There was a pretty high-end setup at the ZMF/Cayin stand for CanJam Singapore 2023. We had the full dCS Lina Master Clock and DAC decoding into the excellent Cayin HA-300MK2 tube amplifier, a combination that I highly rated in my open-back Atrium review last year.
Atrium Closed Back
Not only was the new Atrium closed-back available to audition but in no less than two wood varieties, hard and soft wood due to the different tonal qualities each wood type brings to the performance.
The stock Cherry finished Atrium Closed is the softer wood whereas the gorgeous limited edition Olive wood version is the harder of the two materials. And they do matter, oh my do they make a major difference that I picked up on right away.
But before that to quickly go over the stock sound, the Closed version takes more or less a similar line in terms of timbral coloration from the open version though maybe not quite as warm.
It has a more bass presence as you might expect from a closed back and is a little narrower also in terms of width compared to the Atrium open version.
The Olive wood edition is the more vivid of the two and for me, hits a little harder or displays improved dynamics over the stock Cherry Wood version. The Cherry Wood feels a little more relaxed and ‘flowing’ in its delivery.
My 5 min impression left me with a bias for that Olive Wood limited edition version, it just sounded more aggressive and boisterous on the lows and in line with how I would want a top-class closed-back to sound.
Both the hardwood and softwood Atrium Closed Back versions are now back with me for review as well so the show impressions here are just a few fleeting moments with the in-depth review coming very soon.
I finally got a listen to the new Focal Utopia 2022 via Zeppelin & Co at CanJam Singapore 2023. Focal is one of those brands that are very hard to get a hold of in our local region so I tend to rely on shows to hear them personally.
Granted we managed to get a review of the Bathys out last year with some great support from Focal Naim USA but I have to go back to 2017 for the last time I heard the original Utopia and even then our full review was from another contributor. So, reviewing Focal can be exciting but also quite complicated.
This is one classy-sounding dynamic driver headphone. It’s not as spacious as some of the best planar headphones or even the HD800 but it makes up for it with pinpoint accuracy, tonally very transparent, and just brilliant levels of articulation.
The bass response is excellent also, and just as pacy as the rest of the FR. They sounded very balanced and controlled right down to 20Hz.
The highs might have a little bit taken off compared to my memory of the original Utopia but sound very natural to my ear with the resulting mids timbre almost eerily perfect for my tastes.
It’s heavy for a dynamic driver at 480g but the balance on the head is very good. The clamp is just enough to keep them secure so I cannot see too much fatigue from long listening sessions. The design is also very sexy and typically Focal in its appearance which is a good thing in my opinion.
The coolest part of this demo is that we brought a Utopia 2022 back to the office here post-show so we will have a full review on Headfonics in due course.
FiR Audio has been busy at the start of the year with the launch of their new limited edition, (300 units), Radon 6 universal IEM, ($3299). This is a bit of a spin on the flagship Xenon 6, an IEM that I heard for the first time at CanJam Singapore 2023.
This is also the first time I have heard their universal line-up with our previous Krypton 5 and M5 reviews based on their custom designs which can differ slightly in the final tuning.
This is a 6-driver hybrid model consisting of a single 10mm kinetic bass dynamic driver for the lows, two Open BA Drivers for the mids, 1 open BA for the high-mids, an additional open BA with FiR’s sound reflector tech for the highs and a single EST for the ultra-highs.
It also uses the replaceable ATOM XS venting system and I will say these are tiny compared to the X versions on the custom models. The IEM itself is beautifully designed with those sapphire glass faceplates and is also quite sturdy with the use of an aluminum body. A new exclusive cable also, this time pure silver with copper shielding.
What has changed? Well from my show impressions, the sound is more neutral and cleaner than the original Xenon 6 which I A/B’ed at the booth. There is less of a mid-bass hump, better sub-bass to mids separation, and a little more upper-mids to lower-treble energy.
I preferred the midrange clarity of the Radon 6 over the warmth of the Xenon 6. I can see fans of both but for personal preference, I felt the vocal imaging was a bit more on point with more space to breathe.
One of the surprises of CanJam Singapore 2023 was the personal appearance of Ken Ball, the CEO, and founder of Campfire Audio. Not only that but they had a fully decked-out booth with all their latest models on display.
On a personal level, it was also great to finally meet Ken and his family after a 5-year absence, the last being the HK AV Show back in August 2018. Time has certainly flown by.
The two CA models I wanted to try after all the pleasantries were the Solaris Stellar Horizon and the triple dynamic Trifecta.
