CanJam SoCal 2016 Report, Part 3

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



Pendulumic is perhaps best know for its Stance S1+ audiophile-grade Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones, as reviewed in Hi-Fi+ 126. However, from very early on the Pendulumic team felt that it would eventually be important to offer an even more compact, but still great sounding, on-ear, audiophile-worthy Bluetooth headphone.

Well, the time is now and the headphone is Pendulumic’s new Tach T-1, priced at $249. The functions of the Tach T-1 are for the most part similar to those of the Stance S1+, but the Tach T-1 now features battery life of about 25 hours and also incorporates a new feature through which two pairs of Tach T-1s can simultaneously listen to the same Bluetooth source.

Phat Lab Audio

Phat Lab is all about making the great sound of valve-based amplification available in portable products geared for listeners on the go. To this end, the firm showed two models at CanJam: the Phat Sassy hybrid single-ended triode and solid-state portable headphone amplifier ($600) and the PHAntasy pure Class A single-ended triode portable headphone amplifier ($1,300).

The Phat Sassy is intended as a ‘best of two worlds’ design that combines “the charm of directly heated triode (valves) and the power solid-state without compromise. Playback and charging times for the Phat Sassy are 10 hours and 3 hours, respectively.

By contrast, the PHAntasy is more of a design for valve purists in that it is a valve-only, zero feedback, single-ended triode design with—get this—transformer coupled outputs. Whether one considers the PHAntasy a portable or merely a transportable design may be a matter for individual owners to decide, but it must surely qualify as one of the most compact, transformer-coupled valve amps yet devised.


For CanJam SoCal, Pioneer showed its appealing and simple SE-MHR5 dynamic driver-equipped over-the-ear headphones ($299), along with its new XDP-100R portable audio player/streamer ($700).

A Pioneer spokesperson explain that the SE-MHR5 is intended more as a well-rounded ‘Everyman’ design than as headphone that aims to extract every last ounce of available sonic detail, but at the potential expense of an occasionally painful, edgy, or strident sound. In other words, the SE-MHR5 opts for general-purpose musicality rather than pushing performance envelopes in ways that might inadvertently lead to unpleasant and unmusical outcomes. Interestingly, though, the SE-MHR5 can be driven either via single-ended or balanced output amplifier and thus comes with signal cable suited for either application.

On the surface, Pioneer’s XDP-100 portable at first seems quite similar to the DP-X1 player from Pioneer’s sibling brand Onkyo, but in fact there is at least two significant differences between the two models. Specifically, the Onkyo DP-X1, which is priced about $100 higher than the Pioneer, provides dual DAC and amplifier devices and offers both single-end and balanced outputs, whereas the Pioneer appears to use single DAC and amplifier devices and provides single-ended headphone outputs only. In all other respects, however, the players appear to offer equivalent functionality—albeit in slightly differently styled packages.


Puro Sound Labs

Puro Sound Labs, which is led by the same US team that guides 1More, above, is a company on a mission, and that mission is to provide musically satisfying headphones for children and adults that directly address the problem of noise induced hearing loss.  For the Puro team, this isn’t just a hypothetical ‘good idea’; it’s a personal matter in that the CEO’s daughter suffers form noise induced hearing loss as a result of listening to music at overly high levels for overly long periods of time.

Consequently, Puro’s BT2200 wireless Bluetooth headphones for kids ($79.99) are designed to limit sound output to 85dB (the maximum safe level for long-term listening) with most portable devices. But, in the interest of also providing musical satisfaction, the BT2200s feature the Puro Balanced Response voicing curve, which is said to “closely mimic a flat, in-room speaker response (that) equally balances bass, vocals, and highs to deliver clear vocal reproduction without excessive volume).

Then, for the grownups in the family, Puro offers its BT5200 wireless Bluetooth headphones ($129.99). Conceptually, the BT5200 is much like a scaled up BT2200 but with AptX Bluetooth connectivity, plus the ability to play at higher than 85dB volume levels, if desired. However, as a safety feature, the headphone features an external, colour-coded average volume level indicator light, where green means 85dB or less, yellow means 85-95dB, and red means greater than 95dB. In this way, parents can allow teenagers to use the BT5200 headphones while being able to tell at a glance if volume settings are being pushed to potentially unsafe levels—a clever idea whose time has come.

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