Canjam London 2022 impressions – part 1 (Audeze, Campfire Audio, JOMO Audio)

This is my fourth trip to Canjam London, which given the lack of availability of audiophile in ears and headphones across most of the United Kingdom outside of a handful of specialist dealers, makes it my fourth trip to Willy Wonka’s audio factory. There is no doubt that Canjam London holds a special place in the hearts of UK audiophiles (and usually elicits the opposite response from their wallets). I only found out I was able to go to the first post-Covid ‘Jam about three days before the actual event – huge thanks go to Ethan from the Head-Fi / Canjam team for swinging me a media pass with zero notice. Your help was hugely appreciated, and I promise I’ll get my request in with plenty of notice next year!

It was nice to see a lot of big brands there this year – there were a few surprising absentees, but in general between the guys at Hifonix, Hifiheadhones and Elise audio and the brands themselves, there wasn’t much from the current market that was missing to demo. A few models surprised me (in a good way), a few flagships surprised me in a bad way, but my main TL;DR takeaway from this year’s show was that the general standard of audio gear has risen so much that most things now just generally sound good, and most flagships generally sound really good. There just isn’t much crappy gear hitting the shelves these days at any of the main price points, which can only be a good thing for audiophiles. It does make it harder to differentiate yourself as a brand in the general sea of competence, but it definitely makes blind buying a whole lot easier!

Audeze

The Audeze table was by far the biggest at the show, set up in a horseshoe configuration right at the entrance to the hall. It was coincidentally the first one I sat down at, hence the impressions start here. I didn’t count exactly how many listening stations they had set up, but judging by the number of people they had there most of the day there must have been north of $50k of audio finery sat on display at any one point in time.

I only managed to grab a listen to a few items throughout the course of the day – I’ve heard a lot of their line before, so the only model I didn’t manage to tick off sadly was the CRBN.

LCD-5 – running on a Burson / Holo Audio May stack

The LCD-5 is as pretty in person as it looks in the promo shots, with a beautifully glossy sort of tortoiseshell colouration to the main driver housing. It’s surprisingly light for a flagship planar, but still feels pretty solid and hefty enough for the price tag. The driver array is clearly visible from the inside of the cups, and looks more like you expect an electrostatic driver to look – in some ways, it reminded me of the Abyss Diana as well.

First impression was that despite the neutral balance of the sound, there is a surprising solidity to the bass, with a nice hint of sub bass warmth and a forward push on the mid bass. The voicing is definitely mid-forward, and I actually found it a little nasal or pinched sounding. Staging overall feels like it is pushed quite close to the listener, enveloping them in the music rather than zooming out and giving a widescreen image. There is plenty of sharpness and punch dynamically to the presentation – these are lively cans, and I suspect would get fatiguing for my ears over longer listening periods.

Guitars sounded crisp but thick, which is a nice combination – I couldn’t find much on the provided iPad powering the stack that I was familiar with, but “Symphony Of Destruction” by Megadeth definitely sounded engaging through the 5s. Overall comfort was also very good, apart from a smaller than expected inner-ear cup diameter, which left my ears pressing up against the walls of the cups. Granted, I do have quite a large head, but that combined with the midrange push mean that these are technically impressive but definitely not for me.

MM500 – on a Burson DAC/AMP stack

The MM500 were another very well built model, with a beautiful design and feel. They felt solid in the hand but not overly heavy. They definitely feel like they can be worn for extended periods without causing an issue – it’s nice to see Audeze finally embracing an average weight on their new models that doesn’t require a neck brace to wear safely.

Sonically, there is less weight on the bass in the MM500 than is present on the LCD-5 (which isn’t particularly bass itself). There is still that classic planar bass heft to proceedings, but this is the definition of studio-neutral rather than boosted, and wears its “studio pro tool” credentials quite proudly. The midrange is less shouty and forward than the 5, sticking closely to neutrality across the spectrum. It’s still a very resolving headphone, and despite the flatness is still fairly musical, so the tuning has been crafted pretty well there.

The tonality is pleasing, if a tad inoffensive – the imaging definitely as large or immersive as the LCD-5 in direct comparison, which is probably fair given the price differential. Using the same Megadeth track, the guitars sound more tightly packed together compared to the more spacious rendition of the flagship. They still retain a good sense of fatness and a slightly warm organic tone, though.

As mentioned, this would make an excellent tool for a pro, being able to be worn and listened to for hours at a time with minimal fatigue. For audiophiles, unless neutral is your jam, there are other options that will add more colour to your music for a similar price.

