Kenjam is an interesting name is it not? I mean it’s not CanJam from our famous cousins in the US but it sure has a healthy ring to it for Asia since one of our members to whom we dedicated this event, Ken Ching, probably has the same amount of headphones in his collection as the entire headfi members combined! Do I joke? Just count them, I dare you; count the number and see who has the most and the answer is always Ken Ching! So it made sense to name our event after Ken, hence Kenjam and this of course being number 2, it was bigger and better than last year’s by a wide margin.
For those who don’t know Headfonics is the sister site of our local forum here in the Philippines, www.headphiles.org and with over 2000 members and going strong since 2009 it made sense to celebrate the two sites by allowing our forum members to pimp their own gear (we pimp everyone else in the market mid-year by the way) and of course allow some extra coverage of two of our members who helped launch and now manage UM Philippines to much delight from our forum. Of course our members need to no arm twisting to pimp their gear and for KenJam2 2011 there was a bigger audience than last year and some damn fine cans, amps and portable audio on display.
From my own perspective it was an absolute joy to walk around and see what we had from the AKG K3003, the Stax SR007, Burson Amps, LCD-2 V2 and V1, ATH W series headphones, Senn HD800’s, Hifiman headphones, Unique Melody customs, FiiO, Schitt – the list goes on. My personal favorite as always was some quality time with the Beyerdynamic T1 out of the Schiit Lyr. Such a balanced setup with a hint of warmth running through the veins of a real powerhouse of a headphone. I go away every year thinking about the T1, surely this year will be the moment I finally say yes?
I must also take time out to mention that there is now a growing biological or genetic theory that audiophiles also love photography and in no small way was this proved with a ton of quality DSLR and mirrorless interchangeable shots from our forum brothers to capture the day.
So let me get off the stage now and hand this over to our members with their impressions and pictures of the day when Headphiles and Headfonics showed that together we are the biggest movers & shakers in Headphones and mobile audio in the Philippines.
“The Realistic PRO 50 sounded very smooth and creamy out of the MiniMAX. Even when I turned up the volume, the music never “jumps out” and attacks you, but still remained very liquid in its overall presentation. These are rebranded AKG K250s and as such, these also have six drivers (!). No matter what genre I throw at it, the PRO 50 does not allow any one group of frequencies to run haywire, be it lows, mids, or highs. I’m under the impression that this is what perfectly “flat” sounds like.
The J-STA headphone ($10 wonder!) definitely performed way above its current retail price. This headphone is armed to the teeth in midrange and upper-midrange performance. Earpads were hollow in the middle, further adding to the merciless rampage of this little black “airplane-style” can. I remember some graphs state that the frequency response starts at 100Hz and I partly confirmed this, because the J-STA definitely does not go subterranean. Compared to a current-model SR60i, the J-STA is a lot more raw, a lot more threatening, and could definitely make it in the top five list of “best headphones to poison the newbie”.
I already heard the AKG K3003 a couple of days before KenJam so I thought I’d share the impressions here anyway. As with what most recent listeners have said, the first issue to get over with is the fit, and thankfully there were a variety of tips at our disposal. The design of the K3003 is very compact and will not turn a lot of heads, but the sound is a completely different issue altogether. One listen and I could immediately tell that this IEM will feel at home being driven out of portable Apple devices from their respective headphone outs. It doesn’t need to be amplified and if one would insist on using one, a dark-sounding amplifier is recommended. The K3003 is lively, full-sounding, and also aggressive. Feed this some music that is pre-loudness war era and listen to it shine even brighter. Contemporary recordings, especially pop ones, tend to peak on certain vocal sections. I know of a couple of seriously poisoned people who might get a pair of the K3003, AKG’s commendable foray into the high-end IEM market.”
PS1000 – Still my favorite out of Uncle Ken’s high end cans. It’s very smooth and pleasing and I could really feel like heaven came down and caressed me, it almost slipped out of my head because of that lol. It’s just so natural and it doesnt sound artificial.
Stax – I dont know which model numbers they are, but one of them sounded like the buttoned RS1 with the mids standing out and without emphasis on both ends, the other Stax with the round cups was better than that and more well rounded and it was joyous to listen to as well. Well balanced and really amazing pair.
LCD2 v2 – Well it sounds like the LCD2 with better treble! It does still sound like the LCD2 from what I remember it sounding like but the treble improvement made me appreciate the detail more. It is still not a headphone for me as I prefer the HD650 along with the Hifiman line.
