Canjam Singapore 2019 Impressions by ezekiel77

Hi guys,

Being a Head Pie contributor has been a lifelong dream! Thanks Damon!

This was my second time attending Canjam (first one in 2016), and I had a lot to try so here are my rapid-fire impressions. Think of it like walking into a large-@ss shop and deciding on the favourites after listening to as many as possible. Meaning, I highlight the dealbreakers (for me) rather than fawn on the positives (unless I really like them), even though in most cases the good will outnumber the bad. I didn't cover desktop systems, and skipped most of the cables and DAPs. I just really like transducers.

DAP used was my K-modded Sony WM1A, using 4.4mm balanced cables whenever provided. Generally, I used low gain for multi-BA IEMs and DD/BA hybrids, and high gain for DDs and the new triple hybrids (DD/BA/EST). Headphones were tested with the exhibitors' setups.

Albums tested were Fleetwood Mac "Rumours", Amber Rubarth "Sessions from the 17th Ward", RATM "The Battle of Los Angeles", Taylor Swift "1989", Bruno Mars "24K Magic", and Daft Punk "Random Access Memories". Some with fixed setups (STAX, RAAL-requisite, Abyss AB1266 TC), I'll select whatever songs I'm familiar with.

Show impressions are mostly for fun and should not be based on to make purchase decisions. My impressions are formed after listening to snippets of 4-5 songs, affected by background noise, mood, hunger, lethargy, and distraction by booth babes. With disclaimers out of the way, here we go.



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Empire Ears Phantom

First time in my ears, I swear. The signature is warm, with thick, gooey notes and richly-elevated midbass and lower mids (plus a bit of upper mids). Timbre is realistic and male vocals are a treat. Sound packs a mean punch and is quite physical. Stage depth and imaging/layering are good. However, soundstage width is limited, treble is laid back, and the signature lacks air and excitement. It became overbearing for me after awhile.



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Empire Ears Phantom X

90% similar to Phantom but with slightly lessened midbass and more treble shimmer. Thickness and gooeyness are unaffected, if that's your thing. Still warm and thick, like chocolate sauce all day and night. Not for me either. I much prefer the Legend X's overt ballsiness and dynamism, not to mention the unreplicable bass.


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Vision Ears Elysium

As opposed to the musical endgame VE8 which I deeply love, Elysium has a full, immersive signature that's sometimes a bit in-your-face. Treble gets a bit hot and stands out involuntarily. Bass is boomy with a slowish decay. Mids are the strong suite, sounding realistic and engaging, with good emphasis on timbre and vocals, so the dynamic driver is well-tuned. Soundstage is average, with imaging affected by the untamed bass.

I can't help but feel disappointed, but Amin and Marcel reasoned that this guy craves a powerful source to be at its best. I was driving them from WM1A on high gain, but ok. It does sound more balanced out of their SP1000M Blue, so I'll just say the performance is source-dependent and didn't work out for mine.


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Vision Ears Erlkonig

Tuning number 2. Didn't stick around to meddle with the other sound signatures. Much more coherent and easier to like than the Elysium. It's a smooth and easygoing signature in the same vein as the VE8, with a mainstream-oriented tuning (midbass more than sub, rich tonally correct mids and smooth treble). I didn't a/b, but Erlkonig might just be a VE8 with a higher resolution. It's good, if you have €4k lying around.


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Jomo Audio Trinity SS

Top shelf resolution and detail, speed and transients, and I didn't expect any less. The sparkly highs are counterbalanced by a round-edged and smooth bass, that still manages to be tight and disciplined. Mids are textured and thinnish, and tonally not all there. It's Jomo's airiest, most spacious soundstage yet, but still average in size when compared to their TOTL peers. The Trinity is the amalgamation of their precision-tuned all-BAs of old and the newer, more musical hybrids. It reminds me of the Flamenco with a more spacious presentation and slightly better tone, but losing out in coherence. More a sidegrade than an upgrade that doesn't deviate much from the Jomo "house sound".



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Jomo Audio Trinity Brass

Swapping resolution for timbre, and detail levels for smoothness, we have a sort of Fourte/Trio thing going on here. And remarkably, the mids strike a better balance between texture/smoothness and detail/timbre, becoming the anchor of the sound signature. However, imaging precision takes a knock, as does the wow/fun factor. I went in thinking I'd prefer the SS, but what do you know, Brass' compromises make more sense. Again, it's not different enough from Flamenco to get both, but if you're new to Jomo and want the best they have to offer, this might be it.



