CanJam SoCal 2019: Headamp, Alex Rosson Audio and Grado Labs

My next stop was the room being shared Mr. Speakers and Headamp.Headamp had the relatively recent GS-X Mini on display and on listening duty with the Focal Stellia it sounded phenomenal, bringing a relaxed clarity to the upper midrange of the Stellia.

Some cheaper solid state amps can make the Stellia a bit forward sounding, but through the GS-X Mini everything sounded open and supremely balanced. This would be a great reference system, and it played all the music I threw at it about as good as I’ve ever heard it on a headphone setup. I spent a few minutes longer than my usual listening time at shows because this system sounded so good.

Justin also had his usual setup of GS-X MK2 and Blue Hawaii SE amplifier, as well as some Chord electronics mixed in. The Blue Hawaii SE sounded great as usual on a variety of cans. Chatting with the folks at the booth, they mentioned some difficulty in production and shipping on the GS-X Mini which would hopefully be resolved soon, so keep an eye out for this nice piece.

Something else caught my eye at the Headamp booth however, which was a rather colorful headphone I’d never seen before from a company called Rosson Audio. These headphones are being made in small one-off quantities by Alex Rosson – previously of Audeze – and boy are they beautiful. They’re called the RAD-0 and they’re being handmade right in Los Angeles, California. There wasn’t a representative, but I grabbed a small info placard, and took a listen on the GS-X Mini. Wow! There’s definitely a little family resemblance to Audeze’s house sound, but these seemed to have forsaken some of that thunderous bass presentation for a tighter, airier soundstage. The sense of smoothness and naturalness was excellent, with slightly more forward treble, than say an LCD-3, and slightly less bass. The midrange seemed to have a slight dip in the middle and low mids, and detail everywhere was excellent, particularly in the aforementioned midrange. Kind of a mild V-shaped signature. It reminded me a bit of an LCD-X style tuning, with a bit more dynamic impact.

I thought these sounded quite nice, and I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes out for more listening opportunities. According to the information I was given, these sell for $2,600 USD with a variety of vibrant and unusual finish options. For $2,999 you can have your choice of custom materials, colors and finish. Impedance is a modest 26 Ohms, and although fairly hefty, the headband wasn’t too uncomfortable on a short listen. It remains to be seen if these would start to fatigue after long listening sessions, but the pads had a fairly firm clamp that seemed to balance out the headband style quite well.

Next up was a company I had not expected to see at this CanJam, or really any CanJam ever. Grado Labs had a separate room outside the main event space, showing their third Head-Fi collaboration headphone, the HF-3, as well as a variety of the rest of their lineup and a few special editions. I have to admit the Harley-Davidson cups made from motorcycle pistons were kind of neat – at least from a design perspective – and I got to see their Oreo collaboration headphone, which while perhaps a little silly, was kind of fun as well. I spoke with Johnathan Grado a bit there and I get the distinct impression that he knows exactly how his headphones sound and are perceived, and that there’s some very intentional and focused product design going on here.

I came away with a lot more respect for Grado’s design abilities, both after this conversation and after listening to the HF-3 Head-Fi collaboration. It looks much like a simpler RS headphone, and sounds nothing like any other Grado that I’ve heard. Theres smooth, balanced, bass, a relaxed midrange and open and very smooth treble. All of it does a great job of sounding both natural and clear, with a surprisingly good stage depth. No, bass didn’t extend to the most titanic low notes, it still had those awful foam pads and the overall sound profile isn’t going to give you HD800 levels of sound staging, but this thing certainly sounds like a headphone designed by folks who know what a competent modern headphone should sound like. While I feel I have a better understanding of what Grado’s target audience is, the HF-3 left me wishing they would do collaborations and on-off products like this more often.

The folks at Grado mentioned that 100 per cent of the proceeds from the headphone will go to a charity selected by them and Head-Fi – pretty upstanding of them in my opinion. One of the Grado employees mentioned they were considering a foundation for hearing injuries and diseases, which seems like a perfect choice to me. Lots of respect to Grado labs and Head-Fi for doing a good thing with this collaboration, both in terms of sound and the charitable donation.

Coming up next report: A few big surprises from Chinese companies, and some cool cheap stuff.