UM Aero – Sounds like a reshelled UM3x for me which is a good thing imo since a reshelled UM3x would cost the same. It’s the best option for the price imo, unless the Mage significantly sounds better than that.
UM Marvel – Pretty disappointed with this one. It doesnt have the resolution of a typical top tier dynamic BA iem and it’s not as refined as its brothers as well
UM Miracle – Sounds like a slightly souped up Aero to me with better treble extension. I would say that the additional cost compared to the Aero isnt worth it though, but maybe that’s just me.
Fostex T7 – Wow, this one was quite the hit during the meet and deservedly so. It’s a budget can with impressive performance and it didnt disappoint with it’s energetic attack and the raw energy and power of electric guitars shined on this one. It was quite the shock to be brought down to earth again after hearing Sir Ken’s cannery but it was an enjoyable experience.
Ultrasone Pro 2900 – 2rooi’s favorite can is no slouch. The bass has good impact and very clean punch while maintaining detail and performing well with the upper frequencies. The bass really stands out on this can and is really good. Wow, really quite the pair!
Ortofon EQ5 – It doesnt resemble the EQ7 at all from what I vaguely remember about that IEM. It’s laid back and relaxing and is on par with the clarity and detail of other top tier universals. It’s definitely worth the price it’s going for.
I auditioned mostly IEMs, universals and customs alike.
UM Aero and the UM Miracle did caught my heart, and the merlins are now fading away for my taste. The Aero is balanced, sounds good for its price and really affordable for a set of good customs. The Miracle offers a different height of Aero, but the 43k price tag will eat some from your wallet. The Merlins, after listening to Aero and Miracle side by side, lost its edge.
The AKG K3003 is the best universal I ever listened to. Not the best soundstage of the bunch (still IE8 has the best for me) but the fluidity, smoothness and lushful musicality of the K3003 will make you fall in love with it. Very natural, revealing, easy to drive. The build quality of the housing is topnotch, looks like it can stand the test of time.
Auditioned a couple of other IEM like the JVC FXT90 dual dynamic driver. The timbre and treble is uncommon, clear mids and deep bass. It sounds a little fatiguing for long listening hours for me though.
Comparing the Z1000 with mundorf cable and the stock CD900ST using T51 unamped..
The Z1000 has smoother mids and it has a bit better treble extension. Also, the Z1000 is much less revealing than the CD900ST, even sibilant tracks makes its sibilance non-existent with the Z1000. I wonder what type of material Sony used at the back of the Z1000’s cups. Both headphones extends deep but still doesn’t have enough punch. The 2 things that the CD900ST wins over the Z1000 is the midrange section and its transparency, but it is still comes down to preference, I guess. The midrange of the CD900ST is more forward, making the Z1000 sound laidback when compared it side by side. Midrange to lower treble detail goes to the CD900ST as well, it is much more clearer than the Z1000 for me.
Obviously, bad recordings are bad with the CD900ST. Sibilant recordings become more sibilant, distorted sections becomes more distorted, while the Z1000 lets you listen and enjoy the music without getting ticked by those bad recordings.
Comparing the Z1000 and the CD900ST with the modded Indeed G2 amp and T51.. Now this is a different story as the CD900ST sounds like a different headphone when plugged in to the G2 amp since the CD900ST has alot better transparency than the Z1000. Note that my term for transparency might be wrong here since what I mean with transparency is to allow the headphone to sound or produce or to follow how the recording/source/amp is connected with the headphone.
The CD900ST really opened when paired it with the G2 amp. Soundstage and instrument separation of the CD900ST greatly improved while it is the almost same with the Z1000, it still falls out behind the CD900ST. The CD900ST’s bass section gains more ‘meat’ than the Z1000 as well.
Still looking for a Z900 somewhere out there… and I didn’t compared the CD900ST or the Z1000 to the DT48 because I might be biased with it because I never liked the sound of the DT48 even using Ken’s setup in his shop.
Moving to IEMs..
Tried the EX600 as well, I love treble but I think the treble is too much when I paired it with the T51. Maybe the EX600 needs a warm amp or DAP for this to sound good. They said that the EX600 is around 90% of the EX1000, I guess I might be skipping the EX1000 and move to its dark sister, the EX800ST.
