I mentioned in my CanJam NYC intro that CanJams offer more than just networking and headphone auditions. (You can read part 2 here.) They are also good places, I noted, to access the house sound of virtually every good DAC and amplifier that will fit on a tabletop.
In my realm, there are two main types of audiophile sound systems: floorstanding and desk-sitting. Because, in contrast to floor systems, the user is positioned at arm’s reach, desktop systems have 3D aesthetic that turns amplifiers and digital converters into artfully crafted tabletop architecture. The Woo Audio system in the picture above is a perfect example: The classically proportioned structure on the left is the $13,400 Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC, which I concluded (in Gramophone Dreams #55) may be among the best DACs at any price. There it is just sitting there in all its ocean-wave, Mediterranean-style glory. Next to it stands Woo Audio’s $8999 WA23 Luna 2A3 headphone amplifier, which exhibits more of a Venetian-palace aesthetic. Tethered to these structures, and completing this picture of headfi grandeur, are JPS Labs’s $4495 Diana TC headphones, which I describe in Gramophone Dreams #72, not yet published.
If you’ve never experienced a system like this—or even if you have—believe me when I say that no floorstanding system can match this desktop setup for revealing all and at the same time sounding tears-on-your-cheeks beautiful.
The LUNA is a single-ended, directly heated 2A3 triode amp using 6C45 driver tubes and a single 5U4G rectifier tube. If you have never experienced the vivid low-distortion purity of a 2A3’s 2.5W, or the relaxed flow that comes from octal-based tube rectifiers, I give you permission to imagine that this system sounds like it looks. Because it does.
Speaking of desktop architecture: Brooklyn-based Mytek Audio’s $24,995 Empire Streamer, a Roon-based server/streamer that emits a futuristic Blade Runner vibe. This exceptionally stylish, expensive-looking (and, yes, expensive) flagship device will soon offer a suite of other features: nine analogue preamp inputs (including three nickel transformer-based MM/MC phono inputs); two independently selectable outputs, one balanced, one RCA; a DAC with many digital input choices. The Empire also has a built-in ADC, which in the future is expected to support features including DSP-based room (and headphone) correction and phono conversion in the digital realm.
The fantastic Empire box is designed to be seen and admired from the top and sides and touched and interacted with at arm’s reach. The user gets to choose between ‘Nickel Transformer’ and ‘Electronic Buffer’ for the analogue output topology and users may between: Precise, Normal, Warm, Warm+, and Warm++ for the DAC sound. Finally, Mytek’s Empire includes a world class, drives anything headphone amplifier with two front-panel jacks and adjustable gain.
I used that amplifier to enjoy Yuja Wang’s Recital using Meze Elite openback planer-magnetic headphones (which, along with JPS Lab’s Diana and Dan Clark’s Stealth (see Gramophone Dreams #62) headphones, seemed to be everywhere this year). What I heard was smooth, pacey, deep, and true of tone; with bass that marched, danced, and played fiddle tight. This is five-star, Zagat-rated, luxury listening that cannot be equaled by boxes on floors and racks.
Ferrum OOR and Hypsos
I came to CanJam NYC hoping—and expecting—to audition Ferrum’s new ERCO DAC, but alas, the ERCO was not available. But I did audition Ferrum Audio’s OOR headphone amp ($1995) with its matching Hypsos power supply ($1195) and an $899 Topping D90 DAC. I felt bad about missing the ERCO, but this audition was still interesting because I’ve been wanting to try the Topping DAC. (See Kal Rubinson’s review of the multichannel version of the Topping here.
Exactly a year ago, in Gramophone Dreams #57, I auditioned Ferrum’s OOR with the optional Hypsos power supply. I concluded: The driving power and sound character of the OOR-Hypsos combo was possibly as good as it gets in reasonably priced solid state headphone amplification.
I remember the sound of the Ferrum combo, and I know well the “fit and hard-bodied” sound of HiFiMan’s Susvara when powered by the OOR amplifier, so I assumed any differences I experienced with this setup from what I expected was due the sound character of the Topping DAC.
To audition the Ferrum-Topping pairing, I listened to Yuja Wang’s Berlin Recital and Lead Belly’s most humorous song, “Pick a Bale of Cotton.” If the spirit and energy of these tunes comes through easily, then I know the DAC (or other components) are not stifling it. The ESS9038 DAC chip is famous for its ability to convey pace and momentum, which, here, it delivered in spades. But in some applications, for unknown reasons (power supply? Current-to-voltage stage?), the 9038 can sound hard and a touch compressed –as it did hear with the Topping D90.
I hope to experience Ferrum’s ERCO DAC before CanJam 2024.
A gang meetup
For me, the fun of these CanJam gigs lies in reconnecting with old friends, sharing stories and viewpoints, and getting to know manufacturers and readers I’ve never met before. For you, CanJams represent an opportunity to investigate and discover directly—by listening with your own ears and touching with your own hands—many of the world’s finest amps, DACs, and head-mounted transducers.
Look closely at that lead photo, taken from a balcony 30 minutes after closing time Sunday: None of those people are moving toward the door. Fifteen minutes later, the concierge began flicking the lights off and on.
At the end of the day Saturday, a reliable source informed me that more than a thousand people had attended the show. By my estimation, there were at least two-thirds and possibly three-quarters that on Sunday alone. That’s an important gang meetup if ever there was one. Word is, this CanJam had the highest attendance of any CanJam to date.
Hope to meet you there next year.
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