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Effect Audio Janus Dynamic

I went early on the first day and managed to eke out some sound impressions for EA's cables, but as it got more crowded as the day more on, no more cable testing for me. The Janus D is large and in charge, with 8 wires of palladium-plated copper and some "EA alloy mix". The soundstage is noticeably more expansive, with an utterly black background to aid imaging and dynamics. Notes are quick and precise, with smoothed-out edges and a comforting tone. My only gripe is the ergonomics. The 8-wire Janus D seems more suited for headphones.



Effect Audio Janus Basso

Compared to Janus D, Basso has a tamer and more disciplined sound. Notes are even-sounding, with better texture and coherence, but not as fun. Soundstage dimensions are also smaller than Janus D, with imaging not as precise since notes tend to flow more into one another, compared to Janus D's overt note/black space/note sequence. Identical to Janus D in ergonomics and a no-go for me, but if you're used to 8-wire cables for IEMs, knock yourself out.



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Effect Audio Horus

The flagship Horus conveys excellent detail, with a slight lift in subbass and treble. Notes are rich and coloured, with a tone that's not reference but sweet and delicate, a sort of "hi-fi" tuning. Dynamics are so-so since Horus is more for easy listening. Pairing is important for Horus to shine. With my Fourte it worked, but I can't say for others. For a flagship to not be an all-rounder is risky, in fact I prefer Leonidas II over this.



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Effect Audio Cleopatra

The silver to end all silvers? Let's see. It does the fundamental silver things well, with bumped up texture and detail, and an expansive, airy stage that rivals Janus D and Leonidas II. Note size remains as they are and not thinned out. Signature-wise, I hear a bass and lower treble lift, while timbre is skewed to brightness. While not as dynamic and tonally-pleasing as Leonidas II, Cleopatra's detail-first sound is cheaper and pairs better with warm IEMs.



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CustomArt FIBAE 4

It's a warm-tuned IEM with wonderfully rich mids and vocals. Timbre is accurate and sounds natural as well. However warm being warm, the midbass/lower mids lift congests the stage and along with the gentle treble robs the signature of some much-needed air and "pop". Speed is not impressive either, with slow transients. While not as extreme as the EE Phantom, FIBAE 4 is not as mainstream-oriented and exciting as I thought it would be.



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Lime Ears Aether R

I like Model X, and the review is in the works, now Emil presents their new flagship. I loved the bass and treble of the old Aether, but wasn't a fan of the thinnish mids (3 years old impressions, mind!). The update, I would say is neutral-warm done right. The key to Aether R's likeability is the conscious choice to balance everything very well. So there's musicality with some excitement, high detail levels but rooted in organicity, note fullness with fast transients, and the signature itself, balanced with no particular emphasis.

The fluid, beautifully-tuned mids are the star of the show, showcasing a smooth, natural texture that's still speedy and airy. The bass is BA in nature and decays quickly, but is pleasantly round and inoffensive. Treble is shimmery and beautifully coloured, lending more air into the mix. It's a very accomplished and mature tuning that doesn't wow you at first but lets you ease into the music like an unassuming couch. And like most couches once you're in, it's hard to get up from. I like!

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64 Audio N8

This might turn out to be a fan favourite for warm-tuned IEMs. Unlike the richness overload that is Phantom, or the congestathon of FIBAE 4, N8 strikes (liquid) gold with this signature. Aided by a DD for the bass, N8 sounds strikingly natural and decays beautifully throughout the spectrum. Extension is also very good especially the subbass. I'm reminded somewhat of the Audeze LCD-2, with every note silky and buttery but not too rich. Despite the smoothness, the N8 is not laid back and music comes alive in its own charming way. For personal preference, I like something more exciting with more top end sparkle, but I can see many people digging this sound.

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QDC Anole VX

Oh dear God. What have I done? Why did I sell the Gemini? The VX reminded me of everything that is good about the Gemini, and might even have improved on it. The Gemini's crystal-clarity, coherence, DD-like bass, vocal masterclass, wow factor and accomplished tuning, quite possibly my favourite in the TOTL realm; are all present here, with one slight difference. The treble and airiness have improved, lending more space to what I consider Gemini's only weakness, the small soundstage. So succintly put, VX is a supercharged Gemini with better resolution in a bigger soundscape.

What's more, this was all heard from the single-ended 3.5mm output, with all the switches down. With balanced output (unquestionably better in my Sony WM1A) and time to find the perfect switch combination, this could well be the endgame you need and deserve... The One IEM to rule them all. Needless to say one of my show highlights. I could not find a thing to dislike here.



