Interestingly, though, the Apex product the was really wowing Can Jam attendees was the significantly lower priced, and much more simply configured Butte headphone amplifier ($500), which was providing an almost heartbreakingly beautiful, clean, pure sound. It’s really something special for the money.
• Marvel, Aero, Mage, Merlin, and Miracle—Custom-fit in-ear monitors with, respectively, 2, 3, 4, 4 +1, and 6 drivers/earpiece. ($450, Marvel - $930, Miracle)
A new discovery for me was the Australian custom-fit in-ear monitor maker Unique Melody. The firm’s product line is, with perhaps one notable exception, pleasingly straightforward. At the bottom of the range is the Marvel ($450) featuring dual-balanced armature drivers. Next up is the Aero, which Unique Melody terms a “triple” (as in using three balanced armature drivers); above the Aero is the Mage, which is UM’s “quad” (configured as a three-way, four balanced armature in-ear monitor with one high frequency driver, one midrange driver, and dual bass drivers). Then, and the very top of the Unique Melody food chain is the three-way, 6-driver Miracle ($950), which uses six balanced armature drivers grouped as two HF driver, two Midrange drivers, and two woofers). A company spokesman told me that the Miracle is hands down the most accurate, audiophile worthy of all the Unique Melody products, so that I am hoping to be able to obtain review samples for Playback. Stay tuned.
The one “odd man out” model I alluded to above is UM’s three-way Merlin monitor, which offers a hybrid combination of four balanced armature drivers plus one dynamic driver—a combination I’ve not seen in any other in-ear monitor. In terms of price, the Merlin slots in above the Mage and below the Merlin, but sonically it breaks away from UM’s traditional house sound, offering admittedly elevated bass response and thus moving away from the realm of strict textbook accuracy into what UM terms “the world of unabated fun.”
• Crossfade LP2—Second generation, “Live Performance”-series (think “club sound” voicing) headphones. ($200)
• Crossfade M-100—M-series (think audiophile or “music sound” voicing) over- the-ear headphones. ($230)
• Faders—High-performance hearing protectors designed to let just enough high frequency content through for listeners to enjoy the perception of full-range sound without damaging their ears. ($20)
I recently had the opportunity to review V-MODA’s Crossfade M-80 on-ear headphone and came away with positive impressions, so I was glad to see that Val Kolton, the founder and head honcho of V-MODA was on hand at Can Jam to represent his company.
Kolton explained that part of his product line provides what might be termed “club” or “DJ voicing” as denoted by V-MODA’s “LP” (for “Live Performance”) nomenclature. Other models in the V-MODA range, however, make more of an effort to provide neutral, accurate voicing as denoted by V-MODA’s “M” (for “Music”??) nomenclature. No wonder I liked the M-80’s so much.
At Can Jam, V-MODA was showing its new second-generation Crossfade LP2 model, but I was frankly drawn to the new Crossfade M-100 ($230), which you could think of as a larger, over-the-ear version of the already very good M-80 on-ear headphone.
One other neat new product from V-MODA was the Fader family of high performance in-ear hearing protectors. Kolton explained that, as a veteran DJ and record producer, he feels an obvious need to protect his hearing and to encourage V-MODA customers to do likewise. At the same time, he concedes that most hearing protectors chop off so much sound that the music no longer sounds vibrant or alive. The Faders represent a serious and careful effort to reduce sound pressures to safe levels, while at the same time allowing through just enough upper midrange and high frequency content to allow the music to “sparkle” and “breathe.” ‘Works for me.
I also found it fascinating to meet Kolton, in that I quickly learned that not only does he care deeply about his products’ sound quality and style, but that he is also an absolute fanatic on the subject of giving V-MODA products truly exceptional levels of ruggedness. Kolton explained that he has a brother in the U.S. Air Force who had introduced him to the wonders of Mil-Spec build quality and that, driven by this influence, Kolton had methodically pursued construction and testing techniques that would enable his products to—as the old Timex wristwatch ads used to put it—“take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.”