Over the course of the event, conference space is reserved for industry experts to give talks on subjects of general interest to the members, while in the background manufacturers meet to discuss strategies and methods for growing the personal audio/headphone/desktop audio industry as a whole. At the end of each day, raffles are held where attendees can win door prizes contributed by exhibitors. On the evening between the first and second day of Can Jam, there is typically a concert held for the enjoyment of attendees (this year’s featured an ensemble lead by Patricia Barber bassist, Michael Arnopol).
But what is perhaps hardest to convey is the incredibly sweet-spirited nature of the Can Jam event, which reminds me a bit of what traditional high-end audio gatherings used to feel like back in the 1970s. There’s a refreshing sense, shared between manufacturers, event organizers, and enthusiasts alike, that “we’re on to a very good thing, so let’s pull together and try to keep this rolling and growing…” Wouldn’t it be nice if all of high-end audio felt that way?
ALO (Audio Line Out) is both a manufacturer and also a reseller of other manufacturer’s products. At Can Jam, ALO showed the Isabella battery-powered, vacuum-tube headphone amplifier from Connecticut-based Red Wine Audio ($4500 and up, depending on options chosen), plus its own ALO Amphora solid-state desktop headphone amplifier ($1150) and the exquisite little ALO Rx Prescription portable headphone amp ($345), which was being used as a reference/demonstration amp by several exhibitors at Can Jam. The tiny RX Prescription features dual 3.7V Li-ion batteries with an “intelligent charging circuit,” a digitally controlled stepped attenuator volume control, and a high current amplifier circuit capable of 200mA output. The result is a tiny, iPod-sized amp that offers an unusually full-bodied sound and that can drive both in-ear monitors (IEM’s) and full-sized over-the-ear headphones with ease.
From a manufacturer perhaps best known for its ultra high-end studio grade clocking systems comes the Zodiac + DAC/headphone amp ($2495). The Zodiac + is a highly versatile, high-end 192/24 DAC with 2 x Toslink, 2 x SP/DIF, 1 x AES and 1 x USB inputs, plus a unique oven-controlled clocking system. The Zodiac + can provide a de-jittered digital output with ground isolation. Note: An even higher performance Zodiac Gold model (~$4000) is due out in the October/November timeframe.
Apex products, showcased in Todd The Vinyl Junkie’s exhibit room, included the new all-tube Pinnacle ($10000) and hybrid tube/solid-state Peak ($1400-$2000) headphone amplifiers, both of which can double as stereo preamps Of the two, the Pinnacle probably garnered the lion’s share of attention and with good reason. The versatile Pinnacle provides both single-ended and balanced headphone output jacks on its front panel, plus a control that allows users to choose high or lo-gain singled-ended or balanced headphone output configurations, or a setting for using the Pinnacle as a conventional stereo preamp. The sound: remarkably pure and accurate, effortlessly revealing, and subtle as could be.
AudeZ’E (pronounced “odyssey”) showed its very impressive LCD-2 planar magnetic headphones ($945), which are—to state things simply—serious state-of-the art contenders. A company representative showed me a set of measurements taken of the LCD-2 on an elaborate test system on display at Can Jam, and the headphone’s frequency response plot was almost pool-table flat from 10Hz to over 1kHz. What is more, the LCD-2 could actually reproduce pretty convincing square waves at both 30Hz and 300Hz. The sound: full-bodied, very revealing, and yet almost shockingly smooth. A true sonic “chameleon,” the LCD-2 instantly and effortlessly reveals even small differences between associated electronics, as I learned when trying the headphone with two of the excellent amplifiers AudeZ’E had on hand.