The Canjam Europe 2013 Experience.

Canjam 2013 was a memorable and interesting event.The experience of meeting like minded headphone ehtusiasts and getting to try out such diverse gear at one place was priceless.The organizer’s had a special VIP lounge for enthusiasts to bring their own gear and share with fellow headphone audiophiles.

Image The Inear One IEM from Germany, the first I have ever heard of! Did not spend much time with it but initial impressions were good, the flat cable is a bit annoying! If I do get the chance, I would love to spend some more time with them to provide a better opinion. Hopefully a review may ensue, thanks to Ultrazino. Edit: Previously wrongly mentioned as an IEM from India!

ImageI started out with the STAX booth, with top of line Stax 009 Earspeaker! Popular opinion amongst audiophile circles places the 009 as one of the best headphones ever made and I was quickly enamored in an entirely “divine” sound. Such effortlessness and transparency from a headphone (though the official term is Earspeaker) is something that I never thought would be possible.Once you start listening, the headphone totally disappears and you are left with an intimate but open concert for one. The Stax setup driven by the Malvalve amps were so unreal with their presentation and dynamics that I would hardly believe that these were a relatively compact personal music listening setup.That is also when I met a fellow headphone enthusiast who introduced me to his Stax music listening setup (thanks Wolfgang), the earspeaker showed some age but the sound was only just behind the new releases from stax. The kicker was when he told me that his setup is over 20 years old!…I am now a believer in the Stax line!

ImageThe B&O H6 was a in an enclosure and was just calling out to me with its understated but lovely color scheme. Upon holding the H6 in my hands I could feel a solid build and yet luxurious appeal that it held. The earpads were wonderfully comfortable and provided more than expected isolation. My first impressions of the sound was, well balanced with good bass, clear mids and treble. The build and looks put them in close competition with the Sennheiser Momentums, the H6 felt more comfortable than the On ear momentums. The sound was smooth, a nice presentation for a portable headphone.

Grado SR60i & the Fosgate Signature Headphone amp I have been eager to try the Grados for a long time now and my wish came true during this Canjam.After extensive reading about the pros/cons & sound of the Grados you think I wouldn’t be surprised by them but I was! They lovely and I intend pickup the SR80i at the earliest possible opportunity. Grados have  very little presence here (in Germany) and as such more expensive! The Grados were driven by Fosgate Signature Tube amps. The higher end models like the RS1i and PS1000 sounded fabulous (a presentation that I have personally never heard before), though driving the lower end Grados like the SR60i, 80i and 225i with a $1500 amplifier was great but impractical.A cheaper tube amplifier alternative could do the job (though not as well) with good sound and value for the money.

Note: I expected to share this post a while back but never managed to get around to it.There may be some more impressions that I may add to this post later! I do however recommend the Headfonia post for a more or less complete coverage of the event.

Advertisements

The Mellifluous Sony MDR MA900 – Review

Sony, a leading manufacturer of Consumer electronics have for a while been overtaken in the highly competitive headphone market. I still have pleasant memories of my Sony MDR V6, an excellent headphone. Lately with the rise of niche companies such as Audeze, Hifiman and so on, Sony has been playing the catch-up game. They have been seeing success with the MDR1R and now the MDR-MA900 may be another shot in the arm for the giant.

Design/Build & Comfort

 The MA900 is “less headphone & more music”. The build is sparse, minimalist and does raise some doubts about durability. The magnesium alloy frame is the backbone holding the plastic enclosed lollipop drivers. The cable is nothing special and I never had issues with tangling. This headphone may not rank high on the build category but remember that it well makes up for it in comfort. Thankfully the MA900 was designed as a stay-at-home headphone and delicate handling should make it last for years.

The highlight (or delight) of the MA900 (apart from the sound) is the comfort. The MA900 disappears once the music starts! The clamping force is delicate, but the headphone sits comfortably on the head – the 70mm drivers cover the ear with ample space to breath! You can wear this headphone for hours and not feel the stress of something sitting on the head. I will confidently say that the comfort offered by the MA900 is unmatched by any headphone in this price range or even several times higher. Kudos to Sony!

Sound Impressions

As the review title suggests the MA900 has a sweet and lovable presentation. It is polite and smooth, yet has enough bite for an engaging but relaxing listen. Treble is well presented and is without any sibilance. The clarity in the treble is apparent since the rest of frequencies are well balanced. Comparing the MA900 to the HD650, the latter is definitely the darker sounding and colored headphone. The thick bass and smoky mids of the HD650 tend to take away much from the treble, not so with the MA900.Though the overall presentation of the MA900 slants to the warmer side, the treble presence is balanced to provide a good sense of detail and transparency. Some may feel the treble to be a bit too bright (compared to, say the HD650), but in my opinion it is just right! If my memory serves right it’s just like the HD600 tonally and is refreshing to listen to coming from the HD650.

 Mids are transparent, detailed and bring out the palpability without any bleed from the bass regions. I personally prefer the voices to be much more intimate than the MA900, which by the way is the saving grace for bad recordings. This also suits the general presentation style of the MA900 (SMOOTH!), and its wide genre compatibility.

