CanJam. It's not your grandma's fruit jelly in a tin jar. It's's annual meet on all things headphone. This year's venue was the Chicago Hyatt Regency O'Hare. Ken Ball, known to our readers as proprietor of Portland/Oregon's 32Ohm Audio store, attended to promote his own ALO Audio products as well as sample new gear by brands he sells in his store. Ken is a diehard enthusiast who knows all the important players and trends in this sector. Plus, he's involved in Cypher Labs. That's a new company which promotes portable D/A converters for iPods. The notion of a battery-powered iDecco for headphones had my fullest attention. Naturally Ken was perfectly positioned to break that story as well as cover other highlights he found interesting. Needless to say, he didn't have time to do any formal show coverage. But as you'll see, even a bit can be very tasty...

For some reading in our 32Ohm Series of headphone and PC related products, visit these links: AKG K-1000 | AKG K-702 | AKG K-702 & Burson HA-160 | AKG/nOrh/Stefan AudioArt | ALO Audio Rx | Archos 7 | Atoll DAC 1000 | audio technica W1000 & Eastern Electric MiniMax | audio-technica W5000 | Beyerdynamic DT880 | Beyerdynamic T1 | Burson Audio HA-160 | Denon DH-A7000 | Grado GS-1000 Headphile mods | Grado PS1000 | HeadAmp Pico with DAC | HifiMan HE-5LE & EF5 | Jays q-Jays | KingRex HQ-1 | M2Tech hiFace | Meier Audio Corda Concerto | Meier Audio Corda StageDAC | NuForce HDP | NuForce UF-30 | PC Audio | Qables iQube V2 | Red Wine Audio Isabellina HPA | RipNAS | Sennheiser HD800 | Sennheiser PXC 450 | Shure SE530pths | Sieveking Sound Omega | Squeezebox | Stax 3030 vs. 4040 | Stax SRS 4040-II/SRM 006-t II | Stefan AudioArt hard-wired AKG K-1000 | Sumoh | TinyAmp S30 | RW Audio Amp One | Trafomatic Audio Experience Head One | Trends Audio UD10.1 USB | USB DACs: Music Hall, StyleAudio, Keces, Mhdt, Benchmark.

I only have a few snippets or cliff notes. It was a really exhausting event. I had my biggest dealer fly in all the way from Tokyo to listen to the AlgoRhythm Solo, JHaudio JH-3A and ALO Audio Rx Mk2 and Rx DAC. I stayed plenty busy just handling traffic and paying proper attention to my customers.

The new JHaudio JH-3A
. Leap-frogging, a successful entrepreneur can never sit still. He must be in constant motion and up the ante. If he gets complacent, he'll be run over. Standing still is something audio mastermind Jerry Harvey never does I think. Jerry has pushed the envelope, reinvented, pulled rabbits out of hats and thought completely out of the box for a long time now. His latest JH-3A does all this in such a monumental way that I think it might just possibly be a true quantum leap. Many in the headfi community might read about the JH-3A and think, 'huh?'. Many at the show ended up with a stern "Aha", then "OMG" and finally, "crap, I will have that much less money now".

I spoke to a more hardcore headphone old timer who after demoing the JH-3A had zero gumption about immediately putting himself down on the waiting list that day. It's that good. I remember when I reluctantly bought my first JH13s. I say reluctantly because I always was an old-school over-the-ear headphone guy. Being that I own a headphone store, I eventually figured I better have higher-resolution custom IEMs in my digs to stay professional and current.

These I get. I was simply blown away by the force and impact these tiny guys delivered. I continued to be amazed by them and now use them as a critical tool for evaluating my own portable headphone amplifiers and cables. They are so resolving and resolute that every minuscule flaw, color, image and range of dynamics is there for the taking. My JH13s are a must for any travel especially air. Noise-canceling headphones are not even in the same league.

I waited until the second day of the show to try the new JH-3A when their room was less busy. I found the sound to easily best my current JH13. The immediate wow was the spatial presence of the bass which is adjustable. The adjustments were such that nothing was taken away elsewhere. The controls on the display demo were via notebook while the final production amp will have its own dials. This will be new territory for many. Customization with the three-way actively crossed-over JH-3A (it and the partnering DPS-controlled 6-channel amp with perfect phase response must be thought of as an inseparable combo) could be the IEM that truly is all things to all people. Note the frequency response of 10 - 23.000Hz. That's no typo. DPS control makes it possible. More specs are here. On a side note, I have been in the biz for a while. I deal with lots of vendors. Jerry and his crew are one of the most down-to-earth, positive and flat-out nicest group of folks I have met in this business. It's no wonder everything Jerry touches seems to turn to gold.

A year ago I was taking the bus from the airport to the LA hotel for the 2009 CanJam where I had reserved a display table to show my builds. The bus was full of people being shuttled and the guy next to me asked if I was going to the headphone show. We started talking. He asked what I did. "I make cables, mostly iPod cables". I asked if he too was a vendor. "Yes, I am showing a device that takes the digital signal off an iPod." Wow! Probing on, I insisted that "well, isn't that - well, impossible?" I ended up bugging him over the entire weekend. Oddly enough nobody else really seemed to get it. Matt MacBeth sat at his table with only one thing on it - an odd-looking generic box that effectively took the digits off an Ipod; a headphone amp; and a pair of headphones.

I was spellbound by the possibilities and quite amazed by what he had accomplished. This was it, the next big jump for portable audio. Since then we have collaborated on a number of projects. From these associations we went on to create Cypher Labs LLC with David Maudlin and Vinnie Rossi of Red Wine Audio. The debut and public showing of the Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo is something we'd been waiting to roll out for some time now. The Apple certification process took longer than expected which postponed the Solo's release date. Sadly final enclosures thus were not quite ready for CanJam 2010. Luckily we did have a fully working prototype. The production process and all necessary parts are all lined up and I for one can't wait to get one of these. In my opinion it will reset the bar for portable hifi.

The AlgoRhythm Solo delivers uncompressed high-quality audio from an iPod, iPhone or iPad to portable or home audio DACs and amplifiers via both digital and analog outputs. There are currently no other portable devices that can do that.

Key features include pending Made for iPod, iPhone and iPad certifications; a reference-level Wolfson DAC; decryption of the Apple USB output (not a pass-through line-out) via asynchronous USB/S-PDIF conversion; extremely low jitter; two parallel Li-Ion batteries with fully isolated AC switching; and being designed to match in size and pair up its input with the ALO Audio Rx Mk2 headphone amp. The Solo is designed and assembled in the USA and available in black or silver. Prices start at $579.

Compared to my best portable setup, the AlgoRhytm Solo was tighter, less grainy, had better separation and overall far more powerful bass. Using the world's most popular music player, phone and now iPad in asynchronous mode, the AlgoRhytm Solo allows the use of a much higher-grade DAC chip capable of processing 24/96. It also exports S/PDIF to an external converter of your choice. (The iPad camera connection kit can process 24/96 but the current USB interfaces that work with iPad in non-asynchronous mode are limited to 16/48.)