Local audio meets can be a great way to connect with other audiophiles that share the same enthusiasm about the hobby. If you live near a big city, manufactures may even attend and let you test their current wares in addition to the gear that attendees bring. Most large metropolitan areas have audiophile-style societies that usually focus on two channel speaker setups. Head-Fi.org has also done an excellent job of propagating and organizing opportunities for personal audio enthusiasts to get together locally to share their common love of all things headphones. I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Chicago Head-Fi meet this weekend and was pleasantly surprised by the experience.
Even though Chicago is not located on the dominating coastal metropolitan areas of the US, it still manages to fully represent a typical “slice of life” from the headphone community. Illinois is home to one of the major headphone amplifier designers Ray Samuels, and he made the trip up to the meet with some of his finest products in tow. Do-It-Yourself-ers showcased both modified headphones and homemade cables. Flagship headphones, top-tier IEMs, and even some little-known jewels were passed around as freely as food at a Midwestern potluck.
The event was hosted by Arnold from Tweak Studios, which is located in the lower level of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago. Arnold had his own Music Hall DAC and amplifier setup pushing a selection of Grado headphones.
Head-Fi member and ChiUniFi organizer “Audio Addict” brought his own re-wired pair of HiFiMan HE-500s along with a Ray Samuels SR71b headphone amplifier. The headphone was connected via his Zeus headphone cable, which was fairly unique in that both left and right channels featured large balanced cables that never intertwined.
Chris from OnSong Audio brought along several units from the Calyx product line. One Head-Fi notable was a portable DAC called the Coffee (~$250US). (We should have a review in the coming weeks). The Calyx lineup also features some Apple-inspired designs that I found very appealing including a svelte USB-powered 24/192 DAC ($2k) and a pair of atheistically pleasing monoblocks ($2.5k).
DIY enthusiast and Head-Fi member “Fraggler” brought a pair of modified Fostex T50rp. These are very popular headphones among DIYers as they have a low initial cost (you can usually find them online for around $75), but have great potential to sound even better with modifications. I got a chance to hear his modified pair and I was very impressed with the sound signature, they had amazing low to mid presence while still maintaining very pleasant highs. Fraggler also makes his own custom cables on the side.
Larry from WireWorld brought some of his top-of-the-line cables for attendees to listen to. You can see Audio Addict A/B-ing the Platinum Starlight USB cable ($600) with his Downsize Audio USB cable below, both beefy cables in their own right.
Head-Fi member “Keithpgdrb” brought his multi-functional, tube-rolling, all-in-one powerhouse called the Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 ($350).
This relatively moderately priced DAC unit includes quite a bit of functionality and inputs for its price range. The TubeDAC includes a dedicated RCA tube variable connection, which Keith had rigged up directly into an additional headphone output.
Ray Samuels brought a solid showing of his headphone favorites, including his famous flagship the “Dark Star”. But even more notable was the inclusion of his yet unreleased portable headphone amplifier and DAC combo called the “Intruder”. Ray claims that this portable amplifier should have enough juice to power even the mighty HiFiMan HE-6 to appropriate levels. Those with an appreciation for Ray’s house sound should take note, this unit includes balanced and unbalanced outputs and inputs, bringing a nearly full array of audiophile features in a portable size. A surprise to even myself, this unit will apparently be able to accept digital output directly from the new Samsung Galaxy 3 phone’s USB output, very nice. According to Ray the unit should be available publicly by mid-October. Check out our interview with Ray below.