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CanJam Denver @ RMAF 2018 Show Report
CanJam RMAF 2018 Show Report
Page 4

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

 

Amps and Source Components

HeadAmp
Coming fresh off their Blue Note Award-winning Gilmore Lite Mk2, HeadAmp is launching another phenomenal piece in the GSX Mini (starting at $1,795). This amplifier gives you the exceptional power and neutrality the GSX is known for in a smaller, more affordable package.

 

 

Offering 4 Watts @ 50 Ohms, it will drive absolutely any non-electrostatic headphone with aplomb. I started by hooking up the hard-to-drive HiFiMAN Susvara (rated at 83dB), and was pleased to find that the GSX Mini brought out all the airy extension and powerful dynamics it is known for. It was punchy, super resolving and transparent without being offensive in the higher frequencies.

Sonically, I found the GSX Mini has a lot in common with the award winning Gilmore Lite 2. It has a neutral reference sound, but still brings enough resolution and dynamic pop to be a hell of a lot of fun. If you are looking for a high-end amplifier that can really do it all, be sure to check this one out.

 

 

Benchmark
Speaking of reference gear, few names in high-end audio are so closely attached to the reference sound as Benchmark. Their fantastic HPA4 reference amplifier ($2,995) could be found at booths throughout the show. This year, Benchmark was introducing its new DAC 3B ($1,695). The DAC 3B eschews some of the features of the DAC 3 HGC, such as the built-in headphone out and volume pot, while keeping an identical digital-to-analog circuit. For those who loved the HGC's performance, but preferred their own amp, this will be a welcome release.

 

 

I spent some time playing around with the Benchmark pieces, and they really have a high quality pro-audio-like build to them. They're the polar opposite of some of these more DIY-feeling boutique amps and DACs out there Benchmark has a very professional level of finish on it.

 

 

Chord Electronics
Two of the most impressive digital pieces at the show were Chord's new Hugo TT 2  ($5,795) and M Scaler ($4,995) combo. The M Scaler combines with the Hugo TT 2 to offer digital upsampling with an incredible 1,000,000 tap filter like you get by combining Chord's BluMkII CD player with their flagship DAVE. I'm not going to try an break down what this means on a technical level in this small space, just know that this combo is jaw-droppingly resolving and sounds incredibly close to the real thing in terms of the analog signal.

 

 

The Hugo TT2 was also impressive in its ability to drive headphones. While I do find the Chord house sound to be just a touch dry with their gear driving headphones directly, there is no doubting as to the level of resolution it offers. Listening to the MrSpeakers Ether 2 on the TT2 and M Scaler combo was a somewhat profound experience and I found myself having to take a little break afterwards because the setup was so resolving it made the next couple of items sound pretty bad in comparison. I needed to stop and cleanse my palette before I could move on.

 

 

RedScape
One very cool piece of tech at the show was RedScape ($199), which allows you to have virtual two-channel or surround sound complete with head tracking on any headphone. A small device is placed on top of the headphone and plugged into your PC via USB, allowing access to a suite of features including your surround options, EQ and calibration settings for the device. The unfortunate part is that it is PC-only for now, so Mac users and console gamers are a bit out of luck.

 

 

When it came down to the sound though, RedScape was quite good. I watched some movie and game demos to test the surround sound and imaging cues were very sharp with no noticeable lag I could detect. Music on RedScape was also very good, expanding the soundscape considerably without making the music feel overly processed, which is always the main concern with a technology such as this.

 

 

Manley Labs
Speaking of cool technology, few pieces at RMAF were able to capture the imagination quite like the Manley Absolute headphone amplifier ($3,800). This unique tube amp features a bevy of options, including the ability to switch between single-ended operation and push-pull with the push of a button. But that's just the tip of the iceberg! You can also dial in as much or as little feedback as you like, change the output impedance to match your headphones, engage EQ, or rock out in mono mode. It also works as a line-level preamp and offers true bypass when it is off. I mean, this thing is absolutely bananas!

 

 

I spent a ton of time talking to Zia Farqui, VP of Engineering and Design at Manley, for whom this concept was a long-time dream and passion project. It is truly a technical marvel, through and through.

Listening to the Absolute was a lot of fun. The folks at Manley had Nirvana's Nevermind rolling and switching from push-pull power on "In Bloom" to single-ended operation on "Come As You Are" had me grinning like an idiot. It was incredible how I was able to go from powerful and punchy to laid back and bloomy, giving each song the amplification to perfectly compliment its feel!

 

 

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