CanJam returned to Singapore for the 3rd time, featuring over 100 brands showcasing their latest and upcoming products at the ballroom of Pan Pacific Hotel. The VRZone team headed down on a fine Saturday afternoon to bring you the latest from the audio industry.
The most prominent booth right near the entrance, Beyerdynamic brought in a trio of their latest wireless headphones.
The Aventho Wireless is a wireless on-ear headphone first released last year. Based on the older T51p, the Aventho wireless features Beyerdynamic’s signature Tesla drivers, giving it a typical Beyer sound signature: very warm sounding with amazing mids and lows. The right earcup features touch controls, allowing to pause, play, change volume, or skip a track with just a swipe or two.
There was also a wireless version of Beyerdyanmic’s Xelento in-ear headphones. The highly acclaimed Xelento, at 999USD, costs more than many multi-driver IEMs, yet its single Tesla-driver offered amazing performance that more than justifies its price. The Bluetooth version replaces the normal MMCX cable with one that has a Bluetooth antenna and battery pack. It supports Qualcomm’s AptX HD, which allows for streaming of high resolution files over Bluetooth with no loss in quality.
Last but not least, Beyerdynamic also showcased the Amiron Wireless, an as-yet unreleased wireless over-ear headphone. It offered a very similar sound signature to the Aventho Wireless, but with a slightly deeper bass and wider soundstage. Isolation, however, was not as good, as we were still able to hear a lot of the surrounding noise even with the music turned up. This could be solved by having a tighter headband, but whether Beyerdynamic will take such a route with the final product remains to be seen.
French audio brand Focal also brought a range of wireless headphones, and we got the try their Listen Wireless. The Listen Wireless has a smooth and solid midrange, reproducing vocals beautifully. Unlike other manufacturers, Focal stuck to using buttons to manage the power, connection and volume. While not as intuitive as swiping and tapping on the earcups, the solid feeling of the buttons did give a nice tactile feedback when pressed. One main issue with the Listen Wireless is its mostly plastic construction. Although it feels pretty solid, it made the headphones feel cheap and not as premium as those with a metal construction.
Astell & Kern
Moving on to audio players, we got to try both the Astell & Kern Kann and SP1000.
Starting off with the Kann, we were immediately impressed with the sound quality. The Kann was one of the clearest audio players we have heard thus far. It has a sound signature best described as warm, with emphasis on the mid to low end.
The Kann is an all-rounded audio player, accepting both microSD and full-sized SD cards for expanded storage, USB-C for charging, and a microUSB input which allows you to use it as a portable DAC or Amp for your other devices.
Trying the SP1000 next, we were blown away by the huge leap in sound quality. The SP1000 is far and away the best portable audio player we’ve heard thus far. This should not be surprising, considering its 4999SGD price tag, making it one of the most expensive portable audio players money can buy. It has levels of clarity and resolution that is guaranteed to amaze any audiophile, and it has to be heard to be believed.
Moving back to looking at more affordable equipment, we took a look at some of Fiio’s latest products.
The Q1 Mark II is a relatively-affordable Amp and DAC combo that one can use with any device such as a phone or laptop. (Many things seem affordable after a trip to Astell & Kern!) It has dual outputs: a normal 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as a balanced 2.5mm output. With a solid metal construction, the Q1 has the feeling of a premium device, and has the sound quality to match.
Fiio also showed off their BTR1 wireless Amp and DAC. With many phones increasingly dropping their headphone jacks, the market for wireless DAC/Amp combos is certainly one to watch, as consumers can now try to extract a higher sound quality from their devices with high-res files and a high-end wireless DAC/Amp, in contrast to the past where most people stick to whatever DAC and Amp was built into their phones. As opposed to using a USB-C or Lightning to 3.5mm dongle, the BTR1 offered a superior sound quality, due to the use of better DAC and Amp chips than the ones you would find built into a dongle.
Last but not least, the VRZone team made a stop at local audio brand Advanced Acoustic Werkes, better known by their acronym AAW. We got to try the new AAW Pola, a cutting-edge IEM with a built-in electro-static driver. Due to the additional circuits needed to power the electro-static driver, the Pola is harder to drive than most headphones, requiring me to turn up the volume on my portable amp significantly higher. The sound quality though, was really impressive. The electrostatic driver showed off its ability in the mids to high range, reproducing vocals and instrumental sounds with levels of clarity that beat the dynamic and balanced armature drivers found in most other IEMs.
Walking around the main show floor of CanJam 2018, it is not too hard to see the direction that consumer audio is heading towards. Most manufacturers, from DAP-producers to major headphone brands, are increasingly touting the wireless capabilities of their devices. With Apple and Google removing the headphone jacks from their phones, many headphone manufacturers are rushing to get more wireless headphones compatible with these devices to the market, each trying to differentiate their products by sound quality or support for different codecs.
High-end audio equipment, however, remain predominantly wired. As much as the quality of wireless audio has improved over the past few years, there remains a huge gap to the sound quality that audiophiles expect compared to that of the typical consumer. Many audio brands are now trying bridge this gap, offering consistently more expensive and better sounding headphones. Only time will tell if audiophiles will ever jump onto the wireless bandwagon.