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Jerry Harvey Audio Lola

Took me some time to hear this as there wasn't a demo unit in Malaysia since release, but now that I've heard it, I understand why it hasn't gained much traction here. First up the good news. The mids are indeed extraordinary, sounding airy, detailed and natural, especially for guitars. Dynamic and texturally palpable, it is rightly so the focus of the signature.

Now the not so good. The BA bass is taut and controlled, but layering is very poor. It sounds like one thud after another ad nauseum. Increase the bass and it bleeds into the mids. Treble is spiky and hot, probably the result of the 8K peak present in every JH upper tier IEMs. The stage is smaller than the vast and expansive Layla, providing just enough space for the mids to shine, but not much else. I wish I had better words to say for Lola, but alas, let's move on.



Jerry Harvey Audio JH13V2

My first true Head-Fi love was the JH13 Freqphase which I saved up and bought one rainy day in 2015. Today, either my tastes have changed or the sequel isn't as impressive. Yes the signature is intact, a V-shape with elevated midbass and lower treble, the balance is there, and there's the fun and immediacy befitting the stage monitor status of the evergreen JH13. However, and I don't remember this in the original, the signature is bogged down by a metallic timbre and hot hot treble. A true love lost.



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Lotoo Paw Gold Touch

The exhibitor made sure to have me turn it on and count the seconds to startup. It took just 5 seconds, and now I look at my Sony WM1A in shame. The UI is fast and smooth (in the 5 minutes I played with it), and it took me no time to select a song and play. I was expecting a UI nightmare like the original LPG, but no such thing. Sound-wise, it's a neutral, powerful and dynamic sound with loads of efficient macrodetail and microdetail rendering. Note weight is there and you have the feeling it was holding its power back with just IEMs. Wish I had some phones to try with. It's a signature hard to dislike. The background is also richly black, with no hiss detected. Very accomplished! And then I saw the price tag.



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iBasso DX220

Being the semi-proud owner of the old flagship DX200, the 220 is everything I hope the improvement should be. The clunky UI is addressed, with an elegant and smooth experience. I didn't fiddle with the Android controls much since with iBasso I go straight to Mango mode. The sound is like a more refined DX200, with a darker background, and a more effortless, expansive, holographic presentation. Neutral across the board as per usual, with excellent micro-detail rendering, more polite notes and less dynamics than LPGT, but I'm totally fine with that. I do think they operate at the same tier. Pricing is not confirmed, but should be in the same ballpark of the DX200. The iBasso rep had one more parting shot, the LPGT does not support streaming. I might line up when this is released lol.

And that was all the DAPs I tested that day.



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iBasso IT04

V-shape is probably on its way out. The new hotness is the U-shape, meaning you get moar bass, moar treble but don't compromise on the mids. IT04 is one of many IEMs with the 'U', but it's a fairly accomplished and balanced tuning. The ingredients are all there. Subbass rumble, treble sparkle, well-textured mids (tonally skewed just a bit bright and exciting) across an open stage. It's the IT03, but more refined and competent for most genres. Not bad, but not really too different from the sub-$500 pool of competent mid-fi IEMs.



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Moondrop A8

I once owned the Moondrop Blessing, an IEM tuned nearly alike to the Harman IEM curve, and while it was a good listen, it sounded a bit boring. This is their flagship, tuned according to the Harman headphone curve. Still with me? The curve is basically a textbook to copy from so you won't fail tuning 101 lol. Now like the Blessing, there's no questioning the balance. It's a pleasant and coherent listen from bass to treble, backed by an airy and spacious stage. It's a mainstream-oriented tuning hard to dislike. My only issue with it was the unnatural timbre, which knocked it down a size or two.



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Moondrop Kanas Pro

This little guy gained a lot of traction among budget-seekers. Its angled chrome shell is quite a looker too. Signature-wise it's a (you guessed it) U-shape with prominent bass and shimmery treble. The sound is engaging and quite detailed, while the tuning is excellent although too midbassy at times. Soundstage is below average and the boomy midbass threatens to congest it every now and again. Fun though, and a good budget pick. Before listening I wanted to nickname
this Kanasai (a Chinese dialect for "just like poop") but nah, it's not bad.



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SoftEars Cerberus

I didn't know who they were too, but I'd love to hear how Chi-fi implements the miniature electrostatic drivers. So the Cerberus is a 1DD/4BA/2EST triple hybrid, with a sound that is at worst, inoffensive, and at best, a very capable (if a bit vanilla) all-rounder. Vocals are clear and forward, bass is tight and impactful, and treble is smooth and shimmery. The soundstage is wide and airy too. It's really not bad, like I said a generic TOTL sound, but the price of RMB12999 (~USD1950) sent me reeling. Welp.



