I’m not normally one who enjoys going to large events (I prefer the cold dark confines of my studio) but there is something unique about CanJam - the iconic Head-Fi trade show - that represses my usual reservations. Whether it’s being able to try out newly announced equipment or headphones and amps that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to try, even if show conditions aren’t the most ideal for making an assessment, or nerding out with fellow audiophiles - as well as the manufacturers, there’s an important element of community to these events that cuts across what is typically a more solitary experience in headphone listening.
Of course, we haven’t been able to attend any events since CanJam NYC in early 2020, so maybe that’s why this year’s CanJam Socal has felt extra special. In any case, I’m writing this at the end of day one of the event and wanted to share my thoughts on the experience so far.
On the one hand, I was a bit nervous about how it was going to turn out - with a number of international vendors not being able to attend due to one restriction or another. Without large names like Focal or Sennheiser with booths of their own (their headphones were featured everywhere regardless) what would the interest level be for headphone enthusiasts? On the other hand, we haven’t had an event like this since the aforementioned CanJam NYC 2020, more than a year ago so I imagine the headphone world has been clamoring for another CanJam for a while now.
It turns out that the latter has won out. So far this hasn’t been the low-key trade show I somewhat expected it to be with every booth looking quite busy. For me, there have so far been a number of standouts - booths that I will be sure to revisit tomorrow for a second listen.
The first has been the Ampsandsound booth, with Justin Weber behind the tables. While I’m familiar with several of his amplifiers, namely the Forge and the Kenzie, it was great to try out some of his other amps as well. In particular, getting to try the DCA Stealth off the Nautilus was awesome. Now, take this with a grain of salt, since I only listened to a handful of tracks, but it was impressive how lively the Stealth sounded - having done a review of that headphone off of predominantly solid state equipment not long ago. The liveliness also wasn’t merely in the bass either. Rather, it’s as if the whole frequency range gained some tactility and physicality that wasn’t there before.
Additionally, I got to spend a bit of time with the ZMF Verite Closed being run off the Ampsandsound Ovation, and all of the midrange focused qualities I remember hearing from the Kenzie instantly came back to me. When you think about the notion that tube amplifiers add a sense of ‘musicality’ or ‘humanity’ to the sound, the Kenzie Ovation perfectly embodies that quality.
The second major standout to me was getting the chance to try the Audeze LCD-5. This also seems to be the biggest draw for show attendees since there was a long lineup at the Audeze booth with everyone eager to hear the new flagship. Audeze also has their CRBN electrostatic headphone set up, but having already gotten a chance to spend some time with it, I was more eager to try the LCD-5.
I was totally blown away by how light and comfortable the Audeze LCD-5 is! For those who are used to the heavier style full-sized LCD headphones, the LCD-5 is nothing like that at all. And I don’t mean just that it’s now “more comfortable for an Audeze”, the LCD-5 is easily one of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn - at least for the duration of my first listen. But how does it sound?
Keeping in mind the caveat that I only got to listen to a few tracks and that this was show conditions, for my initial impressions of the Audeze LCD-5 I was very impressed - as was everyone else who heard it right after me as we got to chatting about the sound.
Tonal balance on the LCD-5 is quite a bit different from the LCD-4 I was listening to last week. In particular it sounds quite a bit more clarity-focused in the upper midrange. Admittedly, when I first saw the LCD-5 measurements Jude had done on the B&K 5128, I was a bit worried that this headphone might sound a bit shouty, and that’s because the lower treble also seems quite relaxed. But upon hearing it I didn’t seem to get that coming across as strongly as I thought I would - but of course time will tell with more in-depth listening needed to make that determination.
The LCD-5 was being driven off of a Weiss DAC502, so a truly high end source. In any case, what stood out about the LCD-5 for me, apart from the comfort, was how excellent the low-end sounds. The detail seems to be all there with this so far, and it was in the lower registers where I really noticed it. Treble did sound a bit relaxed, so again, the LCD-5 seems to have a more focused presentation overall than its predecessor. While I’m not ready to assess the full tonal balance after quite literally only a few tracks, what I can say is that so far the Audeze LCD-5 is the flagship release that excites me the most out of all of the recent releases to have come out in the past few months.
I remember saying to our review team beforehand that “if they can achieve LCD-4 levels of detail and technical performance, at the 420g weight, I’m in”, and while I still need to compare the two, my first listen has left me feeling very optimistic. Moreover, there do seem to be some tonality improvements on the LCD-5, specifically in the upper midrange which is great to see… hear - you know what I mean.
In any case, I’ll go back tomorrow for another listen and hopefully get a better sense of the tonal balance and other sonic characteristics. I also haven’t had the chance to listen to many of the other headphones and IEMs that are being showcased by other brands, like HiFiMAN, Dunu, 64 Audio, and Raal, who all seem to have new products to check out. So I’ll report on that tomorrow, but for today, both the LCD-5 and the Ampsandsound booth have been the highlights.