CanJam Singapore 2022: Day 1 Impressions

CanJam Singapore 2022: Day 1 Impressions

Precogvision
20 minute read

Introduction

For the first time in several years, I took a trip outside the country to visit none other than Singapore for CanJam! The scale of the show this year was absolutely massive with far more booths than I remember being at CanJam SoCal 2021 (my first industry show). Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, though, given that Singapore is the predominant stronghold of the (portable) audio world. For someone like myself who hails from NA, it's not every day that I get the opportunity to hear this many IEMs! So of course I ran around gathering impressions on as many IEMs as possible, and I'm here to report back on what I heard. If you want a quick appendix of then brands that I was able to cover, here it is: 

  • Craft Ears 
  • Dita Audio
  • Elysian Acoustic Labs
  • FAudio
  • FiR Audio
  • InEar
  • Jomo Audio
  • Lime Ears
  • Meze Audio 
  • NightJar
  • Noble Audio
  • SeeAudio 
  • Sennheiser
  • Subtonic
  • Symphonium
  • Vision Ears

As usual, I need to drop some disclaimers: 1) ambient show conditions aren't the best, 2) I usually just use the silicone tips that are already on the IEM, and 3) most demos are done under a span of 10-15 minutes unless I really like something. My memory also gets hazy after demoing so many IEMs and having to write about them later (without referencing graphs a lot of the time). What am I getting at? Take these impressions with a grain of salt!

Craft Ears 

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The Craft Ears Argentium and Cuprum were the first IEMs that I heard today. Both had fairly similar tonalities with the Argentum sporting a more generic V-shaped with too much 3-5kHz. I believe both also had peaks somewhere in the mid-treble and upper-treble with, seemingly, a good amount of recession in-between. This lent itself to some interesting staging. But in any case, I wasn't a fan of either of these models and they sounded more experimental to me. 

Moving to the top-dog of the Genesis lineup, the Aurum has something of a U-shaped tonality. Bass is handled by a dynamic driver but, at least to me, it didn't sound that great. Texturing was dry despite the Aurum's bass response being concentrated almost entirely to the sub-bass with decent SPL. Slam was lacking. Moving on, the midrange of the Aurum isn't really recessed - especially not in the upper-midrange where it was more neutral - but I'd still describe it as something of a U-shape overall because of the Aurum's treble response. It's interesting, as there's a recession at around 5-6kHz and then a spike a la certain un-lidded BAs at ~15kHz. This makes for a tizzy treble response that lacks impact, yet is somewhat ethereal. In essence, it sounds like the tia BAs, just less dense in the transients from memory. However, I think my biggest criticism of the Aurum would lie in its detailing which I felt wasn't quite appropriate for its asking price of ~$1400. Don't get me wrong - the Aurum is definitely a decent technical performer, it's just pushing it for the price.

After wrapping up my stint with Craft Ear's Genesis series, I moved on to the CE series which is predominantly intended for musicians. The Craft Ears Six was an instant change of pace, sporting a leaner, neutral with sub-bass boost tonality. Bass was concentrated very tightly (although lacking slam), and the midrange of the CE6 was almost too anemic for my tastes (ruler-flat lower-midrange and then an aggressive rise to the upper-midrange). Timbre of the CE6 also was very dry. That said, I can definitely see this IEM appealing to listeners gauging for this type of more analytical sound. By contrast, the Craft Ears Four took a more musical approach with a more generous, warm bass shelf. I though it had pretty decent bass for a BA monitor and, relative to the CE6, I have to admit that this was my preferred IEM. On the other hand, the Craft Ears Two sounded very generic to me. Whereas both the CE4 and CE6 had solid extension via upper-treble peaks, the CE2 sounded rolled-off in the upper-treble and recessed in the upper-midrange. 

