CanJammed with headphones, IEMs, gear… and the audio fanatics who love them.
The feature of the show is the gear. The magic is the people!
Yes, people want to see, feel, and hear all the gear we’ve only dreamed of. What we want just as much is to feel part of a community of others who share our passion.
Casual consumers wearing BBB (Big Boastful Brand) headphones around their necks don’t come to a specialized, high-end show for enthusiasts. Since 2006, Head-Fi has hosted CanJam events in iconic cities around the world: Singapore, London, Chicago, Dallas, Southern California, and the pinnacle, New York!
CanJam SoCal 2022 broke the pre-COVID attendance record, and CanJam NYC 2023, the 6th show in New York, broke that record by +20%. Approximately 80 exhibitors and 2500+ audio-heads were in attendance! Attendees of all ages and backgrounds came from all over the world.
This is a smashing success for everyone involved. Attending a show like CanJam is quite a privilege and a great opportunity to go from virtual to real. It is great to see diversity in our hobby. Manufacturers, reps, journalists, and enthusiasts together, all welcome.
Gear and people who love them. Were you there? Comment below! If not, why not?! You owe it to yourself to make it to one of the CanJam events closest to you. It’s an incredible experience.
My first CanJam! I was fortunate to travel from Hawaii to NY (where I was born and raised) to be part of this epic weekend. And epic it was!
Below is an exploration of the event through pictures, direct quotes from industry leaders who I had the pleasure to speak with, and some quick impressions. My tale begins…
Ascending to the show venue at the Marriott Marquis Hotel & Conference Center in Times Square, New York City, I feel like a kid again, giddy with excitement!
After meeting Ethan Opolion, Producer of CanJam Global, and the Head-Fi CanJam crew at registration and receiving my media badge, I proceed to the main hall. Initially overwhelmed by the number of people, exhibits, products, and energy/buzz, I hear the anxious voice in my head say, “I am going to need 7 days… and I only have two.”
The central community space has many soft white couches and stools for people to sit and relax and, even more, to connect. Brilliant addition and use of space, even if not revenue-generating. It is full of people listening to gear, sharing, and talking shop about this obsession-prone hobby of ours.
First order of business, make rounds. Many people are expecting me to say “Hello!” I am thrilled to finally meet virtual world friends and colleagues IRL (in real life). Plus, so many new friends to make!
Overflowing with venerable gear, new releases, and prototypes, it is time to explore.
The Highest of Personal Hi-Fi
As consumers, we are fortunate to own single pieces of gear of this caliber. What better way to experience the vast majority of what’s best and new in one place at one time? And what’s best for you?
“Flagship” begins to feel shockingly normal at CanJam, as each manufacturer brought crates full of their best gear. Never have I seen so many multi-thousand USD headphones and IEMs handled like products on display at a big box store.
Let’s have a look, shall we? Several manufacturers had their own boutique rooms to the sides of the main hall.
dCS and Focal
dCS had a full lounge with their top-of-the-line headphone stack called the Lina. It consists of a dedicated Network DAC, Headphone Amplifier, and Master Clock, purpose-built for headphone listening. Pictured below are the Focal Utopia (they live up to their name!) and the closed-back Stellia.
“2022 was an exciting year with Focal introducing a new category of Active headphones. Bathys are the first ever Bluetooth and noise canceling Focal headphones, with a hi-fi sound thanks to Focal’s Made in France drive units.
Focal also launched the new version of its award-winning flagship Utopia headphones. The future will see more exciting new headphones as we continue to offer our customers the best audio experience with sophisticated and modern-looking headphones for home and travel.” – Mégane Montabonel, Product Manager, Focal
In the dCS lounge, many other top-shelf headphones were also there to help listeners hear what their equipment can do with top-of-the-line headphones of all varieties. Below are the Meze Elite flagship headphones and the new Audeze MM-500.
“We are proud to be celebrating our 85th year anniversary this year. The company’s commitment to perfection and its pursuit of advancing our work through advanced technology has been truly down to the Japanese culture and its deep sense of responsibility, respect, and authenticity.
