CanJam SoCal 2019 Sponsored by Distinctive Stereo Part 1

Thanks to our good friends at Distinctive Stereo in New Jersey (https://distinctivestereo.com/), Headphone.Guru is able to bring you complete, in-depth, six-part coverage of CanJam SoCal 2019, with Frank Iacone, Bowei Zhao and Gary Alan Barker combing every inch of it. Once again, CanJam SoCal has returned to Irvine for what looks to have been their best show ever. All the heavy hitters were there, like HiFiMan, Noble Audio, MrSpeakers, Schiit, Focal, beyerdynamic, and Audeze, along with a host of new arrivals including Grado (new to CanJam at least), and several exciting product launches from the likes of Helm Audio, RAAL-requisite, Kaldas Research, and Shenzhen Audio.

CanJam Socal was exciting this year as it returned to Irvine California. Ethan Opolion and Jude Mansilla made the decision to move it to the Irvine Marriott from last year’s Los Angeles venue and they were rewarded with a record attendance of enthusiast. The show was the best CanJam that I have attended. Guru was one of the sponsors and this year for the first time brought the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society seminars to CanJam. Meeting old friends and making new ones is always a fun treat.

The coverage was fun to do with our team of Senior Editor Gary Barker, Bowie Zhao who is approaching 40,000 posts on head-fi.org and myself doing the coverage for Headphone.Guru made covering CanJam Globals CanJam SoCal 2019 exciting and the two action-packed days seemed to go much too quickly.  The venue was outstanding with excellent rooms and great food. The Marriott stepped up and Ethan was able to negotiate $10.00 in and out parking, $106 rooms, and affordable food.

The show was the best CanJam done in California and one of my all-time favorites. Pictured above is Jude and Ethan’s team which included our friends Joe Cwik, Brian Murphy and Warren Chi and others who worked their butts off to make this show run flawlessly. Outstanding work by the event, one for the ages.

Aumbar Chandan’s new company Kaldas located in Mumbai, India was showing an electrostatic headphone priced at $500 that works with any Stax electrostatic amp or Koss energizer.

The lightweight model was a lightweight comfortable design plugged into the Koss amplifier in the rear. Total cost for both the headphone and amp is an affordable $999.99

The sound of the Conquest with the Koss had excellent midrange and a shimmering treble with excellent bass. The Koss amplifier did an excellent job of driving the new exciting and affordable design and made the listening time an experience.  The well-made design was slight on my head and the sound was excellent for an affordable first design from India.  Looking forward to reviewing this exciting electrostatic design from the folks at Kaldas.

Jim Moulton and the Noble team were showcasing their new universal design the Khan (review coming). The Noble booth was also showing the award-winning cables from WyWires. The Khan is a hybrid tri-level design that has 6 drivers. 4 balanced armatures with 1 10MM dynamic and 1 10MM piezoelectric driver. I recently spent about a month with the Khan and found the amazing IEM priced at $2399 exciting and dynamic. The delivery was an out of the head experience and sound was one of the best I have heard in any in-ear monitor regardless of price. Musicality!

The WyWires  Red IEM cable priced at $299 had the two pin design and takes listening to IEMs to the next level.

WyWires offers two USB cables that sounded excellent streaming music from the iPad hooked up to the Chord Dave. Priced at $1599 it was dynamic and musical and removed all noise and grunge and made the music come to life. The masterful sound was pure reference magic. If you really want to hear everything the recordings offer these high-quality silver cables made the music listening and experience. Noticeable was more clarity on instruments and subtle differences in high-frequency extension. The musical sound was magical and exceptionally vivid with a black noise-free background. The platinum series gives you about  90 percent of the performance of the Diamond series and is priced at $899.

Alex Sventitsky CEO of WyWires continues to create award-winning designs in cable that lets the listener hear all the music without any distractions. Check out the high-quality designs from WyWires.

My good friend, known affectionately on Head-fi.org as Watagump, was volunteering once again for Noble. He devoured a full rack of barbecued ribs at our dinner with the Noble team. Eric does a great job and knows all of the Noble products well. I managed to get a simple smile from our friend and it is always fun hanging out with him at CanJams.

