• Cruise—Portable headphone amp/DAC. ($540)
Within the traditional high-end audio community Furutech is best known for its exotic and expensive audio cables, power distribution products, and accessories, but in the headphone community the firm’s sub-brand Alpha Design Labs (ADL) is winning a reputation for products that offer innovative design and high build quality at much more accessible prices. First came the ADL GT-40, which is a combination USB DAC, headphone amplifier, and phono stage (and which also doubles as a digital recording device for transcribing vinyl to digital format).
But at Can Jam, Furutech/ADL rolled out its slick new carbon fiber-sheathed Cruise portable 24/96 USB DAC and headphone amplifier. Based on a brief listen, I’d say the Cruise sounds very promising, though I would offer one small safety tip. The Cruise offers a thumbwheel-style volume control that works backward from 99.99% of such volume controls I’ve seen in the past (i.e., rolling the wheel from right-to-left increases volume rather than turning it down). This can lead to some extremely unpleasant surprises for the unwary (don’t ask me how I know this).
• Blue Hawaii SE—2-chassis, tube-powered electrostatic headphone amplifier. ($4995 - $5995, depending on volume control options)
Head Amp is led by Justin Wilson whose firm not only builds very high quality portable headphone amps and DACs, but also builds—under license—the Gilmore-designed, tube-powered, 2-chassis Blue Hawaii SE electrostatic headphone amplifier.
At Can Jam, Wilson created a terrific amount of “buzz” among show attendees by demonstrating the Blue Hawaii SE with the latest and best Stax SR-009 electrostatic headphone, which quickly demonstrated terrific sonic synergy with the amplifier. Indeed, many on site felt this combination offered Best-of-Show sound quality. The Blue Hawaii SE sells for $4995 with its standard volume control or $5995 with a special (and extremely costly) ALPS volume control. Wilson offers the amp with either a black faceplate (which is how I have seen it in the past) or with a silver faceplate, as shown at this year’s Can Jam RMAF event.
• Tektron Headphone Amp—Tube-powered desktop headphone amplifier imported from Italy, shown in evaluation prototype form. (Projected price, $2700)
Not exhibiting in the main Can Jam area but rather up in one of the traditional RMAF suites was Headroom, which is both a manufacturer of its own line of desktop and portable headphone amplifiers and DACs, but is also a major distributor of other brands of gear.
For Can Jam the firm was showing/evaluating a gorgeous new tube-powered headphone amp from the firm Tektron (projected price, $2700). Interestingly, the amp comes mounted on a plinth which also incorporates a stylish headphone stand, as shown in the accompanying photos.
• EF6—Class A, high-output (8 Wpc) headphone/speaker amplifier, shown in pilot product form (but without final production faceplate/cosmetics). ($1399)
• HE-300—Dynamic-driver, circumaural headphone. ($299)
Playback has done in-depth reviews of HiFiMAN’s superb planar magnetic headphones, including the HE-5LE, the HE-500, and the flagship HE-6. Apart from excellent sound quality, however, HiFiMAN’s planar magnetic ‘phones are known for being power hungry and relatively difficult to drive—a comment that applies especially in the case of the HE-6, which has been known to expose the output limitations of any number of otherwise very good headphone amps.
To address this problem, HiFiMAN has just created a new, very high-output class A headphone amplifier that puts out a whopping 8 Wpc and that can therefore be used not only to drive the HE-6 headphones, but also can drive high sensitivity loudspeakers. The amp provides both XLR and phone jack-type output connectors, and thoughtfully includes speaker taps, too. The EF6 will sell for $1399, though no one knows exactly how the final version will look as the production faceplate design has not yet been finalized. Stay tuned.