CanLanta: Even a Blind Hog Finds an Acorn Now and Again

Introduction
Lest you think I'm being a smarty pants with the headline, it was a direct quote from John Morrison, President Audio-Video Club of Atlanta, when I complemented him on producing, what I feel, was a virtually ideal regional headphone meet. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I reckon it was about 8 years ago as HeadRoom CEO I was invited to speak about headphones at an Audio-Video Club of Atlanta (A-VCOA) monthly meeting. The next morning, over a simply spectacular Old Hickory House breakfast of country ham, grits, and red eye gravy, Chuck Bruce (A-VCOA co-founder) and I agreed another club headphone event was a must. I see Chuck usually twice a year at T.H.E. Show Newport and RMAF, the subject always comes up—as does Hickory House grits. We knew the time would eventually come.

Atlanta really is ripe for a regional headphone meet like those sometimes held in L.A., San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. To be clear, I'm not talking about the Head-Fi sponsored CanJams, which are more about products and less about people and ideas—not that there's anything wrong with that. What I'm talking about is large regional meets where headphone enthusiasts from a wide area gather to set up their rigs and spend time enjoying their hobby in the flesh.

Additionally, I absolutely think there's a place for vendors and members of the trade at these meets. Vendors are important because they build the stuff we love, and they're the ones that can afford to foot the lion's share of the bill for these larger events. Further, it's at these enthusiast events that very close and informative relationships between experienced hobbyists and equipment makers can develop and catalyze interesting ideas for product improvements and future directions. (And speaking directly to manufacturers and other trade members here: support for regional meets is probably not a money maker, but it is your opportunity to give back to the community and gain the trust and loyalty of enthusiastic hobbyists.)

Why Atlanta? The South is densely populated; Atlanta is a vibrant city with great air travel connections; and there's lots of young folks in universities. The ice was broken by Travis Pate in 2013 when he coined the name CanLanta in a self-funded meet to get some momentum for a regional event. (CanLanta 2013 impressions thread.) Obviously everyone who came had a great time, but seriously inclement weather damped attendance and finances, and made it tough for Trav to mount a subsequent attempt.

The tricky hurdle for enthusiasts is developing an organised critical mass of regional enthusiasts. L.A. and N.Y. kind of get that for free. San Francisco and Chicago have to work at it a bit harder to make it happen...but they do. Atlanta, it seemed, didn't quite have the density of enthusiasts needed to gather a head of steam.

Enter the Audio-Video Club of Atlanta. Under the auspices of a long-standing audio club like the A-VCOA, resources and momentum can gather. So, a huge shout-out to John Morrison, Chuck Bruce, Joe Saxon (headphoneaudiophile.com), Matt, Purk, Brent, Franklin, and who knows how many other folks who knew the time had come for old school two-channel audiophiles to join forces with the headphone geeks to put together a sweet regional meet. Long live CanLanta!

CanLanta, the People
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Walking to the elevators on Saturday morning. Here we go!
As far as I'm concerned regional headphone meets are mostly about getting out from behind the keyboard and meeting friends old and new in real life. There's simply no substitute. For me, having been so long since my last visit to the south, there were a handfull of folks that I just couldn't wait to give a big hug and have a nice meat-space visit.

Then there's the members of the trade. I see them a few times a year, but at CanLanta, with its laid-back atmosphere, it's a little easier to have a good chat and dig into what makes them tick.

I'm going to introduce you to a number of each quickly here, but I highly recommend the video later in the article to get a real feel for these characters.

Brent/MexicanDragon
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Brent's one of those "life of the party" kind of guys; it's always a hoot to hang around with him. For example, at CanLanta, knowing they would be in short supply, he very thoughtfully brought a Marantz dual casette tape deck with a hearty selection of '80s pop. Mix tape anyone? Driving his headphones was a sweet old Singlepower Extreme heavily modified, and made markedly less flamable, by headphone enthusiast Screeming Oranges. You can get on Brent's good side by providing biscuits and gravy—a dietary regimen designed to ensure his ongoing standing as the world's fifth largest Mexican. I love this guy.

