While it wasn’t the biggest show, CanJam Chicago 2022 definitely showcased the value of quality of quantity. So if you wanted the opportunity to sample some of the best hi-fi headphone gear available today, then it was worth stopping by.
This was the first time in about 10 years that Head-Fi, the enthusiast website behind the show, held a CanJam in the Windy City, and probably the first time ever in its new “Global” incarnation. I was pleased to finally be able to check out the show in my backyard.
With this in mind, on Saturday, I made the hour-long trip from my home on the far northwest edge of the Chicago suburbs and was pleased to find easy parking in the garage across from the event.
This put me right in the middle of CanJam, and I was able to register quickly since there wasn’t much of a line. Basically, the show had two parts, comprised of the Main Ballroom, which housed a bunch of vendors at tables arranged in rows, then there were big rooms for individual vendors like ZMF Headphones, Dan Clark Audio, and Abyss/DCS.
CanJam Chicago was held in the relatively new Marriott Marquis Chicago (opened in October 2018), which is connected to the huge McCormick Place Convention Center (the largest in North America). Thankfully, there were no events at the Convention Center that morning, which meant I was able to park quickly in the McCormick center lot, then walk across the footbridge to the hotel.
CanJam is a show for serious headphone nerds (like myself), so I wasn’t surprised to see folks lugging around big cases with their personal headphones inside, along with people having detailed conversations with company reps regarding the design and sound of the various headphones/electronics.
While I expected to see a few more vendors around (maybe the proximity to April’s Axpona show had something to do with it), I was still able to hear some amazing stuff. In addition, since I was there relatively early, it was kind of quiet, which made it easier to hear what was going on with the open-back headphones. That’s usually not the case at headphone shows.
Here are my show highlights:
I started the in the Main Room, and after doing a quick scan, I settled down in front of the Audeze table, where they set up an A-B between the brand new MM-500 pro studio cans and Flagship LCD-5 audiophile headphones.
Both headphones were connected to a $10k Weiss DAC 502, and while the $4500 LCD-5 was definitely more refined with its laid-back, somewhat flat reference tuning, the $1700 MM-500 (used to mix the latest Kendrick Lamar album) was no slouch, with remarkable detail and dynamics. Some will probably prefer the deeper bass and enhanced presence of the latter.
I also finally got to check out the Chord Mojo 2 Dac Amp along with a pair of Audeze LCD-2 Closed-Back headphones.
The pairing was decent, but I felt the Audeze LCD-2 Closed-Back ($899) wasn’t giving me a full picture regarding of the Mojo 2’s capabilities. I would’ve loved to hear it with the Focal Clear Mg ($1499). They also had the Hugo 2 Desktop Dac/Amp ($2950) on hand.
Linear Tube Audio had their beautiful sounding MZ3 Integrated/Headphone Amp on hand, also matched with a pair of Audeze LCD-2 Closed-Back headphones.
I liked the LCD 2 Closed-back much better here, as it complimented the MICROZOTL MZ3 Tube Amp’s ($3700) combination of linearity and detail quite well. Moreover, this pairing was quite musical and easy to listen to! BTW, this headphone amp can also use its 1W per channel to drive an efficient pair of loudspeakers.
RME’s in-demand ADI-2 DAC FS was on display at the show, and it was easy to hear why it’s so popular.
The RME ADI-2 DAC FS ($1299) is a very popular DAC amongst headphone enthusiasts, and a quick listen at their table was enough to remind me why. They had the Audeze LCD-2 Classic ($799) there for auditions and I liked that pairing a lot. The RME is super transparent, and the separation and depth are really good.
The relatively new Ferrum OOR Amp and Hypsos Power System formed the foundation of my favorite system at the show
I heard a lot about the Ferrum gear from Poland, but this was my first time hearing them. The US distributor Vana had the OOR headphone amp/HYPSOS power system ($3190 for the set) up for an audition, and man, I was blown away! They provided a choice of two Focal headphones, the Clear Mg, which I just reviewed, and the TOTL Focal Utopia.
I liked the combo with the Mg, but the Utopia-Ferrum pairing was mind-blowing! It was easily my favorite setup of the day soundwise, which didn’t surprise me since the Utopia is probably my favorite headphone of all time. That said, with the OOR/HYPSOS stack, Focal’s flagship was amazingly transparent with a crazy soundstage and hyper-realistic reproduction of vocals/instruments. Depth and separation were off the charts.
I could’ve listened to that rig all-day, and it was hard to leave that table, but I knew I had more work to do.
Next, I checked out amazing the new custom headphone/amp collaboration between Rupert Neve Designs and Rosson Audio Design!
I had a great time with this RAD X RND setup, which combines two well-respected brands for a remarkable sounding rig.
From the Rupert Neve Designs website:
RAD X RND: a limited edition bundle containing a pair of Rosson Audio’s custom RND-0 headphones, the Rupert Neve Designs Fidelice® Precision Digital-To-Analog Converter, and a custom ALO balanced headphone cable.
The RND-0 Planar magnetic headphones are hand-made one by one, and headphone enthusiasts love them. So, for this project, they created a special custom version tuned to bring the best out of the excellent Rupert Neve Fidelice DAC.
The company rep told me they have sold most of the first ten bundles going for $6999 each, and if I had the cash, I would’ve grabbed one myself. The setup was super smooth and realistic, and it was another favorite of mine.
I also checked out some of the vendor rooms starting with the HeadAmp/Dan Clark Audio room…
I had a good time listening to the Dan Clark Audio Flagship, STEALTH ($3999) along with an Ampsandsound amp (no price)/Schitt Yggdrasil Dac ($2699) combination. The STEALTH had amazing soundstage and imaging for a closed-back headphone, it actually sounded like an open-backed headphone.
The next room I checked out was the ZMF Headphones room where they were showing off their new Atrium Headphone
I have to say I absolutely loved this new dynamic driver headphone from ZMF. This Chicago-area based company has a lot of fans in the headphone community, and the $2499 Atrium with its beautiful open sound, wide soundstage, and amazing air will no doubt extend their popularity.
It had ZMF’s signature tuning, which means it was quite lively in the low end, with a little boost in presence region, so no its not what I would call reference in the traditional sense. That said it was both fun and amazingly technical at the same time with imaging and separation that were off the charts.
Last but certainly not least, I stopped in the dCS/Abyss room where they had a megabuck $36k setup…
The new LINA headphone system from high-end DAC manufacturer dCS was on my list to listen to before I even got to the show. This is the first headphone-centric system created by dCS, and the Master Clock, DAC, and Headphone amp separates retail for around $30k. I got a chance to hear it with one of the most accomplished headphones on the market, the Abyss AB1266 Reference Headphone ($6000), and while it sounded good, I can’t say it impressed me to the tune of $36k.
That said, the sound was super detailed and natural. It was also probably the closest thing to listening to speakers that I heard at the show. I wish I had a little more time to appreciate the nuances of this system, but I didn’t want to hog it from the people waiting behind me.
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.