Below, please find Part 4 of our four-part SoCal CanJam 2016 report highlighting—in alphabetical order—a set of manufacturers ranging from Questyle to WyWires.
Questyle Audio Engineering’s CanJam SoCal 2016 demonstrations were, to a degree, a reprise of the firm’s presentation at this year’s CES event, meaning that—for headphonistas—there were two main points of emphasis.
For those who prize components that offer a well judged balance of high performance and high value there is the firm’s new balanced output CMA600i headphone amp/DAC ($1,299). While the CMA600i does not quite reach the performance levels of, say, an ensemble comprising the firm’s CAS192 DAC and one or two CMA800R amps, it is arguably the next best thing and at a price that fairly shouts “value for money!”
For those who are looking to push performance limits (and have the wallets to back such a venture), Questyle offers what has come to be called its ‘Golden Stack’, which is offered as a state-of-the-art headphone electronics suite. The Golden Stack consists of four Golden Edition components: the CMA 800P Golden preamplifier ($3,495), the CAS 192 Golden DAC ($2,999), and a pair of CMA 800R Golden amps ($2,999/each). The Golden treatment, by the way, is far more than just a styling exercise (although the units do sport golden-hued faceplates and control knobs); significantly, Golden models receive special uprated ceramic circuit boards and a host of significantly upgraded, premium performance parts.
The Utah-based firm RBH Sound is perhaps best known for its high-performance loudspeakers, which are sold both for two-channel and home theatre applications, but in recent years a growing portion of the firm’s business has centred on earphones, and now full-size headphones.
The model that caught my eye and that I think will likely win audiophile approval is the firm’s astonishingly sophisticated HP-2 headphone priced at $249. The reason I chose the word ‘sophisticated’ is that, unlike any other headphone I know of in or near its price class, the HP-2 features dynamic drivers whose diaphragms are made of—get this—beryllium. As many two-channel loudspeaker enthusiasts already know, beryllium is an extremely light and stiff material that is just about perfect for use in diaphragms for drive units that need to be quick, agile, and responsive. The only catch, though, is that beryllium diaphragms typically require difficult and highly specialised (read, expensive) manufacturing techniques.
Apparently RBH has leveraged expertise gleaned from its wealth of loudspeaker manufacturing experience in order to overcome that problem, in the process creating a $249 headphone whose technology and sound quality invite comparisons with considerably more expensive models from the competition.
The Scottish firm RHA Audio had planned to use CanJam SoCal 2016 as a platform to give enthusiasts one last pre-launch chance to audition the firm’s upcoming, almost-ready-for-production, and eagerly awaited portable DACAmp M1.
Unfortunately, a minor tragedy scuttled those plans very early on the first day of the show, in that a show attendee who had been enjoying listening to RHA’s DACAmp M1 prototype inadvertently dropped the unit (on the floor, I believe), causing irreparable internal damage. (Actually, I’m told the sturdy little unit will be easy to fix, but will then require firmware reloading that can only be done at the factory.)
Suffice it to say that RHA Audio started the show with a ‘bang’, but not of the good kind, so that a once fully functioning pre-production prototype suddenly became a ‘static display model’, albeit a very handsome display model. Despite this setback, the RHA team soldiered on with demonstrations of the firm’s wide range of excellent yet affordable earphones, but with the DACAmp M1 tucked away on the sidelines, suitable only for photography. We’ll all have to wait for the Munich High End show to see the DACAmp M1 back in action.