Qables (pronounced “cables”) is a company from the Netherlands that offers a distinctive Class D portable headphone amplifier called the iQube V1 ($549), or an expanded version that incorporates a built-in USB DAC called the iQube V2 ($699). What neither my words nor photographs can convey is the exquisite, old-school Leica-camera-like fit and finish of these little guys. To hold them in your hand is to want to take them home with you.
Ray Samuels Audio
When most enthusiasts think of Ray Samuels Audio, they probably picture the firm’s attractive and very good-sounding portable headphone amplifiers (e.g., the Hornet, SR-71, etc.). But not all Ray Samuels products are pocket-sized, as evidence of which I give you the two-chassis Apache preamp/headphone amplifier with balanced and single-ended outputs ($2995), which was shown at Can Jam as part of the Whiplash Audio exhibit. The Apache is, like all Ray Samuels products, very finely finished and it fairly bristles with technology, sporting both single-end and balanced headphone outputs on its faceplate, and providing both single-ended and balanced rear panel outputs (both live at the same time) for purposes of driving outboard power amplifiers.
RudiStor showed two products at Can Jam, both of which showed promise. The first was the Chroma MD1 high-end headphone ($1000), which looks a bit like a Grado RS1, but with earpieces made of beautifully machined aluminum. The second was the RPS-d DAC/headphone amplifier ($890), which feature Class A circuitry.
If I had to name just one iconic, poster-child product that best represents the high-end headphone movement, I might very well choose Sennheiser’s critically acclaimed HD800 headphones ($1695).
Ever since the HD800 came out, enthusiasts in droves have been snapping up Sennheiser’s flagship headphone—apparently undeterred by the product’s lofty price (in fact, it sometimes ahs been difficult for Sennheiser to keep up with orders for this handmade product). Among Can Jam exhibitors, I would say the HD800 (along with the also superb Beyerdynamic T1 Tesla) was one of the two most widely embraced reference headphones. It’s that good.
As shown here, many Can Jammers have chosen to equip their HD800's with custom signal cables. One of the more popular options involves cabling the HD800's so that they can be driven by balanced-mode headphone amplifiers, which as a general rule brings out even finer levels of sonic nuance and detail--areas where the box-stock HD800 already excels.
For me, one of the most impressive discoveries to come from Can Jam was the firm Sensaphonics, which describes itself as a “hearing conservation” company that builds custom-fit in-ear monitors and related products. A number of the firm’s products caught my eye including the 3D Active Ambient in-ear monitor with built-in ambient sound mics, offered both in single-driver and dual-driver configurations ($2000-$2500, depending on options and configurations chosen). The 3D Active Ambient system was developed specifically for musicians who would like to hear both the monitor mix and (some) ambient stage sound, and accordingly the 3D Active Ambient system comes with what Sensaphonics calls a "bodypack mixer-amplifier" that allows the wearer to control how much (if any) ambient sound to let in. Interestingly, a custom-modified version of the 3D Active Ambient system is available with recording outputs, so that wearers can use the ‘phones to create very high quality binaural recordings.
Other Sensaphonics products of interest included the 3MAX 3-driver/2-way in-ear monitor ($1050), the 2MAX 2-driver in-ear monitor ($850), which is said to be the firm’s most accurate and therefore most audiophile-appropriate model, and the 2X-S 2-driver in-ear monitor ($750—and similar to the 2MAX, but with different sensitivity ratings for use with certain wireless onstage monitoring systems).