CanJam at RMAF 2012 Opinion: Small Rigs Go Big Time
Editors Note: Before I go on to my favorite booths for this year, I want to take a little intermission. Dinny FitzPatrick is a long time headphone enthusiast and has seen this hobby grow from its very first large meet. I thought it would be fun to have his personal overview of this show. Quite thought provoking.
I remember well the first HeadFi National Meet in New York City in 2006. In fact, that was my first meet ever. Hobbyist members of HeadFi and their rigs dominated the center of the room, which was ringed by the vendors. The geography was telling: this was a meet first, a vendor show second. But that was then, and this is now and a lot has happened in the last half-dozen years in the world of headphonedom. No place is that more evident than at CanJam at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2012.
Last year's CanJam was definitely more trade show than meet, but there were still some member rigs and there was still a bunch of veteran members of the various headphone enthusiast sites in attendance. In fact, last year, the large room, while well attended, seemed slightly Spartan due to the open configuration. This year was decidedly different. The huge room was filled to capacity with vendors--not a member rig in sight. Vendor booths lined the room along with three rows occupying the center. That's a lot of headphone gear and a lot of product.
It would be easy to bemoan the loss of a true international headphone meet like back in the "old days," but to do so would be to fail to acknowledge the firm foothold the headphone hobby has managed to gain in a very short amount of time. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Jude Mansilla, founder of Head-Fi.org, one of the websites along with Headwize that got this whole headphone thing really going, headphones and their associated gear are now a legitimate part of the larger audiophile world. For better, and sometimes for worse.
First, the "better." For so long, headphones have been the backwater, bastard stepchildren to the world of "true" audiophiles (i.e., speakers). And while full acceptance is not yet upon us, things have changed dramatically. The headphone market represents sufficiently big money now that vendors large and small are getting into the act and hitting the shows. Thanks in no small part to a long-stagnant economy and the comparably low barrier to entry to true audiophile sound, the headphone hobby has arrived. It is great to see longtime headphone supporter vendors like Todd the Vinyl Junkie, HeadAmp, and Ray Samuels Audio holding their own against monoliths like Monster, Sennheiser, and Sony, while upstart innovators like Audeze and V-Moda spur the competition. The CanJam room is still literally and figuratively off to the side of the main speaker segment of the audiophile world, but the headphone space is getting more crowded and much harder to ignore. And that's good for the hobby.
Now for the "worse." The sense of community that was so pervasive at previous similar events was in much shorter supply this year. This CanJam was decidedly corporate. It was a trade show, not a meet. The show was for the vendors to hawk their wares, not a collaborative effort between hobbyists and manufacturers. In this way, CanJam 2012 had that same slightly depressing vibe that I feel at all trade shows. Everyone constantly in selling mode, blowing smoke up everyone's ass (even if it's good smoke), and generally just turning the whole thing into a giant money grab.
But all is not lost. Witness the Saturday Beer Social, hosted so generously by Todd the Vinyl Junkie (TTVJ), one of the headphone world's long-standing Good Guys and a terrific vendor (and also a friend). To see hobbyists and vendors kicking back and enjoying a fantastic sampling of Montana microbrews together took me back to that first show. And to see a hobbyist introduce (read: lure) two young women to TTVJ's top-of-the-heap Pinnacle amp, while Val Kolton of v-moda placed his new M100s on their heads, and to see their instant reaction of "This is exactly what we are looking for" was a cool moment that provided, perhaps, a glimpse into the future of headphones, where top flight gear at different prices is bringing people of all ages and genders together.
So, CanJam's gone corporate, but corporate does not mean bad. It simply means that headphones have arrived. It was bound to happen and curmudgeons like me can't bemoan the fact that what was once a hobbyist-driven meet is now a trade show. That is a natural evolution of the hobby. And it was a pretty damn good show with a bunch of pretty damn good gear. However, it also reminds us that there is a void that can and should be filled. The idea of an international meet focused on the rigs of the hobbyists themselves remains a good one. And it is a tradition I would like to see revived in the future.
I consider this year's CanJam a big success. The room was filled with just about every important headphone maker/vendor there is. And they were generous with their time, their gear, and in Todd's case, their beer. I had a great time listening to the amazing rigs and speaking to friends, both old and new. This show is worth attending and I look forward to doing it again next year. Well done.