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CanJam Denver @ RMAF 2018 Show Report
CanJam RMAF 2018 Show Report
Page 3

Hi-Fi At High Altitude
New personal audio products that impressed at CanJam RMAF 2018.
CanJam Denver Show Coverage By Dave Hanson


Meze is sitting on two of the most exciting prototypes in high-end audio, and they can't get here fast enough. The full-size planar magnetic flagship, Empyrean ($3,000 range) is finished and the company is working through the particulars of production tooling. It should be hitting the streets very, very soon. Empyrean is remarkable in that it does so few things wrong. It has just enough of everything and not too much of anything, making it a headphone for all seasons and a true all-rounder if one ever existed in the hobby.




Meze's other prototype is the in-ear RAI Penta ($1000 range), which translates to "Heaven 5" in Meze's native Romanian. This IEM is going to be a serious contender, with its incredibly balanced sound and slick form factor. The RAI Penta just feels good in your ear, with smooth edges all around. It uses a single dynamic driver and two dual balanced armatures, for a total of five drivers. Like the Empyrean, its hard to fault the RAI Penta in any area sonically. It is fun, but uncolored. It's not fatiguing but it's far from dull. It's spacious, but dynamic. These guys are really working on a couple of special pieces, and I'm excited to hear how they turn out.



Coming out of absolutely nowhere, the Raal Requisite ($3,499) was one of the biggest surprises of the show. While calling their look "unique" is probably a generous assessment of their visual appeal, the sound was actually quite stunning and had people all around CanJam buzzing.



The Raal Requisite is a true ribbon headphone with an open design that recalls the AKG K1000 and the MySphere. The ribbon drivers are on articulating arms that allow you to adjust the position of the earspeaker to fit your preferences. Pushing them all the way out puts you back further in the audience with a huge soundscape, while pulling them in brings you closer to the stage for a more intimate sound. All-in-all, the Requisite has one of the most impressive soundscapes I've ever heard. The sound was super clean and detailed with very punchy bass. Surprising, since ribbon drivers are so closely associated with tweeters, but it was really some of the most crisp and tactile bass I've heard. The folks from Raal informed me that the bass response was flat down to 30Hz.

Like the K1000, the Raal Requisite will be a bit of a pain to drive. The impedance is just 0.2 Ohms, so getting the appropriate amount of current requires a 50-100W speaker amplifier and a special adaptor. Thankfully, the adaptor is included with the headphone, but many people see this type of thing as a deal breaker. Still, for those who are willing to shell out the cash, the combination of staging, clarity and bass response is absolutely unheard of.



Another high-end piece that is flying a bit under the radar is the Final D8000 planar magnetic headphone ($3,799). I have only had a few short listens with this one, but it always leaves me very impressed. The sound is extremely open and spacious – a bit like a planar magnetic version of the legendary Sennheiser HD800, but with more bass tactility and smoother treble.



The frequency balance on the D8000 via Cayin's end game HA300 tube amplifier ($3,999) was absolute perfection, showcasing dead-on neutrality and stellar performance across every range. The bass response was especially crisp and uncolored, delivering a satisfying sense of snap and slam with every note. Mids were lush without getting too thick, leaving the headphone sounding both euphonic and airy at the same time, which is an extremely rare combination. This is definitely one setup I'd like to spend more time with.


At the other end of the price spectrum, pro audio stalwarts Mackie decided to join in on the CanJam fun this year, and they brought a true budget gem in the MC-250 ($99).



Finding a good all-rounder for non-audiophile friends is always a bit of a challenge, as most headphones in their acceptable price range come with one major sacrifice or another. Well, the MC-250 is going to be my new go-to recommendation for those folks. It has a nice neutral balance for the pro audio creators and a fun sense of dynamic punch for the general music fans. I also found it to be pretty comfortable with soft pads and good isolation. Really, at $99, it's pretty hard to knock anything about it. The MC-250 is just solid, through and through.


Another company that usually sticks to their pro audio roots is Minnesota-based custom IEM maker Alclair. It always surprises me that these guys haven't caught on more in the high-end personal audio world because their stuff is just so damn good and comparable gear often costs twice as much. Alclair's sub $1000 Spire and Studio 4 are neck-and-neck with almost any high-end in-ear monitor in the $1000 to $2000 range, yet they are still relatively unknown in the Head-fi world.



