RMAF 2018 (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest)

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audio-show

#21

I wrote some quick notes that I’ll be fleshing out for an article:

Meze

Empyrean: super nasal, congested, big 5k spike, 3k probably dipped, Bass roll off, pretty disappointing.

Sennheiser

HD820: midrange sounds incredibly off, plasticky, low midrange definitely dipped, sounds really hollow, treble is harsh, tinny sound overall, one note, thuddy bass. Super super disappointed by this; I used multiple pairs to make sure it wasn’t just the first pair I tried but it consistently just sounded very strange.

MrSpeakers

Aeon Open: Very congested, midrange timbre is weird because the low mids are too thick, upper midrange sounds like pinched nose, treble isn’t very clean, muddy.

Aeon Closed: midrange sounds hyped up artificially, mid treble spike unpleasant, painful strings, kind of muddy, bass less muddy than open but still muddy.

Ether 2:
Upper midrange was harsh, treble was harsh and not super clean, bass decay was weird, muddy but also punchy, better than Ether Flow but I still wouldn’t consider it “good.” Sounded overdamped and unnatural.

Spirit Labs

Strange midrange, screechy treble, severely recessed upper midrange, very congested. Pretty though.

Audio Technica

ADX5000: Colored upper mids, bass could be lighter and cleaner, treble kind of grainy, the one I used had a noticeable imbalance

Hifiman

Shangri la Jr.: Warmish, relaxing, bass has more impact than stax less than most dynamic, kinda reminds me of a brighter 007 with harsher upper mids. Reminds me of an upgraded ESP950.

Shangri la: Sounds more uneven, midrange timbre sounds worse, way harsher, unpleasant

Susvara: EF1000 didn’t get super loud before clipping so I didn’t get a good idea of how it sounded

HE6SE: even quieter

Sundara: upper midrange is weird, kinda harsh, bass extends well nice body, decent value overall

JadeII: Tinny, very bright, bass anemic, no impact, midrange sounds plasticky, reminds me of 009 but way worse

Arya: closer to HE1000 V1 than Ananda, a bit more veiled, midrange is solid, treble could use more refinement, actually a decent price at $1699

Focal

The Elegia I tried wasn’t working and I didn’t get to try another

ZMF

Verite: Forward upper mids ~4-5kHz, vaguely reminds me of AD2000 but much more technically capable, bass not as clean as Utopia but rumbles similarly. Upper mids ~3k, slightly bright low treble, mid treble elevated from 1kHz but not higher than low treble, liked this the most out of the new things I’ve used so far

Auteur: Tame, relatively laid back in comparison. Midrange isn’t as colored as Verite, kind of safe-sounding, almost boring

Aeolus: Warm, thick bass, mid treble boost, midrange relatively laid back, low treble sounds kinda veiled but mid treble is a bit too harsh LCD2/3 competitor I guess, not as closed-in as the Atticus

Fostex

TH909: Doesn’t sound as low-mid deficient as 900, still very bright, midrange sounds kinda plasticky

Sony

M7: thick, kinda congested, BA timbre isn’t too bad, low treble kinda dipped, midrange dipped ~3k it seems

M9: Similar to M7; less thick, bass still sounds like BA bass, clearer overall

IER-Z1R: actually pretty solid, bass is at a nice level with good decay, midrange timbre is very solid, treble could be elevated a bit, I really like these

Z7M2: Nope. Thin, recessed midrange ~2k, severely lacks energy other than some harsh mid treble that immediately affected me


#22

Thanks for the report.


#23

I’m interested in what the other folks have to say about these headphones, as counterpoint maybe or corroborated views. As always fun read and very ( almost said divisive, but not sure that is the correct word I’m looking for)…tenditious comes to mind but once, again that can be antagonistic… Let’s stick with causing one to reevaluate ones thinking.


#24

Musings on RMAF & CanJam 2018 …

My RMAF was probably a bit different to most. In addition to being my first trip to either RMAF or CanJam, I was there primarily for the people - both professional contacts and friends and not the gear. I’ve done other audio shows, and lots of local meets, of course, but this was the first time I have attended CanJam.

My expectations were way off. It was a lot of fun, but the CanJam space was a lot smaller than I had imagined; physically at least, as there were plenty of vendors and a ton of product present.

People

I got to meet @Ishcabible in person, and spend a nice, fun, relaxing lunch with him, @andrew and @taronlissimore, and the poor, suffering, ladies that were also there. All super-nice people!