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Dunu DK-4001

"What earphones are you into?" "I Dunu, man." Dunu's first foray into the big leagues has been a long time coming. I first heard the prototype in 2016, here in Canjam too, and they took their time with the release. Was it worth it then? Not quite. Like the Cerberus the vocals are clear and forward, and subbass provides enough rumble for fun. However, the midbass hits aren't clean and tends to be boomy, the treble is Dunu-hot (having heard their DN2KJ in 2016 at least they're consistent) and the stage is too small to contain all the action. Do you have USD900? Save it.



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Advanced Acousticwerkes (AAW) Nightingale

Planars. Interesting. So far it's been a miss for me (the unEQ-ed LCD-i4 sounding horribly off to me) so here's a shot at redemption... or not. Nightingale has a warm signature suited for easy listening. It's light on the subbass, but the heavy midbass congests the signature. Mids are fine but the treble sounds muted. The open vents present a far and wide soundstage, but curiously lacking depth, going so far as affect centre imaging which is muddled. Notes are overly smoothed out resulting in an uninvolved, indifferent listen. Maybe it's just me?



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AAW Mockingbird

This is the update to their previous flagship W900, given a retune and a bird name. I've had the original W900 for quite some time. The good stuff I like are still there, like the clean and airy mids, and wonderful DD bass that's impactful and decays wonderfully. The retune of the treble is odd to say the least. There is more sparkle and edginess/grain to the notes, but sounds detached and incoherent with the rest of the signature. The timbre is also a bit... off. I gotta say I don't know what happened with this one.



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AAW Canary

I go in with low hopes (see prior AAW impressions above) and they flat-out surprised me with this one. I like it a lot. A hell lot, probably the first triple hybrid I truly enjoy. It gave me a wow factor like the Fourte did last year. Subterranean bass with real impact and rumble down to the abdomen (unheard since their W500 days), midbass with quick and natural decay, clear and ethereal mids, with a delicate tone that's not accurate but still inviting all the same, and a treble that continues in the same fashion, with clarity, transparency and air at the forefront. As an added plus, the soundstage is among the widest I've heard, just... air for miles and miles.

Look, AAW flagships will not be known as studio-accurate or Timbretron 5000, but they present music in a way that is unrivalled in enjoyment. It's so much fun relisten to songs you're familiar with, just to see how they do it. Throughout the show I listened to segments of tracks I'm familiar with. But here, I play the tracks in full. Just for kicks, I played a classical track, heard some subbass rumble and had a good laugh. Curiosity piqued and wow factor through the roof, I listened to the Canary three times throughout the show. Showing technical proficiency and head-bopping fun in one package, it's mind-bogglingly addictive.



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Acoustune HS1690TI

I love, love, love the HS1650CU, hands down, pants down my favourite DD IEM at the moment. When they went ahead and introduced the new flagship with titanium chambers, decked out in gold, I thought I should save up. But no. Unsurprisingly, this is the most technically accomplished Acoustune yet. With the nittiest, grittiest of details unearthed, fastest transients and the widest, airiest soundstage of the brand. However, the treble is bright to the point of splashiness, and distracted me from the rest of the signature. Although mids and bass are well done, the off-timbre treble is too prominent and I couldn't listen to anything else. I really wanted to like this, but again, true love lost.




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Meze Empyrean

What a beautiful headphone. I felt inferior just holding it. The sound signature is neutral-warm, and inescapably, beautifully coloured and refined. The colouration heightens the emotions, sweetens the human voice and instrument timbre, giving me a one-way ticket to Tingletown. It is technically sound too, with great resolution and a spacious presentation. Notes are finely crafted and round, weaving in and out of the soundscape effortlessly, but images with cool precision. You could very well imagine a small string quartet or live band playing in front of you. I could listen to this headphone for a long, long time. Magical.



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ZMF Aeolus

An update of the Atticus, which was described as a supercharged HD650/LCD-2. ZMF house sound firmly intact, it’s a musical, lush, organic and non-fatiguing listen. Notes are thick and syrupy easing into one another like making ice cream. Absolutely nothing wrong if this is your thing, but to me it’s overly smooth with fuzzy imaging. I like more treble excitement and bite to the notes.



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ZMF Auteur

Ooh, we’re getting there. Auteur has a big, bold and musical sound, sounding immediately more refined and detailed than Aeolus, while maintaining most of the lushness. Here the transients are faster and presentation is airier, although the stage size is deep and not too wide. Do I like it? Yup. Totally worthy of flagship status.



