For those of you not able to make it to Denver, CO for the 2012 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I’d like to let you in on a little secret. These days, by teaming with HeadFi.org, RMAF now offers attendees a show within a show thanks to an event called Can-Jam. In simple terms, Can-Jam is an exposition and celebration of all things pertaining to high-end headphones, earphones, and the specialized electronics required to drive them.
Below, I describe some of the coolest new products seen and heard at RMAF/Can-Jam 2012. As always, my apologies in advance to any manufacturers whose worthy products I fail to mention.
Digizoid is a relative newcomer to the marketplace, but I suspect some enthusiasts will find the firm’s new Zo2 “Personal Subwoofer” ($119) absolutely fascinating. Designed as an inline device that basically goes between the source component and your headphone amp, the Zo2 allows users to dial in any of 32 precisely defined low frequency enhancement EQ curves, while also applying settings said to improve the spatial imaging characteristics of headphones.
You might at first glance be tempted to dismiss the Zo2 as a gimmick, and when turned up to its maximum settings it probably is a gimmick, but when used judiciously the Zo2’s effect are subtle, tasteful, and beneficial. During a brief listening test, I found there was also merit to the idea of turning off low frequency enhancement altogether and using only the Zo2’s spatial enhancement circuits. The latter don’t necessarily make headphones image the way speakers do, but they do represent a step in the right direction.
The French firm Ear Sonics made an appearance at Can Jam under the auspices of its new U.S. distributor HDL, and was showing its SM1 ($299) earphone, which sports “1 dual HQ balanced armature driver,” dual-driver SM2v2 ($399), and triple-driver SM3v2 earphones ($499). All three are universal-fit models that aim, says Ear Sonics, “to attain audio quality never reached before with universals.”
Reader in the UK and Europe will also want to note that, in addition to the universal fit earphones mentioned above, Ear Sonics also offers a range of five custom-fit in-ear monitors, two portable amplifiers, and various earphone related accessories. It is not clear at this stage whether HDL will import these models to the U.S., but Euro-enthusiasts should be able to find them quite easily.
Exit Level Audio describes itself as a company for those who have moved past entry-level equipment and mid-fi gear and are now ready to settle down with components of enduring excellence. With this philosophy in mind, Exit Level offers its custom made (or as British readers might term it, “bespoke”) tube-powered Annapurna headphone amplifier, with transformer-coupled inputs and outputs ($6000). Exit Level offers customers a range of possible customization options and maintain close ties with customers during the build process, sending owners photo updates as their amplifiers move toward completion.
Final Audio Design is a distinguished Japanese high-end audio company that has built battery-powered full-size audio components for home use (as previously reviewed in Hi-Fi+), but that now focuses heavily on very high-end earphones. Several of the firm’s designs are a bit unorthodox, including a range of Piano Forte in-ear models whose housings are made of various blends of polished metals, but that deliberately do not provide rubber ear tips. Final Audio representatives suggested, though, that I try the firm’s somewhat more conventional-looking Heaven VI earphones ($625), which provide gorgeous polished chrome copper housings and feature single, purist-oriented, full-range balanced armature drivers. Based on a very brief listen, I think the Final’s show great potential—especially in terms of timbral purity and exquisite low-level detail.