Doug Savitski, ECP Audio
Canlanta_Canlanta_Photo_ECPAudio Somehow, I just can't bring myself to think of Doug as a trade member...but he is. His business model is way out of the ordinary. Doug loves analog electronics, and in headphone amps he finds a muse for his penchant for all things electro-topological. His business, ECP Audio, is largely a series of limited production runs (a dozen or so units, usually) as he expresses his current topological obsession. I've heard a few of Doug's amps and they're always really sweet. If you've got a similar interest in electronic circuits, don't miss Doug's DIY and educational writings. Doug is a long-time member of Head-Case.org, his postings both on and off topic, are always thoughtful and constructive.

Purk
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A couple of days before the show, Purk shot me a PM on Head-Case.org inquiring as to whether or not I might want his KGSSHV and Stax-009 in my hotel room for the evening's listening pleasure the night before the show. How can you not like this guy? I declined with thanks for the offer, and told him the only thing I really wanted to hear was his mouth yabbering away as we chatted at the show.

He brought a big old HeadRoom Home amp with Max modules and sung its praises as a solidly competitive solid-state amp to this day. Thanks, mate, I think they remain a solid performer. He also had the above mentioned KGSSHV electrostatic amp built by another enthusiast driving a pair of Stax SR-009. He told me to try them as the combination might rid me of the impression the 009 was a bit too bright. It did put a pretty healthy dent in my previous opinion...the 009 sounded damned good on his rig.

Purk also manned a table for the folks at Matrix Electronics. And if I might make a side note: Isn't it cool that A-VCOA arranged for enthusiast volunteers for some manufacturers who couldn't make the trip in person but were willing to send gear? In this case, Purk demoed a Matrix M-Stage driving a pair of Sennheiser HD 650s. Gotta say, it's rare I hear HD 650s and say, "That's some ballsy oomph right there."

Chuck Bruce, Co-Founder of Audio-Video Club of Atlanta
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Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Chuck is a perfect example of how to be an old school audiophile with arms wrapped tightly around the contemporary audio world. Maybe it's just Southern hospitality, or maybe it's just a love of all things audio, but Chuck gets it.

It was so cool watching him trundle in two carts worth of gear from his car. Amongst his two-table hoard was a very nice 300B tube amp driving a vintage Stax SRD-6 adapter and SR-Gamma Pro headphones. Old school indeed!

Flight schedules and long security lines made a counrty ham, grits, and gravy breakfast with Chuck at the Old Hickory House impossible. Looks like I'll have to attend next year with a late afternoon flight home.

Mike Mercer, Questyle
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Imagine putting a bottle rocket inside the bottle and putting the cap back on. Now imagine the rocket can run all day long...and all night. Yeah, that's Mike. In my mind, he's the headphone hobby's foremost cheerleader. He and I couldn't be more different in our approach to audio writing, but in real life I love to hang with this guy. Don't miss his section of the video below! Gotcha Mike!

Mike is now working for Questyle and was showing off their top-of-the-line electronics with current mode amplification internally, which is claimed to significantly speed up the signal's transit through the gear and improve time coherence.

Evidently there's also an arrangement in the works for the distribution of Meze headphones. Mike had a whole table full of 99 Classics. Numerous people asked me for a mid-priced headphone recommendation; I always pointed out the Meze 99 Classic and Oppo PM3.

Lee Scoggins, Part-time Audio Journalist, Full-time Business Genius
Canlanta_Canlanta_Photo_Scoggins Thank goodness I caught him with his camera in front of his face or I wouldn't have recognized him. Lee's got a real job in a big-time Fortune 500 consulting firm...which means he's got a brazillian frequent flier miles to use up attending audio shows. I see him two or three times a year as he covers them for a number of on-line audio publications. I always make a point of saying "Hi!" and asking what struck his fancy. It was a treat sharing a relaxing drink seated at a table with him with a few other A-VCOA members the night before the show at the hotel bar...I think every previous time we've talked it was in a stuffy hallway at RMAF or CES or some other random show. Good to see you, Lee. Readers will find his show report here soon at Part-Time Audiophile.

MattTCG
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I've seen Matt plenty on-line, but don't know him very well. He's one of the local CanLanta instigators and started both the CanLanta organizing and impressions threads on Head-Fi.org. He brought a sweet Mr. Speakers/Schiit/Questyle rig, but the gear that caught my attention was his one week old BottleHead Crack build with Stormtrooper styling driving a pair of Sennheiser HD 650s. A classic rig for sure; don't miss this sweet amp in the video below.

