CanJam London is probably the biggest event in UK to focus on headphones side of audio. Organised by HeadFi it brings a lot of companies to show of their lineup. It’s one of the only moments when you can get to try all the newest and greatest of the headphone and the IEM world.
I’ll focus on main highlights of the show.
Apart from their current lineup of beautiful hand crafted headphones ZMF brought something which to me is the star of the show, the pre-release version of the Verité closed back.
I’m personally not someone who likes closed back headphones, I tend to gravitate towards open back designs or IEMs. This is the first time a closed headphone blew me away, it sounded open, with spacious stage, holographic imaging, great speed and nice bass impact. On top of that the usual very well tuned midrange we’re all used to with ZMF offerings. It’s hard to express how special those felt, everything I like in a headphone crammed into one with additional passive isolation. Congratulations Zach, this is definitely the best and most memorable thing I’ve heard at CanJam.
Being fairly familiar with their previous offerings I quite looked forward to hearing the two new offerings from Empire Ears, the Valkyrie and the Wraith, both relying on electrostatic tweeters unlike BA in the rest of the lineup.
I’ll start with the lower priced Valkyrie, it’s a tribrid model using a dynamic driver for the bass, balanced armature for the midrange and a electrostatic tweeter.
The sound it delivered had a lot of treble energy, but also deep digging bass and fairly balanced but quite cold midrange. The stage was what impressed me the most, not only was it big but it also had this extraordinary height, higher than any other IEM I’ve heard before. This made the sound envelope you and engage with you on a whole new level. Would this energetic signature get tiring after a while? I’m not sure, but I’d love to find out for myself.
The new flagship, the Wraith, presented me with a lot of detail and a very balanced sound signature, stage felt odd, as if it was tapering down towards the edges and loosing height and depth in those areas. Overall something felt off about the Wraith, and I hope it was just the demo unit that was presented at the show.
I’ll be honest here, I’ve only vaguely heard of InEar before this years show. And now that I’ve listened to their lineup I know I’ve missed out on quite a bit.
Starting with the ProPhile 8, the flagship of InEar lineup, featuring a BA based monitor with two dip switches to increase the bass or treble region by 3db.
My first impression was really great fit. The shell looks odd but fits very snugly in place and feels very secure. With the dip switches turned off the monitor felt exactly as described, flat, analytical, but not boosted in the high to give “fake” detail, rather it was just presenting music as is. It reminded me of my Audiofly af1120 mk2. The layering and staging were extremely good. Then I decided to turn the bass switch up, the monitors suddenly came to life and turned into something more fun. It was very tastefully done without overblowing and overly changing the presentation. Finally I’ve put the treble switch up and played some EDM, this definitely made the ProPhile 8 even more exciting while keeping it’s technicalities intact. Very impressive.
Next the StageDiver 5, retailing at around 900£ and equipped with 5 balanced armatures competes with one of my all time favourite IEMs, CA Andromeda. And to my surprise the StageDiver 5 delivered, both technically and tonally it was a very pleasant experience. Looking forward to spending some time with that one in the future.
Acoustune wasn’t something I was exposed to much in the past, I’ve vaguely heard some of their lineup last year but the fit felt sub par for me thus why I didn’t pay much attention to them.
To my surprise and relief their new lineup massively improved on comfort, the shells fit pretty well and no sharp edges were in contact with my ear.
I started with the HS1670SS which had a pleasant warm bass, nice and clear vocals and slightly sparkly and very pleasant treble. Nothing struck me as wrong and detail was surprisingly good for a single dynamic driver.
The HS1655CU was completely different, with a lot of bass emphasis, wide stage with decent air but the vocals were pushed back and female vocals felt a bit too soft to my liking.
The HS1650CU felt very similar to the HS1655CU in the bass region in terms of quantity but delivered it more aggressively, along that the treble felt quite sharp, could’ve been my track choice but it was a bit too much to my taste.
Finally the highest end model presented, the HS1695TI, first word that came to my mind when listening to them was “crisp”, the treble was snappy and boosted just enough to give them a nice bite without being overly sharp. Separation and detail was very good, bass was tastefully boosted. I’ll definitely consider those as a dynamic driver fun IEM in the future.
Vision ears were presenting quite a few IEMs from their lineup, but since I’ve heard most of them before I’ll focus on their new hybrid the Elysium. It uses a balanced armature for the lows, a dynamic driver for the mids and an electrostatic tweeter.
First impression was those felt quite narrow compared to all the other hybrids of the same kind I’ve heard, they were still very accurate and had a decent separation though. One thing that stood out to me was how big the centre image was for vocals, they felt like a fairly big blob placed in the centre of your head or maybe slightly behind. I’d like more time with those.
When Meze anounced the Rai Penta I got quite intrigued since I quite enjoyed their flagship the Empyrean.
Finally I’ve got given a chance to listen to them, with stock tips the bass was bleeding into the mids and felt out of control in that region. This got much better with spiral dot tips but there still was quite an obvious midbass hump. This could be a positive for some, I personally prefer a bit more control in that region. The vocals presentation was very pleasant, reminding me of the Empyrean. Detail retrieval was good the presentation was laid back rather than pushing details forward. I feel those are nicer when you spend more time with them and get used to them.
I mainly focused on the Trinity while at the Jomo stand, I got to try both the brass and steel nozzle versions. Both of them had very good technicalities, wide stage with very good depth and good height, timbre was good across the spectrum, vocals were well placed. Everything was in place where it should’ve been at this price point. What surprised me the most is the change in tonality between the two nozzles to be as substantial as it was. The brass version felt substantially smoother and warmer than the steel one. Both of those are indeed as good as people say.
I’ll keep my impressions brief, the thing that blew me away at the Hifiman stand wasn’t the Susvar or the Shangli-La Jr. It was the Ananda bluetooth, I didn’t expect it was possible to have a planar of this size driven by an internal amp (5h battery life) to this level. It felt like a well driven Ananda out of a desktop amp. I still can’t quite believe how that is possible. I’d love to get my hands on a pair of those to review.
I’m not quite sure what to say about those. They are very good, but I can’t quite decide whether they present more like a headphone or as speakers. The imaging happens in front of you but because it’s attached to the head it follows you around in a odd manner. I didn’t have a chance to spend too much time with them unfortunately but I understand why some people would prefer those to normal headphones.