CanJam 2019 Socal

The alarm went off at 4 am. 

This is completely normal 7 days a week, day in and day out. Flipping on the lamp next to my bed I wiped the sleep from my eyes and then shuffled into the kitchen to microwave some instant coffee. Yeah I know I can do better. It’s convenient and does as intended lifting the vestiges of sleep from around the corners of my mind. I had been planning on this day for a few weeks. Well planning is an over statement. I had decided to go. While not planning an outing  is a recipe for wonderment for many, as I haven't driven or owned a car since 2006 it could turn into a disaster for me quickly.

Having returned to my room I perched on the edge of my bed and quickly used google maps to figure out pieces of my route. I purchased a round trip Amtrak ticket to Anaheim and headed towards the shower. Morning hygiene completed, I dressed, shoved my urban survival tools into a jacket pocket and headed out the door as the sun was rising. 

Urban Survival Tools

Urban Survival Tools

I love the sounds of early morning in my neighborhood. Before the sounds of people take over, the birds and squirrels haggling over avocados, the roosters calling the start to the day, and the rustling of leaves in the trees hold court. I make my way to the bus stop and catching the 6:12 am bus I head to the Metro Train station. 

As I exited the bus I paused to pull my Shure SE 846 in ears from my jacket pocket. The sounds of urban life had dominated the morning and I much prefer the sounds of Jazz to the sounds of the street. I flipped through new playlists on Tidal till I found something intriguing and continued my journey to Union Station in downtown LA. 

The Amtrak trip was enjoyable watching the morning slip by to the syncopated sounds of bebop and post bop jazz including some of my favorite guitarist; Wes Montgomery and John McLaughlin. Upon arrival in Anaheim I took a moment to appreciate the transit center which is one of my favorite pieces of architecture in Southern California then grabbed a bus to Irvine where CanJam Los Angeles was being held at the Irvine Marriott. 

Anaheim Transit Center

Anaheim Transit Center

CanJam is a headphone industry event presented by Head-fi.org an online headphone enthusiast community. Bringing together enthusiasts and industry vendors for weekends of musical enjoyment and perusal of gear from the  simplest in ears to full headphone rigs costing in the 10s of thousands of dollars. This event is an offshoot of the community member meets where they would gather and share their own rigs with others. I attended meets back in 2013 and then the very first CanJam held in LA the next year. The first CanJam was a smallish affair held in Woodland Hills California with a very family feel to it. As I entered the hallway and noticed the check in tables I realized this was much bigger. One of the event coordinators and a friend from back in the early days greeted me as I checked in and grabbed my wristband. I walked into the event show room and was blown away by how big it truly was.

Over 25,000 square feet and over 70 exhibitors it was a bustling hive of activity. I made a circuit around the room and saw many exhibitors I knew and many more I did not.  A friend from the LA/OC Audio Society stopped me and we exchanged pleasantries. He made it clear I needed to check out the Raal Requisite Ribbon Ear speakers and we parted ways. I made another loop and noted the pieces of gear and the headphones I wanted to check out. There where only a few things that truly caught my eye so I made my way back to those booths.

Sennheiser

My first stop was the Sennheiser booth. I had been eyeing the HD 820 closed back headphones for a few months on Instagram. They did not disappoint. Resolving, fast and surprisingly airy with a wide soundstage. I love that they have Tidal at most of these booths. I quickly found the remix I did recently for the producer/DJ Marlo Morales and loved the sound and placement of instruments, especially the drums. 

Astell and Kern

Directly behind me while I was at the Sennheiser booth was the Astell and Kern booth. I have long been impressed with their portable players, but nothing has been a must have for me as my pono player has always fit the bill for me. Well that changed as I picked up a brick that is the Kann Cube. It is hefty some may say even not really a portable player but as I placed the Sennheiser HD 800 over my ears I was completely blown away. I changed headphones a few times and remained mesmerized.  I am gonna skip anymore superlatives and just say this will be part of my personal listening armada very soon.

