Joe Skubinski, founding father of JPS Cables, has taken notice of the high-end headphone movement in a major way, having embarked on an ultra-ambitious development effort to create what Mr. Skubinski hopes will be one of the, if not the finest sounding, cost-no-object headphones on the planet. To this end, Skubinski has spun off a new company called Abyss Headphones, which is working on an extremely high performance planar magnetic headphone that will be called the Abyss AB-1266 and that will sell for approximately $5000/pair. According to Skubinski, the AB-1266 uses one of the lightest, most responsive diaphragm/conductor trace systems ever used on any planar magnetic headphone. The mission of the AB-1266 is a daunting one; namely, to meet or beat the performance of Stax’s incredibly good SR-009 electrostatic headphone in every respect, but in a format that is much simpler to drive than an electrostat can be. Are we there yet? Time will tell, but the AB-1266 certain sounded promising.
Our online sister publication Playback has favorably reviewed several high-end portable headphone amplifiers from the Portland, OR-based firm ALO Audio, but for Can Jam we couldn’t help but notice that ALO appears to have created an all-new product category; namely, a category for a portable but not mobile headphone amplifier/DAC. The amp in question is ALO’s impressive new, tube-powered PanAm headphone amp/USB DAC ($599), which is small enough to take with you, but not designed for mobile use (you wouldn’t, for example, be able to listen to your Pan Am when walking down a city street). The tradeoff, though, is that once you reach your destination you can quickly set up the Pan-Am and have very, very high-quality sound at your fingertips.
Basics on the Pan Am are as follows: tube complement = two x 6AK5 tubes, two analog inputs, and one 24/96-capable USB input served by a built-in Wolfson DAC. The standard Pan Am comes with a wall-wart-type power supply, but other (better) options are also available. For instance, as shown at RMAF, the Pan Am was part of a three-module stack that included the matching ALO Passport Portable Battery Power Pack ($189) and the optional ALO Gateway portable Power Cleaner ($129). Because the Pan Am is a tube-powered unit, ALO.
ALO also showed the almost-production ready version of its new Studio Six tube-powered desktop headphone amp (approximate price $4900 - $5000), which features three switch selectable inputs and four outputs. As you can imagine, the concept behind the Studio Six is to allow multiple listeners to enjoy high-end headphone sound at once, or to allow effortless back-and-forth comparisons between multiple headphones.
Alpha Design Labs is the sister company of the Japanese high-end firm Furutech and it is a company focused primarily on products targeted toward personal/desktop audio enthusiasts. Given this mission, ADL used Can-Jam to introduce its new Esprit headphone amp/DAC ($999)—the most ambitious device if its type that ADL has offered to date. Like ADL’s first product, the GT 40 amp/DAC, the Esprit can be used both as a DAC, but also as an Analog-to-Digital converter or digital recording interface. The Esprit sports a low-jitter clock, a 24/192-capable Wolfson WM8716 DAC, an also 24/192-capable Cirrus Logic CS5361 ADC, and a 24/96-capable USB streaming controller. The unit features four inputs (two analog and two digital—one optical, one coax), one stereo analog output, a USB 2.0 I/O port, and of course the obligatory headphone jack.
ADL also previewed its full-size ADL-118 headphone ($299)—the firm’s first-ever transducer. According to ADL, the ADL-118 promises sound that is “balanced in a completely audiophile way,” which we take to mean that the ADL-118 will be geared more for accuracy and neutrality than for spectacular but wrong-sounding euphonic colorations.