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.

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The Vaudio Headphone Bag!

If you spent anywhere above 100 bucks on your headphones (a fullsize headphone) then it’s probably worth getting some sort of protective bag while storing or transporting it. Granted most if not some headphone makers at that price range, supply a pouch or some sort of bag – but there are several that don’t! And some of these options are not very practical for everyday use! The Sennheisers, HD600 and 650 come with a well made box but its more for long term storage and is not an ideal setup for everyday use. Some of the lower end Sennheisers come with a carrying pouch which actually is ok for transport but doesn’t really do a good job in the safety/protection department. The AKG 701 comes with a stand or holder but no bag, the recent AKG K550 is no exception as well!

The (select) Beyer dynamic headphones come with a well made bag (shown below) that’s actually good for both storage and transport. You can buy it separately as an accessory for about 20 bucks, but the foam support doesn’t really fit all headphones. If you have the time and skill the foam can be cut out to accommodate your specific model.

Beyer Dynamic beyerdynamic-vinyl-bag-568708-600x600

A third-party headphone pouch or carrying bag like the UDG headphone bag costs around 30 bucks – a much more substantial investment in my opinion. I have seen one of these and they are well made and worth the price! But if you are looking for something cheaper (in price), here is my recommendation – Vaudio Headphone Bag. Available from Ebay for 10 bucks with free shipping from Thailand, this is a good quality product for the money.

The bag does not compete with the hard-shell type of carry cases, so don’t expect super tough durability but it had everything that a reasonably priced headphone bag should offer. The bag is spacious and can hold just about every full size headphone out there with the exception of the Stax perhaps! I have tried the Sennheiser HD650, HiFiman HE500 and the AKG K550, all were easy to carry in the Vaudio bag There is a decent amount of padding in the all around to protect from accidental drops and bumps. The handy carrying loop on top is very practical and provides a good grip to carry the bag around. The bag also comes with a shoulder strap that hinges onto two standard plastic loupe on either sides. I have carried it around in slight rain and snow, so far so good and yes, the material is mentioned as waterproof (though not very curious to test that!).

The Vaudio bag may not be the last word in protection and safety for headphones but it sure is a good way to carry and prevent dust that will eventually settle when the headphones are just lying around. It also doubles up as a bag for my E-PL1 and psp (not that I need another camera bag 😉  There are always eclectic choices for special style enthusiasts (provided they have the money) and don’t even get me started on Headphone stands!

PS: Just noticed how similar it is to the Headroom Headcase bag!

Firestone Audio Fubar IV Plus Review

As an impressed customer of Firestone Audio I was really curious to get my hands on the Fubar IV Plus DAC/Headphone amp. Firestone Audio has a reputation of offering products that fall into the  “absolute value for the money”, yes – I know Audiophile products aren’t generally easy to afford but if you look around there are always “gems” at acceptable prices!

Features & Build:

A full metal enclosure provides the Fubar IV Plus a rugged feel and solid look. Available in a choice of black or silver faceplate the unit is, as most of the other products from Firestone audio small and actually cute ;-).

The Fubar IV Plus accepts USB and optical inputs. The USB is limited to 16bit/48Khz which is not really something expected out of a device at this price but since the DAC upsamples all input signals guess that wouldn’t be an issue, still I would love to have native 24bit/96Khz support. The optical and coaxial inputs support 24/96  content and the optical input is my preferred option from my Macbook Pro.

Performance:

My previous Firestone Audio product was the Fubar II USB DAC which had really impressed me with the quality to price ratio and I started out with high hopes for the Fubar IV Plus and have not been disappointed :-). Let’s start out with the source material; most of my audio collection is standard 16/44 FLAC and I’ve only got a handful of 24/96 tracks so why the craze towards a DAC which supports higher sample rates? The Fubar IV Plus is not just a DAC that supports a higher sample rate but also provides it’s own Upsampling feature, meaning any source material fed into the Fubar VI Plus is upsampled to 24/192!