So Many People I couldn't Keep Track
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I suppose I'm some sort of celebrity at these shows...delivering the keynote speech and having table sessions to chat with folks. Truth be told, I don't think about it much. I have far too much fun meeting people and socializing to notice that almost my entire day was spent in conversation with little actual listening.

Canlanta_Canlanta_Photo_Meze

And getting to vendor booths for investigative purposes was...well, for the most part, just not going to happen. Mostly because I wanted to enjoy the people, but also because I see most of these companies two or three times a year at other shows. However, I do want to thank them all for their support of the meet. Thank you.

  • Beezar Audio
  • ECP Audio
  • HeadAmp
  • Matrix Audio
  • Mr. Speakers
  • Violectric
  • Noble
  • Empire Ears
  • HeadphoneAudiophile.com
  • Sight + Sound Gallery
  • Oppo Digital
  • Questyle Audio
  • Meze Audio
  • Kimber Kable
  • Audiophile Import Specialists
  • Sennheiser
  • ampsandsound
  • Cavalli Audio
  • E-MU Systems
  • Emotiva Audio

I do need to give a couple of worthy shout-outs and mention two vendors that completely caught me by surprise.

Members of the Trade

Brannan Mason, Noble Audio
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Brannan is a regular at all the shows and knows how to put a good face on his company. Usually, he's well groomed and quite stylish; the Noble booth nicely lit with logos, pictures, videos, and product all carefully arrayed to impress. A class act.

But here's the real measure of Brannan's class: he knew he was coming to a meet, not a show. He didn't bring the dog and ponies. He showed up with a suitcase full of IEMs and a couple of placards and just met with folks. Perfect. (I like his Savant IEM.)

Ian White, ampsandsound
Canlanta_Canlanta_Photo_AmpsAndSound

New to me was ampsandsound, a California company specializing in tube amps and horn loaded speakers who have recently entered the headphone amp market. Ian White gave me a little tour of the Kenzie headphone amp that uses a 1626 tube output through custom wound transformers to two 32 Ohm and 600 Ohm headphone jacks. The 1626 is a WWII-era tube that was used as a transmitter tube in radar installations.

He didn't make it to his other headphone amps before I drug him off-topic to ask what he thought about the CanLanta meet. He makes some pointed and thought provoking comments in the video.

And now, onto to two things I didn't expect at all.

Lee Tingler, Solder Buddy
Canlanta_Canlanta_Photo_SolderBuddy

Early in the day, I had been talking to John Morrison and somehow got onto the subject of DIY. He told me he'd keep an eye out for Lee Tingler and send him my way with something special. Well, Lee did find me, and what he had seemed really quite special.

Lee makes the Solderbuddy: a series of wood blocks machined to accept a variety of connectors and nifty alligator clip posts to hold the cables securely in the connectors while soldering. Yes, you can give up you weekly visits to the local nuclear plant in an effort to grow another pair of arms for your soldering work.

Solderbuddies are available in a variety of styles suited for all hobbies electronic. Versions are available for: audio hobbyists; HAM radio; roadies; model railroaders; and even a cool little one for repairing motorcycle wire harnesses. Also, don't pass up the opportunity to purchase his little book, "The Artful Solderer." This small tome belies the wealth of very practical information within. I definitely learned a few cool tricks as I read it on the plane for the trip home.

Lee has already sent me a couple for review...it'll be a couple months, but it'll happen. This is good stuff.

Check out the video below for a full rundown.

Show Stopper! Chan Ming Tat, E-Mu Systems
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Wowie-wow-wow!!! Chan is a director at E-Mu System, a company long known for it's synthesizers, MIDI controllers, and various other pro music production gear. It seems, however, that Chan has a deep love for wood as well as audio, and has now turned his attention towards headphones.

Amazingly—not sure how he managed this, but my guess is they've become aware of how much enthusiasts love these cans —he has zeroed in on a couple of headphones that I think are ripe for ongoing improvement. I think they're the Foster OEM models 443741 and 443742, which you can find here. Of course, you will know these headphones better under different names. The Foster 443741 became the Denon AH-D1001 and then the Creative Aurvana Live!—a seriously good low-cost headphone. And the Foster 443742 birthed the Denon AH-DX000 series, which then became the Fostex TH-X00 cans—another lineage with strong performance.

