CanJam SoCal 2015 On the Relationship of Members and Vendors in the Headphone Community

A very early meet with both members and vendors enjoying their time together.

I think a little history is in order here.

The first mention of a headphone meet that I could find was an interest check on Headwize for a San Francisco meet, the thread probably started in late May 2001. It's about half way down the page here. The first Head-Fi meet thread that I could find was a later Bay Area meet with the organizing thread started in July of 2001. Texas followed shortly thereafter. You'll notice these threads are in the Members Lounge, not in the Meet Organizing area...because it didn't exist at the time.

My first meet, sort of, was in August of 2001. I say sort of because I was a vendor at that time, and I don't really count it because the meet was organized by me. It was a dry run for the upcoming HeadRoom "World of Headphones Tour". If you go to the very bottom of the last page of Head-Fi's Meet Impressions threads, you'll find the "Northwest headroom meet - there just wasn't enough time to hear 'em all" thread.

In that thread, at the bottom of the first page, Jude chimes in:

"If there's ever one in Chicago, I'd do all I could to free up some time from work to attend. I know there are at least a handful of Michigan-based Head-Fi'ers -- I vote for a Motor City Head-Fi get-together with the HeadRoom caravan as the centerpiece of the meeting."

Followed by Eric343's comment:

Yes, Tyll really should do a nationwide tour, with some advertising and sales to pay for the gas :-)

I'm going to guess that it triggered Jude to have the idea to start the meets sections of Head-Fi as my Portland thread is the oldest in the "Meet Impressions" area of Head-Fi, and his threads planning the Detroit/Chicago meets are the oldest in the "Meet Planning" area. Jude's impression thread is here.

I remember after the Portland meet and the beginnings of organizing the Chicago meet, that I had determined that the cases were going to need to be rebuilt to make them easier to set up and break down. The "World of Headphones Tour" I was planning would be delayed about six months from the planned time. My memory is fuzzy on these things, but I recall at the time folks on Head-Fi saying, "Hell, we don't need HeadRoom, we can just get together all on our own!" By the time of the Chicago meet in December of 2001, there were at least a half dozen threads with people trying to organize meets.

Here's some very poor quality pictures from those early Chicago and Detroit meets.



Terrible picture, but here's Jude at the Detroit meet.


This is the Chicago meet. Kevin Gilmore is to the left with the beard and American flag on his shirt; Doug Schneider, founder of the SoundStage website, is to the right with glasses and a cup in his hand.


Believe it or not, I talked Sennheiser into giving me (for keeps) an Orpheus system. I told them I was promoting the hell out of headphones and that piece would bring the "Wow!" factor to the work. Talk about vendor support!

Early in 2002 I announced the "World of Headphones Tour" would be visiting numerous cities across the U.S. It essentially had the effect of pouring gas on the small flame of people's desires to have meets and became a focal point that year for folks getting together. At each stop I usually had 3 or 4 volunteers from Head-Fi that would help me set-up and tear-down the exhibit. They were given t-shirts and an AirHead amp for helping out as I recall...probably some coffee cups and wire-ties as well. It was a great example of a vendor and members working together to make something happen. Here's a few pix.




Ha! Caught Jude again the second time through town.

As time moved on after the "World of Headphones Tour" and other headphone amp makers like Ray Samuels (RSA) and Justin Wilson (HeadAmp) came on the scene, vendors were regularly showing up at meets around the country. There was a while there when Ray and I would see each other about once a month.

By the time 2005 rolled around I did another 16 city tour, this time without the burdensome crates, but with four tables with gear ziptied in place.




A very special momento from the tour that I keep safely in my garage to this very day.

By this time it was starting to get very expensive going to all these meets and I started to keep my eyes out for only the big ones. And while the small fry vendors could justify showing up at meets sometimes, folks like Sennheiser and Sony certainly didn't see it as worthwhile. I wanted to do something that would get better exposure for HeadRoom and would draw the attention of the big players to the activity. I came to the conclusion that what we needed was a gigantic Head-Fi National Meet.

Well, great minds think alike, and I had it about half thought out when Aaron (immtbiker on Head-Fi) started a thread suggesting exactly that. I chimed in on the second page:

I've been thinking a lot about the future of Head-Fi meets. One of the things I learned was that a lot of people like to bring there own gear and then change one thing at a time in their own set-up. That way they could hear things in a familiar acoustic environment. It seems to me that the thing people would want strongly to hear in their set-up is things that are currently available from the manufacturers. I'd like to see a meet where there was a room full of tables and each table had two members on it. Then around the edge of the room all the vendors had their displays and were able to loan equipment to folks to take back to their tables to try.

