CanJam NYC 2017 with Jana Dagdagan

Editor's Note: Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to CanJam NYC 2017. Very fortunately, Jana Dagdagan, Stereophile's Editorial Assistant, lives in the Big Apple and has a pretty strong interest in headphones. In fact, it was her penchant for headphones that lead her to the Stereophile offices in search of a new career. With Stephen Majias' recent departure, she got her ticket punched!

So, I sent her off to Times Square and the Marriot Marquis this last weekend for CanJam NYC 2017 to provide InnerFidelity readers with a fresh take on the world of headphones.

In this post, Jana circulates asking show-goers and industry luminaries a couple of pertinent questions. (I had fun seeing so many familiar faces!)

Glad to be along for the ride on this one, Jana. Have at it!

Hi InnerFidelity readers! My name is Jana, and I’ve been working with InnerFidelity, Stereophile, AudioStream, and Analog Planet for nearly a year now. This past weekend, I represented InnerFidelity for the very first time at CanJam NYC 2017. Here are a couple compilation videos I took while I was there. There’ll more product specific coverage coming soon.

In this first video, I pose the question: "Do you think that “smart” headphones that utilize DSP will eventually surpass passive headphones at the same price point?"

View on YouTube here.

And in the second video: "Where do you see headphones in the future?" (Despite the open ended nature of this question, you’ll notice a certain pattern in the answers received.)

Click here to view on YouTube.

Curious to hear your thoughts on the questions in the comments.

And...glad to have this opportunity to post here, thanks Tyll!

tony's picture

Hm, DSP, an Audiophile polite term for EQ.

Has anyone had their own Ear's hearing curves evaluated?, they're all quite different ( I'm told ), mine are.

I'll have my "DSP" outboard from my transducers, I'll buy it seperately and use it to help both of my ears ( which are different and hear differently ). Sure, it's a specialized tool, I use pretty good ones.

Still, sending the "new" girl out to break the ice on discussing this naughty subject is a surprise, I can almost see folks trying to back-away from her on this, seems like she innocently engaged them and they "tried" to be helpful ( if we can call it that ). She blind-sided them, I loved it.

Nobody suggested "hearing evaluation" or recommended DSP ( which they should've done ) but they're transducer salespeople, what else should we expect?, annnnnnnd none of them are offering DSP for sale ( Audiophile denial syndrome ) yet they pretty much all have "special" Cable offerings that present "slight" ( but critically important ) differences with quite expensive price points.

Once again, Jana gets 5 Stars! Nice Work, she even found a Vinyl guy ( of course it's NY where vinyl still exists ), so Old with the New, one hell-of-a-contrast and pretty darn good journalism instincts.

Tony in Michigan

ps. All Pro-Audio guys are everyday users of DSP, it'd be pointless to ask any of them ( but we could ask Bob Katz, when we get the chance, he's a NY'er too so maybe Jana could call him )

Dan Wiggins's picture

Hi Tony,

One thing that is often brought up is hearing evaluation; it could be a path forward, but brings with it its own curses. IF we could correct for your hearing loss - then you could experience a "correct" version - but is that what you would hear when you do not have your headphones on? For example, if you have a signifcant loss between 4 and 8 kHz, and you've been used to it for a decade, and we now correct for it - it's going to sound very different at first. A flute won't sound like a flute - because it's not what your brain has learned to interpret as a flute.

Now, you can adjust for that as long as you wear your headphones long-term; but then, when you hear a flute WITHOUT headphones, will it sound like a flute? No - because your perceptual expectations are different.

It's like wearing blue-colored glasses 24/7 for a month. What is "white" is perceived as white through the blue glasses after a while, but when you take those glasses off, it's no longer the same "white". Your eyes and brain compensated for the shift (this is also true with glasses that invert images; motor control over the course of a couple of days corrects for the inversion - and then you're all messed up again when you take them off).

DSP is often portrayed as a cure-all, and in the linear domain I would agree it is very much that! I've done more than my fair share of studio monitors and powered speakers, and love what DSP can do. However, even with some of the best nonlinearity modeling out there (Klippel, for example - I've installed a dozen Klippel R&D units and probably over 100 of the Klippel QC units over the last 10 years), it breaks down in terms of accurately predicting how the nonlinearities interact with each. We know what each will do on its own, and when it will happen - but we cannot predict how they all come together. Wolfgang and team have been working on that for the last 10 years, and they have a long way to still go.

The solution is really to use feedback, specifically acoustical feedback. However that brings with it a pretty large issue with bandwidth of the feedback loop. There is time-of-flight of the signal to the mic and the processing latency. Those will necessarily add an upper limit on what you can correct; if your mic is just 12mm from the speaker, you have a maximum frequency of 6.2 kHz you can correct, assuming zero latency in processing. You can correct for the bass - but what about midrange and treble? It's not there yet.

