This is Part 4 of a four-part report.
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Rethm, which is headed by architect/audio designer Jacob George, is perhaps best known for its gorgeous “high efficiency, point source, active bass loudspeakers,” but judging by the products I saw and heard at CanJam I think there is good chance the firm will soon become know for its headphone amplifiers.
On display at CanJam was a pre-production sample of the Ganaam hybrid tube solid-state preamp/headphone amplifier (to be priced at about $600) and a prototype of a new all-tube headphone amp that, if brought to market, would sell for about $1000.
Both models offer a lot of sonic performance for the money, but they also offer something more: namely, George’s incredibly artful industrial designs. The Ganaam, for instance, provides a wood chassis that appears to be "floating" within a white Plexiglas lower plinth. It’s one of those designs that immediately catches your eyes, and then becomes even more pleasing the closer you look.
The all-tube model is, in its way, even more eye-catching with a chassis made of rectangular slabs of wood, painted matte grey, that appear almost to “hover” above one another, with the tips of the tubes just poking their heads out through ventilation holes in the top-most slab.
Sennheiser was well represented at CanJam and used the venue to unveil the three members of its new 500-series of headphones, including the 598 (~$299), the 558 (~$170), and the 518 (~$130). I sampled all three headphones and found them highly enjoyable, though I was particularly drawn to the 598, whose sound reminded me a bit of the classic HD580 from a few years back, but in an updated form. The 598’s styling is striking, too, with an elegant and swoopy-looking industrial design rendered in two-tone cream and reddish brown (see photo).
At CanJam, Ultimate Ears debuted a new custom-fit in-ear monitor that promises to be its most accurate-sounding, audiophile-pleasing model ever: the In-Ear Reference Monitor ($999) The In-Ear Reference Monitor is a three-way, three-driver design whose exact voicing characteristics were developed in conjunction with engineers at Capitol Records, who have signed-off on the earphone as being suitable for use as a studio reference monitor—an endorsement that Capitol has never before given to any in-ear headphone. Accordingly, the earpieces of the In-Ear Reference Monitors are molded in clear acrylic back panels, with the distinctive Capitol logo shown on one earpiece and the familiar “UE” logo on the other.
Visitors to the UE web site will discover the In-Ear Reference Monitor is neither the most expensive nor the most technically elaborate custom-fit model in the Ultimate Ear lineup. Be that as it may Ultimate Ears Director of Product Marketing Paul Manfrini explained in no uncertain terms that the In-Ear Reference Monitor is hands down the most pure and accurate-sounding monitor the firm has ever made. Playback is working on obtaining review samples of this model with an eye toward doing a future review.
Westone’s most recent high-profile product release was of its flagship ES-5 custom-fit in-ear monitor, which was unveiled at CanJam-Chicago 2010 in June, and which will soon be the subject of a Playback review. Thus, Westone focused its CanJam-RMAF display on the firm’s very extensive range of universal-fit in-ear headphones, which attendees were invited to sample at will.
Actually, Westone representatives did give us some off-the-record advance information about a compelling new universal-fit in-ear headphone they have in the works, but at this stage we are sworn to secrecy. Watch for further updates around the time of CES 2011.
One very slick event held at the Westone display pavilion was a concert where both band and audience members were listening exclusively through Westone in-ear ‘phones (the band used an electronic drum kit with all guitars plugged into a mixing board so that both band and audience members could enjoy a “monitor mix”). What was pretty striking was to see the band members playing away with great vigor, though of course no acoustic sounds of their playing could be heard in the room—a great example of how in-ear ‘phones let listeners enjoy music at satisfying volume levels without disturbing others nearby.
Westone also had an audiologist on hand to take ear-mold impressions for customers looking to buy Westone custom-fit ‘earphones and other products. As but one example, Playback publisher Jim Hannon (Nextscreen VP and Group Publisher for Consumer Electronics) got a set of impressions taken in anticipation of obtaining a pair of Westone’s custom-made earplugs for swimmers (which actually are a good example of one of the firm’s coolest non-audio-oriented products).