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ZMF Verite

Wut there’s a new flagship now? That’s kinda a fast turnover. Verite veers ever closer to neutral, but yet again, house sound intact. Transients and texture are better than ever now, as are the spaciousness and airiness. We’re really getting there now, easily my favourite ZMF can. With each new flagship we get more technicalities without sacrificing musicalty. Perhaps I should get a neutral can elsewhere instead of waiting for new ZMF flagships? But I really love them woods.



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Abyss AB-1266 TC

I’ve been trying to save up for one since the original AB-1266 which I heard and loved to bits back in 2016, but Abyss updates this thing so regularly, I might as well wait until they say they’re done. Believe you me, if you ask me what my signature preference is, I’ll just tell you it’s the Abyss AB-1266 TC. For the record I spent half an hour listening here, longer than any other booth.

TC (for total consciousness) combines their trademark bass with real rumble that plunges into the abyss (hence the name), the incredibly textured treble without sounding dry, the crystal-clear yet full and emotional mids, the beautifully expanded soundstage that just mammoths everything else I’ve heard, the air and dynamics that change from feather-light to jackhammer-like impact at the drop of a pin… utter perfection. No other headphone transports me to a venue like this. I listened to unfamiliar tracks and closed my eyes, safe in the knowledge the exhibitor was watching over me. As the band played, I could hear fingernails tapping on piano keys before the actual key is played, fingertips gliding on strings, and as the audience clapped, I felt they were around me. Simply out of this world. The best of the best of the best lol.



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Abyss Diana Phi

In all fairness, this was driven from my DAP, because I’ve read reports that it was possible. But if you think a Sony DAP on high gain can drive the Diana Phi, think again. It’s nothing compared to the TC experience, although bearing the same sound signature. The nuances are lost, like the overt physicality and brute power of the TC. Bass was most affected, sounding thuddy and thwacky instead of resounding wallops. Mids are treble are still finely textured, but the overall experience is horribly inadequate compared to the magnificence of the TC. Lesson learnt, drive Diana Phi (or any Diana for that matter) from a full setup.



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Focal Stellia

Here it is point blank. I don’t like Utopia. The detailed, dynamic signature is fine, but the claustrophobic soundstage made it sound like tiny arrows lunging towards my skull. Stellia, I’m happy to say, fares better. It is still snappy and dynamic, with a Utopia-like signature but warmer and smoother. Most important, notes have some body to them, not just pins and needles. The bass is well-layered and visceral, and while the detail levels are excellent throughout, upper mids can be shouty. The stage is still smallish, but acceptable for a closed back, and imaging is stellar. This is my favourite Focal can.



Stax SR-L300

Back to estat land. I’ve always wanted to try the whole range. This is like liquid butter. Smooth and analogue all the way through with a natural decay, yet with transients fast enough and a background clean enough befitting an estat headphone. Like a leaner and meaner LCD-2. Mids take centrestage and sounds quite captivating. I like this, but it’s too relaxed and docile to listen for long.



Stax SR-L500

This is as smooth as the L300, but noticeably bassier. There’s a resolution lift as well, so note texture is better heard and felt. It’s more immersive than L300, but the bumped-up bass affects the overall mood and signature.



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Stax SR-L700

You already know I love this. In the full context of the L-series, the L700 has the best balance and detail levels. The sound is even more textured and realistic, as well as having fantastic tone and timbre, taking engagement level and musicality to new highs. The analogue signature is not lost, sounding even more effortless. All this lovingly wrapped in a natural, expansive soundstage with accurate imaging. Damn good.



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Stax SR-009S

All hail the new king, as they say. They even put the old 009 next to this for comparison’s sake. And true enough, the merciless treble of the 009 is now sweeter and tamer. But don’t be mistaken, the details are still as rich as ever, with micro-detail retrieval on par with the very best. Notes on the whole, are given smoother, rounded edges, losing none of the resolution of the original. Mirroring HD800/HD800S, the 900S is still a technical masterclass, with transparency for days on end, but given a slight feminine touch. It’s still not ok to listen to Eminem with this though (there’s L700 for mainstream), mercy is a currency here.

Head-to-head with the Abyss TC, I prefer 009S’ treble, transients and overall sense of air, while TC takes bass (obviously), soundstage, and dynamics. I would however, try out some Eminem with the TC just for the heck of it.



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RAAL-requisite SR1a

The fit is finicky, worse than Abyss lol, and the end result is you look like a TIE fighter. Moreover, I have the sinking feeling I’m wearing this wrong, because all the magic that’s been described about the sound so far, I only hear about half of it. First off, there’s nothing at fault about the signature. It’s balanced, analogue and effortless, just like a good speaker system. As for the presentation, it’s a diffuse and wide-open, with the awesome feeling that sounds are coming from around the room instead of the sides of the ears. But, this magic only happens outside my ears. Centrally, the image is still curiously 50% in-head, with little depth and hazy imaging. It’s odd when put together, to the sides it’s open and holographic, but to the centre it’s in-head, like listening to headphones and speakers playing the same song simultaneously. The exhibitor said I wore it right, increasing my paranoia. Damn.



