The news is in: CanJam 2017 was super cool. This was my first CanJam, and I had no idea what to expect. Whatever my expectations were, they were blown away with what I encountered.
And what exactly did I encounter? First things first, I learned just how fast the headphone space is growing.
Rewind a few years back, and for nice headphones we had Sennheiser, Grado, and a couple of other niche players. Now, the headphone world is filled with electricity, and is blossoming like crazy with headphones to suit all needs and price ranges.
My goto headphones have been the venerable Sennheiser HD-650. So, it made sense for me to check out the Sennheiser table and hear what they’ve been up to with their top end headphones, the HD-800,
HD-800S and the HD-700. My personal take away was this: Sennheiser has given up the top spot. To my ears, while yes the HD650 is a touch on the dark/warm site, the upper end models were too bright in the upper midrange for my taste.
So what next, then? There were so many brands, and so much energy. Standouts include:
– Focal. In a word, WOW. Focal stole the show with their 2 new headphone models: The Utopia and the Elear. They both sounded AMAZING, and I hope to have the opportunity to review them soon. The balance was perfect – dynamic, hard hitting, clear, detailed, and spot-on neutral. The build quality on the Utopia is to die for, utilizing a bunch of carbon fiber in unique and amazing ways. They are pricy at $4k, but if that causes you any distress, than the Elears at $1k are for you. They are definitely for me, because they sound pretty damn close to the Utopias at 1/4 the price. Very similar sonic signature, giving up just a touch of resolution to the Utopias.
– Schiit audio. These guys have it going on with their amps and DACs. Not to mention their demo station was HUGE and super cool, allowing us headphone junkies to easily A/B their amps against one another, with the awesome and amazing Focal Elears of all cans! Holy Schiit, their $350 OTL tube amp sounded so. freaking. good. Sign me up guys.
– Empire Ears. It takes a pretty darn good IEM to catch my attention. I have the excellent $1,000 Shure 864, and they are so good that I don’t even think of other brands. Just for fun I tried the Empire Ears Zeus-XR and they ate the Shure 864 for lunch. Somehow, Empire Ears crams 14 drivers into these guys. I don’t even know how that is possible. But after listening to them, I surely don’t care, as they are far and away the best sounding IEMs I’ve heard. They are pricey at $2,399, but the good thing is Empire Ears has products all through the price range. If you’re looking for the best, check out Empire Ears.
– 1More. These guys are killing it. Their triple driver IEMs set the bar for amazing sound quality at the crazy cheap price of $100. Their quad-drivers are supposed to be even better. They sent me a review sample and I can’t wait to check them out.
Aside from the gear, it was so much fun to catch up with some of the coolest people in audio, including Jude from Head-Fi, Steve Guttenberg from Cnet, and so many others. Hats off to Jude and the rest of the gang for putting on an amazing show.
What an amazing opportunity to hear all of the latest headphones, headphone amps, and portable music players all in one space. Experiences like this are priceless for this can-junkie.
I can’t wait to go to my next CanJam. More pics below!