Dita Audio 

I have not heard a Dita IEM in the past, so hearing the Dita Perpetua was surprising. It's actually pretty good. It has a more V-shaped tonality with what (I think) was a gradual rise from 1-5kHz, maybe with a 4kHz peak for the pinna compensation. I couldn't really detect any major tonality issues at least. To this end, treble was also fairly smooth and devoid of any major peaks for me. Most noticeable about the Perpetua to me, though, was its imaging performance. It sounded grander than most single-DDs and like it actually had some soundstage. Resolution was solid; the Perpetua had some grain to its decay which I don't often observe with most dynamic driver IEMs. Perhaps treble extension was slightly lacking or there was a dip in the treble I wasn't hearing causing this. 

Elysian Acoustic Labs

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One IEM that stood above the rest for me today was Elysian's new Diva. From what I could see, it grabbed a lot of other listeners' attention too, and I didn't catch a single negative sentiment about it. So the actual sound. It's predominantly sub-bass focused and with some serious SPL; enough to fool me into thinking it was using a dynamic driver on initial listen. On closer listening (and 20/20 hindsight), I do hear it as being more "BA-ish" but it stands that the Diva has some pretty great bass (plus a bass pot so you can decide between three levels of bass). The midrange of the Diva is classic Elysian with an aggressive rise to the pinna compensation that slopes off of 3-4kHz moderately to avoid sibilance. The treble of the Diva appears to be dipped in the mid-treble, but it has good amounts of stick impact and, of course, sheer extension. Technicalities on the Diva are excellent. It has impressive clarity and staging expands outside the shell in a manner akin to the Annihilator. Likewise, macro-contrast is a strong point of the Diva; it sounds explosive and aggressive. Did I mention this is a humble 6BA setup? For ~$1500, this is near - or more likely at - the top of my list. 

I also got to finally hear the X (which is already being discontinued). The X sounds pretty similar to the Annihilator 2021, with more of a sub-bass focus and less aggressive upper-midrange. The bass texture on the X is better in my opinion; however, the X also sacrifices some of the character that made the Annihilator 2021 special (I think the X might be slightly less technical). The X is still a really solid IEM, but I'd shoot for the Annihilator 2021 if I was in the market for a flagship IEM of this price point. 

FAudio 

The Dark Sky has a surprisingly competent tuning for a single-DD. It's mostly Harman minus a lower-treble peak at ~5kHz. In practice, this peak is actually not as bad as it graphs. But praise mostly bites the short end of the stick from here. The Dark Sky seems more technical than most run-of-the-mill DD IEMs I've heard, but not by a substantial margin. Or enough for me to really say it's "worth it" over the plethora of other single-DDs on the market for a fraction of the cost. 

FiR Audio

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Starting from the bottom of FiR’s new Frontier lineup, we have the Neon 4. The Neon 4 has a more warm, colored sound that is generally the product of recessions in frequency response. Its pinna compensation is more gentle, peaking at around 2kHz; however, this is followed by some added forwardness at 4kHz with female vocals. A bit uncanny in my opinion. Anyways, I likewise hear the lower and mid-treble ranges of the Neon 4 as being slightly dipped before coming back up in the upper-treble for air. Due to these recessions, the Neon 4’s attack transients are somewhat blunted and, to me, it sounds like it lacks detail for its price point. 

The Krypton 5 continues this trend with an even more recessed pinna compensation and upper-midrange up until the lower-treble. As a result, on initial listen, it sounded quite muffled with vocals to me. The treble response of the Krypton 5 is more lower-treble oriented than the Neon 4; however, it doesn’t have enough presence to offset the large bass shelf, so the presentation generally comes off quite dampened. To be perfectly honest, I definitely preferred the Neon 4 to this (and as you might infer from my comments above, I was not very impressed with the Neon 4 to start with).

The Xenon 6 is the only one that really caught my attention out of the new frontier lineup. Head-to-head, it's immediately clear to me that FiR dedicated a lot more effort to this model than to the Neon 4 and Krypton 5. The Xenon 6 actually has some measure of technical performance with noticeably sharper resolution and imaging than its brethren. That said, the frequency response of the Xenon 6 is less commendable as far as I'm concerned. The pinna compensation sounds unnatural and it has an enormous mid-bass hump which lent to bloating issues. And speaking of the bass...I have to be honest when I say that I also couldn't tell what effect the new Kinetic Bass technology was having; all three of these IEMs sounded like they had average bass to me. 