Verum Audio Verum 1

This is one of the value buys of the show. The Verum 1 has a balanced signature that’s playful and detailed, with very decent headstage too. There’s very little reason not to get this planar headphone that sounds astounding for just SGD500, but can I be honest? For the life of me, I cannot take home something that looks this ugly. Sorry!



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Spirit Torino Twin Pulse Ragnar Edition

This brilliant blue, Grado-inspired design is something I fancy, fully designed and built in Italy. So with looks like that, can I expect a refined, perhaps exquisite experience? Not quite. The midbass more or less overpowers everything else in the spectrum, with a slow, slow decay that lingers for hours after the note is played, injecting the signature with wafts of warm, humid air. Mids (when I do get to hear them) and treble were muffled. This wasn’t the musical extravaganza I expected, and looks have once again deceived me. With regret, I ditched the listening session before even the song has ended. True love lost, once more.




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FIR Audio IEMs (M2 to M5)

Ultra-short impressions of the entire series. They have made innovations that include tubeless drivers and ADEL/apex-like modules. The boss is the brother of 64 Audio’s Vitaly, so yeah. The “house sound” is sort of V-shaped, with excellent imaging but in an average-sized stage.

As the series progresses, the sound becomes fuller and more resolute, going from V to L as we move up. M2 (2BA) has a midbass and upper mids hump, producing a fun-oriented sound that’s airy and spacious, but has a BA bass that decays too quickly. M3 (1DD+2BA) is seriously fun with a natural, rumbly and punchy DD bass, while maintaining the M2 airiness, and is my favourite of the series. M4 (1DD+3BA) takes on an L-shape, with heightened midbass and lower mids. The treble is very detailed too, but from here on the sound is too immediate and congested for my liking. The flagship M5 (1DD+3BA+1EST) takes the M4 sound and increases treble clarity and air, but to the point of sibilance for me. They show some potential, it’s just a bit weird I prefer the lower end of the series since I normally have expensive taste lol.

Bonus content: Music Sanctuary brings out their updated Soundwriter project. No longer a collabo with 64, it’s a FIR Audio shell with FIR drivers and PW internal wiring, plus a PW 1960s cable. The sound signature is sort of M4-ish with a more organic tone, and a most welcome increase in stage size and airiness. I quite like it.



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Sony IER-Z1R

In one word: epic. Big stage, big bass, big everything. They’ve also moved on from the house sound of old which was overly warm and smooth with muted treble, which is nothing short of a miracle. The Z1R does everything correct. Bass sounds authoritative yet quick with good rumble/physicality, mids have a sweetness to it, sounding euphonic and natural rather than dry and calculated. Treble is smooth and extended, at the same time tremendously airy and transparent.

Best yet is the presentation. Stage size is wantonly huge and airy, dynamics simply fit the epicness of the Z1R, overall tone manages to remain organic, while note size is just right and well-textured. It’s the flagship nobody expected, and few deserve. What an achievement.



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Meze Rai Penta

Probably the nicest universal shell I’ve seen. The signature is warm, smooth and quite bass-oriented. Technical ability is good while maintaining an organic tone, but the sound is non-engaging and lacks dynamics. Can’t really put my finger on it, but I could not get into the music despite the positives. Gotta say I wasn’t bowled over by this one.



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EarSonics Grace

The Grace is like its namesake, carrying a soft and gentle signature which is balanced and technically sound. However, to me it sounds almost too pleasant and absent of dynamics. It might be perfect for non-fatiguing, prolonged listening, but really not for me.



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EarSonics Purple

This is a more exciting listen, with good treble and airy vocals, if just a bit thin. What mars the tuning is the tame and one-note bass performance which plods along with poor decay. Even among BA bass this was bad. Pity.



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Dita Audio Fealty

This is quite nice. The smoother of the Twins is well, smooth and balanced with a bit of excitement, and for the most part sounds coherent and clean. The bass is curiously, a bit muffled and perhaps too rounded, but otherwise the rest of the signature is beautifully textured.



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Dita Audio Fidelity

The detail-oriented Twin is neutral to a fault and highly resolute. Notes have a crunchy, bitey texture while the stage is wide and open. Like its namesake however, it’s too technical-minded for leisure listening, and the timbre leans toward brightness. Taken as a whole, both the Twins are nearly there.



