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CanJam 2014 Report From The RMAF 2014 Show
CanJam 2014 Report From The RMAF 2014 Show

Sonic Satori CanJammin' I Wanna CanJam With You... Part I
Report By Michael Mercer

Gratefully, as soon as I pulled out I was welcomed with familiar faces like Marjorie Baumert, Jude Mansilla (Founder of Head-Fi.org), Joe Reynolds (President of Nordost cables) and my dear friend and Audio360.org teammate Michael Liang! Michael works for Woo Audio now in his 9-5 gig, and I've never seen him happier. From that moment, my nerves settled, and I was ready to get unpacked and scope out the pre-RMAF action. Hats off again to Marjorie Beaumert – I had a balcony this year! The additional space outdoors proved might useful throughout the course of the show! Well, admittedly, one of the coolest listening experiences of RMAF 2014 for me happened that first night (before the show began on Friday)! Warren Chi, one of my closest friends and partner in Audio360.org, had one of the things I most longer to hear at CanJam in his hotel room: The brand new Cavalli Audio Liquid Crimson 2K hybrid amp! Actually, we worked this all out together before the show – but he'd been there since Wednesday, helping with Head-Fi.orgs' CanJam event. Warren designed all the graphics for this year's CanJam-related printed media, and so all the posters were of his work. I was/am very proud of him. He did a bang-up job on all of that! Attendees couldn't miss the headphone-related event this year, huh? So, selfishly and admittedly, I sought him out immediately. Did I want to see him? Sure, but I wanted to lay my ears on the Cavalli Liquid Crimson just maybe a touch more (I kid). So, after finding Warren running around like a chicken with his head cut off, we headed up to his room for some listening. Wow, the anticipation was worth every second, the overall performance of the Liquid Crimson surpassed my already high expectations! Granted, at the time I was using Warrens' PC laptop for the source, but with our trusty CEntrance DACport LX for a DAC (so easy to travel with, and still has one of the lowest jitter measurement recorded by Stereophile) I knew the DAC well, and we share similar taste in music so I felt in my gut I could judge the performance of the new Cavalli amp. Especially considering I own his flagship Liquid Gold amp and listen to it every day, and I used my own reference pair of Audeze LCD-XCs with Double Helix Cables Molecule SE (terminated 4-pin XLR) I knew most of the signal path. First impression: It sounded just like the little brother of Dr. Cavalli's Liquid Gold to me, and though the Liquid Gold (also referred to as the "Lau") is a differential solid-state amp – it's still the only solid-state amp I've heard that sounds like a hybrid to me! The Liquid Crimson on the other hand, is actually a hybrid.

I was so glued to it in Warrens room – I didn't want to stop listening. So, in the end, we all agreed to take it to my room! Yeah hooh! Our crew is not selfish like that. Whomever's going to get the most time with something new in the personal audio arts gets to soak it up. We also always accommodate somebody if they need to listen late-night and the person in the room with the gear is already asleep. Sure, it may sound like a sickness – but we really get turned on by great-sounding music! It's the best non-narcotic drug on the planet! And there we all were, on the eve of my favorite audio show in the States. It was about time I re-adjusted my show focus on listening. I wanted to see everybody and chill, but I wanted to hear what was happening too. These shows can also be very distracting if you've been in this business a long time. You're always running into people you know and you want to catch up, and next thing you know the day is over! I was trying to make a goal to make time for both this year, and I admittedly missed some important shit this year! There's just a ton to hear, and I wanted some quality-time with the stuff I was dying to hear.  I also managed to catch some really exciting stuff, and have a wild time with my friends and colleagues! Lucky enough to score the brand new Cavalli Crimson for my hotel room the night before everything went off – I had a positive feeling this was going to be a fun show. I missed Kenny (my cousin) and he wanted to be here. But he'll be back next year! He also wanted to hear the new Cavalli headphone amp, so I got lost in that system most of the night before RMAF opening-day on Friday! There's a sonic characteristic of the Cavalli Liquid Crimson that's akin to its bigger brother, the Liquid Gold, and what an apt title for Dr. Cavalli's amplifier. The word "liquid" describes the flow of music through this amp so well I struggle to find one words that fits its sonic signature better! However, it's not liquid in that it's sound is congested, meaning one wave overtaking another. Rather music sounds like a splash of sound with dimension, or, more precisely, dimensionality: Meaning the spaciousness between instruments in live recordings or the presence of space between triggered sounds when it comes to electronic music. It's silky. The midrange is colorful (not colored) and dynamic while the bottom-end gives the sound its solid audible footing. The low-end pounds but it's not exaggerated. I was/am really taken with the Cavalli Liquid Crimson – so much that I'll be reviewing it for Headphone.Guru shortly! Keep your eyes peeled. It also sounded great with my Audeze LCD-XCs, MrSpeakers Alpha Prime; which I just reviewed before it was presented at CanJam as well as with a pair of Master & Dynamics MH40s that my good friend Chris Sommovigo (of Guru) brought with him.