I started out with the Fubar IV Plus as a DAC powering my Matrix Mstage headphone amplifier. Let me start with the most obvious, the sound-stage on the Fubar IV Plus is the first thing that hit me once I plugged in my HD600/650! Coming from the Fubar II the obvious ridiculous improvement in sound-stage is just amazing!. Just this single feature kept me stuck with my headphones as I tried out some of the live performance tracks that I had, which felt ok on the Fubar 2 but airy and well….lively… on the Fubar 4 plus. The “air” in live performances is also quite perceivable with clear instrumental separation. Talking about clarity, the Fubar 4 Plus definitely provides a very clean and clear sound without much color (isn’t completely neutral, thankfully) but definitely adds slight warmth making the sound interesting and not dry. There is no noticeable sparkle in the highs but they are well spelled out keeping the sound engaging, mids are beautiful,  and lows strong making the Fubar 4 Plus a very pleasant DAC.

The upsampling capablity of the DAC has been a very interesting feature to have as most of my audio is not high-resolution or high quality recordings. All my audio CDs have been ripped to lossless at 16/44Khz and upsampling these to 24/192Khz definitely adds more definition to the audio. The promise of high quality audio content has come with offerings like HDtracks but a majority of music is bought to-date is from iTunes or Amazon Music and other such online music stores. It is quite impossible for someone looking for good audio to have his or her music library in high resolution and for now upsampling seems to be the solution.

The Cambridge Audio DAC Magic is a very popular and highly praised Upsampling DAC and I had the chance to do a direct comparison with it and see how the Fubar 4 Plus fared. The Cambridge DAC Magic is a pure DAC unit and has no headphone amp capabilities but just as the Fubar4 Plus, is capable of 24/192Khz upsampling. Technically the DAC Magic is far ahead of the Fubar 4 Plus but I was pleasantly suprised to see that the DAC Magic pulled ahead only by a slight margin! The treble on the DAC Magic is brilliant, mids lovely, full and clear, the lower end is well defined with proper extension and depth. Comparatively the Fubar IV Plus seemed to be well behind on the treble and right behind on the other fronts. Infact the edge offered by the DAC Magic is quite insignificant in my opinion!.

Ofcourse these are two different products, the DAC Magic wiith its plethora of connectivity is more of media center “ish” DAC and the Fubar 4 Plus a straight forward headphone listening unit. I can confidently say that the Fubar 4 Plus gives the DAC Magic a worthy fight and actually wins considering convenient desktop use. TIP!: On usb connections the Fubar 4 Plus achieved a recognizable performance boost by opting for a Furutech GT2 cable!

Most audio enthusiasts looking for the  Fubar 4 Plus are probably seeking a compact DAC/Amp headphone solution, so let me talk about that as well. Actually, I did not notice much of a change when switching out my Matrix Mstage to opt for the Fubar 4 Plus’s built-in amplifier. The unit is capable of handling high impedance headphones (like the HD600/650) without any trouble, I listened to tracks with the volume pot at around the 9 to 10 o’clock position with the impedance selector switch behind on High. I also played around with my Sennheiser HD448 and Superlux 668B in the low impedance mode and everything was as good as ever! The amplifier section (comes with the LM4562 opamp) allows for opamp rolling opening up a bunch of possibilities to further tailor the sound.

In conclusion

On the whole I would rate the Fubar IV Plus as a neutral toned gear (comparatively the Fubar II now seems to be slightly warm!), the lows are good, treble  clear with  slight shine and the mids seem to be very slightly recessed though that could just be me! (or my HD650). Remember I have paired the Fubar IV Plus with the Matrix M-stage V2, the Matrix in itself is a fabulously neutral headphone amp and together with the 4 Plus it does seems to take a slightly cold or more neutral character.

A DAC/Amp combo is a great way of saving money (and space) for the budding audiophile. The Fubar IV plus is a worthy DAC/Amp combo to own atleast until you save enough to upgrade to next price bracket, Firestone Audio has a clear competent product in this price range and is a worthy purchase for audio enthusiasts.