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Dita Audio Project 71

Wow, this was unexpected. A good marriage of both worlds, sounding lush and organic yet open and refined. Note size is just right so the overall sound isn’t thick and congested. Tone and timbre is wonderfully natural, while vocals are brought forward slightly, syrupy seductive and emotional. Sold out everywhere, hot dang I missed the boat.



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Hidition NT-6

The legendary CIEM has a clarity-focused signature that is at once transparent and dynamic. Extension is excellent on both ends and contrary to impressions I’ve read, isn’t bass-light at all. The balance is perfect here and I’m guessing the bassier NT-6 Pro might just throw the balance off. A prominent upper mids boost lends air and clarity to the signature, sounding fast and precise. My only gripes are the small soundstage and the BA-quality bass. Still, call me impressed, this has aged well.



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Hidition NT-8

The update is a technical monster, sounding like a brighter NT-6 with more treble focus and flatter bass thuds. Although sporting a bigger and airier presentation than NT-6, the NT-8 has a timbre that is essentially too bright. Notes are hard-edged and grainy too, promoting a sterile sound I find hard to get into. Pass.



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Hidition Violet

I wasn’t ready for this jelly. Expecting even more treble, I was met with the best-balanced Hidition of the lot. Eschewing the bright signature they’re known for, this is neutral-warm, but nearly at its finest. Notes have emotional quality for once, sounding fully-formed. Even so, crispy air is abundant throughout, never sounding congested despite the weighted notes. The entire signature sounds incredibly refined and dynamic. The treble here is (obviously) crystal clear, and extends to highs rivalling Fourte and Flamenco, it’s that good. But what’s better is the treble has serious backup this time, an organic bass to form a solid foundation, and mids that are clear, emotional, and clearly emotional. The experience is heaven-sent. Violet is truly a masterfully-tuned masterpiece, and one of my show highlights.



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Noble Audio Khan

Khan, the mighty triple-hybrid flagship, veers further away from their old K10 which was tuneful and easy-to-like. This is a powerful and detail-oriented sound, showcasing the most aggressive tuning I’ve heard from them. Notes have a bright edge, making the treble and mids sound extremely textured. The treble leans dangerously toward slight sibilance, while the bass is mildly elevated giving tight, rounded hits. No doubt Khan showcases immense technical ability, and pares music like a surgeon after a few rounds of caffeine; but a part of me wishes for the old Noble sound, with emphasis on euphony and emotion. Can’t have it all.



Noble Audio Kaiser Encore

Imagine Khan’s signature, take away the overt dynamism and aggressiveness, and you have the Encore. They share a similar bright-edged signature, and while Khan is the fun one, Encore chooses the more serene route, although only as serene as a neutral-bright signature affords. I kinda like Khan more.



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Aroma Audio Shock

This is an interesting implementation of the miniature estat driver, sporting 2BAs and 2ESTs. It’s a smooth, easygoing, vocal-forward signature that has flat, too-tight bass, and a relaxed treble that extends fairly well. The stage size is average, as are the imaging, but mids and vocals are well-tuned. It’s alright.



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Aroma Audio Ace

The affable owner, Anthony, walked me through the four sound sigs (Ace, Jack, Queen and King) of his beloved flagship, each tuned with a specific frequency bump. Aroma’s proud to say they nailed the vocal tuning, and I tend to agree. Vocals both male and female sound supremely rich, intimate, and smooth as butter. Elsewhere, the bass is warm and full, while the treble is crisp but not splashy. The soundstage might be average, but layering and imaging is quite good.

Ace was, I bet, tuned with Cantopop in mind. Anthony took me through each tuning with his personal SP1000M Gold, and each track sounded sublime, in a “buy me now” kind of way. The poison was at its most venomous when rendering vocals with simple instrumental backdrops, very characteristic of pop ballads in Cantopop. I spent 20 minutes with his A&K as he showed me Ace’s greatest strengths. The sad thing was Ace didn’t jive well with my genres (rock and er, more rock), struggling with complicated passages and gasping for air. For a staggering SGD5699, I expected it to handle every genre and make me sandwiches. Oh well.



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Rhapsodio Eden

As always, Rhapsodio’s flagships tend to be V-shaped. Bass is well-executed, featuring hard hits, superb extension and a clean, natural decay. Treble also has excellent extension and detail, narrowly avoiding harshness. However, the mids, although showing precise timbre and good speed, are too backwards-placed for my liking. Not a bad effort.



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Kumitate Labs KL-Lakh

Known for their one-of-a-kind CIEM faceplate designs, I was curious to hear how they sound. The Lakh is a 6BA with a balanced signature with fast and smooth transients and a tight quality to the notes. It’s a pleasant sound but held back by the metallic tinge to the timbre.