The feeling of bringing something to life with emotion and hard work is the fundamental principle that underpins Stax, the brand. We will continue to create products that bring pleasure to our listeners and look very much forward to another 85 years.” – Douglas Ip, Sales & Marketing Head, STAX
Audeze’s new flagship electrostatic CRBN and the STAX SR-X9000 electrostatic headphones are both phenomenal paired with the soon-to-be-released HeadAmp Audio Electronics Grand Cayman. The CRBN, in particular, is luxuriously comfortable, with outstanding dynamics and tone.
The Corina are exceptional, even in such company. The Expanse are my favorite of the non-electrostatic DCAs. Ultra comfortable, fantastic dynamics, realistic timbre, and clear, detailed treble without harshness. They present a wide-open stage (not surprising, given their name!).
Audeze premiered their new Maxwell wireless gaming headset. Multiple Maxwells were available to try, with music and games, and they were an instant hit with anyone who tried them. Not only do they have trickle-down technology, they also feature a number of innovations.
My first observations about the Maxwell were the step up in build quality, the lower clamping force, and equal or better sound isolation (I own an Audeze Penrose). They are very comfortable, though heavier than most competitors. The new manual adjustment head strap (surprisingly old school, yet innovative) is helpful and will result in less adjusting each wear.
On first listen, the Maxwell were a “wow” experience for me. The sound is huge and detailed. They will rival many much more expensive headphones (wired and wireless) in overall sound quality and performance. The Maxwell are a steal for their asking price.
The ZMF boutique was seemingly filled with endless raving fans. ZMF was joined by Cayin and their premier DACs and amplifiers.
Below are ZMF Atrium powered by iFi Audio Pro iCAN Signature Amplifier, followed by a new Atrium Closed, the first ZMF closed-back headphones that will feature the Atrium damping system. They use the same driver as their sibling, the Atrium open-back, with a similar sound signature.
A bevy of ZMFssss. In the center is an Auteur Classic, surrounded by a variety of models and variations, all unique.
“I’m excited about broadening out manufacturing to cater further to elements that were around when we were a smaller business, where I did most of the work by myself.
In the coming few years, we will both try to build models that are more accessible through lower impedance and price, and also models that have custom shop type options that ZMF can really cater more to each individual user and use case within the audio realm.” – Zach Mehrbach, Founder, ZMF
Below are the one and only HEDD Audio HEDDphone Headphones. I have wanted to hear these ever since I saw a picture of them. They created the first full-range Air Motion Transformer (AMT), an electrodynamic transducer that moves air significantly faster than common voice coil, magnetostatic (planar magnetic) or electrostatic systems.
Yes, they are bulky and heavy (718 g, more than 1.5 pounds!). Getting past that, they are, for me, incredibly comfortable with plush pads, great head-hugging shape, and amazingly dynamic sound. Given their performance, they are a relative bargain compared to other flagship headphones.
Warwick has become synonymous with high-end with their multi-award winning Electrostatic Headphone Systems, developed and manufactured in the UK. The Warwick Acoustics Bravura and matching Sonoma M1 Amplifier (pictured below) must be bought as a system. Warwick headphones do not operate with third-party electrostatic energizers/amplifiers, as they require a higher-bias voltage than others on the market.
The Bravura sound smoooooth. This is one of the rare times that I’ve heard headphones that can be somewhat warm, silky, and highly detailed at the same time.
“Now in our 6th year of providing what most people deem to be ‘the ultimate listening experience available on headphones,’ there are more exciting things to come.
We are progressing in the development of fully portable Electrostatic Over-Ear Headphones that will deliver the same amazing acoustic reproductions ‘on the move’ as well as in the home or studio.” – Martin Roberts, Director Headphone Business Unit, Warwick Acoustics Ltd
Above, the ABYSS DIANA TC Premium was featured by HeadAmp with their GS-X mk2 Balanced Headphone Amplifier / Pre-Amplifier. The ABYSS family (Joe, Eric, and Jason) were all at the show, and are experimenting with an ABYSS closed-back prototype.