Chan said there was some significant internal debate as to whether wood really added to the quality of reproduction in headphones. So, he started making wood cups for these headphones with about a dozen different kinds of wood, slowly but surely whittling it down with listening tests (both he and others in the company) to three for the large headphones: Teak, Ebony, and Rosewood. The smaller cans will be Walnut. I see this as a very real effort to get 80% good headphones into the 90%+ range.

Chan will be sending me both cans soon, and will include all three types of wood covers so that I can swap them out and see if there are any measurable differences. That should be fun!

Of course, Chan has a nice interview in the video detailing some of the development and rational behind the finishes.

Summary
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The ever cheerful John Morrison, President of Audio-Video Club of Atlanta, CanLanta's producer and underwriting organization.

I have two favorite quotes from CanLanta:

I asked a random show-goer whether he thought the sound was generally better in the vendor tables or the enthusiast tables. He said, "I'm not sure I could tell which was which." Awesome! Though I guarantee you the enthusiast booths had the generally better sound. Not because the vendor booths didn't have good gear, but it's the enthusiasts that get to spend years mixing and matching, tweaking and geeking. For this reason alone, a large regional meet where enthusiasts can show there stuff is extraordinarily valuable to those new to the activity.

Second quote: John Morrison came up to me near the end of the meet and said, "What a success! The room was full all day; we gave out thousands of dollars of gear at the raffles; and, by golly, it looks like we broke even on this deal." Profit, as measured rightly for an event like this, is carried away in the joy and memories of the day with like-minded others.

It's simple really: Small local meets are great; they build real friendships and offer time for collaborative experiences; and they're easy-peasy to pull off. But you're not going to get access to a wide variety of great gear at small meets.

CanJams are great. They attract big numbers and manufacturers will respond by showing up in droves with their latest and greatest gear. They're not easy to pull of at all, but Head-Fi has the financial resources and a team of producers that know how to get the job done. But they don't readily offer an opportunity to get to know other enthusiasts and the gear they dig.

If you want to gain a sense of community and belonging; if you want to hear the rigs of folks you only know on-line; if you want to chat at length with manufacturers about products or changes you'd like to see; the large regional headphone meets are the way to go. It's not easy, though. You may have to do significant self-organization and risk real money. Or you can do like the folks in Atlanta did and partner up with a local audio club. Or maybe a regional electronics retailer chain. Point is, you've got to work at diligently and put quite a bit of effort in. But once you've got a team, a time, and a place set up, and have promoted it well...well, all you have to do is let the folks walk in the door and the desired result will happen almost as if by magic.

It's always a crap shoot the first time you do something. It can be stressful as hell...making plans, rousting the hobbyists, calling vendors, convincing the press to show up. You can hope 'til you're blue in the face, but you just never know what's going to happen on the day. But as John Morrison said, "Even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and again." Frankly, I think once you've act together and have a little muscle to throw at it, the odds aren't that long at all.

So, what have you got, Texas? I'm sure there's a dry season in the Pacific Northwest...don'tcha think, Seattle? Aren't you sick of just being flown over, St. Louis? I'm going back to CanLanta next year, but I'd love to go other places as well. Put together a team and get serious about an anual regional headphone meet, and then give me a call. I want to shake hands in person and hear your gear.

Enough with the words. It's a little long, but it's so worth it to get a feel for the vibe. Here's a video taste of what a really nice regional meet is like.

View on Youtube here.

Further Impressions
CanLanta threads at Head-Fi, Head-Case, and SBAF.

COMMENTS
mikemercer's picture

Tyll,

It was great seeing you brotha, especially during my first trip to Atlanta! Your keynote speech stirred some serious thoughts in my head (I know I know - you smell toast burnin' right) - and it was awesome hangin' w/ you out back talking all sorts of music and such...

But most of all - it was great to see you at this wonderful regional/independent event - and I love how you touched on the human factor that's still so palpable at these "meet-style" shows. I love CanJam and the other trade shows - However, as a music addict, fellow music and audio scribe, and headphone junkie - these small events (just like Head-Fi Meets) just make for a wonderful atmosphere where its more like hangin' out with your good buddies - sharing great sound and music.

GREAT write-up - and yeah - YOU GOT ME!!!!

purk's picture

Thanks for making this event even more special, Tyll.

MexicanDragon's picture

Hey Tyll, I love it! Next year I hope to make it down a little earlier to make the pre-show dinner.