Helm had an exciting Boost cable that included an amplifier with bass boost. Listening to their various products this cable was pure magic and a must hear for anyone wanting the best in amplification and wanting to add bass to their IEM or headphones. This $99 wonder made music more dynamic and made the sound of their products more alive and exciting. Tim Burton VP of Sales was on hand to answer questions on all of the exciting new products from HELM.

Offering two different  IEMs and more in development their $99 single driver is exceptionally transparent and in the hand of our reviewer, Bowei Zhao will make a ruckus in the community with its dynamic and vivid sound that is unheard of at this price point.  The True Wireless 5 is a Bluetooth wireless design with 24 bit aptX HD that uses high powered polymer drivers with excellent bass definition and a magical midrange. The treble extension is clear and articulate. The wireless design offers 6-8 hours of wireless music playback with the best Bluetooth connectivity incorporated and priced at $129 is a sure bet for listeners looking for on the go musicality and affordability.

The Wireless  Studio Planar design priced at $349 is exceptional. The planar design had a huge soundstage developed by the 66 MM planar magnetic drivers. Constructed from high-quality aluminum-alloy it was light and comfortable to wear while listening. The interchangeable pads are velour or leatherette and use Bluetooth connectivity to make listening easy and portable. Using silver coiled diaphragms in their planar design is a world first and this exceptional planar was dynamic had great bass and was delivering exceptional musicality with an Astell and Kern player streaming Tidal. If you want a new listening experience, the Studio Planar is an exceptional design that delivered a terrific listening experience and is priced at a ridiculously low price. The performance of the Helm planar magnetic design was magical.

Bob Levi President of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society with legendary designer John Grado pictured here created new excitement for the folks at SoCal CanJam this year. The LACOS hospitality room was stacked with liquor and refreshments and was a popular addition to this year’s CanJam. The award-winning LACOS produced seminars were filled with information and I was honored to personally moderate one of their seminars.

John Grado’s team was busy as this was their first show in over 20 years and listeners were treated to actually meeting the Grado family. John Grado was meeting with listeners and fans of Grado products and signing autographs.  The room was packed with listeners anxious to hear the new Grado designs.

Grado HF3

The new Grado Head-Fi HF3 headphones ($350) were introduced at the show. The limited edition design is being offered with red oak cups. The design is the third limited edition done for Head-fi.org, and Grado will be donating $100 per pair of the proceeds to charity. Grado used a new braided sheathing wire in this design for more flexibility and improved performance. The specially treated wood goes through a 2 step curing process to achieve the best in tonality. The limited editions series is a surefire bet to both help a charity and enjoy as a collectible. I will be ordering one for Headphone.Guru and add it to my collectibles and help a great cause.

Jonathan and Matt Grado showing the award-winning Grado GS3000E that I have reviewed on Guru. The $1795 wood headphone is reviewed here https://headphone.guru/the-magical-wonder-of-grado-labs/ 

The wood-based design of the GS3000E is one of their reference series headphones employing a 32 ohm driver and is using for the first time cocobolo wood, offering exceptional musicality. The tonality of instruments is exceptional and the comfortable lightweight design gives the listener the best on comfort with exceptional dynamics that make all genres of music sound exceptional. The cocobolo wood is beautifully constructed and offers excellent craftsmanship in this exciting reference series design.

John Chen, VP Marketing for Grado, with Rich Grado (John’s brother) was showcasing the reference headphones on the table using amplifiers from Schiit Audio. The PS2000E priced at $2695 is Grado best effort in professional design.  The 32-ohm open-back reference design offers exceptional soundstage with a dynamic presentation and rare musicality. The Headphone.Guru product of the year in 2018, this exceptional design is part of their professional series that legendary designer John Grado nailed with its exceptional midrange with a musical and extended treble along with just the right amount of bass in the presentation. The listener can hear every nuance in detail and is treated to a musical experience in listening.

Reviewed here: https://headphone.guru/sensational-new-dynamic-reference-headphone-john-grado-ps2000e/.   If you looking for the best in performance from one of the finest reference headphones in the world, the PS2000E could be the ticket.

The Mrspeakers room, shared with HeadAmp, is always one of the busiest rooms at shows. The tables are always crowded with people lining up to hear the  MrSpeaker VOCE electrostatic headphone and HeadAmp Blue Hawaii tube amplifier. I waited till the second day of the show to get time to talk with Dan Clark and get IN some listening time as I could not get near the listening area the first day.

