Welcome to the concluding part of our round up of the highs and even highers of CanJam London 2016. During a balmy weekend in the middle of August, CanJam arrived with a view of Big Ben. Directly across Westminster Bridge in the swanky Park Plaza hotel near Waterloo rail station, CanJam London was the prime location for summer in-ear experimentation.
Being in the midst of school holiday season across Europe, some of the better known British faces in audio were absent, but the show was nonetheless featured many exciting and innovative products. Here are some of the best…
MEE Audio is, along with a handful of other companies, focusing on building high-value/high-performance earphones (and headphones). In fact, the company’s name is an acronym that stands for Music Enjoyment for Everyone. With this end in view, two of the firm’s key products are the M6 Pro (£50), which is an entry-level noise isolating universal-fit earphone for musicians, and the Pinnacle P1 (£180), which is a zinc-alloy bodied, audiophile orientated, universal fit earphone. Interestingly, both models feature detachable, user-replaceable signal cables—a welcome touch rarely seen on earphones in this price class.
Moon Audio is a North Carolina-based specialty retailer that sells an extremely extensive range of headphones, earphones, and personal audio electronics. However, Moon Audio is also a manufacturer in its own right, offering a range of Dragon Audio cable and, of particular interest to us, several impressive Dragon-series amplifiers created by Dennis Had (who was the founder of Cary Audio). European and UK readers may wish to note that, while Moon Audio is based in the US, the company is happy to ship worldwide and in fact does considerable business in the UK and Europe.
What caught our eyes and ears at CanJam London was the firm’s Dragon Inspire IHA-1 valve powered headphone amplifier, which is a zero negative feedback, direct coupled design “without any coupling caps or output attenuation resistors in the signal path. We tried the IHA-1 with a set of Focal Utopias and the sound was, well, just plain fabulous. The IHA-1 sells for $1599 in the US, but can easily be ordered in a 220V version, while giving the owner-to-be several good options for having specialty valves installed at the factory.
When the San Diego, CA-based firm launched its innovative Ether and Ether C planar magnetic headphones, many reviewers hailed the models as ‘best of breed’ products and with good reason. However, Mr Speaker president Dan Clark is not one to rest on his laurels and so through both subtle and not-so-subtle revisions to the original Ether pair (which remain in the product line) two new models evolved: the Ether Flow and Ether C flow, both priced at $1,799. As before, the ‘C’ in Ether C Flow denotes the fact that the model is a closed-back headphone.
Both models feature what MrSpeaker terms ‘TrueFlow’ technology to achieve even higher levels of resolution (which is saying a mouthful) coupled with an even smoother, more ‘fluid’ (hence the name), and more full-bodied presentation. Hi-Fi+ expects to receive a review sample of the Ether Flow in the near future.
Holders of the ‘absolute cost no object’ award, MSB’s three-box DAC/headphone amplifier for Stax electrostatic headphones represented what you can do when you take the brakes off. The trio of large, chrome devices comprised the €80,000 Select DAC II (pictured) is an 80 bit, Quad DSD converter with femtosecond clock accuracy and an outstanding 173dB of dynamic range. It’s coupled to the €45,000 Select Electrostatic Headphone amplifier with two Stax outputs. This is a direct-coupled circuit without any kind of op amp, tube, or feedback in its circuit and has a dynamic range of more than 140dB. Both products were driven by the €30,000 MSB Select Dual Power Base power supply, and this can be upgraded to mono power bases if your butler’s butler can carry more than one.
The sound, played through a ReQuest Audio The Beast and into a set of Stax SR-009 electrostatics, was truly remarkable, and showed just how much more it’s possible to extract from the Stax electrostatic headphone platform if you really go for it!
NYC-based Mytek has a powerful reputation in the professional audio field. It has has brought that reputation to bear recently in the shape of two MQA and DSD compatible domestic DAC/preamps; the Manhattan and the Brooklyn. Both were available for demonstration at CanJam, although a recent redesign of the €6,000 Manhattan – using the latest Sabre chips – is not yet available.
The €2,000 Brooklyn is possibly the more interesting of the two for an audiophile, as it includes an analogue input that switches between line and MM/MC phono stage alongside the range of digital inputs and outputs on offer.