CanJam London 2016

My first CanJam and TBH I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was a large ballroom under a hotel in the middle of a roundabout near to Waterloo Station. Arranged around the room were various headphone and headphone accessory purveyors whose fare included  all manner of head- and earphones, amplification, tips for earbuds, portable players etc. It didn’t look like a big event because most of it was in the one admittedly large room, but that’s because cans do not take up much space. All you need is a table and a power supply and a whole range can be demonstrated.
One thing that struck me was the degree of interaction between exhibitors and visitors, it’s not like a dem room at a regular show where people wander in and out of rooms with little or no exchange. The nature of the beast means that you sit close to the exhibitor and essentially ask permission to try the gear, this creates a dialogue and I found that visitors were on the whole extremely knowledgeable. This is presumably because of the forum nature of CanJam itself, the majority of visitors were forumists and many had travelled considerable distances, some from other countries, and several exhibitors were from the US. All of which made for an interesting experience and one that the audio industry as a whole could learn from.

Moon Audio (top) is a retailer from the US that makes the Dragon range of headphone cables and had a large selection of high end cans to try with a variety of amplifiers. I tried top models from Audeze, Focal and HiFiMan with their Dragon Inspire IHA-1 tube amp ($1,599) above) and was rather taken by the latter.

We like this slogan! Flare Audio is a British maker of in-ear phones who were launching a soon to be finalised new model called Flares. The company makes speakers for studios and aims “to disrupt” the market with the new model that uses ‘pressure balancing tech’ with a beryllium driver, it’s due to be launched on kickstarter soon.

The Chord Mojo headphone amp/DAC was much in evidence at CanJam so Chord’s forthcoming Cable Accessory Pack (c£60) should be popular. It includes cables for just about every purpose except that shown, only Apple makes fully compliant ‘camera kit’ USB adaptors for the Lightning connector.

Cavalli Audio out of Texas has thus far only built its headphone amplifiers to order but is in the process of switching to more conventional manufacturing. It is also discontinuing the Liquid models that have made its name and bringing in a new range, the Liquid Tungsten prototype shown is an OTL amp that runs EL509S tubes and will retail for around $6,000. The Liquid Spark (below) is a portable that will also change in appearance and is expected to cost $499 when it’s ready in the autumn.

SPL from Germany makes headphone amps for the pro world with variable ‘angle’, ‘centre’, ‘crossfeed’ and ‘laterality’, the latter being a variation on balance that mimics loudspeaker listening. The Phonitor X model has been made for hi-fi and runs 120V rails, has digital and analogue inputs, balanced and SE outputs and can be controlled by third party remotes.

Meze made an impression with its wooden cup 99 Classics on-ear headphones and now has a top in-ear model in the €69 12 Classics. These have wood and metal bodies and copper clad aluminium coils on the 8mm drive units. The 99 Neo is a plastic earcup version of the Classics that will be available soon for £199.

AKG showed an armature based 2-way in-ear called N40. This offers optional high and low pass screw-in filters and will retail for £349 when it comes to market later in the year.

Atomic Floyd from London showed its Super Darts Titanium in-ears (£250). These have dual drivers and a smoother treble than the model they replace, the housing is now titanium rather than steel as the name suggests.

The best sound for the money that I heard at Canjam was the Rupert Neve Designs RNHP (£430) amplifier with Phonon SMB-02 headphones ($349). Neve you may recall is a mixing desk designer whose name is something of a legend in pro audio and this very pro looking amp has RCA phono plus XLR/quarter inch jack inputs to go with the styling.

Noble Audio sponsored the event and was taking moulds of visitors ears on the off chance that they might want to invest in the brand’s distinctive custom in-ears. They demonstrated the machined aluminium Katana model (£1,350) that comes in standard and custom forms and runs no fewer than nine proprietary drivers and sounds pretty remarkable for something so small.

Making the moulds for Noble was Gisele Flower of Aid2Hearing. She specialises in hearing aids, hearing protection and audiology for musicians and made moulds of my canals, a process involving filling them with a fast curing putty that produces quite distinctive shapes when finally extracted. I’m looking forward to hearing the benefits of the process.

BeyerDynamic showed the DT1990 Pro (£480), a luxury version of the company’s best studio headphone the DT990. This is an open back model that is a brother model to the closed back DT1770 Pro.

Sennheiser had closed door dems of its much vaunted Orpheus HE-1; open back phones don’t really work in busy places, but had its more accessible models on dem in the main room. These included the latest addition to the noise cancelling range, the wireless PXC550 is the penultimate model at £329 and incorporates touch controls, six operation modes and three mics with a battery life of 22 hours in wireless mode.

MrSpeakers himself Dan Clark showed the Ether Flow, a planar magnetic with a difference: its magnet structure is designed for lower diffraction by infilling spaces between the individual magnets. This makes for “a planar with the clarity of an electrostatic” according to Dan, and Chris Martin (shown taking notes) seemed to agree. Price will be $1,799 and the Flow should be on sale in September.

The MSB Select headphone amplifier is dedicated to Stax electrostatic headphones with balanced in and outputs and an EQ module for optimisation. It is designed to be used with MSB’s DACs so volume and balance are achieved offboard, this therefore is essentially a power amplifier with a power supply for the electrostatics. The £38,000 asking price gives you some idea of its potential.

The train ride home involved a bit of waiting...