The Manley  Absolute Headphone Amplifier($4500) was driving the ETHER2 Headphones in the MrSpeakers room and making music that was exceptional.  The ETHER2 priced at $1999 is the top of line planar magnetic from Dan Clark’s creative genius. The musicality of the lightweight 290-gram design is legendary with its soft leather pads accompanied by a NiTinol headband, makes this lightweight design one of the most comfortable of any planar design currently manufactured. The ETHER2 with the Absolute amp from Manley were synergistic and made for the ultimate in a listening experience, adding the Schitt Yiggy DAC the sound was exceptionally detailed and had nailed tonality of instruments and the system created an end game solution and one of my favorite all around systems.

Talking with Dan and listening to his new ear pads for the ETHER2 with the Manley Absolute amp I was amazed at how much the differences in sound were noticeable with the two different pads. The high-quality pads are self-adhesive and are offered either as a single pad for  $89  each or sold as a set which includes the two sounding pads. The first pads I listened to offered a smooth buttery sound with excellent slower more laid back midrange. The 2nd pad had an energized and more alive sound. The pads were easily removed and interchangeable in seconds.

I heard huge differences in sound quality with both pads. The pads offer the listener a chance to easily change the ETHER2 sound and are a worthy investment to get the most from the ETHER2. The pads make the ETHER2 a tunable headphone and one of the most comfortable pads on the planet and really add to the listening experience.

The HeadAmp GS-X mini, priced at $1795, is available on pre-order. The balanced design can pre-ordered and you pay only when the Mini ships. The Mini is an excellent choice for low impedance hard to drive planar designs. HeadAmp offers all major headphones for purchase with their Mini and if you’re in the market for an all in one solution the GS-X mini incorporates the power supply into the design and sounds outstanding with transparency and dynamics. The Mini is offered in a variety of colors and is another Justin Wilson designed masterpiece.

Listeners were lined up over the two days to listen to the MrSpeaker VOCE  Electrostatic  Headphone with the Blue Hawaii special edition priced at $5999  paired with the MrSpeakers VOCE at $2999. Add your favorite DAC and you have a total endgame system. The Blue Hawaii gets the most from the VOCE and the sound is extremely transparent and the system completely disappears. The tonality of instruments is exceptional and the bass performance of the VOCE is rare in an electrostatic design. Dan Clark worked hard for years to get the VOCE to be one of the best sounding electrostatic headphones in the world.  Listeners looking for an end game solution for the best in tonality and transparency need to hear the award-winning combination of the Blue Hawaii and VOCE. Wow!!

Danny McKinney co-founder of RAAL was showing the RAAL/requisite SR1a, one of the best new products I listened to at SoCal CanJam. The $3500 package includes the energizer and storage case.

RAAL has been developing Ribbon speakers in Serbia since 1993. Danny, not new to audio recording, designs ribbon microphones for the pro audio world. While listening to the SR1a Earfield Monitor I asked him to put on Alison Krauss and he promptly told me he designed the ribbon mics for many of her recordings including “Paper Airplane” and her current “Windy City”. The requisite is a full ribbon Earfield Monitor that is adjustable for the type of music you’re playing. I adjusted the earpads out and away from my ear on classical recordings and was treated to a layered soundstage. The sound was transparent and all out of the head.  The SR1a was hooked up to a  Schitt Aegir $799 putting out 80 Watts into 8 ohms.   The sound was effortless. The midrange on Alison’s vocal was exceptional and realistic sounding.

The SR1a disappeared and my jaw dropped at the presentation. The RAAL Ribbon design was one of the most transparent and the sound was exceptional. if you’re looking for a speaker system for your ears this is an exceptional product and sounded as good as I have heard from any headphones. True ribbon designs are known for their midrange magic and the RAAL requisite delivered a magical midrange with a pristine treble and the bass was textured and kept my face smiling.  Paired with the great electronics from Schiit this is a game changer new design for personal listening.

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Frank Iacone

Frank started his journey in high-end audio in 1978 and was quickly hooked. Frank’s passion for music and great sound reproduction is stronger than ever. His main focus is with high-end headphones and portable related gear. He is a regular Head-Fi.org contributor and is a co-founder of Headphone.Guru.

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