I took a little trip out to the mid-west to experience CanJam Chicago. As it says on the label, it's a headphone show specific for people looking to test out a huge array of headphones, see the latest tech, and test things well outside their budget.
Here are my highlights!
How can I not start with the headphone + amp combo that runs a mere $50,000 USD for the basic model. I managed to get ~15 minutes with this marble (yes it is made of marble) monstrosity and I have to say, it lives up to the hype. Sure I am not willing or able to drop a down payment on a house for some headphones, but when you compare it to a variety of other luxury goods such as watches, performance cars, and so on, you have to admit it is likely to bring you a lot more joy per dollar. Everything about it screams luxury and quality, even the remote is some kind of solid steel masterpiece that must have weighed 5 lbs and could double as a self defense weapon.
Big thanks to Eric at Sennheiser for the testing opportunity.
ZMF Headphones, a work of art
ZMF was there with an extensive line of their wood crafted headphones. They look incredible, and I enjoyed the sound of almost every model I tested. They've really got their sound dialed in for both open and closed back sets, with my preference as always heading towards open back. However, all that wood has a downside: Weight. I can't see myself using these as my every day work headphones, they're far too heavy for me. If I were the type to chill for an hour in a recliner listening to music while the rest of the time they sit on display as a home art piece, they'd be near the top of my buy list.
Klispch T10 by Ear Micro
Bear Clark (Yes that is his real name apparently) is the owner, along with his wife, and a fantastic salesman. Beyond this guy's exuberant personality is a real interest in the tech behind the product. Therefore, it's no shock to me then that these tiny IEMs are so full of weird and wild tech that some of it sounds like science fiction. Like using head motion or gestures instead of touch to control the unit. The "jewelry" angle of the units sets it apart, and those jewelry pieces are surpassingly heavy. Just don't choke when you see the price tag, cutting edge tech and one-off designs do not come cheap.
Not everything I tested was so far outside my budget that I'd risk my marriage over the purchase. The LCD-X retails at a *mere* 1,200 USD. Ok, that's still marriage risking territory for me, but I must admit of all the headphones I tested this hit the best intersection of middle ground between comfort, quality, and price. It hit the thumpy and responsive bass I love without losing the mids and highs. It was not as comfortable as my R70x that I am wearing right now, but I believe I could do an 8 hour workday wearing them without too much trouble. In short, a solid performer for a high, but not extreme, budget.
Dekoni Earpad Test Station
One of the more unique booths was Dekoni, who (mostly) are known for their third party earpads and other quality of life improvements for headphone wearers. They brought with them a bank of DT770s and the only difference between each was which earpads you were wearing. It really helped underline how each part of a headphone can change the sound (and obviously, comfort). It's also a pretty cool way to show off your products!
And so many others! Almost every booth had at least one pair I enjoyed listening to. Being able to test SO many headphones in sequence really helped me dial in what I liked and didn't like on a much more granular scale than I am used to in my day to day life. Give me that snappy bass hit and clear mids with plenty of detail. Give me nice, plush, earpads that make a good seal even if they are open back. I also can't go back to rigid headbands, they make the top of my head hurt even after only a few minutes. I'm spoiled rotten it would seem, but then, I know what fifty thousand dollar headphone sound like, so how could I not be?
Of course, knowing that everything I tested could be used with a ModMic made me smile. Even the HE-1s... though I am not sure Sennheiser would approve of modifying their pride and joy. In short, if you're at all considering a higher-end headphone or IEM purchase, I'd certainly recommend attending a CanJam or similar event if you are able. Not only is it a fun way to spend the weekend, but it will ensure that your purchase is exactly what you want.