I have tried several of Final Audio’s lower-model D-series headphones, all resulting in disappointment. Most of them have been immediately uncomfortable for me. After wearing and hearing the Final D8000 Pro, I understand now why audiophiles rave about them. Much more comfortable than lower models, the D800 creates excellent spaciousness and high detail with full and clear sound.
Violectric and Lake People
The German-made Violectric/Lake People equipment was a favorite in many places in CanJam. The team featured several products, including the top-of-the-line Niimbus HPA US 5 Pro amplifier shown above and below, the DHA V380² state-of-the-art DAC and a balanced headphone amplifier, and the HPA V550 amplifier.
The Fostex TH-900 MKII & Fostex TH-909 were new experiences for me. While both presented impressive, sharp, clear detail powered by the Violectrics, I definitely preferred the open-back TH-909. My favorite part of the amplifiers? The exceptional build quality and the detents used for the volume knob are so physically satisfying!
Violectric also brought their new CHRONOS, an external DAC/headphone amplifier for mobile phones and portable devices, created for “Audiophiles On The Road.” It is protected by a stylish, internally illuminated miniature case.
Feliks Audio is a boutique manufacturer of hand-crafted tube amplifiers. All of their products are in-house engineered, tuned, and assembled onsite in Lubliniec, Poland for approximately 25 years. Lukasz Feliks, son of founder Henryk Feliks, came to CanJam NYC himself to showcase their unique designs, blending together technology and tradition.
Pictured above are EUFORIA EVO and ECHO 2 tube amplifiers. In the foreground are the Focal Clear Mg, ZMF Atrium Closed, and Meze Empyrean. The Feliks Audio Envy tube amplifier is a thing of beauty, as are the HIFIMAN Susvara headphones pictured below.
“We’re excited to feature our headphones. The flagship Solitaire P has a machined aluminum case and magnetostatic design. A membrane covering the entire ear cup surface has an inlaid aluminum voice coil with specially designed magnets to provide both a uniform magnetic field and draft control system; both are necessary to avoid distortions of the membrane throughout its excursions.
Solitaire P-SE is a special edition of the P with the same conceptual approach implemented at a lower cost. The case is machined acrylic, and the voice coil is copper. Solitaire T is a wireless headphone that can also be used wired either passively, entirely analog, or with USB C.” – Dave Nauber, Chief Executive Officer, T+A
Pictured above are the FATFreq Maestro SE and FATfreq Grand Maestro. Wow… they are large and in charge. If you’re into bass, like really into bass, these are the ones you want.
Empire Ears and Astell&Kern
Astell&Kern and Empire Ears collaborated to create Odyssey, a proprietary 10 drivers Quadbrid system composed of twin W9+ Subwoofers, 5 Balanced Armatures, dual Electrostatics, and a W10 Bone Conductor (pictured above paired with a Chord Hugo2).
I listened briefly: brilliant dynamics and sense of space between notes, with elevated airiness without harsh treble. They sound like TOTL IEMs, and IEMs at this level have a distinct type of reproduction and detail retrieval that takes some time to adjust to.
Headphones that have achieved legendary status have a new successor: the Sennheiser HD 660S2, pictured below.
Especially in this environment, I can only pick up a small difference between the S2 and the original; they sound virtually the same. They are balanced well, with possibly some needed additional lower frequency note weight.
“CanJam has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a national meet in Bayside, Queens over 15 years ago. The headphone enthusiast has evolved too, making this the most exciting time to be involved in the community.
We debuted the IE 200 and HD 660S2 while showcasing some recent and iconic headphones in nonstop listening sessions. It could not have gone better. Our HE 1 even made an appearance in a whisper-quiet suite, letting Head-Fi get even closer to their favorite music. We can’t wait to come back!” – Eric Palonen, Key Influencer Manager, Sennheiser
LETSHUOER brought their new Cadenza 12 flagship IEM that houses a 12-driver hybrid configuration. They feature a 10mm custom silicone diaphragm dynamic driver and 11 high-performance balanced armature drivers on each side.