Surprisingly good bass for a open headphone! The bass is with texture and speed in the upper and midbass regions. There is of course some amount of “boominess” in the bass but that is still forgivable for an open headphone. The whole “Bass lens” acronym had me worried but all’s good. This is by no measure a “bass-head can” but should satisfy most listeners looking for a good bass performance. The attack and punch of the lower frequencies are however slightly distant in the vast soundstage.

The sprawling “soundscapes” that the MA900 fleshes out is fabulous! This is also where the angled drivers do their magic, and magic it is! Better soundstage presentation in terms of size and accuracy are impossible to find in this price class and can only be experienced in models like the Hifiman HE500 & Sennheiser HD800.The other headphone with such a lavish soundstage that I have listened to is the AKG 240DF, then again it definitely not as musical nor easy to drive! As a design advantage, open headphones generally have a more wide and nautral soundstage. The MA900 in particular with its large 70mm driver, angled driver placement takes the open design to new highs.

Perhaps the biggest asset of the MA900 is its undemanding nature when it comes to other gear in its signal route. I listened to the MA900 through a Burson HA160 Headphone amp/DAC Magic, Macbook pro headphone output, Dell XPS M1530 headphone out, iPod Classic headphone out, iPod LOD to Fiio E11 & O2 headphone amp. Remarkably the overall presentation and much of the detail and clarity remains across the different gear. Yes, the Burson/O2 firmed up the impact and boundaries, the Fiio E11 could add some more warmth but they never altered the overall experience drastically. Good source material meant better clarity and definition, bad recordings (in my opinion) were not intolerable and the MA900 does a decent job here (though you may not be doing justice to this headphone!).I can whole heartedly recommend the MA900 as a single component music listening setup from a computer, AV receiver or any other source – it’s that good! Adding a DAC/lossless audio should provide a higher quality signal to the 70mm drivers for better detail retrieval.

Conclusion

The only thing going against the MA900 is that it is a very niche headphone! If you are a closed headphone enthusiast, then this headphone is out obviously (though you should give it a listen). Some listeners like the presentation to be a bit intimate, the MA900 however projects a large soundstage and therefore may not appeal to these listeners. The first few days of my listening sessions were unsatisfactory because of this very fact; the HD650 & HD600 creates a slight but perceivable sense of intimacy that is lacking with this headphone. As for competitors to the MA900, this budget is crowded with several good headphones like the Sennheiser HD598, Audio technica AD900x and even the Sennheiser HD600 if you can find it at a competitive price!

In spite of the above statements, there is no question in my mind that the MA900 is an excellent buy at the price and performance levels (as good as the HD600!). It goes well with most music genres and could become the “go-to headphone” for music lovers not wanting the hassle of having additional gear or heavy headphones. The Sony MDR MA series is available in India from Flipkart and other online stores and don’t forget to check flipit.com for discount coupons to save on your purchase.

 This post was sponsored by Flipit.com.

Review Gear:

Burson HA160 Headphone Amplifier/ DAC Magic DIY O2 Headphone Amplifier & Fiio E11 Amplifier
Lossless Audio/ 320 Kbps mp3/ 24-96 Hi-Res Files
Headphones: Sennheiser HD650

How good is your hearing?

As an audiophile and music lover the only equipment that you need to be most careful about are “the ears”. Hearing loss with age is natural, especially in the higher frequency regions of the sound spectrum. If you have been constantly exposed to loud music playback via a personal music device/headphones or at concerts, the damage could be more!

Practice listening at safe volume levels and remember that the greatest audio gear in the world is the human ear and our ability to hear! Recommended reading: The Universal Sense by Seth Horowitz.

Lasmex H75 Pro – It’s Sweet!

Over at HeadFi, fellow headphone nuts often dig out some of the best audio gear worth owning. Sometimes, the gear tend to be quite expensive and/or difficult to source (unless ofcourse one is prepared to make their wallet suffer !) but the Somic MH463 is neither!. Somic is a Chinese manufacturer of headphones and other associated communication equipment and are quite popular in that part of the world. The headphone is available on Ebay from sellers in both China and Hong Kong. I like shopping closer to home (saves time on shipping and customs procedures) and was on the look out for a dealer in Europe. That is when I came upon the Lasmex H-75 Pro, a rebranded version of the Somic MH463 sold in Europe by the Chinese OEM brand Lasmex. There do seem to be other branded versions of the MH463 available as well with some slight modifications in the cable and styling.

