On the weekend before Easter, Hi-Fi+ Associate Publisher Pete Collingwood-Trewin and I took the opportunity to visit CanJam SoCal, which was held at the JW Marriott hotel in the middle of downtown Los Angeles.
The event was popular with manufacturers and with show-goers, it seemed, so that at times there were lines of enthusiasts queuing to hear the enticing products on demonstration.
What follows is the first part of what will ultimately be a four-part report on the event.
Our aim is to present Parts 1 and 2 shortly after Easter and then to add Parts 3 and 4 at a later date.
IMPORTANT: As always, we apologize to any manufacturers we were not able to visit. No slights of any kind are intended. Then again, please note that on more than a few occasions we visited manufacturers only to be turned back by the crowds of people surrounding their demonstration tables (which is, as the old saying goes, a ‘high quality problem to have’).
The value-minded Chinese firm 1MORE had previewed its new Quad-Driver in-ear headphone at CanJam NYC and now has the units available in full production release in both the US and the UK. The $199, four-driver earphone (whose driver array consists of an all-new dynamic driver and three balanced armature type drivers) continues 1MORE’s tradition of offering products that deliver exceptional value for money. The Quad-Driver will be reviewed in the very next issue of Hi-Fi+, but for now suffice it to say that it offers levels of sonic sophistication per dollar (or pound) that are clear off the charts.
Also coming soon from 1MORE will be the Crystal Triple-Driver Over-Ear full-size headphones, which are projected to sell for $299.
Many enthusiasts regard the Abyss AB-1266, whose frame design is—how shall we put this? —’Unorthodox’ in the extreme, to be one of great planar magnetic headphone designs. Well, for CanJam SoCal Abyss rolled out a new and improved version of the AB-1266 that is called the AB-1266 Phi, priced at $4,500 to $5,500 depending upon whether the buyer opts for standard or deluxe packaging (the deluxe package includes a wide array of desirable accessories including a headphone stand and a hand-tooled leather carry case).
Is the Phi version significantly different from the original model? Yes, yes, and emphatically yes. In fact, the difference is sound quality is flat out shocking—in a good way, so that the new, improved model offers lower colouration (making for a noticeably more neutral presentation overall), quicker transient speeds, better dynamics, and an even more refined and nuanced sound on the whole. What’s changed? Many things, so that the Phi sports a new driver diaphragm, a new magnet assembly, uses a new magnet grid with an altogether new slot pattern, and an inward facing driver cover plate treated to a ceramic coating. The new version is also lighter and slight more sensitive than the original model.
We were sufficiently impressed by the AB-1266 Phi that we plan to send back our reference AB-1266 headphones to have all the Phi-series changes retrofitted. Naturally, this means Hi-Fi+ will do a review of the Phi-series AB-1266 at some point in the future.
Amps and Sound
The California-based firm Amps and Sound (which is often written as ‘ampsandsound’) was out in force and showed a quartet of its distinctive looking valve-powered headphone amps with a broad mix of high-end headphones available for amp evaluation purposes. The models being shown included the EL-84/12AX7 driven Leeloo ($1,850), the very powerful EL-84/6SL7 driven Mogwai ($1,850), the 1626/12SL7 driven Kenzie Encore ($2,000), and the mighty 300B powered Agartha ($3,600). Each model has something distinctive and sonically beneficial to offer, so that listening to the amps in rapid succession is an experience somewhat akin to speed-dating a quartet of supermodels.
Which one is best? Very often the answer comes down to, ‘the one I’m listening to at the moment’. These amps offer bespoke quality (and a modicum of customisation options for listeners with particular requirements or musical tastes), yet are reasonably priced for the hand built quality on offer.
If you’re old enough to remember the golden era when AR (Acoustic Research) made what were widely regarded as some of the world’s best box-type loudspeakers, then you are, um, approximately my age (a subject of which we shall speak no more). But these days AR is making a superb portable digital audio player called the AR-M2 ($1,200) and will soon be offering an extremely accomplished yet sensibly priced planar magnetic headphone called the H1 (projected price, $600).
The AR-M2 is an Android-based player with Tidal and Spotify support available straight out of the box, a DAC section capable of decoding PCM files at rates up to 32/384 as well as DSD 64 and DSD128 files. Distinctively, the AR-M2 uses a Burr Brown 1794A DAC device, plus an amplifier section that runs in class A mode—giving the AR-M2 a detailed, robust, and yet also smooth and accessible sound. Playing time on a full charge is about 6-8 hours. We were quit taken with the sound of the AR-M2, so that further listening is indicated.
The H1 prototype on hand at the show sounded very promising indeed, so that we look forward to spending some quality time with a full-release production unit when the time comes. Assuming nothing gets lost in translation on the road to final production, we suspect AR will have a winner on its hands.