LCD-X 2021 – on A&K Kann Max and SE180 (amp unknown)

I actually listened to the X at the A&K booth, but thought it made more sense to pop the impressions here, brief as they are. Long story short: the 2021 revision of the LCD-X is a great headphone. Balanced, good weight in the lows, definition and resolution above its price, and engaging musicality despite staying fairly natural / neutral. There is one thing that stopped me walking away from the show with one: the weight. Now, I’m a 6’1” ex rugby player with a 21” neck, so I’m used to lifting heavy things, but the X is something else. The damn thing is so heavy on the head I genuinely think it could be responsible for a skull fracture on the cranium of a smaller human. Audeze – if you can get the same sound in a model that doesn’t weigh a metric tonne, let us all know and you’ll probably be able to close up shop and retire on the proceeds. It was genuinely the only thing in the show that rivalled the HEDDphone for wearing discomfort in my opinion.

Campfire Audio

The Campfire Audio presence at London ‘22 was taken up by the ever-friendly team from Hifiheadphones. They mainly had the Trifecta on display, along with a universal demo version of the Supermoon.

CA Trifecta – listened on Fiio M17 in single-ended, vol 46 on medium gain

The Trifecta is Campfire Audio’s newest limited edition model, boasting three gold-plated (on the outside, anyway) dynamic drivers all firing in to the centre of the IEM. You can see the exact configuration of the internals as the shell is made entirely of a nylon composite – this feels sturdy, but almost like a cross between some sort of high end furniture or an expensive children’s toy to handle. One thing you can’t argue with is that they are definitely visually arresting, like them or hate them. The fit and cable are both pretty good – the cable is fairly unique as it’s a flat design, but despite being very ergonomic, it feels a little lacking in aesthetics compared to similar $3k IEM packages these days.

The tuning is pretty energetic, with a deep and enveloping sub bass laying a fairly sturdy foundation. Listening to “Heaven” by Emile Sande feels like dipping into a bath of sound as the intro kicks in. The kick drums come in hard, with the vocals cutting through but sitting a little further back on the stage. This is definitely a bass-oriented IEM, and leans towards a U-shape based on my limited listening. It carries a fairly warm overall tone, which is actually a bit misleading, as you are getting plenty of detail from the triple-DD setup, it just doesn’t feel like you are sometimes.

“Palladio” by Escala is a good example – the tiny click in the left foreground in the intro bars is clean and clear in the ear (try saying that after a beer), but the tuning doesn’t scream “detail” when you are listening. “Why So Serious?” From The Dark Knight absolutely thrums with these IEMs, but th trade off is that again the faint background noise (this time cymabals) after the drop only becomes audible for me around the 3:48 mark, rather than 3:41 or 3:42, which it did on other models at Canjam. Show conditions may have something to with that, but I think this is an area where the warmth may be harming ultimate resolution or clarity, if you are looking at endgame level sound.

Overall impression of bass is that it is fairly liquid but still good and tight, with plenty of texture. It renders the baritone in “We Shall not Be Moved” by Mavis Staples perfectly, blending smoothly with the creamy alto in the sme chorus. Vocals err more towards dry than lush, but still retain a nice smoothness.

I think the Trifecta is just a shade too warm for my preferences, and can come across as lacking that last bit of treble clarity or air you expect from an IEM in the ultra-high end bracket. It’s a great fun and enjoyable sound, but I think you will be paying as much for the exclusivity as the underlying performance in some areas of the sound.

CA Supermoon – listened on Fiio M17 in single-ended, vol 59 on high gain

Now, where the Trifecta was fun but left me wondering about the price tag, the Supermoon was ridiculously fun but also performant, and at a much lower (relative) price. The Supermoon is Campfire’s first foray into miniature planar magnetic drivers, sporting a c. 14mm single planar driver. It also comes only in custom form at present, although the demo universal unit fitted my ears about as well as some of my actual custom IEMs, so they really should think about releasing a universal version using the same shape at some point.

The Supermoon has the classic CA bass W-shaped tuning, and to my ears is the natural successor to something like the Atlas (the Vega 2020 was too warm and treble-light to claim that crown). It feels a lot crisper than the Trifecta, but still packs a large portion of low end. The bass is fairly dry and tight in texture, and packs a serious wallop – this 14mm driver moves a lot of ear when it’s angry.