InEar

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I was pleasantly surprised to hear InEar’s PP8. It’s garnered something of a reputation, at least in my circles, as being too clinical for its own good. I do agree with this criticism to some extent. The PP8’s macro-dynamics aren’t great - it doesn’t sound very explosive for gradations in volume - and its timbre leans toward the drier side. But I couldn’t help but find myself impressed with the PP8’s tonal balance. Its pinna compensation and transition into the lower-treble are on-point (never too shouty!) and it has just a hint of warmth on its “flat” setting. I struggle to fault the tuning outside of some lack of air over 15kHz; the PP8 comes across like a purpose-driven workhorse. Its detail retrieval and imaging are also quite respectable despite staging not breaking outside the shell.  

On the other hand, InEar's Pro Mission X came across as a more "fun" PP8: it added in a noticeable bass boost and more treble extension, eschewing the drier timbre of the PP8. Of course, as a result, the PMX's midrange tonality wasn't quite as good. And for $3500, I found the Pro Mission X's technicalities were not quite up to par even if it was fairly detailed akin to the PP8. I think I prefer the PP8 if only because the price is more reasonable and - to me - the design ethos and principles seem more concrete. But to be clear, the PMX is definitely not a bad IEM. 

Jomo Audio

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I had the opportunity to hear most of Jomo Audio's new lineup which uses supercars for inspiration. The Cappucino sounds like your standard DD IEM. It had a large bass shelf, lack of air, and sounded fairly dark to me. The Boxster continued the same trend. The Spyder was really the only IEM that I thought was notable. It had a warm V-shaped tonality that reminded me of Fearless Audio's S8 series. It had a general emphasis at 5-6kHz which made it sound aggressive and forward; it still lacked some air over 15kHz, but the Spyder was a breath of fresh air from the other two I heard in this lineup. Technicalities seemed competent, but not impressive for the Spyder's base MSRP of $1000. Probably around the level of the Fearless S8 series from memory. 

Lime Ears

I heard one IEM from this brand while I was waiting for my turn on another set. The Lime Ears Aether is surprisingly well-tuned, sporting a neutral-reference tonality. I also found it to be slightly emphasized in the bass, perhaps not unlike the Moondrop Blessing 2. Treble extension could have used some work, but it's probably not something that one would pick up on immediately because of the leaner signature. The Aether's biggest weakness was probably its imaging performance. It sounded closed-in like most IEMs. 

Meze Audio

I was able to hear Meze's new IEM, the Advar. The Advar has a warm V-shaped tonality. Bass is mostly sub-bass oriented with perhaps ~8dB of bass boost over 1kHz (just off the top of my head). Control definitely could've be better, but it wasn't bad either. My issue with the Advar's tuning started cropping up at around 3-5kHz where it went a little overboard, lending to a glassy quality - if not slight sibilance - on certain tracks. Similarly, the treble response had a peak somewhere in the mid-treble which could be distracting. It was well-extended treble at least. The Advar's technicalities were also solid, and probably at around a B+ on cursory listen. 

NightJar

I didn't hear this IEM at CanJam SG, but rather at a meet-up at Zeppelin & Co (a fantastic SG audio shop that I'll probably devote a separate write-up to!) yesterday. I cannot share the frequency response graphs or pictures of this IEM yet because they're not 100% finalized; however, what follows are my sound impressions. 