Tried those UM customs except for the Merlin. The marvel sounds dark, or too dark for my taste. Mids were the only thing that is good with this. Aero is much more balanced, but sounds congested. The miracle has more treble extension than the Aero but it is not fatiguing nor sibilant at all.
If we are talking about instrument separation and soundstage, The um3x still wins over these 3 universal cIEMs. I guess my basis for this is a headphone, since headphones tend to be better when it comes to separation and soundstage, and the um3x really sounds like a headphone to me.
One thing I like with the 3 cIEMS that I tried is their mids. Female vocals sounds really sweet with Marvel, Aero, and the Miracle.
I also tried the LCD2v2… This is the first time that I listened to an LCD2 for more than 5 minutes and the bass is great. Smooth, full/meaty, tight.. I think every great thing related to bass is already with the LCD2.
The Rocco DAP is a great alternative for those who can’t afford to buy a Studio-V as well. Very neutral and clean sounding DAP. It kinda reminds me of a t51. Although don’t compare it side by side with the studio-V because it has a humongus battery life. It has more than 50 hours of flac, compared to ~10 hours for the Rocco. The amp section is a day and night difference as well. And the sound of the Studio-v is more clean than the Rocco. Both have the same UI as well so for those who are raging with the Studio-V’s UI, it still might not be for you, haha! The Rocco is priced around 6-8k which is 40-50% of the price of the Studio-V for those who are interested.
Audez’e LCD2 V1 & V2, the magnetic planar twins:
Given that I only had around 3 hours left to sort thru the myriad of headphilic gears on hand, I scooted straight to Marcus’ all stock LCD2 V2 and shot it against my Mundorf’ed V1 so that I could finally have an idea where the Audez’e duo’s design direction is heading to with regards to the voicing of their cans, and have a glimpse where the LCD3 would be at Audez’es grand scheme of things. Off the bat, I noticed the V2’s thicker pads, and although Sankar sent me these updated leathers, I’ve yet to get around replacing mine (I’m afraid I might screw it up!). Next was the undeniable weight difference between my copper modded L’s and the stock cans, man, I already forgot how “light” these were in stock form! (haha!) Also, the clamping force was lesser by a slight degree on the newer version, which still felt snug and secure on my noggin’.
Well, on to the more important sonics, using my usual porta-rig as my source and amp, specifically, my trusty RB’ed iMod and my Meier StepDance with an outboard power supply, alternating with Roy’s porta-modded FiiO E9 (that’s a monster of a portable amp bro, it reminded me of my Mini^3 but with gobs and gobs of unadulterated power! I want one!), I spun my pod’s little HDD’s to Elis & Tom’s (Regina and Jobim) Inútil Paisagem and the flamenco trio’s Rio Ancho from their live Friday Night In San Francisco masterpiece to check if I could pick up any excessive sibilance (on Elis’ voice) and over sharpness on the trio’s mind boggling tremolo plucks and glissandos.
Expecting the new version to sound brighter, I was surprised to discover that the stock V2 to sound virtually identical to my Mundorf’ed V1s in the top end, even down to the intensity of the background hiss on the Brazilian track (I think I remember Carlo telling me he had the same impressions about the highs). However, I realized thereafter that if I swapped the cables on the 2 versions, I’d have a different result altogether and would probably share the more popular opinion that the V2’s are indeed brighter. Nevertheless, this only shows the aural impact of these silver+gold gem of a cable on these cans… a cable believer, indeed I am!
Checking the rest of the spectrum, after playing Krafwerk’s Man-Machine and Carl Orff’s O Fortuna from his Carmina Burana opera (yeah, I get a kick out of the diversity of these two tracks), I not only heard but also felt that my V1’s were way more eager to go subterranean on me than the V2. I thought the newer version were slightly timid on the bottom end, and had to run a frequency sweep to thoroughly check this. And true enough, the V1 had an edge from the lower mids to the bottom octaves, whilst the V1 jolts my skull everytime it reaches the peak of a crescendo, the V2’s fall short. Even listening to Sarah Vaughan’s take on Ivan Lin’s The Island, Sassy’s voice seemed more palpably plump and sensual.
Perhaps this was owing to them Mundorf’s again, or maybe the new drivers are now indeed voiced to tilt towards the highs a bit. I’m really hoping it more due to the former than the latter, otherwise, I’d be praying that my now discontinued V1’s won’t ever croak on me!