The majority of my day on Saturday was spent talking with people like Tyll Hertsens (of original HeadRoom and later Innerfidelity fame), Dan Clark (Mr. Speakers), Jack Wu (Woo Audio), Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat (Schiit Audio), Christian (Massdrop), Zach Mehrbach (ZMF Headphones), and various other reps and less well known parties for decidedly well known companies (Focal, iFi Audio, 64Audio, HiFiMan, Meze, Dekoni, Manley, Chord, Shure, Audeze and a host of others).

Chatting with Tyll was especially entertaining. It was nice to be able connect properly and share some appreciation for all he has done for the headphone/personal audio hobby to this point - as well as a war-story or two. And getting a personal tour of his step-van project was also a lot of fun - if not at all headphone related! Though he was lucky that my fiancé didn’t try to abscond with his dog, “Dart” …

Though this did not stop me listening to the most interesting pieces - especially those of personal interest.

Gear

I will say that, in general, I find meet/show conditions render any listening impressions near-useless. It’s generally a good sign if something actually manages to impress at these things, but usually the noise level is such that, unless you can find the gear you want in a “quiet room” any “bad” or “poor” impressions are best taken with a large shaker of salt.

That’s not to say that obvious problems are not still audible. But trying to assess micro-dynamic resolution or raw detail in a show environment is really a non-starter. Tonality is another matter and a bit easier to assess, especially if dealign with IEMs or closed-back cans.

Focal

Since I already own the entire open-back line-up, I only listened to the new closed-back Elegia. Tonally it was closest to the Clear. That was quite encouraging as tonality-issues seems to be the biggest problems I run into with closed-back cans. While not a reliable take, my initial impression is that in regards to other technicalities they are closer to the Elear (which, significant tonality issues aside, is very capable). Which would, fundamentally, make them a closed-back Elex, I suppose.

A proper audition in my normal setup is needed to say more here, but I am cautiously optimistic about these. And said audition will occur as soon as I can get my hands on a production unit for a proper review.

HiFiMan

Since I’m already familiar with most of the line-up, new introductions not-withstanding, my principal interest here was with the new Jade II electrostatic setup. I’ve been chatting about adding an electrostatic rig to my setup with a couple of people here (behind the scenes) and this seemed like an excellent potential option …

I wanted to come away from this with an order placed - as a starting point for more electrostatic stuff.

I was very disappointed.

The mid-range was extremely gritty and coarse. The treble was over-bearing or, at least, over-present. Bass was light and had no impact - even less, in fact, that I’ve come to expect from electrostatic systems. Overall presentation was tinny and insubstantial. And the general sense of raw resolution, detail and ethereal transparency I’ve found in every other electrostatic setup I’ve heard was also entirely lacking.

I don’t know if this is how these headphones really sound (while not the world’s biggest HiFiMan fan, that’s mostly a build-quality-to-cost-ratio issue and I’ve never had issues with how their stuff sounds), if it was down to their R2R2000 DAP being used as a USB-DAC/source (seems unlikely, as that uses PCM-1704 ICs and those are known to be warm and smooth), or if they had issues. But it was NOT an impressive display.

I will be trying to get my hands on another Jade II setup for a non-show type audition/demo to see if it was just an issue with that setup/unit/environment or if these really are that bad.

Manley

The Manley Absolute Headphone amplifier was everywhere.

I can’t comment directly on the sound, since I heard it with mostly unfamiliar headphones. But I can comment on other aspects. The first of which is that it is MUCH smaller than I expected from pictures. The feature set is very interesting … switchable push-pull and SET output, variable negative feedback, and impedance matching should make for a very chameleonic device … something you can dial into your mood at the time. Though the effects there are subtle enough that they weren’t very audible at the show.

I like the use of a thumbwheel driving a relay-controller stepped attenuation system for the volume control. I was less keen on how it felt in use. Which combined with oddly cheap-feeling switchgear was not quite what I expected from exposure to other Manley gear. Not bad, at all, but not what I expected.

I do not like the rear-mounted headphone connections. I don’t get the point of this. The cable is going to be coming around the front of the unit one way or another, so why make it harder to use? At least the upcoming SPL Phonitor XE has BOTH front and rear headphone connections … so you can use what you like best.

All that said …

I definitely want to get my ears on one of these at home and see if it’s performance is in line with Manley’s professional legacy.

Mr. Speakers

My first impression of the Ether 2 was just how surprisingly light it felt. I don’t personally have an issue with very heavy headphones (years of LCD-2.2c listening, and more recently the LCD-4 and Abyss AB-1266), but the Ether 2 is “barely there light”. And comfort was extremely good.