Kumitate Labs KL-Ref

The delicateness of the notes continue, and their flagship is tuned neutral-bright. The upper mids bump is very prominent, and combined with the tight, flat bass made the signature sound crisp and clean. Timbre is improved but the overall sound is too light and fluffy for me.



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Campfire Audio Solaris

Ooh. Controversy. Solaris showcases what a good hybrid can do, and covers the basics very well. The bass is powerful, full-bodied and rumbly, and just about threatens the mids for space. The mids are located a step back, with a lower and upper mids lift that brings life to vocals. Notes are thick and organic with a steady decay, but I find my enjoyment multiplies with silicon tips, which gives an “air boost” to the entire spectrum. The treble is how I like it best, airy and sparkly. Soundstage is above average with good dimensions in depth and width, and altogether it’s a competent hybrid that’s easy to recommend if you like a full lower end.

Like many, I fell in love with Andromeda, their old flagship which a very airy, distinctive treble and large soundstage. With their recent forays into a bassy, full-bodied sound, Solaris is probably the closest they’ve come to an “Andromeda with bass”.



Campfire Audio Equinox

I just mentioned Campfire’s new direction, and this is an example. Equinox is far too bass-oriented for my tastes, and I thought the signature suffocatingly muddy and muffled. Couldn’t finish a full song with them, sorry.



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Stealth Sonics U9

This 8BA+1DD hybrid was started by a company with deep, deep roots in audiology and hearing aids. Their first flagship model covers the bases well with good technical ability and an addictive U-shaped tuning. The bass is full and rumbly, maybe slightly too full, with slight bleed into the mids. The mids and treble are clear and articulate, although instrument timbre isn’t that accurate. The soundstage is adequately wide, with so-so imaging and separation. At a discounted price of SGD1059, it was the bargain buy flagship of the show.



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oBravo ERIB-1

oBravo is a name normally associated with words like “expensive” and “luxurious”, and at the other end, “ludicrous pricing” and unprintable cursewords. We let the sound speak for itself. A DD+planar hybrid, it’s a hybrid rarely, if never implemented before. The good news is the sound is stellar. It’s tuned neutral with copious amounts of air and transparency, with an ethereal treble tuning balanced out by a swift, punchy bass. The soundstage is effortlessly large and open, with precise imaging as well. I’m actually surprised I enjoy this, although the timbre leans towards the brightish side.



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oBravo Ra C-Cu

We arrive at the conclusion of my lengthy post with the biggest bang of all, the world’s most expensive IEMs. How’s that for class? It’s easier to describe the sound when compared with ERIB-1. If ERIB-1 is neutral and analytical, Ra C-Cu is coloured and euphonic, and showcases a more romantic, hi-fi tuning. Presentation-wise, it takes on an organic, bodied tone with more accurate timbre than ERIB-1, with once again an airy and simply colossal soundstage. Note edges are smoothed out, and across the spectrum it’s quite lovely to listen to, especially the sweet vocals. Resolution remains high for treble and mids, but the bass is a tad bloated and full. There is no way to justify the USD10k pricetag, but for what you’re paying, at least the sound is not a dud.



Canjam Singapore 2019 had been tremendously fun. I had a blast meeting (and doxxing) Head-Fi luminaries like @Deezel177 and @audio123 , as well as meeting industry heads like Dean and @Jack Vang , Amin and Marcel from Vision Ears, Eric from @EffectAudio , and many others. There were no marquee products like Shangri-La or HE-1 which the 2016 edition had, but the sheer amount of new stuff to listen to meant it didn’t matter that much to me. As always, we end with my imaginary awards.



Show favourites:

1) Abyss AB-1266 TC
2) QDC Anole VX
3) Hidition Violet
4) Sony IER-Z1R
5) Advanced Acousticwerkes Canary



Notable mentions:

1) Focal Stellia
2) Meze Empyrean
3) Vision Ears Erlkonig
4) Lime Ears Aether R
5) Dita Audio Project 71



The "God, STAX is so good they need their own category" award:

1) STAX SR-009S
2) STAX SR-L700
3) STAX SR-L300



Value buys:

1) Moondrop Kanas Pro
2) Verum Audio Verum 1
3) Stealth Sonics U9



The "I didn't know they had it in them" award:

SoftEars Cerberus



Biggest disappointment:

The triple hybrids weren't the big industry leap forward as they were hyped to be.



The "I took sick leave" no-shows:

1) Hifiman
2) Unique Melody
3) Ultimate Ears

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