This year, Alclair caught a lot of people's attention with the introduction of their new flagship, Electro ($1,499). This hybrid design features four balanced armatures and two electrostatic tweeters. The clarity and detail is absolutely remarkable, and this IEM was a favorite among many people I talked to at the show.

The Electro was pretty close to flat neutral with maybe just a tiny smidgeon of extra warmth in the deep bass. Transients had a super crispy front edge, giving the sound a nice sense of immediacy, transparency and strong imaging. The upper midrange is maybe a tiny hair forward, which makes these IEMs especially great for those who want to listen at lower volumes, as detail and edge clarity remains nicely upfront.


Spirit Headphones
One headphone brand I was very excited to try was Spirit Torino. CanJam RMAF 2018 marked the United States of America debut for this custom Italian headphone maker. The design of the Spirit headphones is very clearly inspired by Grado Labs iconic design. However, the sound is quite different.



Spirit's top models, the Twin Pulse and Ragnaar Edition ($2,945 and $3,195, respectively) use an isobaric system, with two drivers on each side moving in sync. Both drivers cover the entire frequency range, offering more dynamic range with less linear movement from the coil.

I gave them a listen and felt they were missing a bit of sparkle and energy. They also didn't really have they dynamic pop I expected. Perhaps I was expecting Grados, given the look. For somebody that wants a very warm and smooth headphone, these might be worth a look, but I found them to be a little lacking given their lofty $3000 price tag.


Focal always impresses with their ultra-refined headphones. Utopia ($3,999) remains one of the best over-ears on the planet, and the company has made a lot of headway in filling out their fledgling lineup with newer headphones like the Clear ($1,499) and their Massdrop collaboration, the Elex ($699).



The latest edition to the Focal Lineup is Elegia ($899), which is the first high-end closed back in the Utopia / Elear family line. I spent a little time with Elegia and found it to be a nicely balanced neutral reference headphone that does very little wrong. The Elegia is entering into a red hot price bracket right now for closed headphones, moving in alongside the MrSpeakers AEON and ETHER CX ($799 and $899, respectively), the Audeze LCD-2 Closed Back ($899), and the Campfire Cascade ($799). It will be interesting to see how it fares in relation to these others over time.


Beyerdynamic has been investing a lot of resources in situational technologies like wireless headphones, active noise canceling (ANC) and digital signal processing (DSP). I gave a number of these new models a listen after hearing lots of good things, but unfortunately, I still felt they were lagging behind the pack sonically.



I spent the most time with the Amiron Wireless and Lagoon ANC. Amiron Wireless ($699) certainly features a sound traditional Beyerdynamic fans will like: it is crisp and bouncy, while running a bit on the cold side through the midrange.

The Lagoon ANC ($449) is Beyerdynamic's first active noise canceling headphone and is loaded with features like 30-hour battery life and customizable sound via Beyer's MIY app. The app wasn't connected to the Lagoon just yet, so I only heard it in stock form, which to my ears was very colored and a little "sucked out" through the midrange. For my money, I think the slightly less expensive the Sony WH-1000X ($349), PSB M4U8 or NAD HP70 (Both $399) give you much better sound in an ANC headphone for your dollar.


Speaking of noise canceling, Dekoni Audio brought their wide variety of ear pads including their brand new design for the noise canceling Sony WH-1000X, launching in November. I got to try the pads on the Sony, and found them to be extremely comfortable, with a super soft synthetic suede exterior and memory foam filling.



The pads also sounded great during a short demo, and interestingly enough, actually improved the passive noise isolation on the headphones by a few decibels before the ANC was even engaged, according to measurements.


Dana Robbins booth is always an interesting visit. Not only is the guy one of the best resources on cable science around, he can back it up with A/B tests that anyone can hear.



His latest creation is overkill to a borderline hilarious, but very sonically compelling degree: the DanaCable Lazuli Nirvana ($3500). This thing looks like a couple of tastefully-sleeved garden hoses wrapped together, it is absolutely massive! Dana informed me that the Nirvana has twice the copper if the Lazuli Reference cable, his former flagship.

Comparing the Nirvana against the stock cable and the Lazuli Reference on the HiFiMAN HE1000 was a very interesting affair. Comparatively the stock cable sounded thin and plasticky. And while the reference sounded much better, the Nirvana offered more air, more transparency, better tone, deeper bass and a more wide-open sense of staging. As I always say with the DanaCables, you will definitely hear the difference, the question is whether or not you're willing to pay for it.



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