To my ears, they sound like a flagship IEM. I reviewed the EJ07M, and own many LETSHUOER models. These are impressive. They are more beautiful in person, and despite the size, quite comfortable.
HIFIMAN and Dekoni
HIFIMAN premiered three new products at CanJam. The closed-back HIFIMAN Audivina garnered much attention. The soon-to-be-released HIFIMAN EF600 amplifier serves as a DAC/amplifier and headphone stand, quite a different form factor from the EF400 released in 2022. I noted in a brief listen that the Audivina has a beautiful range with high clarity. Vocals are precise and well-defined.
The Svanar IEMs are very comfortable to wear with excellent external sound isolation and feature a number of new technologies. The “Topology Diaphragm” or “Topology Driver” refers to the diaphragm with a special nano-particle coating applied to its surface to manipulate sound wave formation.
I have historically been partial to single DD IEMs. The Svanar are simply outstanding. Bass is remarkable, robust, and well-defined with control and texture. The treble extension is there without sharpness. Presence feels gripping, and the tonality sounds accurate.
I believe this will be a successful collaboration between the two companies. The Cobalt features a carbon-coated dynamic driver and is the first ground-up construction of a headphone around a new driver from HIFIMAN. This headphone was developed by Dylan Scarzafava from Dekoni, the lead engineer on the project.
The Cobalt is light and comfortable to wear. It produces fast and detailed sounds without being harsh. It presents pleasing tonality and creates a large soundstage for a closed-back. The pads are very comfortable, as expected, though warm. Cobalt comes with alternate pads that may be less so and will help the buyer adjust the tuning.
What’s most interesting about the Cobalt is that Dylan’s ideal sound is clearly not the same facsimile of endless V-shaped mass-market consumer headphones. Cobalt’s bass has good extension, though it presents with a somewhat thin and light bass response. The midrange is the highlight, while the upper mids and lower treble seem slightly elevated.
In the picture above, Jonathan and I are holding the prototypes, with Axel in the middle and Guy on the right. Yes, we are all beaming! HEAVYS headphones are almost a reality and will be on investors’ heads and in the wild soon.
“HEAVYS was created by a group of metalheads, fed up with the lackluster of most modern headphones. With NY headquarters, German engineering, and Swiss design, Heavys is a global effort to revolutionize the future of music by giving fans one of the most unique listening experiences on the planet. Our community-driven approach allows us to build products with purpose.
Our goal is to bridge the gap between technology and design for real-world applications. Our loudness enhancement technology, paired with the Natural Sound Field of HEAVYS, can be applied to a variety of verticals such as virtual reality, gaming, and even in hearing aid solutions.” – Jonathan Habshush, Co-Founder, HEAVYS
I was an early investor in the HEAVYS campaign. This was the first time I met the team in person, held the prototypes, and listened. What a blast! Impressed? Hell yeah, headbangers unite! Super dynamic, fast, and clean sound reproduction. These are going to live up to the hype. I cannot wait until my final product is delivered.
With so many models to choose from, THIEAUDIO continues to create iterations of success, to varying degrees. Most of them, while molded, can prove to be a challenging fit due to their size, variable shapes, and nozzle lengths. YMMV.
THIEAUDIO’s new Wraith headphones, what they consider “Precision Planar Magnetic Headphones,” were present. Indeed, they are beautifully built and of premium build quality. Despite being heavy, they are very comfortable. What I really appreciated is the smooth and mature sound profile. We will see if they are competitive as a mid-priced newcomer in a crowded segment.
Linsoul also featured the new Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite, sporting 8 custom BA drivers. I am not generally a BA fan, especially with no dynamic driver for the lower frequencies. When I tried these, I immediately felt as if the fit and seal were almost perfect. Very surprising for a large IEM.
The Orchestra Lite provided me with strong isolation from external noise. What really surprised me was the excellence of the sound. Kiwi Ears did an outstanding job on the tuning and overall sound profile. At their retail price, I believe these are a fantastic value.