Triple dynamics are fairly rare with UM’s 3DD-Ti and Terminator editions alongside qdc’s much better Dmagic 3D in 2021 the only ones that we have tested to date.
The Trifecta is pitched at a much higher level than any of those older models at $3375 and from the outside, it is one of the most interesting universal IEM designs I have seen to date. The trapezoid transparent resin finish just helps tease out the very cool dynamic driver physical arrangement.
It’s a very pretty-looking piece of kit but of course, people will buy this based on how it sounds. The first mistake was using the stock foam tips which reduce the weight and extension from the low-end driver.
I was writing this up as a surprisingly controlled dynamic driver experience until I switched to Final E tips and bingo, everything opened up beautifully. I suspect the Final E tips allow the nozzle to creep up a bit further into the ear canal because not just a bass explosion but also mids and vocal immediacy went up in a big way.
Paired with the N7 in Class A mode using the stock 4.4mm balanced cable this is a heavy-hitting experience and is going to appeal to basshead audiophiles. It is not just power either, but the punch is pretty visceral also with kick drums hitting like bombs.
Pleasingly this is not a cramped presentation, at least with the N7 it stages impressively big though resolution wise other big staging performers like the Viking Ragnar are more complex sounding.
This isn’t a reference tuning, it’s fun, huge fun, and one we will be reviewing also in the coming weeks.
Solaris Stellar Horizon
I think this is something like the 4th milestone in the life cycle of the Solaris product label. I may have missed a few evolutions but what I have here is the original, Solaris SE and the 2020 Edition, of which I enjoy the SE the most.
The Stellar Horizon is probably the most radical break from the previous models, at least in terms of physical looks which are seriously gorgeous looking in the hand and comfier in the ear.
The internal configuration is still a hybrid quad-driver but apparently, all updated to now include three new custom dual-diaphragm BA drivers with T.A.E.C. and a 10mm ADLC dynamic driver with radial venting.
I got much the same experience as with the Trifecta with the supplied tips. The Stellar Horizon with the foam tips sounded strangely thin and lacking in depth and texture but with the Final E tips everything was fleshed out more dynamically. Particularly the dynamic driver lows which offered a lot more power and substance.
It could well be just a bad seal and the bigger foam tips will do the job though I find Final E tips to always produce a stronger bass response compared to foam tips.
As for the rest of the presentation, the mids do feel a little more complex and detailed compared to the Solaris 2020 with some additional treble extension and presence. From memory, the 2020 edition sounds simpler staging and imaging-wise and not as holographic as the Horizon performance.
And yes, we will have a full review of the Solaris Stellar Horizon out in the coming weeks also.
Noble Audio has been very busy these last 12 months with tons of new IEMs, cable collabs, and TWS coming out including their award-winning Viking Ragnar and the TOTL Mystique TWS reviewed recently.
They had all that good stuff there at CanJam Singapore 2023 but also threw in the recently released Ronin which piqued my interest based on some of the qualitative feedback I read about it to date.
The Ronin is up there with the Ragnar at $3999 SRP compared to the Ragnar’s $4000 price tag. You could consider it a flagship model and Noble has done exactly that by placing it in the flagship series along with the Ragnar, Kublai Khan, and the Sultan.
The configuration is very different. This is a hybrid but consisting of BA and EST and no dynamic drivers and is positioned as the successor to the Katana we reviewed years ago.
It features 4 Sonion BA drivers for the lows, 4 balanced armature drivers for mid-low and mids, and four EST drivers for the highs and super-highs. This is also a prestige design with excellent finishing and fits very comfortably in the ear during my time with it.
It also comes with a new cable collaboration with Eletech, entitled “Ronin” and it is exclusive to the IEM so you cannot buy it anywhere else. This is a 4-wire 26AWG blend of GP-OCC and OCC Copper as well as a silver-plated OCC in a 7 Interior Core Litz geometry. I believe it comes with a 4.4mm termination as stock and it’s very lightweight and attractively designed.
The sound is smoother than the Viking Ragnar. Not quite as weighty without the dynamic driver but those who struggled with the more strident treble tuning of the Ragnar should find the Ronin a much more accommodating and flexible sound signature.
It also has a slightly mid-forward curve with great vocal clarity and texture as well as a punchy and articulate low-end rather than a sub-bass bias though the extension is still very good. I have a feeling this will be competing against the likes of the UM Mentor Multiverse, they both seem to be aiming for similar ground.