NightJar Single-DD (Prototype): I heard three iterations of this prototype. The first one was the best in my opinion. It had a downwards sloping bass response similar to the SeeAudio Yume - meaning that I feel that it could have benefitted from more "oomph" to it. However, it was mostly good bass otherwise. The midrange was neutral-warm and sloping off of 3kHz nicely. Unlike most single-DDs I've heard, this prototype's treble response seemed fairly smooth and devoid of the usual upper-treble resonance peak. Treble extension was reasonably good. The prototype also had solid technicalities; perhaps not to the level of the Sennheiser IE900 from memory, but a rung (or two) below that. The second iteration was more upfront thanks to more pinna gain (3kHz) and lower-treble. I didn't like this one as much; it was strident. The third iteration had some uncanniness to the midrange, more grit to decay, and what sounded like a cut to the bass at 200Hz (for a sub-bass focus) instead of the warm bass shelf the other two iterations sported. I didn't like this iteration. 

Noble Audio 

Noble Audio released a number of new IEMs at this show through their distributor. The first one I heard, the Jade, had a very mid-bass-y focused tonality with the pinna compensation and upper-midrange pulled back. Its treble was smooth, but seemed lacking air. Technicalities were average. By comparison, the Kadence had noticeably more upper-midrange and mid-treble presence than the Jade. I found the mid-treble could be problematic; the Kadence definitely had a powerful peak somewhere that lent to timbre issues not unlike the original Noble Khan. That said, the Kadence was a competent technical performer with good amounts of clarity.

CanJam Singapore 2022 | Headphones.com

The new Kublia Khan was definitely interesting. I tried A/B-ing it with my Moondrop Variations to nail down its tonality, but it was a struggle. In any case, I think the pinna compensation was positioned earlier than it would normally be; vocals sounded somewhat uncanny even if they were quite detailed. Compared to the original Khan, the Kublia Khan's treble was more lower-treble oriented which mitigated some of the original's timbre issues. Imaging was definitely above average; the Kublai Khan sounded fairly holographic. An interesting IEM, although it had too many oddities for me to really like it. The DXII was also probably the most disappointing new IEM I heard from Noble Audio. It sounded like your bog-average single-DD IEM, emulating the bass-y and dark signature of the Jade on steroids. 

SeeAudio 

I heard the Neo and the Kaguya briefly, but I didn't really care about them very much. They were tuned well; however, like most of SeeAudio's IEMs, I felt that the detail of these IEMs was mostly just surface level.

The point of interest at the show, then, was SeeAudio's upcoming Miu. On initial listen, the Miu has a decidedly Harman tuning. Relative to the Yume which had a bass shelf that sloped down in something of a 45 degrees, the Miu's bass shelf has more oomph to it, adding in some more presence from 100-150Hz. I definitely hear some inspiration from the Yume Midnight moving into the treble - and by this I reference the Miu's solid treble extension - but the Miu has noticeably more presence from 5-6kHz for a more defined sense of impact akin to the bass. Overall the tuning of the Miu is good; I suppose I'm less than impressed because I would have put its technical performance at the ~$250 mark when I was told shortly after that, in reality, the Miu is intended to release for closer to $500. Yeah. Awkward. 

Sennheiser

Sennheiser wasn't actually at the show, but I was able to get ears on Sennheiser brand-new, elusive IE600 thanks to Crinacle graciously loaning me it. The IE600 has an impressive tonal balance that maintains the spirit of Sennheiser's flagship IE900 but fixes the recession to the upper-midrange that I criticized heavily in my review. Bass is sub-bass focused and treble is mid-treble focused accordingly, with commendable extension on both ends of the spectrum. I think this is a strong contender for being "the" single DD IEM to buy if you're willing to look past the plethora of single DDs vying for attention in the sub-$200 bracket. Weaknesses? Like the IE900, I don't think the imaging performance of the IE600 is very remarkable. It has a more intimate presentation and its layering chops are not much better. Likewise, from (my very fuzzy) memory, I think the IE900 was a tad more technical than the IE600. 

Subtonic

I didn't hear this IEM at CanJam SG, but rather at a meet-up at Zeppelin & Co (a fantastic SG audio shop that I'll probably devote a separate write-up to!) yesterday. I cannot share the frequency response graphs or pictures of this IEM yet because they're not 100% finalized; however, what follows are my sound impressions. 

