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CanJam SoCal 2018 Show Report By Dave Hanson
CanJam SoCal 2018 Show Report
Hi-Tech Hi-Fi: CanJam SoCal offers a sneak peek into the industry's future with loads of cool technology.
CanJam SoCal Show Report By Dave Hanson

 

 

FiiO
Budget heroes FiiO brought a wide range of goodies, including IEMs, DAPs and amp/DAC combos. While there was plenty to sample, one product that especially got my attention was the Q5 portable DAC/Amp ($349.99). This simple looking silver brick is anything but, packing a full suite of features: Bluetooth capability, an AK4490 DAC, balanced output and DSD decoding are just the tip of the iceberg here. The sound was incredibly solid for just $349 and the Q5's ability to serve as a useful tool in so many parts of the chain can't be overstated.

 

 

 

Focal
Coming off the success of their hi-fi line-up, Focal has tweaked their popular Clear and Listen headphones for the professional market. The Clear Professional ($1,699) Listen Professional ($299) offer some slight tweaks like durable microfiber earpads and some minor tuning adjustments. I spent a little bit of time with both and came away fairly impressed.

 

 

The Listen Professional is a closed headphone that offers a ton of bang for buck in the sound department, though the comfort is not exactly top notch. It seems to be a reasonable tradeoff, as there is always going to be some catch in the sub $300 price range, but if comfort is an issue, buyers may want to explore other options.

The Clear Professional had no such compromises. The form and fit of the Clear is excellent and the sound is unquestionably reference worthy. These are open headphones, intended for reference mixing and mastering, not recording, so they lack any kind of isolation. But I found them to be wonderfully neutral and revealing and they are relatively easy to drive. They should make a very nice addition for studio pros who want the very best tools for their craft.

 

Meze
The Romanian sensations over at Meze Audio keep cranking out killer products. Following the debut of their upcoming flagship Empyrean at CanJam NYC, Meze brought a nice under-the-radar surprise to CanJam SoCal with the upcoming Ri Penta IEM ($999). The name Ri Penta translates to Heaven 5 in English, and it lives up to the name.

 

 

I'm not going to beat around the bush here, these things are silly good. The first thing that impressed me was the fit. They are cleverly cut and molded into an ergonomic shape that fit beautifully in my ear. The sound was even better. The Ri Penta was nearly perfect with everything I threw at it, with a sound that was simultaneously engaging, sweet and impactful. Keep an eye out for this one in mid summer of this year.

 

Monoprice
Dr. Alex Cavalli is a legend in the world of personal audio, having been responsible for some of the best sounding amplifiers on the planet prior to his retirement last year. Fortunately for all of us, he still has a few gifts left to give. Alex had a handful of unreleased designs that are finally finding outlets through partnerships with other manufacturers.

 

 

The Monoprice Monolith Liquid Platinum ($699) is an almost-too-good-to-be true gift to the audiophile community. It is a balanced version of the legendary Cavalli Liquid Crimson ($2,999) amplifier, which many people regard as Dr. Cavalli's best work. It isn't quite as large or powerful as the original Crimson, but the essential sound is most definitely still there. I used the Crimson as my reference amplifier for quite some time, and it's trademark neutral, but slightly wet and highly detailed sound is unmistakable. Stay tuned for a full review in the coming months!

While a $699 version of the legendary Liquid Crimson has many audiophiles in a tizzy, the real revolution might be coasting by under the radar. The Monoprice Monolith Liquid Spark is going to completely nuke the $99 price point for the amplifier category. I've already had an extended audition with this little budget amp and it is a game changer, no question.

 

 

The Liquid Spark was originally conceived as $500 a portable amplifier distilled from the circuit of the flagship Liquid Gold. It ran into countless delays, from the ambitious case design to the internal battery, but since the first time I heard it at RMAF 2015 I knew I had to have it. Thankfully, MonoPrice has helped to resurrect the design, eschewing the costly case and internal battery in favor of a budget-friendly desktop design with more powerful voltage rails (1.3W into 50 Ohms versus 350mW in the portable prototype).

The Spark is a complete unicorn at $99, offering the real big-boy bass that compact budget amps like the Schiit Magni 3 and O2 simply do not provide. Like the new Monolith Liquid Platinum, the Spark is laced with a healthy dose of the legendary "Cavalli magic" an extremely evocative sort of timbral "wetness" that sort of tickles right brain in ways that connect you more deeply with the music. It is an absolute stunner, through and through, and a product you really have to hear to believe.

 

PSB
Paul Barton has been hard at work researching and developing the ideal frequency response curve through his work at the National Research Council laboratories in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. Now he has implemented that technology in two new headphones, the PSB M4U 8 and the NAD HP70.

Both headphones feature passive and active modes along with active noise cancelling (ANC). They also feature APT-X Bluetooth connectivity and a nice feature that allows you to mute the music and engage external microphones, so you can more easily hear things like airplane announcements, etc.

 

 

Engaging the "Active" or "ANC" modes will activate a digital processing filter that will EQ the music to Barton's target response curve. I was a little skeptical at first, since I once owned the NAD HP50 and wasn't that impressed. But I have to say, activating the curve is very, very impressive. Once either one of the active modes was engaged, the musical presentation gained a wonderful sense of neutrality that sounded very "correct" to my ears. It would be hard not to like. In my opinion, this was one of the biggest surprises of the show and I even dragged a couple of my friends over to the booth to give it a listen. Keep an eye out for a full review in the coming months.

 

 

---> Next Page.

 

 

Previous CanJam Show Reports
CanJam SoCal 2018 Show Report, CanJam NYC 2018, CanJam Denver 2017, CanJam SoCal 2017 Show Report, CanJam NYC 2017 Show Report, CanJam London 2016, CanJam Denver 2016, CanJam Denver 2015, and CanJam Denver 2014 during the RMAF.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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