CanJam NYC 2024, Part Two: A Harvest of High-Performance Headphones

CanJam NYC 2024, Part Two: A Harvest of High-Performance Headphones

Written by Frank Doris

In Part One of our CanJam NYC 2024 report (Issue 205), I noted that the show was vibrant and upbeat, and more diverse than ever both in terms of the gear on display and the people who attended. A vast selection of in-ear, over-ear, dynamic, planar magnetic, and electrostatic headphones were on exhibit from manufacturers around the globe, along with an equally varied smorgasbord of headphone amps, DACs, cables, accessories and other products.

As I mentioned in the last issue, there were a lot of vacuum-tube electronics on hand – I think headphone aficionados have the same high regard for the technology as do guitar players. And I heard a lot of great-sounding rigs, much more so than in previous shows. My hearing may not be as acute as it used to be, but I know what I like. 

Here are more highlights from CanJam NYC 2024. 

ZMF Headphones had a large room full of headphones, along with their Decware Reference OTL (output transformerless) vacuum-tube amplifier, Homage solid-state amplifier, and accessories. The Homage is available with a number of utterly gorgeous wood faceplate options. You gotta love the retro-round VU meters on both of them. I sampled a few of the many headphones including their new Bokeh open-back and Caldera closed-back planar-magnetic models, which both sounded "NICE" (as my listening notes noted), smooth, clean, and involving.

dCS Audio showed its LINA digital audio system, comprised of three compact components: the Network DAC streaming DAC ($13,650), Headphone Amplifier ($9,750) and optional Master Clock ($7,750). According to dCS the system is compatible with all digital audio formats and supports hi-res streaming from Roon, TIDAL, Qobuz, AirPlay and a host of others. The sound was exceptional, thanks to refinements like dCS’s ring DAC technology (deserving of an article in itself; read about it here), and the use of circuit boards connected by flex PCBs rather than the typical ribbon cable. The system isn’t cheap, but there’s a lot of tech in there, the build quality was superlative (machined rather than stamped metal chassis, for example) and the proof was in the very tasty sonic stew.



This was just a small part of ZMF's cornucopia of headphones, amplifiers, aftermarket earpads, and accessories.



The three boxes in the middle comprise the dCS Lina headphone listening system.



The Lina's internal circuit boards are linked by flexible connectors and folded against the bottom and sides of the enclosure. Shades of Trisolaran Sophon technology!



Poland's Feliks Audio was one of numerous manufacturers at CanJam NYC to utilize big-bottle vacuum-tubes. Here's the Euforia Evo headphone amp ($3,495).


Sonic Edge showed an interesting application of MEMS micro-speaker technology. Their AirDriver uses ultrasound that is generated from multiple speakers, each the width of a human hair, then converts the ultrasound to audible sound via a patented acoustic frequency transformer. The design has obvious applications in headphones, hearing aids and other products. I wasn’t able to hear a demonstration but I did get to hear the Creative Labs Aurvana Ace 2 in-ears with xMEMS drivers (see Issue 205’s CanJam NYC report), and there was no mistaking their clarity and resolution.

I had a chance to listen to the Benchmark HPA4 headphone/line amplifier ($3,499) through the outstanding HIFIMAN Susvara planar magnetic open-back headphones ($5,999) – and I have to tell you, the more I heard these headphones at various exhibitors, the more I became taken with them – and I was sort of at a loss to describe the sound, which was pure, detailed but not etched, and neither lean nor warm but neutral. Well, OK, I guess I just described the sound. Rumer sounded warm and seductive, and Kraftwerk was mind boggling in their panoramic soundscape. I am told the Benchmark measures fantastically well, and based on the aural evidence, I’m not surprised.

It wouldn’t be a headphones show without brands like Sennheiser, and they showed a full range of wired, wireless and noise-cancelling models, including the new MOMENTUM 4 wireless over-ear ($299) and MOMENTUM True Wireless 4 in-ears ($299.95). These interact with Sennheiser’s Smart Control app, which enables the listener to tailor the sound to their tastes.

One of the Sennheiser people told me that the company’s higher-end IE series of in-ear monitors are becoming more and more popular. This reaffirms my observation that many headphone enthusiasts are willing to spend some serious money to hear good sound. In other news, Sennheiser has recently partnered with Polar Electro to launch the MOMENTUM Sport earbuds ($329.95), which incorporates Polar’s biosensing capabilities to monitor heart rate and provide fitness tracking and other functions.



The great photographer Lee Shelly was standing next to me as I took this photo of Sennheiser's MOMENTUM 4 headphones. Forgive me, Lee, for this crime against the photo arts!