Subtonic Storm (Prototype): Tonally, the Storm is mostly along the lines of what I'd expect from Subtonic. Bass is tastefully elevated ~10dB over 1kHz and with a shelf that comes down at ~250Hz. If that sounds familiar, it might surprise that the Storm actually seems to have more presence at 100Hz than most other IEMs that go for these types of focuses, meaning bass sounds big on the Storm. I do feel like bass control might have a hint of an issue at times because of this. The lower-midrange is ruler flat, and then the Storm sports a slightly aggressive rise to its pinna compensation. After, it transitions into 3-4kHz and the treble regions where, again, it's pretty much linear minus a hair of emphasis at ~5kHz. I'd say this is a pretty good tuning overall if not quite meeting my tastes in the upper-midrange; I conceded that I honestly preferred the tuning of the 64A U12t. 

However, where the Storm makes its mark without question is its technical prowess. The Storm has dynamics. In fact, nothing short of staggering dynamics. Gradations in volume sound explosive and animated; the Storm is revealing to the point of which I noticed slight recording artifacts I hadn't noticed before in some tracks! The Storm also sounds like it has true detail without the gritty-ness to decay that might sometimes aid this perception. To this end, transients are wrapped-up incredibly cleanly, yet without the weightless or plucked quality that characterizes some electrostatic and planar headphones. It simply sounds close to what I'd expect to hear on my pair of Genelec G Two monitors. Indeed, perhaps one of the most interesting things to me is that the Storm also does not sound like it uses ESTAT drivers to handle the treble. Its treble transients are rigid and distinct from the ethereal quality that the Elysian X, which I also finally got to hear, exhibits. It's certainly a boon to coherency for the Storm, although some might subjectively enjoy the ethereal quality that ESTATs normally deliver. For imaging, the Storm is still an IEM; however, I will say it has excellent soundstage width and height (for an IEM) despite it ultimately lacking center image diffusion. 

Overall, I genuinely believe there's a good argument for the Storm being one of the world's top IEMs and - at the very least - it certainly competes with other top contenders like the Empire Ears Odin and Elysian X which I made sure to A/B it with. 

Symphonium Audio 

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Symphonium released one new IEM for the show called the Triton. It is very similar to the excellent Helios, adding in a dynamic driver and a wider bass shelf. I'd say overall first impressions were that it is expectedly solid. The dynamic driver being employed does sounds somewhat dry to me, though, and I wish more emphasis was put into a thicker bass response. Perhaps that's not the sound that Symphonium was going for, though. The Triton still has excellent treble extension with detail falling behind the Helios by a step or two from memory. 

Vision Ears

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I finally got to hear Vision Ear's latest IEMs, the EXT and the Phonix. The EXT was probably the more interesting of the two, even if I personally think the Phonix was the better all-rounder. So first, the EXT. The EXT had a warm, inviting presentation that was somewhat marred by an emphasis in the mid-treble. It just sounded a tad too distinct for me there at times. Vision Ears has definitely refined their EST implementation, though, as both of these IEMs have very good treble extension. Transients on the EXT generally sounded like they were medium fast and the IEM had a thick, weighty timbre. By comparison, the Phonix had a slightly faster, lighter presentation. It basically sounded like the original Erlkonig on Setting 2 but with more treble extension. I found both IEMs to be competent technical performers, although I'd give the edge to the Phonix. Pretty solid stuff overall here even if the question of value is expectedly at play with these IEMs. If VE took the cake for anything, though, it was for having the best free swag their table!

Wrap-Up

It was great hearing a lot of the releases that I've missed out on recently being in NA. There were a lot of misses, even more "I don't really care about this IEM" moments, but there were definitely some hits that stood out to me and I'm looking forward to discovering more hits during Day 2 where I'll be assessing headphones more exclusively. Stay tuned!

-Precogvision

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