Bruce Ball, VP of Questyle Audio and Jason Lord, Founder and Co-Owner of The Source A/V (in Torrance, Los Angeles, California) put on a terrific personal audio event last Saturday. The day exemplified the sort of outreach I've been writing about since the first installments of my What is The Future of the High End series for Positive Feedback. There we were, two-channel audiophiles and personal audio geeks and hobbyists alike, imbibing great sounds from various high-fidelity components while thoroughly enjoying each others company. There were no digital-vs.-analog debates, and no politicking (that was a comment from an attendee, in the event this is mistaken for me stoking some hot coals). We were all focused on our collective passion: Great sounding music through hi-fi. There were headphones, DAPs (digital audio players), headphone amplifiers and DACs – and even some terrific two-channel systems! This was a treat, and something I've been fighting for for some time. It was a grand ol' time, and I have to hip my hat to Bruce and Jason for a successful collaboration. I look forward to future similar events in the Los Angeles area!
Participating brands included Questyle Audio of course, MrSpeakers, ENGIMAcoustics, Audeze, Noble, Stax, Kimber Kable, McIntosh, Moon Audio (Simaudio by Moon), Focal, and possibly a few others I'm forgetting about at the moment – but they all appear on the flyer below.
My friend Warren Chi and I went down for dinner the night before to get a sneak peak listen to the Questyle CMA-600i, only to find out the component chassis was a tease! Damn you Bruce and Gary! All kidding aside, we are very much looking forward to hearing that slick-looking headphone amplifier/DAC (with fully-balanced output and current-mode operation amp section). I got to spend time with the CMA-800i headphone amp/DAC that night however. I set up my QP1P DAP (Questyle's reference portable player) with my trusty Nordost iKable via the QP1R's dedicated line-out, and my Double Helix Cables (my personal top-reference headphone cable – though the new Kimber Kable AXIOS is blowing me away too, since getting pairs for review at Head-Fi's Canjam at RMAF) feeding my beloved MrSpeakers ETHER-C closed-back planar magnetic cans. Playing The Chemical Brothers “Wide Open” (which I reviewed over at OccupyHifi): The sound was authoritative and, just as the title suggests. Seriously, I was going to type wide-open, and then realized that might look a bit ridiculous, but I guess it was the perfect choice to check out the system! The stage was spectacularly large in width and depth, and the music oozed with soul. Just the way I like it. MrSpeakers ETHER-C have eclipsed Audeze's LCD-XC as my current reference closed-back planar headphones. They image much like a good two-channel in-room system does. Bruce Ball and I were discussing this last night at dinner actually. Their soundstage capabilities, with regard to width and depth, and wholly unmatched to my ears. They also manage to sound far more open than the XCs, and I never thought I'd say that about any other headphones, but it's just the way I hear it. Given that, the Questyle 800i headphone amp/DAC made for a superb pairing. From Tori Amos to Mumford & Sons, I was captivated. Everything was vivid and textural. I look forward to giving the CMA-800i more time in the Sonic Satori Personal Audio Lab!
It was great having our good friend Michael Liang (a.k.a HiFiGuy528 on YouTube – and also works for Woo Audio) down from the Bay Area as well. He was psyched to check out Audeze's new LCD-4 on an amplifier he knew. I'm surprised the LCD-4 is shipping already. Though I don't want to offer anything in-terms of my final word on the 4s, as I have yet to receive a pair for review, I do have some early impressions to offer. I got a chance to hear them on the Audeze DECKARD and Burson Audio Virtuoso (both are references for me) headphone amp/DACs at Canjam at RMAF weeks ago, as well as this event of course. I think they can be great, but thus far, I've yet to hear anything that would justify my recommendation at four-thousand dollars a pair. With their newly published magnetic power, and faster/thinner diaphragm, they should be mind-blowingly musical. But, to me, the tonal balance was off on both occasions. Being dubbed the “Audeze Jihadist”, believe me, I wanted to be blown away. Their bass slam is sickeningly fast, with little-to-no overhang that I heard, but the sweet, coherent midrange of the LCD-series, that romantic-roundedness many of us have come to love, I found it seriously lacking in the LCD-4. Now, I also heard some truly amazing potential, but I was wholly surprised when they started selling right after CanJam. I need to spend some serious time with a pair on my Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold or Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies with tube power-supply to formulate any educated opinions on their performance. But I need a helluva lot more than potential at four-thousand dollars! Paging Audeze: I'm itching for a review pair like an audible junkie.