IMHO - the best solution really is to focus on making the transducer more linear in the first place. Allow it to reach the performance envelope desired without going nonlinear. Yes, it is more work, and yes it can be more expensive - but at the end it obviates much of the need for DSP for nonlinear corrections. You can use it as the pro guys do - for static (or mildly dynamic, like loudness) EQ. It shines there! But that's not really a dynamic situation...

tony's picture

I'm confident that you have a good grip of the issues we face, superb transducers are the dominant part of the solution.

On correcting:

My hearing loss ( typical 8k fall-off ) can be assisted by a Phonak hearing aid system. So, my everyday hearing is rather correctible. My two ear transducers will never be any better than they are right now. From working with the University of Michigan medical specialists, I've come to understand that every person has differing performance from their personal hearing which is, to some extent, correctible to "close to standard" levels. The exception might be those folks who work in extreme loudness environments ( Audio Salesmen, Stage Musicians, Artillary, etc. ), these folks can loose their hearing ability functions. ( like my local Raymond Wright who was a Sales Rep for Mirage Loudspeakers as well as a number of other product lines., Ray is younger than I, yet he's totally deaf, all from doing high level demonstrations ). Living in a "noisy" world results in hearing loss. ( perhaps "correctible" hearing loss ).

I use only "outstanding" headphone transducer systems, probably the top one tenth of a percent level, the best transducers ever built. I "tilt" my amplifier output to compensate for my hearing deficiencies, it's as good as I can do. I can tell the difference between my Sennheisers and my previous Stax or the superb Focal stuff.

I can also wear some little yellow 3M foam ear plugs covered by the larger green ear-muff devices which take me to an ultra-quiet and serene place ( for work with Chainsaws, loud Power tools, etc. ) .

From all my years as a Manufacturer, Importer and Retailer of High-End Audio gear, I've never met any person that knew his own hearing "response curves", yet we "carefully" and critically examine the revealing graphs that our wonderful Tyll provides and all the other "careful" measurements provided by our JA and our Manufacturers.

DSP is about optimizing what we've got, ( and living with it )
it's a useful tool for us individual owners of differing ear transducers.

Tony in Michigan

jpelg's picture

Great job eliciting some good comments on both topics from the exhibitors & other attendees.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

Outstanding work Jana. I really like the montage-interview approach. It takes a lot of time (shooting, editing, etc) im sure but i think it helps bring a larger-view synopsis of the shows and thoughts. You also managed to lock down several subject matter experts who's opinions I'm interested in and respect.

Absolutely looking forward to anything else you share from your experiences. By all means feel free to editorialize (if comfortable) and throw out product suggestions of things YOU liked.

Peace .n. Living in Stereo


zobel's picture

By asking a key question, which was expertly addressed by folks in the know, the thoughtful answers she elicited were very welcome.
It appears to me that she could really inspire someone in an interview.

Thanks for this!

arnaud's picture

I thought Skylar's comments were particularly relevant and intelligent. You can really tell experts apart in this kind of out of the blue interviews where answers aren't prefabricated.

zobel's picture

He was the ONLY ONE who talked about the whole recording - playback chain. His was the most informative and real-world practical insight into what works and why in sound from cans.

detlev24's picture

...need to see the whole picture, in order to deliver quality to their demanding customers. Focal do build some very nice professional monitors and I experienced with others, e.g., HARMAN (JBL Professional/Revel) or Dynaudio a likewise 'lead by technology'. In addition, that is true with some manufacturers who at least use an anechoic chamber and follow scientific research to develop their products (Paradigm, to name one).

I would put the essence of audio reproduction in the following order:
1. source quality (from recording to the final mastering)
2. room acoustics
3. transducers//loudspeakers/headphones
4. DSP

I did not mention amplifiers, DACs etc.; since nowadays it is possible to get "coloration" free devices at a reasonable price [see, how well even an inexpensive 'Raspberry Pi 3 as USB Audio Streamer' measures: ].

Regarding mastering, that mostly is a black chapter. For example of one variable, Adele's last album "25" comes with a Dynamic Range of max. 6 (digital releases, as well as on CD). In this case, there is no point going for lossless and even less for 'Hi-Res'; MP3 can do the job. One needs to buy Vinyl, to experience the result of a better mastering (but still, not good enough!).


tony's picture

Well said!

Of course, Sound Quality is the Prime ingredient.

DSP is problematic in addressing "Room Acoustics" issues.

I am only considering "Direct Radiating" transducer devices ( headphones ) and don't worry about "Room" in my little ramblings.

Overall, I can make lesser transducers perform beautifully with beautifully recorded music but early Bob Dylan recording sound horrible on my superb transducer systems ( no amount of DSP will improve the result )

Outstanding Recordings are the most important, by far!

