I know I’ve been MIA. Just had a lot of personal things to take care of. I also got married 🙂 Anyway, I’m progressing with the new listening room and will be pumping out new videos soon.
Glad I made the last minute decision to attend CanJam 2020. Just picked up my 35mm lens and drove down to Irvine. I caught up with a lot of old friends and made some new ones. I (understandably) haven’t been to a CanJam since 2019. My journey started with headphones so I felt a bit of a nostalgic obligation. Anyway, many of you are curious about some of my impressions at the show. I’m a bit hesitant since these aren’t optimal conditions – but fuck it.
I spent most of my time in the dCS room. They had high-end electronics and most of the flagship headphones at the show. It was also quieter than most of the booths. Each stack had different filter settings so they may sound a little different but I tried to listen to as many of the headphones at a single station. I started feeling bad for hogging the station for longer periods lol. As with all show impressions, take them with a block of salt. I wouldn’t make a purchasing decision off these. Unless I could spend at least 2 weeks with all of these headphones at the same time (with my gear), impressions could change.
First of all, if you’re considering the dCS stack. Don’t listen to the the clock…if you can’t afford it. Aside from preserving it’s tonal color (which seems to be more neutral), it’s like listening to a completely different system. More holographic depth, dead quiet, perfect delineation, focus, meatier, full, etc. It’s disgusting how big the differences are.
Again, these are just my rough notes. Huge block of salt.
- ZMF Caldera
- This new planar magnetic headphone surprised me. It has organic tonality, lots of grit, with a rustic bloom. It’s a very engaging and fun listen. Especially for live recordings.
- Its tone is more lush and natural than both the Abyss and Susvara. But isn’t as refined, smooth, or deep.
- Compared to the Audeze LCD-5, the ZMF is more punchy, gritty, and dynamic. But it’s rougher in the upper mids and has more “grain” or haze to the sound. The LCD-5 also has more realistic depth.
- The LCD-5 has more grip, control, and is much smoother/more analog. It has better separation and maintains composure when the tracks get chaotic. On the other hand, the ZMF gets a little messy as it gets busier.
- The ZMF Caldera has this lush expansive bloom that admittedly is a bit addictive and free-spirited. In contrast, the LCD-5 is more formal than casual. Everything is properly tamed and faithful – and it commands more respect. But doesn’t quite let loose like the Caldera. Between these two excellent headphones, I think it comes down to mood.
- I preferred both of these headphones on the dCS stack.
- HiFiMAN Susvara
- Compared to the Caldera, the Susvara is quieter, cleaner, and more precise. It has a sound that is relatively more “proper” and assertive. It simply aims for perfection. Transients are tighter but the tone is more neutral/gray in comparison.
- The Susvara sounds more analog than the Caldera, almost silky in comparison. But the ZMF does have nice textural cues and a richer tone. I’m not saying the Susvara isn’t warm, just that the Caldera has more of that golden color.
- Abyss Phi TC
- I still own the CC version. Although not the warmest of headphones, it’s forward, punchy, textural, and more variant in density. It also a more expansive soundstage vs the Susvara and Caldera. It gives the impression of the “alpha male.”
- The Abyss has these lifelike (and speaker sounding) qualities that I don’t hear from many of the other headphones. It never fails to make an impression because of its incredible dynamic capabilities and ability to etch out the details.
- Audeze LCD-5
- This headphone has got to be one of the best I’ve ever heard. Thank the lord it’s not heavy like the LCD-3 (which I loved but sold due to the weight. Still miss that rich and dense sound though.). There’s something so tactile, fluid, and cohesive about this headphone.
- I’m just going to say it. This headphone is a reference piece. It’s not the meatiest and doesn’t have the most slam, but it does enough (detail, depth, imaging, etc) while preserving a natural color. It has a wonderful balance of musicality while revealing the intent of the recordings.
- Dan Clark Audio Expanse
- Compared to the LCD-5, the Expanse is smoother, more “gel-ed”, and has a greyer tone. It’s soft and relaxed with a thicker liquidity to it.
- The LCD-5 is more analog than it is liquid (if that makes any sense). It’s not as “connective” as the Expanse…which could be a good or bad thing depending on the listener.
- The LCD-5 is quieter, has more form and shape, better separation, and a more natural tone. It’s also more tactile but isn’t has velvety as the Expanse.
- For example, Melanie Martinez’s Dollhouse, the clock sounds more “geary” and crunchy with the LCD-5 while more dreamy and dramatic with the Expanse. It’s a matter of taste.
- Focal Utopia 2022
- I didn’t spend too much time with this headphone (someone left the seat briefly). Off the bat, very fluid and neutral but I’m going to need more listening time to form an opinion.
- The Wells Audio Headtrip III monoblocks were insane paired with the Abyss headphones. Limitless and effortless. And only $30,000 for the pair.
- Those limited edition ZMF headphones are gorgeous in person.
- The Audeze MM-500 sounded very good. I was afraid it would be too neutral but had a perfect touch of warmth.
- Meze 109 Pro. I’ve heard this on multiple setups. I guess I was expecting something warmer? It was smooth but I’ll have to give this another listen.
- If you want to compare all the best headphones, head over to the The Source AV in Torrance. Jason’s awesome.
- The Astell&Kern SP3000 sounds incredible. But keep in mind it uses 904L stainless steel (same stuff on Rolex watches) so it’s pretty heavy. I really enjoyed the responsive interface and coverflow.
- Chord Electronics Mojo 2 was incredible. The new EQ feature is incredibly flexible and invaluable. I kept thinking…it must be a sin to have this level of performance in such a portable form factor. I’m hoping to get one in review very soon.
As you could tell, it’s all relative and subjective. Every headphone has its tradeoffs. Hopefully the impressions were helpful but I’d prefer to listen to these headphones in private for a shootout (It’s about time for a tier list? lol). But I’m contemplating setting up a headphone room…not sure if wife will approve. Wish I had $3,700.
That’s all folks!