The annual pilgrimage to Southern California’s Irvine Marriott has been muted for the past few years due to the pandemic. For CanJam SoCal 2022 this year it appeared as though things were back in full swing along with a ton of new product announcements. A vast majority of those hifi releases were flagships, and most were highly anticipated in terms of their previously noted heritage or legacy models.
We have included a brief outline of some of the highlights from the show, but if you would like to hear more granule details about any of these products, check out this one-on-one interview with each of the brands, straight from the company’s representatives at the event.
First out of the gate was Noble Audio’s new flagship universal fit IEM called the Viking Ragnar ($4k). This earphone has with a very unusual faceplate made of Damascus-forged stainless steel, shaped by master jeweler Chris Ploof. Internals feature two 10mm dynamic bass drivers for a full range of sub-bass and bass, and four Knowles balanced armature drivers to fill out the upper-bass and mid range. Four electrostatic drivers handle the highs. That’s right, electrostatic drivers in an IEM. That’s a big combination of tech. From what we heard in the noisy show room floor, things could be blending together very well for Noble with the Viking Ragnar, very excited to see more of this in-ear.
Next up was a brand new player from Korea-based Astell and Kern. Replacing the flagship SP2000 was the luxury-infused A&ultima SP3000 ($3.7k). Pictured above is the lavash case the phone-sized player arrives in. If you would like to hear our impressions and first hand take on the product itself, check out our full review of the Astell and Kern SP3000 here.
What was perhaps one of the biggest surprises to CanJam SoCal 2022 was the launch of a new Focal Utopia headphone ($5k). We were one of the first to review the previous Utopia and it was a mighty impressive first stab at the high-end of personal audio. The newest version is going by the same name, with a 2022 notation to designate the year of release (similar to how Apple names things). Focal has made a big splash in the arena of headphones the past few years, and this update promises to bring even more of the good thing Focal has going.
UK-based dCS also made a bit of splash at the show. Holding court in a separate room off the show floor, the audiophile company debuted a new trio of personal audio-oriented products. With the brand’s previous success with the all-in-one Bartok unit (reviewed here), it was easy to see how they were prepared to expand on their more high-end approach to headphones. The new Lina lineup consists of Network DAC ($12,750), Headphone Amplifier ($9,100) and Master Clock ($7,300). The products can be lined up next to each other, or stacked vertically to save some desk space. The inclusion of a Master Clock option to this prestigious audio sandwich is very much a move from the 2 channel market, but rarely (if ever) seen in the headphone space.
Dan Clark Audio (previously known as MrSpeakers) recently lit up the headphone market with the integration of Meta materials in his flagship piece called the Stealth (review here). This fine-tuning technique is utilized in a few audio products, but has been mostly limited to speakers thus far – like the KEF LS50 Meta. Dan Clark’s new shiny thing at the show was his open-back variant of the Stealth, called the Expanse ($4k). Many designers over the years have eluded that closed-back design can offer its own unique set of challenges, so it makes sense that Dan started with a closed back-headphone. However, if isolation isn’t an issue for the buyer, an open-back headphone can often more of an out-of-head experience that can be quite appealing for long listening sessions. Dan also tends to make high end headphones on the lighter side of the scale (comparatively speaking) so those who really love to jam out for extended periods might want to take his models for a test drive.
Yet another surprise came from ZMF Headphones. Perhaps it was just all the time that had passed from the pandemic, or maybe the fact that it is the buying time of the year, but this show had a collection of the most unusual and high profile updates of any headphone show we have been to in a while. The big pivot from ZMF, who is traditionally known for biocellulose transducers, was back into planar magnetic drivers. Those of you who have been following the Chicago-based brand for some time might remember that founder Zach Mehrbach actually got his start modding Foster T50RP headphones, which use the same driver technology. His recent biocellulose offerings continue to be a huge hit within his tight knit community (you can find our review of the Atrium here) and along with his “vapor disposed beryllium” Verite models really show how ZMF is more than a one trick pony. The Caldera ($3.5k) features a new grill design, wood cups and 80mm planar magnetic driver.
Romania-based Meze had a their first open-back headphone at the CanJam SoCal 2022. We were extremely impressed with the sensitive tones of their early $300 99 Classics (review here) but even with their flagship Empyrean, all models were of a closed design. The newest open-back offering from the brand is called the 109 Pro ($799) and sticks with a 50mm dynamic driver to do its business. The transducer in this headphone actually uses W-shaped biocellulose driver reenforced with carbon fiber with a beryllium vapor disposition added to the surround. Fancy stuff.
The long awaited URD CD transport from budget favorite Schiit Audio made a prototype debut at CanJam SoCal 2022 as well. While some might question the launch of a CD player in these times of digital streaming, there are still many a collection circulating around audiophile houses. And truth-be-told, a lot of these new, updated players sound really good. Along with the URD, Schiit had its many DACs and headphone amplifiers on active display. You can see even more Schiit in our coverage of their own personalized audio show in Austin Texas from earlier this summer.