CanJam 2010 • TABlog

by Marc Mickelson | June 6, 2010

As a way of bringing context to the dizzying array of headphones and amps on musical display at CanJam, I decided to cut down the variables and try to hear every system I could find that used a particular pair of headphones. I chose Sennheiser HD800s ($1399.95) because they were prevalent and I like the Sennheiser sound, which is more spectrally balanced than that of many other 'phones, offering a powerful bottom end. Even with the headphones as a constant, I was able to identify a few favorite systems. I played identical music on each, along with a few cuts that I thought showed off certain sonic aspects well.

HeadRoom's HD800 system (above) used the company's Ultra Desktop amp ($1699), Ultra Desktop DAC ($1499) and Desktop power supply ($499). A Wadia 861SE CD player was the source, but used mainly as a transport for HeadRoom's DAC. The sound was smooth and wideband, neither lean nor full. This system cast the most believable, out-of-the-head soundstage I heard at CanJam, likely due to HeadRoom's Crossfeed circuit, which is meant to create a sense of space that exists beyond the confines of the headphones. Crossfeed isn't something you hear when you switch it on, but after listening for a while, switching it off definitely makes a noticeable difference. Some people like Crossfeed, and others don't. Count me among those who think it's important.

Woo Audio paired its WA22 amp ($1900) with HD800s. An Original CD-A9IIt CD player ($1499) with tube and transistor outputs was the source. This was a distinctly different sound from the HeadRoom system -- and in ways you'd expect, given the tubes in the amp and CD player. There was abundant tonal color and image fullness, the equipment seducing as much as resolving. There was ample air around performers and the ability to discern the space in which each recording was made. Woo Audio distributes the Original CD players in the US. They look very elegant and appear to sound elegant as well.

The king of the HD800-based systems at CanJam used the Apex Pinnacle amp ($10,000) and Meridian 808.3 CD player ($20,000) as source. This system had it all -- literally -- combining the resoluteness of the HeadRoom system with the sheer beauty of the Woo Audio system. There was also extreme spaciousness, which pushed the music beyond the headphones in a way similar to HeadRoom's Crossfeed circuit. The Apex amp will drive any headphones short of electrostatics, so if you're not a Sennheiser fan, you don't have to worry about having enough power for your 'phone of choice.

An end-of-the-road headphone system.

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