After visited CanJam last year, I was delighted that CanJam Global returns this year. It goes to show that Singapore head-fi community is sizable enough to bring the event back again for a consecutive year.
While last year was a more ad-hoc visit to the brand booths, this year I have PR agencies inviting me to their booths to check out their products. Like last year, I attended on a Sunday morning. And just like last year, I only managed to try out 5 brands. This time round, I brought with me the Sony NW-WM1Z review unit as my reference DAP. After a year of reviewing so many premium headphones, like the Sennheiser HE1 and Kennerton Odin, I entered the event hall better prepared.
Unlike other of my reviews where I spend at least 2 weeks with the products like my own, I had limited time and most of these products are brand new without burn-in, which typically improves the audio response. So I will give a more careful review if I get to receive review units in future.
Echobox Audio is one of the sponsors of CanJam Singapore 2017. They started in 2015 with a crowdfunding campaign that needless to say became successful. The PR agency invited me to try out their range of audio products.
Traveler T1 – entry-level earphones at US$99. Using German-made PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone) dynamic diaphragm drivers, like all models, the treble is bright, bass is hard, and I find the vocals harsh. Tuning is probably suited for listeners on modern genre and loves strong beat response and forward vocals.
Finder X1 – next-tier earphones at US$149. My favourite among the 3, it comes with 3 sets of acoustic filter tuning (AFT) to customise the sound to be either neutral, bass, or treble. The housings are made of Titanium which are indestructible and light. With the neutral AFT, the bass is less pushy and extends upwards for a more musical experience. The treble is less bright hence less harsh.
Nomad N1 – flagship Echobox earphones at US$399. The MMCX (micro-minature coaxial) cable fittings are swappable with for listeners who wants to improve their investment. Echobox has plans to release MMCX Bluetooth cables, effectively turning the Nomad into wireless earbuds. Similar to Traveler, Nomad supports AFT for customising the sound. My impression is that the treble is transparent and sparkly yet less harsh than Traveler, more musical. The mid treble is preferred over Traveler.
Explorer – this digital audio player costs US$599.99 with optional charging dock at US$75. It catches my attention with its unique flask-shaped form factor made of real hardwood, with options like Mahogany, Ebony, Maple and Zebra. The top “cap” is actually volume knob and power button. The player uses Android OS 6.0 over 3.5-inch 720p touchscreen and supports 3.5mm and optical line-out connections. The audio hardware is Texas Instruments TPA6120A2, 300mW peak output/channel @ 32 ohms, on 4000mAh battery, intermal 64GB storage, 2GB RAM, and microSD slot supporting up to 200GB.
I would need more time to analyse the audio quality, but compated to the Sony WM1Z, the bass on the Explorer is slightly wider, the treble is less transparent, which seems like the audio profile is closer to WM1A given my comparison with WM1Z on my other Sony Signature Series review.
Having spent too much time on Echobox Audio, I quickly moved on to the next stop. MrSpeakers was founded by Dan Clark, an electrical engineer who has been working in and around the high-end audio market for more than twenty years. Dan’s experience includes working in high-end retail, designing amplifiers and electronics for personal use, and designing commercial and custom loudspeaker solutions, including the highly-regarded and award winning Platinum Audio speakers from the late 1990’s.
Spoke with Dan briefly and found that is soft-spoken and humble. When I tried their headphones, I fell in love with them. They feel absolutely comfortable, the design is also subtly attractive. He shared that the headphones will work with standard portable players, but obviously the quality will be impaired.
Ether Flow – A lot of audiophile tech is in the headphones to deliver the audio quality that Dan wants to achieve. The driver is trademarked as “V-Planar” with TrueFlow wave guide technologies, which is essentially planar magnetic drivers, similar to Kennerton Odin. The treble discipline is fantastic, without any stray aftertones. But I find the Ether Flow is better because of its closed-back and fuller bass. The audio character that impresses me is that how the Ether Flow produces the entire timbre of every instrument easily (like the snap to the ring of the snares), despite the noisy location. I’m sure the amplifier and cables play crucial roles too. Despite its closed-back design, the sound staging is wide and immersive. The ear cushions are comfortable and the headband pressure is just right.
Aeon – This headphone packs the same technology of Ether into a more compact and cost-effective design, and will retail at S$1200. I was attracted to its D-shaped design – actually, more like ear-shape. It offers similar audio character as the Ether Flow but slightly less bass and clearer treble.
I left the MrSpeakers booth, hoping earnestly that I will have another opportunity to review them in detail.
I headed to beyerdynamic booth next, as they informed me of the launch of the latest earphones, called Xelento Remote. Marketed as “an audible piece of jewellery”, the Xelento strikes me with its primary silver overall colour design. Known for its Tesla magnetic driver technology which I experienced previously, beyerdynamic made it small enough to fit into an in-ear headphones form.
The earphones will be on sale by end of March at S$1599, and will cost almost the retail price of beyerdynamic T 1 (2Gen) headphones (S$1799). Made in Germany and individually serialised on the front plates, the earphones are worn around the ears and the cables are swappable – with and without in-line remote. The package offers a generous range of silicone ear tips from XS to XXXL and Comply foam tips.
I am delighted to say that the earphones sound spectacular. The audio quality was obvious from the first bar of the reference track. The depth of the track and the details that drive into the ears are giving premium headphones a run for their money, not that the Xelento is cheap. The word to describe them is “smooth”. The Ave Verum recording by Chesky Records rumbles with open sound staging like on-ear headphones, yet amidst the rumble, the vocals soar effortlessly. It sounds like what I expect from expensive on-ear headphones and the sound staging gives me the goose bumps. When switching over to pop tracks with brighter mix, like Mariah Carey’s Hero, the vocal sibilance still lacks that refined, but perhaps it will be better after more hours of burning in.
I was pulled in to do a first impression interview by beyerdynamic. Here’s the video posted by NXT Singapore.
As always, I would be looking forward to spending more time with the earphones once review units are available.
The brand popularly known as the OEM for Xiaomi’s affordable earphones like the Mi In-Ear Hybrid Headphones, I tried out their house-brand multiple-driver series. Interesting that these headphones use generic product names.
Triple Driver In-Ear – Retails at S$169 since last year, the earphones offer 2 Balanced Armature driver and 1 dynamic driver. They are harder to drive than the Xelento, requiring higher volume to deliver the same loudness. The bass is not as boomy too, but treble is much brighter and precise, a characteristic of BA driver.
Quad Driver In-Ear – Retails at S$319 soon, this model comes with 3 BA drivers and one diamond-like carbon dynamic driver. The bass is stronger than the Triple Driver, and interestingly the treble turns out less sparkling, despite having additional BA driver. I suspect I need more unbiased test environment to judge further, but as of now, the Triple Driver In-Ear is favoured.
Both in-ear models come with a generous set of accessories, even in-flight adapter and leather pouch.
Triple Driver Over-Ear (H1707) – This foldable headphones is currently sold only in selected regions in Asia, and Jay Chou is the celebrity marketed to endorse this product. I find the bass is the best part of the deal, delivering tight boom without too bloomy. The vocals sound somewhat boxy and the treble is not focused. It retails at S$319.
CanJam Singapore 2018?
It appears the crowd this year is thinner than last year, as I recalled last year the ballroom was packed when I left the place around the same time as this year. Having said that, the brands located at the smaller rooms at the second level appeared to attract more crowd. I wonder if CanJam will return again next year.