These were being driven via a Chord Blu-Mk2 M-Scaler, feeding a Chord DAVE and then straight out of the DAVE’s headphone output.

I’m used to hearing Mr. Speakers Ether line being described as “thin” or “lean”. That was definitely not the case here. There was plenty of body to their delivery. Lower registers had plenty of impact and punch. Bass level is more emphasized than I would personally choose for my own critical listening … but it is possible that background noise was masking out other elements and making it seem more emphatic than it really is.

Something I need (and am keen) to do a proper non-show audition with to properly understand, but still the opposite of what I’ve heard Dan’s cans described as in the past.

Woo Audio

My initial pass by the Woo booth was met with Jack Wu recognizing me from my name-tag. Not as a reviewer (neither my username nor my headphone.com affiliation was on the badge) but as a customer. Color me impressed. Initially I didn’t listen to anything there … since I am quite set on Woo amps for my main rig!

I did wander back later in the day to give the WA11 a listen. Mostly in comparison to the WA8. The WA11 is quite a bit larger than I expected, but still significantly smaller than the WA8. There’s plenty of power for full-size cans and the output is sufficiently quiet to work well with sensitive and fussy IEMs. Sound was warmer than a lot of solid-state solutions, but in a good, almost euphonic, way. Not quite as liquid as the WA8, but similarly resolving and dynamic.

I don’t NEED another portable/transportable amp/DAC … but both of these units made me want one.

Of each.

Probably a good thing they were not for take-away sale at the show … but something I am keen to spend more time with and review fully.

ZMF Headphones

For me, Zach’s new Vérité were, sound-wise (and looks-wise, actually), the highlight of the new headphones at the show. And luckily it was still quiet when I was there. I heard them in a couple of different states of tuning (Zach was playing with different damping options, on the fly, in response to feedback from a couple of well known “trusted ears”). And the best of those, with less front-damping, were tonally lovely, rich, sonorous and still detailed and dynamic.

I already own the Eikon, finished with Padauk cups, and that is one of my favorite closed back headphones, and the most tonally pure closed-back I’ve heard. So having something similar, but open-backed, and significantly more resolving, which is what I felt the Vérité was as I heard it, is very appealing.

Almost certainly something I will buy at launch - and I almost never do this.


More gear impressions in some follow-up posts …


#25

@Torq Ian, As always dedicated to passing on the newest info. Definitely on my bucket list to go to the major shows. Someone told me last week I better get cracking on it soon. Thanks


#26

This actually doesn’t surprise me, your Woo Audio setup is rather impressive and memorable to say the least! :wink: man I wish I could have gone to this… I like the people aspect of your preview, I bet there was some really good dialogue to be had. I think it would be fun talking to all these people and getting their perspective on the audiophile world through conversation.


#27

I have never heard anyone say a bad word about Zach. He seems like a fantastic guy with an ever expanding group of devoted followers. His headphones seem to be going from strength to strength. I have never heard any of his products but I will certainly keep my eyes open for a chance to hear a pair. He had so many fans amongst people who’s views I respect too.

-Paul-


#28

I haven’t heard his headphones either, but a have some pads from him, and they are fantastic!


#29

I’ve read that he makes quality products. I know @I_want_all_the_tacos is a great fan of his and I always respect what he has to say. I know Zach’s stuff aren’t cheap but he has lots of fans so must be doing something right.

-Paul-


#30

Once you go Zach, you never go back.


#31

Yes everyone says this. I have heard he treats his customers very well, so this must make the whole experience very good. He definately seems to be a rising star within the industry. He certainly makes some stunning looking headphones.

-Paul-


#32

Never really knew much about ZMF or Zach before this CanJam, but they were definitely the most welcoming and fun table for me.


#33

Remind me next time we get together - you should definitely hear the Eikon’s I have here. And I hope to get a pair of the Vérité as soon as they’re shipping as well.


#34

Will do, I’ve heard a lot of good things.


#35

Thanks for the kind words. As an update related to the discussions here is that Zach recently contacted me about reviewing both the Verite and Aeolus, so look forward to some reviews on those from me. And of course I’ll compare them directly to my Atticus and Auteur. Even though I have heard Eikon a few times, I might try and get out to The Source AV if I have time and compare them to Eikon for completion.

Based on all the early impressions of both, I am already setting aside money to potentially buy one, and most likely both.


#36

I always look forward to your reviews so that will be an interesting one.


#37

@Ishcabible has his detailed impressions from the show up on headphone.com. You will definitely want to check out what he has to say, even if you’re not immediately interested in the gear in question!