A couple of things about my bit. 1) I'm actually the World's 7th Tallest Mexican, not the 5th largest as previously thought. Honest mistake. 2) The orange amp actually has a name which I sadly neglected to mention. The modded Singlepower Extreme is now "The AriPower Extremely Extreme Extreme ^ Extremeth Power," which is typically shortened to "AriPower." Ari (nikongod) was actually the one who did the modifications, and Alex (Screaming Oranges) was the one who graciously donated the amp (after he moved on to an Extreme Platinum.)

I actually dug through some emails and found the mod list from 2013. I'll have to send it to you so you can see just how crazy that amp really is (down to the, if I recall correctly, 100$ upgraded blue feet.)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
"1) I'm actually the World's 7th Tallest Mexican, not the 5th largest as previously thought. Honest mistake. "

Sorry. Hope you podium in coming years!

johnjen's picture

Nice report, it conveys the experience of the people involved and their passions…

Speaking from the PNW, it doesn't matter if it rains, or not, we hold our meets indoors… :D
And next time your in the neighborhood let us know and we'll setup a meet just for the occasion, and it won't take much advance notice either…

We have an active and ready crew who will show up from miles and miles away.
And then there is the range of gear that can show up ranging from the portable setups to the extremely evolved home setups, with everything in between.

Just say the word, and we will pull the trigger… :D

JJ :thumb

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Well...I'll have to call you some time...it's a little more complex than that.

Can you convince Sennheiser to show up, for example?

I might be able to convince Todd the Vinyl Junkie to drive out with me. :deal

johnjen's picture

I'll get a list of the manufacturers who already have come to our meets… :D
And no Senn isn't one of them, but there are a few well known companies who have…

JJ

MattTCG's picture

It was really nice to meet the man himself in person. We all appreciate that you helped to make this event successful. You are a down to earth and very gracious person to talk gear with. Until the next time!!

tony's picture

I had to google this guy. He makes "presentation" grade fixtures for reasonable dinero. I'll have to buy something.

My own solder bench is right next to my Big Drill press, I'll make a little fixture outa scrap wood, nowadays I mostly repair broken or cut cables, from headphones to 12/3 extension cords. I range from two 40watt pencil irons to a small propane gas rig, I probably own 6 solder irons ( maybe even more ). Anyone that solders is a DIYr ( in my book ).

Anyway, nice Show coverage Video and Journalism, they need it, all the other coverage combined is rather dismal.
Funny how Headphone outfits aren't doing little "jiggle-cam" Videos of their own, people love seeing "stories" about their hobby. Any Canon Elph can do a 1080 Video and video sells the hell outa product, especially considering Headphone is an Internet type of Sales Channel. I was hoping Cavalli and Warren would get a tutorial ( from you ) and start doing interesting Video stories about their products.

I left Headphone hobby a year ago, Bob Katz and Big Sound revealed my last remaining issues. I still have Tyll on my Bookmark bar because of it's high Quality Level, I've "poofed" Steve G., the Absolute Sound, Head-fi but I'm still keeping Stereophile ( for some unknown reason ).

As usual, nice work.

Tony in Michigan

ThePianoMan17's picture

Hi Tyll, this was very cool coverage, always enjoy reading especially about these events. I know this is short notice, but since you mentioned, Chi-Unifi the Chicago annual meet is happening June 18th at Decware's facilities, and it would be awesome if you could come! Let me know if you're interested and I can talk to the shows organizers (we have some local vendors who'll be there, and it looks like we might have a good turnout)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Already booked for a vacation that week. Sorry.

But get back to me when you know next year's schedule. I'd love to go to Chi-Uinfi!

SandS_Gallery's picture

Great recap of the event! I enjoyed listening to you talk about the direction of headfi. And reading the experience from your perspective makes us proud to have been a sponsor there. If you want the perspective from a retailer standpoint, check out our recount from the Sight+Sound Gallery at http://bit.ly/1XD2nXH

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Great to see you there. It is one of those "it takes a village" things. Thanks for your support!
dgrimmer's picture

I actually think that I might have been that random show-goer that Tyll mentioned :) I have only been getting into headphones and such rather recently and had never been to anything like this before. I had a fantastic time listening to things I had only ever read about and talking to the people there. Special thanks to Tyll for coming up and talking to me and asking my opinions and thoughts. I felt a bit like a regular person talking to a celebrity and that added a lot to my day at the show.

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