CanJam Thoughts

I like headphones. I’ve bought a fair number over the years, and I’m still looking for the One True Pair. Different people want different things; for me, when I’m looking for a pair of headphones, I’m interested in the following:

1. Sound quality
2. Detachable cables
3. Over-ear
4. Closed back
5. Noise canceling
6. Removable boom mic
7. Sound isolating mic
8. Not giant
9. Not interested in Bluetooth because I hate even the slightest signal hiccup
10. Build quality

Have I found this pair? Not yet! Many headphones are too big, some pairs fit well but the audio quality is lacking, very few have boom mics, let alone removable boom mics, and the ones that do, well the sound could be a bit better (a lot better). 

Plus, reading headphone reviews is one thing, but the reviewer could have a different top-ten list, need a different fit, the other person could have more hearing-loss (or less hearing-loss) than you, and more- what one person thinks is an excellent pair might not be the best for you. So I want to be able to test out the headphones in person, instead of reading about them. But then there’s the issue of distribution. Off-hand, most people can name maybe three good quality headphone brands. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, would be a LOT of cheap, semi-anonymous brands. And in the middle (“in the middle” in terms of marketing budget and scale of output, not in terms of audio quality or price) are a lot of companies all over the world who are doing really good work, but might not be on the shelves at Best Buy, for example, and are a bit tricker to test out in person. 

So when I heard Head-Fi has an audio show that draws a huge amount of high-quality audio vendors from all over the world, I bought a ticket and checked it out! 

First things first, making a spreadsheet. I used my top-ten list as a base point, and looked up every listed company. If I saw an over-ear, closed-back pair that looked interesting, I added it to the spreadsheet. 

The total came to 24 pairs of headphones to check out, and I ended up adding 5 more over the weekend as I was looking around and talking to people. 

That’s a lot of headphones! But it goes to show how valuable CanJam is- what I’m looking for is one subset of headphone types- and within that subset I had so many to check out and test : )

Thank you

I also want to say that CanJamNYC was run really well, and I appreciated that- events take a lot of work and a lot of that work happens behind the scenes. Check-in was fast and seamless, the event guide was informative and accurate, there were several interesting talks, and the space was laid out well. 

The AMA with Sankar Thiagasamudram (AUDEZE), Dan Foley (Audio Precision), Rob Watts (Chord Electronics), Andy Regan (Dan Clark Audio), Axel Grell (grellaudio consulting), Freddy Knop (HEDD Audio), Jan Meier (Meier Audio) and Warren Chi (Head-Fi.org) was definitely a highlight! 

Notes:

Liked the build:

Meze Audio Empyrean and 99 Classics. I really like how intentionally serviceable these are. You can take them apart and put them back together : ) 

Surprise favorite:

Crosszone CZ-1 and CZ-10, especially the 10s. Amazing sound and felt really good to wear. The build quality was really apparent. Crosszone is a fairly new company and I’m glad I was able to listen to these! 

Surprise quality:

Anker Life Q20 This pair was such a surprise! Really good audio and noise-canceling. Like everything Anker makes, good build quality, thoughtful decisions, and an astonishingly value for the price. I would recommend the Q20s to people over Bose these days

Another good one to try: 

Strauss & Wagner SW-ANCBT501 In particular for the build quality. Note that the noise-canceling (ANC) won’t work when the connection is wired.

Best noise-canceling:

Sony WH-1000XM3. They were so good I really don’t know what else to say, other than they were definitively the best in terms of noise canceling among everything I listened to at the show.

Excellent pair:

Sennheiser PXC 550. A very good blend of noise-canceling, audio quality, fit, and features. 

Boom mic:

Gaming headsets are where you can most likely find boom mics- the field is still fairly new and high-end audio is happily bringing in more options for folks who value sound quality. Audio Technica, AUDEZE, Beyer, and Sennheiser have gaming headsets; only AUDEZE had theirs to try out. 

The AUDEZE Mobius is packed with features- no noise canceling, but pretty much everything else! 

Awesome as always:

Fostex. Just, all of Fostex.

Best audio out of everything I heard at CanJam:

Sennheiser HD 820. Amazing sound.

Special mention:

Andover PM-50 – A smaller company with three products at the moment. The audio quality of these was excellent and I’m really looking forward to seeing more in the future. 

Now on to the pictures- 

There’s so much more to see at CanJam. In addition to over-ear headphones, there are IEMs, DACs, media servers, amps (including some beautiful tube amps), and reclockers.

The Chord Hugo2 DAC amp was awesome. Chord also took this moment to premier the 2Go at CanJamNYC, which is an addition to the Hugo2. I was also able to try the Chord Mojo and Poly bundle, which was phenomenal.

Chord Mojo and Poly bundle
Chord Mojo and Poly bundle
Chord Mojo and Poly bundle ports
Chord Mojo and Poly bundle ports
Chord Hugo2 with 2Go
Chord Hugo2 with 2Go
Chord Hugo2
Chord Hugo2
Chord 2Go's ports
Chord 2Go’s ports
Portland-based audio company Campfire's display
Portland-based audio company Campfire’s display
Eletech, aka Elementechnology
Eletech, aka Elementechnology
The inside of a DAC
The inside of a DAC- this is a Pro-Ject Audio Systems product
The inside of a DAC
Another shot of Pro-Ject Audio System’s DAC- you can see the working item in the background. I like how the circuit board floats above the metal base
Sony's DMP-Z1
Sony’s DMP-Z1 (purple is the room light above)

CanJam overall was fantastic- so many good headphones, interesting products, amazing technologies, and good conversations. I’m going to end this post with something I especially enjoyed, the AudioValve Solaris DAC

Audio Valve Solaris DAC
Audio Valve Solaris DAC
Audio Valve Solaris DAC
Top-down view
Audio Valve Solaris DAC
I really like seeing how the outside controls connect to the board
Audio Valve Solaris DAC
Audio Valve Solaris DAC
Audio Valve Solaris DAC
It looks like a city!

I didn’t end up buying anything during CanJam and that’s something I expected- for some of these prices, there’s definitely value in thinking carefully. This was ultimately a research trip to better inform future decisions. I did win a pair of Anker Q20s in a raffle and I did leave with a fairly filled out spreadsheet, a short list of headphones I’d currently recommend if you’re also looking for some of my top-10 points, a lot of new-to-me brands to keep an eye on going forward, and some fun experiences trying out DACs. It’s not often that I get to test and talk about headphones for hours and hours. Even better, it was really fun to speak with audio-enthusiasts from all over the world. Many thanks again to the awesome folks who made CanJamNYC happen and many thanks to the knowledgeable, friendly, and enthusiastic folks at each table!

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