Focal

Focal has become a dominant force in high end headphones in a relatively short time. They do have tons of experience in the high end HIFi speaker and studio monitor market so this is really not surprising. I love stopping by their booth and trying everything. The booth was massive and front and center as you walked into the main exhibitor space. I own their Elear headphone which is now on the lower end of an extensive lineup so I am very familiar with the house sound. As always the Utopia’s are exquisite, the Clear’s are quite amazing and the Stegia closed backs are wonderful. The surprize of the show for me were the Listen Professionals. A studio monitor headphone that isn’t that pricey in comparison to many of the models on display. I found them to be probably the best price to performance ratio headphone I have heard in a quite bit. It comes with a travel case that includes a holder for your iLok dongle which I thought may be the handiest addition of all. I plan on pulling the trigger on these as well. 

Focal Listen Professional

Focal Listen Professional

Mr Speakers

I own a set of the Mr Speaker’s Ether C Flow headphones. They are my all time favorite closed backed headphones. I had high expectations as I reached for the new Ether 2 open back headphones. I exclaimed on how light they were as I picked them up. Astonishing light. They also sound outstanding. I spent a few minutes just enjoying them. Very highly recommended.

Mr Speakers Ether 2

Mr Speakers Ether 2

RAAL Requisite

I had been told to check these out and just wow. These are ear speakers sitting in front of your ears and using a ribbon speaker for the full frequency spectrum. They are powered by a standard 100 watt hifi power amplifier into an impedance matching box for the speakers. The sound is full bodied and life like. I have never experienced anything like it in head worn audio reproduction. The bass is full and textured, the mid range alive and detailed and the highs are fast and non fatiguing. They cost $3500 for the impedance box and the ear ribbons and require a power amp as well so a real investment but one that I probably will be making for monitoring during mixing and mastering as well as personal enjoyment.

RAAL Requisite

RAAL Requisite

I wandered around for a bit longer checking out favorites from Chord Electronics, Manley Labs, Audeze, and a new turntable from Schitt Audio before  heading to the hospitality lounge. As I walked in I recognized an old friend from whom I wrote with at Audio 360 who now works for Head-Fi.org and helped put on the show. We headed out to the smoking area and caught up. Reminiscing about the old review site and discussing the show. 

At one point he mentioned the CanJam’s really weren’t about the gear but the people. He is right. Heaphone gear is best experienced in your own home or at least in a much quieter environment. The real reason to go to a CanJam or other hifi event is like minded people. I have many friends that share this interest with me from all walks of life. Some have made it their livelihood, others just enjoy music and music reproduced well. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and chatting with friends and generally being social. I finally headed to dinner with a friend before repeating my trip in reverse order.

Anaheim Transit Center on the way home.

Anaheim Transit Center on the way home.

It was a good day. I traveled alone and spent a great deal of time sorting out my own thoughts and plans but I also connected and even rekindled old friendships.

A new focus...

I just finished a 12 hour work day at the day job. I am sitting at my bedroom desk writing this on my work laptop, listening to the Beatles Rubber Soul album through my Drop Studios headphone rig. Tidal out through the Airist R2-R DAC, DarkVoice Tube headphone amp with upgraded RCA NOS tubes into the AKG K7XX headphones. The music sounds lovely especially for a headphone rig that in total comes in under 1K. You could much worse for more.

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I haven’t done this for far too long. Writing stream of conscious while enjoying music piped into ears by a higher end headphone rig. Some of you all will know that I reviewed headphones and other audiophile gear and wrote articles for a few online HiFi sites a few years ago. In ways I have missed it in others not so much, but I have been thinking about those times and others a lot recently. I am headed to CanJam Los Angeles this weekend and a lot like when I attended my first High End Audio show I feel I am at a crossroads in my life.  

I have also been considering what to do with this site. The name Serotonin Sounds encompasses so many areas of my life as music, its creation, history, reproduction and culture has in most ways made me who and what I am today. Technology has also had its pull and sway but music has always been where my heart and attention have lain.

I have other domains but have decided that serotoninsounds.com will be my complete outlet to the world, from the music I write, to the gear and software I use to make and listen to it, the harmony and theory I explore, to the artists that were my heroes growing up, to the artists I have befriended and worked with over the past 34 years I have been up to my ears in the act of becoming a musician. It will become part blog, part sound design and music outlet but all me. Possibly an act of ego, but hopefully one that will allow me to make new friends and help others discover the joys I have found and love to share.