Eight months later, the team of organizers—immtbiker, jpelg, bozebuttons, jahn, erikzen, and myself—were putting on the First (Inter)National Head-Fi Meet in New York.


Aaron laying out the A.C. before the meet. You can see the member tables in the middle of the room and the vendor tables are all around the perimeter.


John Atkinson attended, and subsequently wrote it up in Stereophile.


After break-down on Sunday we reconvened for a panel discussion hosted by Wes Philips.


And then held the always loved door prize giveaway.

National meets got bigger and bigger over the next five years. More and more money would flow through the pockets of the member organizing the meet, and concern was growing about the tax implications and liability exposure of the volunteer organizers. Jude decided to place CanJam at RMAF to rid the event of these problems.

Member participation was available the first couple of years at CanJam at RMAF, but Denver doesn't have the numbers of headphone enthusiasts that New York or L.A. has, and member participation petered out. CanJam at RMAF became vendors only.

Meanwhile, the L.A. crew were producing larger and larger independent meets with both members and vendors. Jude had now grown Head-Fi to the point where he could think about a Head-Fi sponsored show without the umbrella of RMAF, and L.A. looked like the perfect place to launch a successful event. And we're right up to the present day at CanJam SoCal.

Why the History Lesson?
Because through all these last fourteen years I have heard both complaints about and praise for vendors attending meets. There has always been a degree of tension surrounding the subject. There's a natural distrust of corporate entities in the world today, and enthusiasts can be forgiven for worrying about vendors coming in and stealing their thunder. It can happen.

But there's a flip side. Large events like CanJam and the early national meets could never have happened if they had to be paid for by members alone. If the event is big enough to attract vendors, they'll be willing to pay for the fun. They're the ones that can bring a bunch of door prizes. And, obviously, they've got cool gear to listen to as well.

I see this relationship between members and vendors as absolutely crucial. This is a very real community, and any healthy community has citizens and commerce. If we want to keep feeling like a real community, if we want to keep getting product we desire, two-way interaction and communication between members and vendors must continue.

The trick is balance. CES, for example, would be a bad place to try to have some sort of member participation. Heck, CanJam at RMAF might be a bad place for member participation. I see CanJam at RMAF more like the headphone world trying to make inroads in the more traditional audiophile world—a good thing, but a different thing. Big regional meets is a great place for vendors, but smaller meets probably not. We just have to feel our way through the issue.

But this last CanJam SoCal was the perfect place to to bring members and vendors together again in a meaningful way and I'm extremely grateful to Jude, Warren, Eathan, and the whole CanJam SoCal team for making it happen. My understanding is that more member participation is on the slate for CanJam London this coming August.

The headphone enthusiast community is exactly that, a community where interaction and dialog flow in all directions. If we want to get the gear we desire we have to talk to the manufacturers; if they want to build gear that sells they'll have to talk with the members. And here's the beautiful thing, it's been happening for fourteen years, we've just got to keep shepherding it along with care.

We've got something very special here in terms of the community's member/vendor relationship. I'd love to see that last. As evidence, I offer this next video of vendors talking about what it's like to be a part of this community. They love the community and definitely feel a part of it. Enjoy!

Click here if you can't see the video.

calaf's picture

I have not travelled to a CanJam but I attended most of the Bay Areas big meets since the first one in San Jose in 2005. I still remember the mixture of awe and and envy with which we nOObs approached member tables showcasing the esoteric gear of the day (SinglePower Supra anyone?). In spite of the large crowd, back then vendor tables were the exception, and it was a special treat to meet Justin, Ray, Todd,... or Tyll.

Fast forward 10 years, big meets have really become trade shows that most people attend to listen to the latest hot piece of gear (a futile effort given the subway-like noise levels), to get a show-special from a vendor, or to enter the final raffle.
Member tables, often showing setups much superior to what any vendor can assemble, don't see much foot traffic. I guess this is a great thing for those like you who know what to look for, but a loss for the hobby at large.

Here's hoping that your excellent coverage of the last CanJam will help reversing this unfortunate trend.

Stillhart's picture

I'd just like to offer a counterpoint to your post.

You are fortunate to live in a town with meets and shops where you can go to sample these great systems. I do not. Canjam was my opportunity to expand my experience in a way that I could only do before by buying and selling used gear.

And I still managed to meet folks and have our own "mini meets" on the evenings, trying eachother's gear and music.

I guess there are multiple way to look at and experience these events. Cheers!

wnmnkh's picture

Look at all of those Grados, AKGs and Beyers! I see my beloved HD590 at the upper left of the first picture which was my very first real high-end headphone.

