Show Coverage: Canjam London 2018
CanJam London is the UK’s largest gathering of portable and personal audio equipment. The show also brings together many brands and components that you will not see at any other British hi-fi expo.
As an unmissable event on the show calendar, StereoNET UK decided to clear the schedule and head to Waterloo.
After the build-up over the past few weeks, I could not wait to experience CanJam London for myself. So, off I went to brave the hellish heat of the London Underground during this freakish summer that we are currently ‘enjoying’ in the capital.
Naturally, I was armed with some suitable head-fi in the shape of iFi’s new XDSD DAC/Amp with one of their new USB-C OTG cables and my faithful Oppo PM-3. The latter were a bit of a poor choice due to sweaty lobes; but I digress.
CanJam London was hosted at the Park Plaza Westminster hotel in the Ballroom, with three further rooms on the lower ground floor. Walking through the entrance to the main exhibition area was an extremely odd experience for me, who has only ever attended your regular-style hi-fi show, in that it was so quiet. Furthermore, I couldn’t hear any loud jazz!
It was good to see a really encouraging mix of gender and age. Head-fi could well be the audio industry’s saving grace as most attendees at the main hi-fi shows tend to make me feel quite young, and I’m hurtling towards 50 at a scary pace.
Apparently, the portable audio market is the fastest growing sector and this was proven by the wide array of exhibitors and head-fi fans.
I spent most of my day at the exhibition chatting to people from brands that I had never heard of before, as well as catching up with good friends that were either working the show or were there as I was, just to check out what was new in town.
Talking about what was new in town, you couldn’t get much newer than the Chord Electronics M-Scaler (£3,495) which was actually announced at the show on Saturday. You can read more about the M-Scaler in our news article.
Also on display was the new Hugo TT2 DAC (£3,995) and TToby amplifier (£2,899). The Chord Hugo TT2 can actually rival Dave (£8,499) in some ways and when the Hugo was paired with the newly released M-Scaler and quickly tested alongside Dave with the Blu MkII (£7,995) it was a closely run race. In fact, I dare say that these systems would exchange first and second places depending on the headphones or music you mixed and matched with them.
For instance, with the LCD-4 headphones I found the Hugo TT2/M-Scaler combo a much more immersive experience than with the Dave. This is mostly due to the TT2 being able to drive much more demanding headphones than the Dave. The TToby is obviously designed to complement the Hugo TT and TT2 and together make a really neat rig. Using the Hugo TT2 as a digital preamp the TToby’s 100 watt output is capable of driving a wide array of speakers.
Furthermore, add the M-Scaler and you have arguably one of the best, if not the best, compact digital headphone and loudspeaker systems available right now.
It was great to spend some time listening to Rob Watts at one of CanJam London’s scheduled seminars. This one was for the techies to a fair extent but, if you know who Rob Watts is, then you would know what to expect from Chord Electronics’ Digital Designer. It was mostly enlightening and occasionally baffling (to me) but thoroughly absorbing.
Having not heard of this brand before CanJam, Effect Audio is a premium IEM cable manufacturer out of Shanghai. It was interesting to discover that a number of high-end IEM brands, such as Empire Ears, actually bundle in Effect Audio cables with their products. Their range of cables is impressive, to say the least, and the price range should fit most budgets.
At shows, it's hard not to get a little bit blasé about various new drivers, new amplifier cleverness, and technological advancement so I was pleased to meet some headphones that, while still great to listen to, were actually impressive for their original design.
The Swiss-made Roller Mk1 ($3,000US) and freshly unveiled MkII headphones from Luzli are totally unique in that they are designed to roll up. This is thanks to their articulated headband that is reminiscent of a watch bracelet.
The MkI are the smallest Rollers and are compact enough to shove in your pocket, just about. A further benefit of the 22 separate stainless steel springs connected to the 11 links that makes up the headband is that the headphones fit and gently clamp your head perfectly.
The MkII are slightly larger and are fitted with 40mm drivers as opposed to the MkI’s 30mm units. I preferred the chipless, larger set acoustically but either headphones would make great talking points. They are also beautifully presented in a large wooden box.
Another new one for me, but after looking at the head-fi forums, HeadAmp have quite the loyal following. At CanJam London they offered me their new Gilmore Lite Mk 2 ($499US) to try out.
