I’ve done the meet rodeo a fair few times before, but this is the first time I’ve taken a redeye cross-country flight just for one. Of course the SBAF Can’tJam is a bit more than just your average meet. I would not have come all this way just for the gear (fabulous as the gear here was). This visit was about getting to meet the guys that have been a huge help in directing me in the perilous journey up the audio ladder face-to-face, and more importantly, been the best kind of friend with everything else in life. The LAX Hilton was far from the swankiest Hilton out there, and finding my way to the ballroom felt a bit like going down a secret passage, with some corridors looking more asylum than luxury hotel. Getting to the ballroom, I did not realize I was right in front of the meet venue till I received a hearty slap on the back from my pal Jason (@ohhgourami), who led me to the high end room to finally introduce me in person to the rest of the old regulars. The High-End Room Stepping into the high-end room, I’m greeted with a barrage of smiles and handshakes from a crowd of familiar faces (Hi Jeff, Pierre, Milos, Ed). There really is a thing to be said about meeting people in the flesh, so much personality is lost even with the best of telecommunication methods. Jeff brought his A-game with the rice farmer hat, Milos was understated as usual, Pierre is much more animated than I expected, and Ed is an absolute wild animal in person. Stat Sanctuary After putting my bags aside, I sit myself down at the mighty impressive E-stat table with Pierre and Milos. Milos’s gear has something of a crowd around it, so I get my eyes and ears ears onto Pierre’s rig. With all the sharing going on at the table, I wasn’t sure which headphones belonged to who (a 007 and 009), but I did know that Pierre had brought his own Sennheiser HE60s and a commissioned SRX+ amp build, along with a humble GOV2 (Non-A). I was especially excited about the SRX+, as I have a set of the boards to build one myself in the near future, and it showed promise as a terrific value item in the pricey e-stat amp environment. I decided to go with the 007 to first try out his rig, as I am more partial to its smoother midrange compared to the 009. Immediately from the get go, it was clear that the SRX+ is on the warmer side of things tonally, but the biggest difference compared to my prior experiences with the Stax amps and the BHSE was a much more forward and aggressive presentation, something I was not used to hearing from the 007. It also helped them convey a greater sense of body than I expected from them, with a good amount of slam. With the tonal characteristics of the SRX+ being on the warmer side, I suspected they may work better with the 009s, which I swapped to shortly after. What was interesting here was that with the 009s, the general tonal synergy was substantially better, and the impressive clarity and resolving ability of the amp were more apparent. What the SRX+ did not do with the 009s, however, was tame the upper mid shoutiness inherent to them, something I know the BHSE does quite well. Still, by all accounts, this was an amp that was closer to my preferred sound profile than the previous offerings I had heard, and I am excited to be able to try it for myself (if and when I bother to get into e-stats). The Monolith Knowing my time was limited, I thanked Pierre and made a beeline for one of the other highlights of the meet, Jason’s infamous mammoth Krell rig. With all the hyperbole floating around about it, I was almost disappointed to see the Krell Evo amp was kind of reasonably sized, but it was indisputably the most physically imposing rig of the meet, especially with the Yggdrasil/Rednet and preamp stack serving as the source next to it. I have a particular affection for the older Hifiman series of headphones, having collected several and listened to them on a wide variety of rigs. Going up to this rig, I was expecting to hear the typical Hifiman quirks alongside their qualities: terrific low end, upper mid range hash, and somewhat zingy treble. What I heard instead was all of the good bits and then some, and more surprisingly almost none of the bad. The sense of physicality in the low end with drums was astounding, and the excellent clarity of it was not marred by roughness in the upper mids as I expected. If anything, the HE-6 on this rig came off as smooth and well-controlled, with excellent separation and no compromise on its trademark slam. Much has been said of how much work went into dialing in the sound on this rig, and it definitely shows. A lot of the other guys and I have made fun of Jason at times about his screw count obsession with the HE6, but after A/B’ing with the different HE6s brought to the meet, it was not difficult to hear the difference made by his meticulous modding. Towards the end of the day when we were wrapping up, we went ahead and did more A/B’ing, swapping out various parts of his source chain to figure out where exactly the magic was coming from, with very interesting findings. However I will leave that towards the end, for reasons that will be clear when you get there. Part Deux After vacating Jason’s rig to let some others have a try, I moved to the other corner of the room, where @bazelio and @rkml007 set up camp. Their testament to the craziness of the hobby was two near identical setups side by side, the Yggdrasil feeding a Zana Deux Super, with the only difference being the choice of digital transport. @bazelio had a Lynx card in his rig, and @rkml007 was using the Rednet. Another difference was that @bazelio brought his Torpedo 3, configuring the ZDS as a pre to use it if he wanted. Here, I borrowed Ron’s HD800S pair. Most of the gear here was intimately familiar to me, except for the ZDS, so I jumped at the chance to get ears on it, especially with the Torpedo 3 (my home rig) on hand to use as a reference point. The ZDS definitely imparts its own character to the music, with a very laid back presentation and a definite warmth to it, though not as warm as a 300B Balancing Act. The sense of refinement is marred only by a bit of treble sharpness that I believe is characteristic to the Russian power tube (I’ve heard something similar on an Almarro amp which also uses it.) In comparison to the T3, it is substantially less aggressive with the transients and softens the edges somewhat.. What impressed me most was the excellent cleanliness and separation, especially for an OTL amp. Also present at the table were addition reclocking devices for more transport madness, though when I was there we were unable to get them to work in the chain, let alone test the difference. I was able to briefly jump between the Rednet and the Lynx, and while my time with them was limited, I felt the Rednet sounded a bit more old-school analog than the Lynx. Clone Wars At last, space opened up at Milos’ table, and I was able to get some time in with the man himself. His homemade HE90 clones have caused a stir every time they made a public appearance, and I was incredibly excited to finally get to able to listen to them. I have managed to listen to the original HE90 on a couple of occasions, as well as a brief session with Sennheiser’s revised HE1, and was impressed in different ways on both occasions. Here, Milos had an Accuphase CD player serving as a source, as well as the BHSE as the amp. I am not familiar with how the CD player sounds as a source, though I have extensive experience with the BHSE sound, so coupled with meet conditions, my impressions here are limited in that respect. Much like the original HE90, the clones convey a terrific sense of body in the music that you do not typically expect from e-stat headphones, with HD650-esque tone. I often find myself a bit distracted with the way note sustain is rendered on most e-stats, but I found the clones to be more satisfying in this regard. The bass is meaty and textured, and more cleanly rendered than I remember in the originals out of the HEV90 amp. The only bugbear I would bring up is a bit of upper midrange glare that a handful of tracks spotlight (around 3k maybe?). Many people I talked to about this did not hear it, and it is very far from a real sticking point with the clones. Out of curiousity, I swapped amps to run them out of Pierre’s SRX+, which had the expected effect of making the end result warmer (a tad too much for my own liking), though I did enjoy the more forward presentation. Rough cosmetics aside, the ergonomics and solidity of the clones were extremely impressive, not to mention their spectacular sound quality. I am still amazed at how reserved and understated Milos is in person, despite the incredible work he has done with these clones, and wish I could have hung out more with him.