Sigh, maybe I am getting old at this hobby, but I think early 2000s was far more fun and interesting than current trend. It is very unfortunate that all of these traditional brands are no longer competitive enough sans Sennheiser, but even HD800s are getting rarer and rarer...

I was glad to have a conversation with you, Tyll. I hope you stay with us as long as you can.

smial's picture

I'm always astounded by just how vibrant and active the American Head-Fi scene is compared to the situation here in the UK. Over the pond apathy is rife and organizing a meet is often a thankless task undertaken by the perpetually optimistic masochist! ;-)

Hence we can only manage to hold an annual national Head-Fi event when committed individuals grasp the metaphorical meet baton and start running with it. This year my friend and I have taken up the mantle and so the UK Head-Fi Meet is on Saturday 25th April in Cambridge - link to relevant Head-Fi thread below.

pissin's picture

"Love", "passion", "family" ... can't tell y'all how much that CanJam/Head-Fi camaraderie means to me.
I live for CanJam!
CanJam 2016 -- I'm there ... even if its at the South Pole!
I want more styles of those kewl CanJam tee's ... and a baseball cap .... and a button.
I'm a CanJam FANBOY.

BTW: Hope you realize that the YouTube embedded vid is BLOCKED to huge chunk o' Asia (China). Ditto block for Google, Wiki, etc. But not eBay ... that'd not be good for biz.

tony's picture

This is quite a "Time Capsule"!

Hmm, our Internet was only available to us for 5 years, Napster was a "Big" deal back then, where are the iPods? ( not yet but just around the corner, I suppose ).

And you were out there Vending, sponsering these shows, with those two racks of headphones, traveling "hither & yon", you might be thought to be the "first" of the headphone vendors.

CD cases & CD players ( I remember those ), I still have a Sony CD Walkman for MP3 Books thinking I'm "Old School". All of us are way-advanced now-a-days, even my wife ( she previews her Church music on her laptop ( she's closing out her 7th decade of life ).

My last 12 months of travels revealed a world of little white wires hanging from people's ears, a concealed device somewhere hidden or being held with non-white wire devices becoming quite common in the last 6 months.

We've come a loooooonnnnnnggg way, can you foretell what you see 2020 being like?.

Thanks for sharing all this, perhaps you'll share how you ended up in Montana ( of all places ).

Tony in Michigan

LFF's picture

Fantastic post Tyll! I remember signing that table way back when. As someone who has been in the hobby for over a decade, I see these pictures and they are like ghosts of days gone by. Perhaps I see them with rose colored glasses because I feel they were better days for the hobby. Perhaps I am wrong.

What I can tell you is that some of the best people I have ever met, many of them my closest friends now, have been at community oriented meets. The discussions shared at the meets, during lunch hours, and those crazy after parties are, to this day, some of the best memories I have.

If anything, it saddens me that the friendly atmosphere of the hobby "meets" has been overtaken by the generic, vendor driven atmosphere shared by other tradeshows where the almighty dollar is the bottom line.

If anything, this last CanJam was fun for me because I was there to just hang out with friends. I FINALLY shook hands with Immtbiker and met him face to face. I had great conversations with friends over dinner, and, after it was all over, shared some coffee and laughs with them again. The days were done. Some silently stole away.

When reading through your post, I was reminded of “The Day is Done” by the great Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Hope you enjoy it:

THE DAY is done and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing
That is not akin to pain
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come read to me some poem
Some simple and heartfelt lay
That shall soothe this restless feeling
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters
Not from the bards sublime
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
For like strains of martial music
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet
Whose songs gushed from his heart
As showers from the clouds of summer
Or tears from the eyelids start;
Who through long days of labor
And nights devoid of ease
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs
And as silently steal away.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Yeah, Those were the good old days, for sure. And yeah, the only thing certain is change. I think the thing to keep our eye on now is not the past but that we do have a good thing going and it can change in good ways if we care for it well.
GloryUprising's picture

Wait, did I read that caption correctly? Senn gave you an Orpheus system?

Surely you are going do a proper review and measurements... surely, sometime soon....

...pretty please...

GloryUprising's picture

Found it!

how are these on the wall of fame! =)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
That's a very old review that was ported here from Stereophile when I started InnerFidelity. Yes, Sennheiser did give me an Orpheus...well, they gave HeadRoom and Orpheus and they were in the process of repairing it to be able to sell it Last I heard.

It's not on the Wall of Fame because I only put things on there that are in current production.