This past weekend (August 13-14, 2016) Hi-Fi+ Publisher Chris Martens and Hi-Fi+ Editor Alan Sircom attended CanJam London 2016, which is was held in the Park Plaza Hotel in central London and was without a doubt the most expansive personal audio-centric show ever held in the UK. Over the course of the two-day event, we attended a number of press briefings, saw and heard some extremely fine personal audio equipment, and—in Chris Martens’ case—also participated in a series of “Headphone 101” panel discussion and question and answer sessions.
In this report, the first of two, we hope to show readers at least some of the highlights of the event. As always, we tried to offer a slice of what’s new and what’s coming in the field, but this means a few companies attending the show (such as AKG, Chord Electronics, and Smyth Research) didn’t get covered because their products are already ‘out there’. Irrespective of whether or not we cover it here, however, much of the equipment at CanJam London proved to be eye and ear opening in the best possible way. The inspiring and fluid headphone world continues to excite!
The British earphone maker Atomic Floyd seems to be constantly at work to refine, evolve, and improve its product line and one models that gives ample evidence of this is the firm’s HiDef Drum earphone (£149), which in the run-up to full production had been demonstrated in several subtly different iterations over the past few headphone shows I have attended. What’s impressive is that with iteration the HiDef Drum continued to get better so that the production release version should prove to be well tested and thoroughly refined.
The South Korean electronics manufacturer Audio-Opus displayed an impressive array of digital audio players (DAPs) at CanJam. Among these were the Opus 1 (~£460 or $599), a 24/192 and DSD128-capable player based on a Cirrus CS4398 dual DAC, and sporting 32GB of on-board memory plus room for two Micro SD cards. The Opus 1 has an attractively finished moulded thermoplastic chassis, but for enthusiasts looking for something just a bit more posh the firm has built a limited run (just 300 units) of a metal chassis-equipped Opus 1 LE (for Limited Edition) model that will sell for £650 or S899.
Next up was the soon-to-be-released Opus 2, which in a sense could be viewed as an even more full-featured and upscale step forward from the Opus 1. The Opus 2 will be based on ESS dual DACs, will support Wi-Fi streaming, and will feature optical, singe-ended, and balanced outputs. The Opus 2 is expected to sell for £1230 or S1599.
In a simpler vein, Audio-Opus showed its minimalist, slim line Opus 11 portable headphone amp/DAC, which is roughly the size of a small metal business card case. The Opus 11 is priced at £192 or $250.
Last but not least, the firms expects to offer an Opus 12, which is essentially a ‘Super Opus 11’ model sporting more elaborate I/O options than the no-frills Opus 11. Pricing for the Opus 12 is yet to be determined.
AudioQuest was proudly showing new DragonFly Red and Black miniature USB DAC/headphone amp products, as recently reviewed in Hi-Fi+, both of which seemed to be well-received by the CanJam crowd.
Also on display and demonstration was an impressive new upcoming product that, at AudioQuest’s request, we will refrain from illustrating here. The new NightOwl looks similar to the current NightHawk (which will remain in the catalogue) except that the wood grain effect cups are replaced with a very dark grey version of the same material, the grille is replaced with what appears to be a dome type arrangement, there’s a different multi-stranded cable, and a set of leather and microfibre ear pads are supplied in the box. In a quick listen of the late prototype, the sound of the NightOwl sounds broadly similar to the NightHawk, but less ‘brooding’ and ‘dark’ sounding. The price is expected to be around £100 more than the NightHawk.
For CanJam the German firm Beyerdynamic demonstrated its very recently released new DT 1990 Pro open-back studio reference headphone (£483 or €599). While the DT 1990 Pro is not official a ‘Tesla’ model, such as the T5p or T1, it does use a 45mm Tesla-type driver whose motor features a neodymium magnet assembly. The DT 1990 Pro sounded very good indeed, with an emphasis on openness and transparency, and interestingly comes with two differently voiced sets of ear pad (one set for analytical in-studio use and the other set offering a more musically balanced presentation). My thought was that this new model represents an awful lot of headphone for the money and that it might make a perfect entry point for listeners seeking a Tesla-like listening experience, but who are not yet prepared to invest the four-figure sums that full-on Tesla models command.