CanJam Europe 2014 Impressions

Foreword

I was not able to attend  CanJam Europe this year and looks like I missed a lot :-(. Fortunately, fellow Head-Fi’er Schnarpf was there and I am thankful to him for sharing his impressions (with his photos) here.

– Bala.

This is only the second Canjam Europe and to me, it was great. Saturday wasn’t stuffed with people so I could listen to everything I liked. I liked to listen to a lot of gear, because normally you have to relate to reviews but don’t get the chance to try so many products. Of course, it is not possible to evaluate a component with utmost accuracy, but one gets the idea and can see if the product would be interesting for a longer testing period of a few days. I envy all the guys that can go to regular meets.

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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.

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

Sennheiser Momentum On-ear Review – A basshead’s Delight!

Sennheiser Momentum Onear boxshotThe explosion in portable entertainment gadgets have created a thriving market for suitable accessories to go with. The classic “white earphone & cable” is still a style statement for most iPod owners (though at the cost of sound quality!). The headphone market has lately been going towards this “Signature style” with either celebrity endorsements or distinctive styling. Sennheiser, not long ago released it’s Momentum, a premium circumaural headphone for on-the-go use and has made a follow-up with the Momentum On ear version. I tried out the Momentum On ear during my daily commute and used it as my primary headphone for listening to music (Spotify premium, Google Music etc.) over a fast broadband connection and my impressions follow.

Design & Comfort:

              If you have already seen the Momentum over-ear model, you know what to expect. A very tastefully done design, goes great with casual and formal wardrobe ;-). The sliding earpieces are nice but I always have the nagging feeling that they tend to move from their optimal position during the regular handling of the headphone. General disclaimer : I have never had a good experience with On-ear headphones!

The Momentum on-ear comes with a plush earpads made of Alcantara – a soft breathable material. The stainless steel headband running across the drivers provide the frame with good grip and a nice look as well. The cable is detachable (a comfort for portable headphones) and  remote for the microphone seems to be made of metal as well. There is an additional regular headphone cable with no microphone provided as well. The amount of detail that has gone into the design is once again reflected in the audio jacks as well, though they are not the wonderful self adjusting Momentum circumaural type, these look like works of art. The colorful hologram on the jack is an eyecandy in itself 😉 – this is the best designed headphone in my opinion – “drool-worthy” .

The comfort of the Momentum on-ear is good but nothing to write home about. The general comfort levels of On-ear models depend on the clamping force as well as earpad material on the headphone. Considering this is a mobile accessory, noise cancellation has to be a priority as well – the clamping pressure was on the stronger side for me and at about the half an hour mark I had to remove them (would have been worse without the Alcantara earpads I suppose!). I have to say that passive noise cancellation could have been better but I believe Sennheiser allowed the tuning of the headphones to do the rest. The robust low frequency presentation actually helps cut down on some noise that I experienced – traveling in trams, trains and generally in other public spaces. Though On-ear headphones have never been my thing (guess I’m sensitive to pressure on the ear lobes ;-)) due to comfort issues – the Momentum On-ear is the least uncomfortable on-ear I have tried.

Sound:

 This isn’t anything like it’s elder brother, the full size Momentum.The Momentum on-ear is a departure from Sennheiser’s house sound and is definitely aimed at audience who would otherwise be gravitating towards say, the Vmoda M100, Beyer Custom one Pro, Bose, Beats, AKG Tiesto and so on. All competitors of the On-ear Momentum pay special attention to the needs of the “bass minded” and genres such as Hip-hop, electronic, pop & EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and good looks ofcourse. I believe this introduction is necessary to put in perspective the tonality of the On-ear Momentums.

Sennheiser Onear MomentumI have to start with the BASS! of the On-ear Momentum, which is the most prominent aspect of it’s presentation. The lower frequencies are very strong (and overwhelming!) for such a small driver unit. The bass is actually quite good in tracks where it is reigned in, everywhere else there is bass”plosion” – highly unlike Sennheiser! The closed architecture tends to add to the bass tuned driver to push out more than required low end punch with some loss in musicality and fidelity in other parts of the presentation. As a HD650 fan, I can immediately realize the speed of the bass, its fast!  makes this good accompaniment to pacey, fast and bassy music. However, the Momentum On ear seems to have been designed to perform best with regular mp3 quality audio rather than high resolution music. As a portable headphone, I do see the wisdom behind the decision but sorely miss the bliss of playing high resolution or even lossless tracks through the headphone to bring out much subtler nuances in the music.

The mids are the least prominent part of the presentation, recessed and without much say in the overall musicality of the headphone.The highs are well extended and don’t appear too shiny, though pushed forward in the soundstage. The details that the treble presents is really overwhelmed by the pulsing strong low end, so there is nothing to complain about the higher frequencies here. Overall the Momentum On-ear carries good resolution in its presentation, the details are nice and clear, only distraction is the bass.

There are probably just a few headphones that can be on the shopping list with the Momentum on-ear. The fabulous Vmoda M80, rugged style and build with a very well balanced presentation and comes customizable accessories as well. For stronger bass the Vmoda M100, again has all of the above but with a presentation that leans to bass (more than I would like). The Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro has an adjustable bass control – design is much more industrial. It is safe to say if you enjoy a reasonably balanced musical presentation go for the Momentum (Circumaural) – love thumping beats and bass, Momentum On-ears could be your best company!

Conclusion:

Sennheiser has probably taken into consideration the tastes of the Vox Populi and fans of Rap,Hip-hop, EDM etc, for whom the On-ear Momentums may be a great choice. If you are a basshead as well, I highly recommend trying them – but I prefer a bit of balance in my basshead can as well!. The On-ear Momentum is a great headphone for audience looking towards the likes of the Vmoda M100, AKG Tiesto, Beats & Bose but would prefer a more sophisticated design sense.

Here is a video review from a fellow head-fi’er

Now available in additional colors!

Sennheiser Momentum Onear new colors!

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