         Lasmex H-75 Pro

Build & Comfort

     At budget prices there is not much one can expect from headphone manufacturers. These budget headphones have to balance pricing and performance to be competitive but the Lasmex H75 Pros seem to have found a decent balance. They don’t look overtly “plasticky”, maintaining a reasonably reassuring build. The metal band that runs across both headphone frame is pretty sturdy and the remaining parts are made of tough plastic. A three year guarantee is greatly admirable and definitely helps the buyer to be more confident with the headphone, ofcourse this may depend on the rebranding vendor. The headband also seems to add considerable weight to the headphone, which makes it heavy over extended listening sessions The markings on the metal band help in making quick adjustments and are much appreciated by users like moi! The headphones have an impedance of 45 ohms and have a 50 mm driver. The large driver makes the headphone quite substantial to look at and most definitely also plays a role in the well resolved sound the headphone puts out (more on that later…). The headphone has an open type construction meaning, there is going to be leakage of music to the surrounding, the size and open nature of the H-75 Pro will mean you would ideally be using these indoors. A 3m cable terminating in a 3.5mm stereo plug with a 6.5mm adapter completes the Lasmex H75 Pro.The earpads cushions are unusually too soft and do tend to compress too much. Though that may not affect all, users like me (not small ears!) have comfort issues. The earlobe tends to rest on the hard plastic containing the drivers and causes comfort problems during extended listening periods. Yet another discomfort is  the sheer weight of the headphone itself! The plastic lining bearing the branding “Lasmex” covering the headband seems to be the culprit, you can always remove that to increase comfort and probably replace it with a third-party headband cushion.

Sound

The H75 Pro weaves magic with vocals! I had been listening to the HiFiman HE500 for a few months ago and then moved on since, I did not have the right amplifier and the H75 pleasantly reminded me of that headphone.Yes, the HE500 is in an altogether different league but the H75 does truly have a good, no Great (for the price!) presentation in the mids. Can’t wait to try it on with a tube amp, unfortunately don’t have one at the moment :-(. The headphone portrayed a very natural and sweet mid frequency presentation that is portrayed in an intimate manner than the bass and high frequencies, when supported by the Burson HA160 & the O2 amp the vocals were very good. Ideally, alternative, pop, vocal Jazz and other mid centric content shine with this headphone.Though when the volume is pushed beyond reasonable levels I did not notice some distortion in the mids. The performance of this headphone rests so much on this part of the sound that it is not as impressive with genres like dance, techno and electronic where not much attention is required in the vocals.

A beautifully resolved and airy presentation with the right amount of shine. The treble is definitely one of the strengths of the H75 pro. A very rich but untiring treble as observed in other higher end & expensive headphones. The amount of instrument separation and air in the high frequencies is just unheard of at this price point! Though the H75 does not beat the AKG K550 in the details  and the treble section, the H75 is definitely more “natural” sounding.The H75 Pro has just the right amount shine without making the listener feel strained. The clarity and resolution in the higher frequencies can be felt in several stage recordings and its also smoothes some treble peaks in bright recordings that were previously a bit difficult to listen to.

I procrastinated commenting on the H75 Pro’s bass for as long as I could. Coming from the HD650 it is quite difficult to get used to a presentation that does not put as much intensity and richness into the low-end. The bass on the H75 Pro is quite linear and neutral with some presence of sub bass as well. It does have enough quality, but definitely seems to lack  in midbass quantity for my tastes. This perhaps, has to do something with the presentation style that the headphone adopts. The beautiful mids in the foreground with clean and clear highs seem to demand a suitable amount of low-frequency (midbass) support to really anchor the presentation, unfortunately that’s where the Lasmex H75 pro let me down. One cannot plainly complain about the bass of this headphone, its does make itself felt when called for by the music, but feels slightly anemic.As mentioned before this observation could also be due to the time that I spent with the HE500/HD650 and somehow fixing that presentation as the standard to judge similarly voiced headphones.

The open nature of the headphones coupled with the excellent high end makes for a truly wonderful experience with vocals. The vocals provide more of a “sweetness” and may probably offer good pairing with amplifiers with a lush presentation style. The pace of the H75 Pro is again slightly faster than the HD650 making it a good accompaniment for most music styles. Though most music genres would benefit from a bit more weighty lower end, on the Lasmex H75 Pro it is all about mids!.

Final words..

The Lasmex H75 Pro or the Somic MH463 is a well executed headphone design with very little drawbacks. The comfort problem is something that would be a pain for some listeners, the lack of a slightly weighty bottom  may as well leave some listeners unsatisfied. Ofcourse, it is quite possible that the lower region of the sound spectrum has been restrained to suit the presentation style adopted by the headphone. The H75 Pro sure has the pace, rhythm and timing (PRaT) going for it which also makes the listening experience pleasurable. The H75 Pro is in my opinion as very niche headphone, but a very good one. Remember that in the comparisons above I have been talking about the HE500, HD650 and AKG K550 – these are high end products from top manufacturers,  talking about them in the context of the H75 Pro is itself great praise. No, that also does not mean that the H75 Pro bests all of them or is equally good! The H75 Pro aspires for exalted company and has the “sound sense” to match, if not the prowess. I can heartily recommend this headphone as a great match for vocal lovers and anybody who shares a craving for beautiful mids. The Lasmex H75 Pro retails for around 50 bucks and is a good headphone to have in an audiophile’s headphone collection. 

Tip! The Somic Ef 82 Mt is another offering that seems more appealing than the MH 463 in terms of sound, review coming up…..!

Review Gear

Cambridge DAC Magic – Burson HA160 – iPod Classic – Fiio E11 – DIY O2 amp – MP3 320 Kbps – 16/44 & 24/96 Lossless.