This fully discrete headphone amplifier utilises the same tech as found in their top-flight GS-X Mk2. The Class A amp is very versatile and smooth and will drive most headphones and IEMs. I was amazed by its performance, especially when I discovered its price.
If you are looking for a dedicated head-amp (without a DAC, etc) then I would recommend you try the Gilmore Lite Mk2 before laying your money elsewhere.
Typically understated, V-Moda’s stand was certainly eye-catching. The mirror-ball head, as well as the magpie-taunting metallics on the table definitely craved attention.
Here they had their new Crossfade II Wireless Codex Edition (£330). As we have reported before, the Codex Edition is fitted with AAC and aptX codecs so that you are getting higher resolution Bluetooth audio. They do favour the bass-end of music in that ‘urban’ way, but they are great performers and will certainly put a smile on your face if that’s your flavour.
V-Moda also offers a wide array of customisation options for that personal touch.
FiiO is known for their excellently built and keenly priced digital audio players (DAP) and earphones. Their latest, the X7 MkII (£599), supports offline Tidal tracks and is loaded with the ESS 9028 Pro DAC and sound great.
FiiO was also showing their FH5 IEMs (£229). These are loaded with four drivers; 3 Knowles Balanced Armature drivers and a 10mm electrodynamic driver. The Q5 (£329) is Fiio’s new portable DAC/Amp that also supports Bluetooth.
HiFiMAN was offering the more affordable version of their excellent Shangri-La ($50,000) electrostatic set-up, the Shangri-La Jr ($8,000).
Not only is it less expensive than its larger sibling, but it also takes up way less real estate. The Junior still employs the same submicron diaphragm coated in nanoparticles in the headphones.
The matched amp utilises four hand-matched tubes and a step attenuator volume control. You also get snazzy LED indicators on the front panel. It is a very pretty amp, but my photos were not, unfortunately.
We covered the details of the Benchmark HPA4 (£3,095) earlier this year but I was keen to give it a whirl myself, so I ensured that I stopped by the SCV Distribution stand.
If you recall, the HPA4 is based on THX’s AAA headphone amplifier tech that boasts extremely low noise and low distortion. What I like about the HPA4 is the attention given to the volume control, which is often the weakest link. I am not going to go into detail here but if you want to know more head on over to our article.
What I can report is that the HPA4 is a remarkably transparent headphone amplifier. I managed to test it with a few different headphones and a few choice tracks and I would love to hear more. It obviously didn’t hurt having the amp fed by Novafidelity’s latest HD music server/CD ripper/networked streamer, namely the X45 (£1,999), either.
A week-or-so ago I had tested it with word that the fit and finish is production ready and there are just a few things needing to be ironed out now. I was told that they were roughly 90% ready to go.
That said, I was keen to meet Audeze’s other new products, the LCD-4z (£3,599) and LCD-2 Closed Back (£699). Again, I have had the fortune to spend time with the 4z before and they are really capable and much more efficient than the original LCD-4. Furthermore, with the magnesium frame option, the LCD-4z is much lighter than its older sibling.
However, it was the LCD-2 CB that I was more drawn to. These are comfortable and, more importantly, more personal. Being closed-headphones, they are also brilliant at isolating you from the rest of the rabble. The bass wasn’t over-powering either, which was my main worry when comparing them with the original LCD-2. The Closed Back will make for great commuter/travelling headphones.
Schiit, iFi and MrSpeakers
The Electromod stand, manned by the always affable Mark, was full of Schiit. Not only that, but Sarah and Hannah from iFi were also there.
iFi’s XDSD portable DAC/Amp (£399) was garnering much interest and having used it for a few hours now, I’m not surprised. As much as I could have easily stayed there and chatted for hours with this gang, I was guided upstairs by Mark as he said, “the new toys” were upstairs.
So, off we went. The Schiit Lyr 3 (£530) is a great piece of kit and will drive pretty much anything you plug into it. I have to apologise to Mark though as I got so carried away with the MrSpeakers Ether Flow (£1,700) and Aeon (£799) headphones which were being played through Schiit’s rather lovely Mjolnir 2 amp and Gungnir DAC, that I forgot to explore the Schiit show any further.
