Recognizing that planar magnetic headphones may require a bigger investment than some listeners are willing or able to make, HiFiMAN also used Can Jam as an opportunity to roll out its first dynamic driver headphone, the HE-300, priced at $299. It’s too soon to say without an in-depth taste, but based on first impressions from a brief listen at the show, we think the HE-300 is likely to become one of the strongest competitors in its price class. Interestingly, it’s styling exactly mirrors that of the higher-end planar magnetic HiFiMAN models, though the HE-300 is dressed up in a distinctive, model-specific metallic silver finish.
As many of you know, HiFiMAN is led by Dr. Fang Bian, who is about as passionate and dedicated a headphone enthusiast as we have ever encountered. Sadly, Dr. Bian could not be (physically) present at Can Jam RMAF, but he “attended” nonetheless via a live Skype connection at the HiFiMAN table. It was fun to watch visitors move back and forth between the HiFiMAN listening stations, and then shift down to the Skype area to share impressions and comments with Dr. Bian.
• HeadStreamer—USB-powered, compact headphone amplifier/DAC. ($140)
High Resolution Technology has earned an enviable reputation as a go-to resource for affordable yet very high performance USB DACs and related components. For Can Jam RMAF, HRT debuted its cool new HeadStreamer USB-powered combo headphone amplifier/USB DAC ($140).
This bargain-priced unit will, I think, win friends with its ability to deliver digital audio in a manner that really doesn’t sound “digital,” but rather offers a touch of pleasingly natural, organic warmth—this in contrast to a large number of digital components that are afflicted with a sound that, while in a sense “pristine,” is marred by a certain sterile, icy coldness that can be quite off-putting over time. Thankfully, the HRT “house sound” is much more natural sounding (though perhaps less overtly detailed), and is therefore enjoyable for longer periods of time.
• JH3A/JH16 Pro System—Portable DSP-controlled, triamplifier/in-ear monitor system. ($1748)
JH Audio is lead by Jerry Harvey (and his wife Brittany) and the Harveys are regarded, with good reason, as among the prime movers-and-shakers in the world of custom-fit in-ear monitors. Playback has very favorably review JH Audio’s flagship JH16 Pro in-ear monitor (a three-way, 8-driver miniature in-ear monitor that many listeners regard as the best of its kind currently available).
But as early as a year and a half ago JH Audio began showing prototypes of an even more radical in-ear monitoring product, which was essentially the combination of a custom-modified set of JH16 Pros powered by—check this out—a dedicated, portable, DSP-controlled, tri-amplification system (called the JH3A) capable of applying both time domain and frequency domain correction to the JH16 Pro, effectively creating a “perfect” monitor. From the outset, this was a terrifically ambitious design project, so that it is not too surprisingly that it took a while for the design to progress from the prototype stage to finished product, and there have been, Jerry Harvey acknowledges, more than a few twists and turns along the way.
Specifically, Jerry Harvey explained, the circuit topology and overall signal flow path were re-evaluated and revised several times, with several important benefits for the end-user. In the original JH3A/JH16 Pro prototype system, the in-ear monitor—once modified for use with the JH3A—always had to be driven by the JH3A (meaning the monitors could no longer be used in passive mode at all). In the full production JH3A/JH16 Pro, however, the signal path has been revised so that users can either connect their specially modified JH16 Pros to the JH3A (for time and frequency-corrected triamplified-mode operation), or they can plug the JH16 Pro’s into a supplied adapter cable and run them in traditional passive mode (just like a standard JH16 Pro). Another welcome touch is that the production JH3A contains a bass trim control, so that users can add (or not add) a dab of low-end reinforcement to suit their listening tastes.