It also wouldn’t be a CanJam without Focal, and they showed a lot of headphones. One of their most recent offerings is the Bathys wireless noise-cancelling on-ear, which is an exclusive at retailer (boy, whoever bought that domain name was smart). The $699 Bathys is available in black or silver and offers selectable noise-cancellation modes, a dedicated Focal/Naim app, aluminum/magnesium driver material, and wired USB connectivity for up to 24/192 digital audio listening.

Can cables be works of audio jewelry? They can if they’re from Singapore-based Eletech Cables, who had one of the most eye-catching displays at the show. The company’s cables are said to utilize materials engineering and unconventional approaches in the interest of musicality. They certainly look striking.

FATfreq showed that in-ear headphones can certainly look like audio jewelry. Their in-ear models are available in a wide selection of customizable finishes, looking like polished rocks and minerals in a dazzling array of colors and patterns. The prices range from around $630 for a Scarlet Mini Universal to around $2,140 for the flagship Grand Maestro custom in-ear monitor at around $3,170.



Here's part of the extremely cool Eletech display.



FATfreq offered a dazzling array of customizable headphone earpieces.


Chinese audio brands have been coming on strong in the last few years, offering products that deliver high-fidelity performance and often at very attractive prices. Leiyin Audio is one of the major players, the company behind increasingly well-known brands like Topping, xDuoo, Gustard, SMSL, and others, and they had a large presence at CanJam NYC 2024, with multiple tables filled with electronics and accessories. Featured was the new xDuoo TA-66, an OTL (output transformerless!) tube headphone amplifier with features like 6N2 preamp and 6N5P buffer tubes, point-to-point wiring, and a very cool, large, red, stepped-attenuator volume control, all for $249.99.



Leiyin Audio took up most of a ballroom wall to showcase their full range of brands.


I’d mentioned previously that CanJam 2024 NYC had a distinct international flavor, with exhibitors from United States, United Kingdom, China, Germany, Korea, Austria, The Netherlands, Singapore, Poland, France, Romania, Italy and elsewhere – including Japanese company MASS-Kobo. They featured their handcrafted balanced headphone amplifiers, including the flagship Model 465 ($17,000), the Model 433 ($2,519), and the Model 475 portable headphone amp ($1,750).

The 465 is a dual-mono design with an unmistakable look, thanks to its square lighted pushbuttons. This limited-production component sounded wonderful with – again – HIFIMAN Susvara headphones. As the CanJam show guide description states, “I deliver to you an organic, realistic sound that springs out from the silence.” That’s exactly what I heard while listening to “The Girl from Ipanema” from Getz/Gilberto – a sound I could have gotten lost in for hours.



Masanori Masuda of MASS-Kobo (with interpreter Ms. Kaoru) had a selection of superb headphone amplifiers on display.


Danacable offers handcrafted, extremely high-end headphone extension cables, one of which has the diameter of braided rope. The $5,000 price tag and large size may elicit raised eyebrows, but wow did it sound good when mated with the company’s $9,000 HeadSpace by Dana amp and, again, the Susvara headphones.



Here's Danacable's HeadSpace amp and some serious-looking cables.


Germany’s T+A manufactures an extremely comprehensive range of audio products, including loudspeakers, electronics, cables, and headphones and headphone amps, the latter two of which were on exhibit at CanJam. T+A has offered headphones since 2020, including the Solitaire P, which they call “planar-magnetostatic” in design. According to the company, 19 neodymium magnets drive the headphone’s diaphragm through “accurately calculated magnetic field lines.” Heard through their elegant HA 200 headphone amplifier ($5,900), the sound was clear, spacious and detailed.

Astell&Kern offers some of the finest portable music players on the planet, and at CanJam NYC 2024 they announced their upcoming SP3000T, which features dual Raytheon JAN6418 vacuum tubes in a hybrid design. It has an unabashedly retro dual-VU-meter front panel and will be available in May – June for $3,000. It was love at first sight for me, and I didn’t even get to listen to it (the booth was really crowded). Sometimes you just get smitten with the way something looks, like a 1963 split-window Corvette or a Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster. Based on listening to previous Astell&Kern components, I don't think I'm going out on a limb by predicting this portable player is going to be a good one.



T+A's HA 200 multi-source player was one of many components to combine retro and modern styling.



Astell&Kern spotlighted their upcoming SP3000T portable player.



Transparent sound: a bevy of Abyss headphones on display.



Crossover: pro audio distribution company American Music & Sound had plenty of consumer-friendly offerings, like these Fostex and other headphones.



HeadAmp's Blue Hawaii headphone amp ($6,495) also comes in green and other colors.



High-performance personal audio can be compact and affordable, as evidenced by this Schitt Audio stack, comprising the VRU 3 tube head amp ($149), Loki Mini+ equalizer ($149), and Modi Multibit 2 DAC ($299).


All images courtesy of the author unless otherwise indicated.

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