UM Miracles & Merlins, the CIEM siblings:
Well, moving on, after having done with the Audez’e siblings, next up for me were bro Dink’s and Doc RJ’s UM brothers, the flagship Miracles and the seemingly overachieving Merlins hybrid. I don’t know with the rest of the guys at the meet, but putting on those demo universal fit CIEMs and having them stick in your ears was torture for me! I had to hold them down with my thumbs into my ear canals while listening or they’ll pop right off! With all that pain aside though, listening to the same tracks as mentioned above, the Miracles easily had the upper hand in having a tad clearer and more neutral presentation than the Merlins, albeit dryer and less involving to my ears.
To level the playing field somehow, I asked the UM guys to hook-up the all-silver cabling on hand with the Merlins and see if these would flesh out the minute details that was slightly lacking with the hybrids compared to the all armature CIEM. And voila, as I expected, resolution on the Merlins went notches up, and already at par with the crystal sounding Miracles but with a more enveloping and riveting bass repro to boot! Hey, I’m sold! hehe.
UM Merlins & AKG K3003, the hybrids:
So, feeling like a happy camper for finally finding my first ever to be CIEMs, I took a breather and while having a cig break in the foyer with the guys, bro JCRuiz asked if I already had the chance to listen to the new AKG K3003’s… what??!! who has ’em??!! I rushed off, and lined up (yep, there was a queue for the only available pair) right away.
Seeing that I only had a few remaining minutes before the whole meet had to wrap up, grabbed the Merlins with the silver cables did a quick shootout between the two hybrids and focused mainly on treble and mids, as well as sibilance, which my ears seem to be particularly sensitive to and is often the deal breaker for me. Anyways, the bass bias tuning ports/filters for the AKGs were not available for demo, so I didn’t see the point in testing bass repro for both. Although both exhibited remarkable finesse and control around 7kHz to 8kHz, the AKG had a slight tinge of excess exuberance over these region relative to the UM, which evidently caused it to seem less natural sounding in this respect to these ole ears of mine. It would’ve been way better of course if we were allowed to test out the tuning ports (they were still in factory seals) as this would certainly give us better appreciation of its full tweakability potential. That being said, I can’t help but go against the tide here and tip my hat towards UM’s way.
The LCD2 was excellent with both the Asgard (on Eargo’s set-up with the Audio GD DAC) and the Burson amp. I think I spent 30 minutes with each of them. Both these amps were tuned using the HD600/650 IIRC, and the LCD2 shares some of their sound signatures.
So last year I came out of KenJam1 saying I love lots of things but special mention to ken’s T1. here I am coming out of KenJam2 a year later and still saying the same damn thing. The HE500 maybe be obtainable, but the T1 still stands out in my mind as a headphone i could listen to all day and night.
This was the first time i got to listen to the Burson HA-160 and 160D amp setup. Love the sound, beautiful detail but not a fan of the stepped volume attenuation. Its too crude and clunky and does not give me great control to be honest. Other than that they were beautifully built, components reeked of quality and I loved the low and high impedance options for both units. Members mentioned they paired really well with the HD650 well let me tell ya folks the Burson team apparently designed the HA series using the 650 as their lead headphone test unit so that comes as no surprise to me. For those who want to listen to the HA-160D, it will be with Oliver Pe and the Listening Room team tomorrow onward. From time to time I will be back with the HA-150 headphone amp at the smaller meets.
Thanks to Marvin for bringing the AKG K3003 demo unit in – at the price being offered for the love of god get that pure poison well away from me – the K3003 is starting to get a cult status already with members and quite rightly so.
Once again Ken’s desk was just full of the wonderful and the curious. The O2 stax I tried last year so need to go there again. The SA5000 does so look like a mini HD800 but somewhat smaller than I had thought of in my mind.
The LCD-2 V2 I enjoyed a lot out of the Lyr and even the Burson. Very smooth and very laid back without loosing any of that distinct bass so popular with our members. It is indeed lighter than the stock can with better padding in my mind though Racio’s brass wonder v1 is now so far from the stock look and heavier as a consequence. It is indeed a tad brighter and cleaner in the upper range than the V1.
So there we have it folks, another big finish to the end of another great year for the country’s leading website and forum in headphones and mobile audio. I expect 2012 we will have to find a bigger venue!