CanJam isn't just a must-visit for headphone fans. It's Mecca, the Boston Garden, the Holy Grail, all rolled into one. The event, put on by the specialist site HeadFi, sees just about everybody in the industry get together in one room, and show off their absolute best to the public. If you're a fan of headphones – and we assume you are, since you've landed on this site – then walking around it is quite an experience. There's too much to see, too many weird and wonderful experiments to listen to. Doing it without blowing out your ears or giving yourself serious tinnitus is quite tough, but we took one for the team. Here's our breakdown of everything we saw on the first day.
Arguably the biggest launch of the event was the MEZE Empyrean. It's a brand-new, very sleek pair of high-end headphones from the Romanian manufacturer, and we got plenty of time to test them out, as well as a full Q&A session with Antonio Meze and his colleagues. They acknowledged that this wasn't a business decision – it was much more of an artistic project, designed to see what they could create when they really pushed themselves.
That was interesting to hear – the company is known for its incredible sub-$500 headphones, including our previous Editor's Choice winner, the $309 99 Classics (full review here). But having listened to the Empyrean, which wowed us with its space and clarity, we can confirm that it's worth picking up if you ever have the cash. It will be officially launched later this year, and you best believe we'll have the exclusive review.
You didn't have to be a detective, or even possess a brain, to work out what the hottest booth at the show was. Campfire Audio, best known for their unbelievably cool in-ears, had recently launched their first over-ear, the Cascade. We had a chance to listen, and it absolutely blew us away. It's an incredibly light pair of headphones, with excellent isolation and superb bass response.
We know this because the player they hooked us up to was playing Nas's Illmatic album – something of a rarity at an audio event, where every single booth has bloody Hotel California set up and ready to go. Or Diana effing Krall. Not these guys. At a time when so many headphone companies are dreary as a wet weekend in Ohio, Campfire are are cool as hell, and so are their headphones.
ZMF's Zach Mehrbach has been promising us a pair of his new planar headphones, the Auteur, for a long time now. The independent company has taken a little while to get production up and running – hardly surprising, given the amount of care put into their headphones – and we finally got to hear them. They were, in fact, the very first booth we came across, and we lost no time in diving in. They sound phenomenal, combining the openness and dynamism of planar magnetic drivers with an absolutely wonderful look and feel.
That being said, we're not sure about the height-adjustment thing, which felt a little bit hard to use. A minor point, though: these are monster headphones, and we look forward to bringing you the full review a little later this year.
Klipsch are a company known more for speakers than for headphones, But it was great to get acquainted with their Heritage HP3 model. These aren't quite as comfortable as the Auteurs, with stock pads that didn't feel great, but the sound was terrific. Airy, rich, with a powerful bass response and deliciously smooth detail. It really helps that they look good, too.
Klipsch don't do things by halves. This is their Heritage headphone amp, which usually comes with a wooden top, but in this case, a plastic one revealed the internals. It's a great little amplifier - not the best we've heard, but huge fun, and it comes with a very handy sample rate indicator. Of course, it pairs magnificently with the HP3.
Easily the most bonkers pair of headphones we've ever tried. These are the Mysphere 3, and they are insane. They sort of float next to your ears while you wear the headband like something out of Star Trek. While they were very good, and quite fun to use, we can't see them being a popular choice for many people – not least because they cost the earth.
What a pleasant surprise. Stax don't always appear at audio shows, but the venerable Japanese manufacturer of electrostatic cans were in full effect here. Their models are among some of the best headphones on the planet, and we got a chance to listen to the SR-009. It's got the same detail and openness that has become their sound signature, but is significantly lighter and more comfortable to wear than their other models. You will also need to sell a kidney to buy one.
What would a headphone show be without AUDEZE? Their table was, predictably, one of the most packed at the show, and they were offering an absolutely huge range of headphones, including the legendary LCD-4. One model that was drawing a ton of interest is one we've recently reviewed: the new LCD2C, a reworked version of the classic LCD-2 planars. Since we took a bunch of photos of the model in that review, we decided that this shot of the LCD-4 was the one we wanted to run with for you here. Gorgeous, isn't it?
Of course, a show with headphones means there will be plenty of amps and DACs available, as well as assorted other gizmos and whizbangs. This little Pre Box S2 Digital from Pro-Ject really impressed us: a palm-sized gadget that packs a headphone amp in with some clever circuitry.
Easily our favourite headphone of the show so far – and given how much fun we had with the MEZE and the Cascade, that's saying something. But the Advanced Audio Alpha was terrific, a sub-$500 planar with a sound that is just tremendously exciting. It feels like it opens up the music, and compares favourably with the LCD2C mentioned above, as well as other high-end headphones in the same range.
We admit, we weren't familiar with Advanced Audio before, but they had a great showing, with plenty of amps and in-ears to go with these beasts.
You cannot exhibit an in-ear model shaped like this without us wandering over and asking pointed questions. So to speak.
It's called a SPearphone SB7, it has seven balanced armature drivers, and it's made by a Russian manufacturer called Stereo Pravda. Its big selling point is that all the drivers are lined up in a row – "on axis", as their rep Dmitry called them. We will admit, we're not entirely sure how this differs from other in-ears, or why it improves the audio quality (we weren't really satisfied with the explanation we got), but we do think these sound great, with a good level of detail. Not sure we'd pay $2,500 for them though, even though the cables that came with them were fantastic.
By the way, you need to do yourself a favour, and take a look at the picture of the founder Misha Kucherenko on this page. Thank us later. Preferably by buying us his amazing smoking jacket.
One of the more curious tables on the show floor was manned by white-coated staff, and had as its backdrop a giant periodic table. This was the home of Periodic Audio, and their range of in-ears (Magnesium, Beryllium, Titanium) and a tiny amp (Nickel).
They were good enough to give us a listen to the entire range, as well as hook us up with a pair of Titanium to review. Early impressions: the three models offer different flavors of sound, with the Titanium giving by far the most aggressive bass response. These genuinely impressed us: for $199, they really do offer some fantastic audio – although not quite comparable to a $10,000 setup, as Periodic staffer Ben suggested. All the same: we had a huge fun with these, and we think the company is going to do some big things. Full review soon…