputs via 0.25-inch headphone jacks. There is also, as you might expect, a dedicated stereo preamplifier output.
In addition to the Micro ZOTL 2.0, Linear Tube Audio also offers two power amplifiers: the ZOTL 10 ($2,400) and ZOTL 40 ($5,800).
Lotoo is perhaps best known for it excellent but also expensive (roughly $2,199) PAW Gold portable digital audio player (as reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issue 129), yet for CanJam SoCal 2016 the firm was highlighting its dramatically cost reduced PAW 5000 digital audio player ($400 MSRP, but with online prices ranging much lower).
Where the reference-level PAW Gold essentially promises to decode ‘all formats, all the time’, the PAW 5000 limits itself to PCM files at resolutions up to 24/96 and to DSD64 files. However, the important part is that, in terms of overall sound, feel, user interface graphics, and even parametric EQ (MPEQ) options, the PAW 5000 is more like its bigger brother than not, which is pretty amazing when you consider that it sells for less than 1/5th the price of the PAW Gold. Speaking as one who uses a Lotoo PAW Gold on a regular basis, I found the PAW 5000 very impressive and a bargain to boot.
The Romanian firm Meze headphones has arrived on the scene with a set of beautifully made, exquisitely finished, and thoughtfully voiced headphones and universal-fit earphone that not only perform well, but also offer fine value for money. At the top of the range is the Meze 99 Classics headphone ($309), which will be reviewed in Hi-Fi+ issue 134 (slated to appear on UK and European newsstands toward the beginning of April).
The 99 Classics feature 40 mm dynamic drivers and ear cups CNC-machined from either solid walnut or solid maple wood cores, with carefully chosen premium construction materials used throughout. Above all, though, the 99 Classics make good on Meze’s promise of “a balanced natural sound”—one that offer enduring appeal and that listeners will not soon outgrow. In the future, however, Meze does plan to offer a somewhat cost-reduced matte black version of the 99 Classics (see photos).
In addition to the 99 Classics, Meze also showed two keenly priced universal-fit in-ear models: the 12 Classics ($79) and the 11 Neo ($49).