One of the sonic highlights of the day was checkin' out Noble's SAVANT IEMs (in-ear-monitors). I was completely lost “init'” as I like to say. I came armed with my Questyle Audio QP1R and Astell-n-Kern AK380 DAPs to the Noble table, and I didn't get up for quite some time. Since I rock my JH Audio Roxannes and JH-13 Freqphase custom in-ears all the time (with my current favorite universal IEM being RHA's T10i) I asked my buddy Warren Chi (also a moderator at Head-Fi and on the CanJam Global production team) which pair I should try out. He suggested the SAVANTS, and he nailed it for me. About thirty-or-so bars into Tori Amos's “Wild Way” off Unrepentant Geraldines in 96kHz/24-bit (on the QP1R) I knew these IEMs were somethin' special. Her wispy vocals were emotively elegant and charged, the power was enrapturing. I listened to the track over and over again, at least five-times. That's the mark of a solid transducer system to me! I was as connected to her as I could be in that moment. I told Brannan from Noble that I wanted to be “writing about these yesterday.” That grand connection to the music continued with Donny Hathaway, Dr. Dre, Damon Rice and Mumford & Sons. I'm pumped to get a pair of those in for review.
Another highlight was, surprisingly, a high-end two-channel tweak! Well, they're far more than a tweak I suppose, but given the fact that ENIGMAcoustics Sopranino Super Tweeter is not a speaker, I rushed to call it so. But this electrostatic masterpiece does far more than any other super tweeter I've heard to-date, and I've been in the high-fidelity biz for over twenty-years now (yeah, that's scary). The Sopranino was so entrancing with its handling of the higher frequencies, I told Wei Chang (of ENIGMAcoustics) I would sell my other super tweeters to get a pair of these things in a heart-beat. There was absolutely no feeling of strain or break-up. I wasn't sure about the track Wei played for us first, which took my breath away. It had everything from high-snaps and triangle-like sounds to drums and strings – and with the control of high-pitch decay being a vital part of the upper-frequency spectrum for me, the Sopranino has no equal, as far as I'm concerned right now. Lets remember: I didn't get enough time with it to say that for sure. But its knocked my socks off. Then I looked at it closely! I assumed its cabinet was acrylic, knowing the insane tolerances needed for glass with that sort of enclosure and horn-like transducer combination. But I was wrong. The damn thing is glass, and Wei says the manufacturing process has to be so exacting, if it's even slightly off they have to scratch the whole batch (pardon the rhyme please). I'm also eager to hear these on my Zu Audio Omen Defs with modded cross-overs! Nate and Jonathan from Kimber Kable also brought something that got me excited (I know I know, geez, can you tell): A newly-finished pair of Kimber's new AXIOS headphone cables wired for MrSpeakers! I've been loving these leads on my Audeze EL-8s and LCD-series headphones since I got pairs at CanJam. They bring a level of neutrality to the cans that seems, at-times, un-matched, except by Double Helix Cables to these reviewers ears. I gotta spend more time with em, and I've been working on that. So, obviously the event was a smashing success. I heard stuff there that I can't get outta my mind since last weekend!
I alluded to this above, and I'll say it again: This event exemplified the type of outreach into the personal audio/Head-Fi community that I've been bangin' the drum about since 2009. I'm not trying to make any of this about me – it's about the fact that I came from the high-end two-channel and music industry worlds! The cool thing is: So do Jason Lord, owner and founder of The Source A/V and Bruce Ball, VP of Questyle Audio! We came into high-fidelity from a variety of backgrounds, but music is the core (with Jason also deep in home theater and car audio engineering - Bruce working with bands and merchandising). In the end, it shouldn’t matter what the delivery mechanism is: We're all chasing great-sounding music. Whether by headphone or floorstanding loudspeakers, the journey's the same. This last Saturday proved that, without any speeches or arguments. When it came down to the music, we all got to it. I think it's a microcosm for what we as an industry should be doing. Hope to see you at the next one!