Tony in Michigan

ps. the Movie Industry are doing the best work of recording sounds, as far as I can tell.

detlev24's picture

I agree Tony, movie sound is generally much better processed. I don't understand why this trend [especially] in DR compression, which started around the year 2000, still continues growing. It forced me to look for the original releases (sometimes from the 80s/90s) of some albums, instead of buying the remastered [incl. "Hi-Res"] version(s) released more recently. For instance:

Although, the customer hardly can change room acoustics on headphones (for the better - but there are exceptions; like the Sennheiser HD800 mod) and even less on IEMs, this point remains equally valid for the manufacturer. A badly designed housing/ear cup will color the sound by, e.g., promoting forms of distortion. Hence and always, good transducers can only shine in an optimized acoustic space!


tony's picture

Phew, you make the best argument for Vinyl I've heard ( I'm an old-school Koetsu / VPI vinyl guy gone digital ).

However most ( about 99.9% ) of our old vinyl was total crap. Michael Jackson & Q.Jones insisted on Superb SQ, they used my most loved Electrocompaniet Electronics.

As an Auto Industry guy, I'd suggest that the Recording Industry aims at the Car owner as their target audience. Cars have ambient Sound Levels around 65-80 db on Expressway driving.

Europe is a home listening marketplace, outfits like Linn, Meridian, etc. make recordings for the "home" listener, their recorded "product" is consistently outstanding. ( if you enjoy rather niche folk genres of music, I do! )

HD800 & above: the only way to go. The 580/600/650 transducer system is "entry" level and can be useful ( and cheap to purchase ), down right cheap on Ebay for we "Brave" souls.

Still, I have to say that : the "Tyll" Group provide the finest reporting on Consumer Audio ( by a wide margin ), I can't recall the slightest crumb of mis-information coming from this group.

Big Sound 2015 pulled back the "Curtains" by revealing DAC hype and Bob Katz's Lap-top device EQ. ( along with a "Useful" debate over the Top 4 Headphone transducer Systems ). Big Sound 2015 cleared the air, blew out the foggy nonsense and provided a Bed-rock foundation for building a sensible home listening system.

Being an Audiophile has always been a difficult search for beautiful recordings, like Gold prospecting, we go thru tons of rock to get to a nugget of goodness. Unlike most of the hobby things I've been excited about, Audiophile has stayed with me over the decades, I can't shake it off, even with ears that have an 8k roll-off ( I pay big money to correct & adjust ), I'm excited to see any new release from Linn or Bob Katz and a few others.

Tony in Michigan

detlev24's picture different [I like the procedure of playing it] and it certainly cannot reproduce sound, free of distortion. In the above-mentioned example with Adele's "25", I personally prefer (euphonic) distortion over an excessive DR compression; if nothing better is digitally available...

Unfortunately, most of the time it is not possible to know whether there exist differences in the mastering for different mediums, unless you find information online or at least are able to have an extensive listening comparison - before shopping. Certainly, there are labels who usually release good quality, e.g., 'Analogue Productions'. They show consistently, that if there are good recordings available, a good remastering will bring you lovely sounding music [see, amongst others, their Muddy Waters "Folk Singer", which was originally released in 1964!].

Regarding DR compression, I thought about cars, as well. However, this is a different area and DSP becomes much more important in their interior environment. Furthermore, far more people care about good sound in their car(s). :)


tony's picture

I have the feeling that we're living in the early "pioneering-days" of recorded & reproduced music. We're getting things sorted out, I hope.

I see the Germans ( now-today ) running Driver-less Semi Trucks on their Autobahn, I see folks doing there transport in Driver-less Chevys ( next 10 years ), I see our young engineers ( standing on the shoulders of all that came before them ) launching useful implimentations of applications we are ( only just now) developing.

Soooooooo, I'm here following along ( in the wake of our Tyll Group ), paying attention to the discoveries, insights, revelations as they find their way to Montana's resident Journalist's test bench. I feel like I have a Front Row Center seat. Annnnnnd, I get to read ( and respond ) to fascinating posts from Readership, all of this is very 21st Century stuff. I began in the 78 era ( Kate Smith, Fred Astaire, Guy Lombardo ), to me Tyll's report on Focal's Be headphone transducer was like reading Buck Rogers Science Fiction, yet it's Real and it's Today.

Someone ( PSVane ) is making Audiophile grade 6sn7 Tubes again, 5,000 - 8,000 life span.

I think we're hitting a Gold Vein: better recordings, better amplification, better transducers.

A Bright Future


Tony in Michigan

sszorin's picture

Tony : "HD800 & above: the only way to go"
That depends on music. HD 800/800S are rather genre specific headphones.

tony's picture

I suppose your correct, in a way.

HD800 & above is the only way for "Me" to go. I'm not a planer guy!, the Sennheisers do it all for me, the Focals seem even better.

I might have the advantage of using electronic Equalization which adjusts the flavor of these transducers. I've discovered the Sennheiser stuff to be Chameleon Capable.

Tony in Michigan

sszorin's picture

We should sue the record companies for the fraud they perpetrate on the music consumers. Anybody for a class action lawsuit ? All we need is to pick an awfully sounding album and proceed from there.

castleofargh's picture

I'm waiting for some sort of DXO optics pro for audio, with gear correction not stuck at frequency response. trying to deal with non linearity would be a very massive advance in that direction even if just partially effective. so I fully agree with the guy who stole my hair and hope this goes somewhere soon.