The perception of clarity is higher than the Trifecta (again, bear show conditions in mind), with vocals definitely sounding more emphasised and easier to hear the finer intonations on some of my more nuanced test tracks. In terms of detail, the ticking in @“Why So Serious?” Kicks in around 3:45, which is a definite improvement over the triple-DD. Staging also feels more around the head on the planar model, again imitating the OG Atlas and painting a BIG sonic picture, with the listener planted squarely in the middle of the stage.

It can get too bassy on occasion, like with “Resplendence” by Foy Vance. That track is positively swimming in low bass in the actual mix, and the Supermoon turns it into a full ice cream headache at some sections, so I guess you can say it’s fairly true to the source. Speed definitely isn’t an issue though, with breakneck tracks like “World On Fire” by Slashnot skipping a beat or blurring a note edge. Transient speed isn’t something the Supermoon seems to struggle with, making it great for rockier genres.

“A Thousand Words” by Myles Kennedy sounds absolutely fantastic through these, and my Chris Stapleton testers eke out all the rawness and emotion from the troubadour’s vocal without accenting the harshness that can sometimes creep in, reminding me of the classic Final Audio style of vocal rawness. Treble is more subdues than sparkly, but the Supermoon doesn’t have any issue articulating notes in quicker tracks like “Flight Of The Bumblebee”.

Final impressions: I’d definitely take the Supermoon over the Trifecta, and at $1500, I’d say it’s pretty competitive against most other IEMs in that lower bracket of the TOTL market. Definitely one of my favourites of the show.

JOMO Audio

JOMO have always been a brand I have been curious about. Their main man Joseph Mou is a regular at the London based Canjams, and it is always a pleasure to sit down at his table and hear whatever IEM magic he has just cooked up. He is also one of the brains behind sister brand Metal Magic Research (MMR), so had some of their models like the Thummim and Balmung on display at the table as well.

308 Spyder – listened on the Fiio M17, balanced medium gain at vol 50

The current JOMO range is car-themed in its naming convention, so I started by listening to the 8-driver 308 model. This is the current BA flagship, and comes in a range of automotive inspire paint jobs for the custom fit versions. The universal models have a classic pseudo-custom shell, which I actually found a little finicky to fit in my larger than average ears, so had to tip roll a little to get a secure seal. The shell is coloured clear green acrylic, with a speckled “flecks of gold” style faceplate that reminded me of the UM MEST Mk2, just in more day-glo colour scheme.

The sound is somewhere around a W-shape to my ears, but with a definite tilt towards the upper end of the frequency spectrum. It carries a decent extension into the low sub bass for an all-armature set, but definitely can’t be described as bass heavy. The 308 is quite a punchy sounding IEM, with a forward presentation that emphases the midrange and treble. Detail is emphasised, with the ticking on “Why So Serious?” audibly kicking in around 3:41, which is partly to do with the overall clarity of the monitor and partly to the lighter touch on the mid bass not masking the sounds.

While the bass is more towards neutral, it doesn’t lack for tightness or clarity, dragging all the reverb and texture in the low notes of the Mavis Staples gospel tune “We Shall Not Be Moved” right to the forefront of the stage for the listener’s pleasure. The overall tuning reminded me a little of the Campfire Audio “big” house sound, with the notes pulled towards the listener on the stage and given plenty of size. Vocals can shine on the right tracks, but the 308 is very upfront and intimate on some tracks to my ears, almost feeling like my face was pressed up against the singer’s microphone. “Since You Were Mine” by Smith & Myers is a great example – on the 308, it felt like Brent Smith was singing directly into my brain.

Speed and bite is definitely not an issue, with the Spyder being a very capable technical performer (as you would expect for a $1k bracket in-ear). It can verge on hot on some tracks, so if you are treble-sensitive, this may be an IEM that requires an audition rather than a blind buy. The cymbal work on “World On Fire” by Slash practically sizzles, and the guitars on “Holy Wars” by Megadeth felt sharper and thinner than they did on other gear I listened to on the same day. The sharpness does work well on some tracks, cutting through the bass on “Resplendence” by Foy Vance to bring attention to his gruff croon and the jangling guitars at the top end of the track.

Overall impression – very technically good, but possibly a shade too sharp and light for me.

306 Supra – listened to on Fiio M17, single ended on medium gain vol 59

The Supra shares an identical shell design (just in a different blue colour way), and loses two of the treble drivers from the 8-driver config of the 308, and sports a more weighty, less sharp overall sound as a result. There is a slight emphasis on the sub bass compared to the flagship model, without too much sacrifice in overall resolution. It paint the music with a slightly more organic tone than the crisp and reference-leaning 308, relaxing back into the sound a little.