However, I also got to spend some quality time with MrSpeakers’ latest creation, the Voce (£2,600). I managed to have a long and friendly chat with MrSpeakers himself, Dan Clark. The new electrostatic Voce are easily good enough that rival brands should be more than a little worried.
Not only do the Voce look lovely but they come with a rather fetching display/travel case. The case is a glimpse at the attention of detail that Dan puts into all his headphones. Not only is it a functional case, it also doubles as a display stand. It even has a slot at the bottom of the doors to allow the cables to pass through. More importantly, the case keeps your headphones dust free. The Voce really should demand your attention should you get the opportunity to hear them.
I have been aware of 64 Audio but not had much hands-on experience with the brand. I was very interested to find out more about their A4t (£970) custom fit in-ear monitors. The reason for my focused interest in these particular IEMs is their use of a TIA (tubeless in-ear audio) drivers in each side.
Without getting too bogged down by the nitty-gritty of the tech behind this version of balanced armature drivers, as the name suggests, they eschew the need for sound tubes or dampeners. However, they do require a matched acoustic chamber. The apparent benefit to this complex design is that those chambers tune the drivers without any unwanted resonances.
If you think that is impressive, wait until you meet the 64 Audio TIA Fourté (£3,100). These range-topping IEMs pack 1 TIA high, 1 TIA mid, 1 high-mid and 1 dynamic low driver in each earpiece. The really clever part is getting all of those drivers to sing in effortless harmony, which they very much do.
Rupert Neve Designs
I love being able to catch up with products that I have previously written about in news releases, but not actually managed hands-on time with.
The RNHP (£449) is one such item. It might not have cutting-edge looks but the Rupert Neve Precision Headphone Amplifier is an excellent all-rounder. It is super-easy to set-up and produces an amazingly satisfying sound. This is another amp that punches way above its price range and, if you have an eclectic music collection, this is certainly one to test.
The recently announced Empyrean (circa $3-4,000US) was definitely on my ‘must see’ list and I am very pleased (and relieved) to report that they did not disappoint.
These headphones utilise a clever planar magnetic design. The diaphragm is made up of two distinct coil patterns with a spiral coil placed over the ear canal which is more efficient at creating mids and highs. Above that is a switchback coil pattern which is more efficient at creating the lower ranges.
I was quite taken by their design too. The test set had a lovely gunmetal finish that went really well with the eye-catching pattern on the ear-pieces and carbon fibre headbands. Most importantly was how they sounded and they sounded great. In fact, I could not immediately think of anything that I would change about them. The Meze Empyrean were my favourite headphones at the show.
The Sonoma package (£4,995) has been around for a while now, but it still looks and performs as good as ever. The Model One electrostatics are remarkably comfortable and light. I love the firm grip from the headband and the overall design. Needless to say that the sound quality is excellent.
As you have probably gathered, there are a few electrostatic headphones to choose from, so what’s different about these? Well, where most will require an energiser, amp and perhaps a DAC, the Sonoma has all that in one beautifully crafted unit. I realise that many audiophiles love to mix and match their components on the search for their Grail. However, others just want a huge slab of ease with their quality purchase. If that sounds like you, then the Sonoma may be just the ticket.
Erzetich and Matrix Audio
Both handcrafted cans were lovely to hold and wear. They do have very different sonic qualities so you will likely choose one over the other depending on whether you favour classical and jazz over a broader palate of musical taste.
With a shout out to Rachael and David from Elite Audio, I also spent some time with the Matrix Audio HPA 3U (£419) amplifier. The built-in DAC works as well as you would hope with the amplifier and when paired with the Erzetich Phobos, the lovely wooden warmth of upright bass from Stanley Clarke had a presence that really delivered the round low-end perfectly.
It's a Wrap!
This was the first CanJam London event I've attended and I can safely say that it won’t be my last. This expo should be on the calendar for anyone with an interest in personal audio. There was such a family-friendly vibe too and, as I mentioned at the top of this report, the mix of people at the show was also very encouraging to see.
See you at the next CanJam London, so here’s to 2019!
Further reading: Headphones & Portable Audio News & Reviews
StereoNET UK’s Editor, bass player, and resident rock star! Jay’s passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
Tags: canjam chord effect audio roller headamp v-moda fiio hifiman benchmark audeze schiit audio ifi audio mrspeakers 64 audio rupert neve designs meze sonoma erzetich audio matrix luzli
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