HarmonicDyne’s new semi-open-back, budget-friendly Athena was my second biggest surprise, tied with the Kiwi Ears Orchestra Lite.
I had no idea what they cost, I just figured to pass. They look and feel like USD$25 megastore junk headphones at first glance (despite what the official website says about the use of glass, etc.). The light plastics feel cheap and flimsy, though that helps make them really comfortable, especially with their well-cushioned pads.
Someone held them out to me and said, “Just give these a quick listen.” I did.
After I listened to them for about 60 seconds, I was distrustful of my judgment. I handed them to an experienced listener and another reviewer next to me with no input, other than, “Will you please listen to these, and we’ll share impressions?”
The Athena were a shocker at CanJam. They sound the opposite of what they look and feel like.
All three of us had the same reaction of disbelief. Both of the others thought that Athena had planar drivers. These sound far better than their physical packaging and may well hold their own against headphones multiple their cost.
DROP.com brought their new DROP + Ultrasone Signature X and EPOS H3X gaming headset. The Signature X sounded like fun. While they are great at isolating external noise, the clamping force is strong, and the pads do not breathe well, causing me to feel the heat almost immediately.
The H3X sounded bested my expectations. I thought they would be good, as I already own several EPOS headphones. These are better and priced well. Super comfortable, appropriately balanced sound without severe bass bloat or piercing highs, and more mature than most gaming headphones.
Best in Show – xMEMS
I believe the MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology developed by xMEMS Labs, Inc., highlighted in a prototype and one commercial application, will change the personal audio world as we know it.
This advanced driver technology is nothing short of revolutionary. xMEMS has created a new transduction mechanism that is a voltage-based capacitive system. Meaning, no coils, no magnets. The technology has implications far beyond hi-fi audio, including specialized medical applications for hearing protection, and, astoundingly, the possibility of hearing restoration.
xMEMS speakers are voltage, not current-driven, and offer a near-instantaneous impulse response to the incoming audio signal (fast attack and decay), leading to excellent detail and separation. They also feature a near-zero (2°) phase shift below 10kHz, which leads to extremely accurate time-domain fidelity and sound reproduction.
“At xMEMS, we have produced a new solid-state micro speaker with several unique qualities that make a positive impact on sound quality and listening comfort. xMEMS’ silicon speaker diaphragm (an industry-first) is designed with microscopic slits that vent front-to-back when the speaker is active.
These tiny slits allow the de-pressurization of the ear during music listening without the loss of low-frequency energy and without ingress of ambient outside noise. The xMEMS speaker delivers extremely accurate bass response without pressurizing the ear that can often lead to long-term listening fatigue.” – Mike Housholder, VP Marketing and Business Development, xMEMS
I was given an opportunity to experience these prototype test units at CanJam just as the show was coming to a close. They require full occlusion to be able to hear sound. Using Comply Foam Ear Tips, the team helped me find an adequate seal to listen.
They played a song by 2CELLOS. My eyes widened, and my jaw dropped, literally. The sound seemed to be both in my head and all around me in space at the same time. The last time I remember a mind-expanding sensation and reaction like this was the very first time I listened to FM radio on headphones.
I have not experienced anything so lifelike as being in the center of the space where sound is created. Dimension, vibration, tonality – breathtaking. I was more “feeling” than “hearing.” Truly transcendent.
To learn more about the technology, explore their website – it is complex. These “drivers” don’t drive, meaning, they don’t push air like a conventional driver. Despite a requisite tight seal, they relieve pressure in the inner ear.
xMEMS is in discussion with many companies who are considering if and how to use this MEMS technology for their branded audio products. One such coming implementation is Singularity Audio (pictured below).
If this is where personal audio is going, I’m packing and coming along!
If you’re an enthusiast, attending a show like CanJam should be a personal goal. A visit is a must at some point — for both the gear and the community that loves them.
Enjoy your sounds fully regardless of what gear you have or can afford. Happy Listening!