Resolution wise, the clicking is still audible around the 3:41 mark on “Why So Serious?”, but definitely sounds fainter and further away than the ultra-clear 308. There is more of a roundness to the bass rendition, with tracks like “Hello It’s Me” by Sister Hazel feeling more fleshed out and weighty, but not sacrificing much int he way of texture or detail to my ears. Similarly on “We Shall Not Be Moved”, the texture and reverb is all there in the music, but the overall blend of voices and instrumentation feels more musical and enjoyable.

Overall, this is definitely much more aligned to my listening preferences, and I would definitely take it over the 308 if I had to choose between the two. It was up there in my top 5 favourite IEMs of the day, and was one of the only in-ears I considered taking home with me at the end of the day (someone sadly got there first and bought the demo though). Very enjoyable mix of musicality and resolution from a 6-driver setup – in a lot of ways, it reminds me of a baby Balmung, which is pretty high praise.

GT600 – listened to on Fiio M17, forgot to note settings

The GT600 is the new JOMO flagship, with a tribrid design offering 2 dynamic drivers mounted in a unique coaxial format, 6 balanced armatures and 4 EST drivers. There is plenty of unique tech packed inside this model (known as the “Grand Tourer”), with the DDs being the most noteworthy. The two DDs are mounted coaxially (I.e. one behind the other), with the front one having a hole cut out of the middle. There is some clever circuitry handling phase correction built in to the DD mounting itself, so the two diaphragms split duty between bass and the other frequencies without any coherence or phase cancellation issues. If I’m honest, Joseph’s very kind explanation went a little over my head, but safe to say that between that and the 6-crossover design, this isn’t an IEM that has just been thrown together.

The shell design is on the sleek and dark side, and is quite large. It actually fit me worse than the 308 and 306 (which weren’t great), so I was even more reliant on seal from the tips. I guess my elephant ears aren’t the best match for JOMO’s universal shell design – your mileage may vary.

Moving on to the important bit: the GT600 sounds fantastic. As in “best of show” fantastic. It doesn’t hit you straight away, but even on first listen, there isn’t anything you can pick out that the GT600 does badly. It follows the mainly W shaped house sound of the other models I listened to, with a tuning tha is more sculpted than neutral.

Sub bass is voluminous but tight, “Heaven” by Emile Sande sounding fat but grippy. “Palladio” by Escala again sounds fat but textured and very well controlled with the cello notes (although the north of neutral bass quantity did make it slightly more difficult to hear the click sound in the early part of the track – show conditions may have played a part there though). Playing “Why So Serious?”, the sub bass rumble is physically powerful, and the ticking sound that is one of my detail barometers comes in around 3:42, which again is pretty impressive. The baritone male vocal in the chorus on “We Shall Not Be Moved” is sublime, sounding clear and resolving and standing out against the rest of the vocals without dissecting the track or losing musicality. The detail and separation is just all there, which once you notice it is something that strikes you throughout the frequency ranges.

Physical impact in the bass is high – the presentation is on the dryer side, but it oozes texture and resolution in among the quantity, and it slams hard. Similarly, there is plenty of bite to the tonality of the GT600, with guitars sounding spiky and angular, and metal riffs coming through as chunky and aggressive. “World On Fire” by Slash fairly blisters out of the nozzles, the breakneck riffing resolving cleanly into the ears and carrying plenty of crunch. The GT600 isn’t overly thick sounding, but the tone and timbre is spot on in terms of realism. Vocals and guitar both sound overwhelmingly “real” rather than stylised, which is a nice trick given this is definitely a carefully sculpted tuning rather than an attempt at neutral or reference.

This is highlighted best by the track “Whiskey And You” by Chris Stapleton – there is plenty of gravel and rawness in the vocal delivery, but the GT600 manages to make the country troubadour sound organic and rich at the same time, pouring just enough honey over the ragged edges to make it compelling rather than painful in the ear.

Overall, the GT600 has the right balance of the models that sit underneath – it is forward and large sounding, but not too forward or oversized. It is technically impressive across the board in all the usual categories (resolution, layering, separation and staging), and balanced enough to play well with most genres but musical enough not to sound dull or lifeless. Throw in a nice in-house cable (very reminiscent of the M2 cable that UM throw in with their higher end models) and a good looking design, and you have a modern day flagship that can easily trade blows with all the usual suspects in the $3k+ range. For my money, this was the best thing I heard at Canjam London 2022.

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