After I caught a couple hours sleep following my long listening sesh with the Cavalli, it was time to get it to Alex Cavalli for his CanJam table! I ran it down in my Pjs, and headed back to the room to get ready for opening-day! Luckily, as I was jogging through the Marriotts atrium, I ran into Steve Holt of The Audio Nerd. I've been diggin' this lil' hybrid amp made by Lambert called the Play It By Ear: A single 12AU7 tubes and a pair of FETs housed in a beautifully crafted chassis. Well, Steve Holt's the importer. We go way back. Steve used to work for MIT Cables – but he's on his own now, and I'm so happy for him. He's got terrific taste and I know he'll crush it. He’s already picked a terrific name that looked great on his t-shirts! So I asked Steve if I could use a Lambert Play It By Ear amp in my hotel room. I know, sounds glutinous, but I just lost the Cavalli that morning! To a music and audio addict that's like instant dope withdrawal! I needed my audible fix. Plus I'd been getting to know the Lambert Play It By Ear for weeks before then so it was a great reference to have in the room. Steve was kind enough to oblige me. With the small-but-huge-in-sound HRT microStreamer as my DAC, I had my reference for the show. And it was only Friday morning! I was set to hit the floor.

So, trying to be slick, I made a b-line for CanJam. Luckily, minus a few short stops for hellos and huge, I made it. Now I wasn't early, or even on-time, (though not too late) and the place was already hopping. Luckily, Moon-Audio.com's booth was the first one as I walked into the door. This was fantastic, as I came armed to audition with my trusty pair of Audeze LCD-XCs and Moon Audios' Black Dragon V3 cables and adapter set. I came packin' the reference! So, onto hearing that amazing looking Dennis Had tube amplifier! That was also too good to start things of with. What was happening? Has the innovation in personal audio (with some trickle-down technology from the high-end as well) advanced so far it's tough not to be wow'ed by the top products today? Like I said; I couldn't hear it all, but what I heard, I enjoyed, and many for different reasons. The Had amp was creamy, tuby goodness, without the sluggishness I sometimes hear in tube designs, being raised on solid-state. Don't get me wrong: I love having tube somewhere in my signal path at home, provided the gear acts a window to the music – not color it to the point of sonic politeness and linearity. This amp had the gusto. It drove my Audeze cans with ease. Now, the XCs are amongst the more efficient Audeze models, but it still takes an amplifier capable of reproducing a wide image of the full sonic spectrum in order to drive them right, to my liking anyway. This red beauty could've grabbed me all day and I would've been happy. Maybe that says more than more flowery prose can say about how much I enjoyed it! A fantastic surprise from Drew Baird of Moon Audio was this $350 buck battery-powered headphone Amp/DAC from RAL: Their KEB02iP - capable of handling iDevices, USB DAC for PCs, and DSD at that price. I was shocked just to see that but when I heard the component it sounded more impressive than the package was at that price. The balanced output option is un-common (or I haven't seen many) it's a dual/left-right 2.5mm balanced output. Luckily, Drew had an adapter for me, and it was also Moon Audio Black Dragon V3! He offered to let me take it home for review. I've been using it almost every day ever since. The sound, the overall gestalt is so much larger in scope than its tiny chassis would have you believe! And while you still need those dreaded rubber bands to keep your source affixed to the DAC/Amp – the sound quality is so good I forget all about that, and I'm OCD! That's a glimpse of my forthcoming review for Enjoy the Music.com!


Another highlight of CanJam 2014 for me? The Woo Audio WA8 portable prototype. Ever since seeing pics of the first proto at the New York Audio Show I was itching to hear this portable Amp/DAC like an audible junky. Believe me when I say: It lived up to all the hype and more! That's a true rarity these days! Thankfully, I stopped by the Woo Audio booth while there were no people waiting to hear the WA8, my lucky break. I unpacked my reference LCD-XC cans from their road-case and got ready to be Wow'ed. With my good friend Michael Liang behind the booth I knew there would be familiar music for me to choose from in their demo. They were feeding the Woo Audio WA8 prototype with an Ipad via a camera-connection-kit (which I'm told is actually an asynchronous connection). I felt right at home and scoured Michaels demo collection for something fun. I found it (kudos to Michael): Dr. Dres' original The Chronic. Audiophile-approved or not, I love this album. I used to blast it in my car in high school. It was the west coast hip hop album that made me love the west coast sound! I'm not ashamed to admit it, and Michael Liang can testify to this: I started dancin' around the CanJam floor rocking "Dre is Back" as I must've heard that song a million times.

The chassis is small for a Woo Audio Amp/DAC, but it's not as small as many of the portables out today. I think Jack Wu maybe going for a different market: The audio addicts who just need to take their system around now and then – be mobile. With the WA8 – I see it being carried from place to place and ending on desktops – not an amp you carry around forever. That's how I see it anyway. Regardless of the size of the damn amp, the thing sings. Don't fret, it couldn't only handle Dr. Dre. Michael Liang picked out this gorgeous female acoustic cover of an Elton John track (you still owe me the track title Michael) – and the music was tight, airy and open, excitable, and fluid. It was truly something to behold. I loved every minute of it and I don't care of that doesn't seem critical enough either. It's how I felt when I listened to it, and I highly recommend this for any personal audio enthusiast!

There was so much stuff to hear I'm sorry if my report doesn't list a ton of things. I tried to spend more time than usual to form impressions that I feel more comfortable sharing. So the quantity of demos suffered, but again what I heard was dazzling. That includes the new i5 product from CEntrance! They have an on-going Indiegogo campaign to raise the rest of the funds right now for the i5 actually. I'm gonna try to get in if they're some reasonable spots left. If not, I'll be psyched just to review it. The i5 is a headphone Amp/DAC and battery charger for i5 and i5s (with supposedly i5C support coming). Now, I love my iDevices, so naturally I go nuts to hear a decent iDevice Amp/DAC – but while many are available, not many grab me. I count Sony’s PHA-1 which I love, CEntrances' HiFi-M8, and ADL's X as some of the few I that truly turn my iPhone or iPad into storage and give me a high-fidelity experience! No such concern with the CEntrance i5. Thank God, as I don't own an iPhone 5 (still on 4S here) that I worked for Michael Goodman and CEntrance years ago. Michael had plenty of music that I gave to him on the demo iPhone 5! That was awesome. Like I said above: If I can still get into their campaign at a reasonable buy-in I will. The i5, mated with my new pair of Beyerdynamic T5is! Now, while the cans are new, I've spent time with those cans. I sat there listening to Amtracs' Came Along (a favorite of mine) I though wow: This is thing is not only cool, but it sounded like music, and I never expect any less from Michael Goodman. The sound was fresh, spacious and controlled while sounding far from flat and overly controlled. It really did turn that iPhone into a helluva DAP (digital audio player)! No surprise, Goodmans been sought after for his USB wizardry on a number of high-end components from companies like Benchmark, McIntosh, Korg, and Playback Designs! I think he knows what he's doing. Though I know we're on the iPhone 6 (and CEntrance will have a version for that too I hear) I suggest, for any iPhone 5 owners who share a passion for great sound and a ridiculous battery-life – check out the CEntrance i5 Indiegogo campaign ASAP!


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