First time back in the Marriott Marquis since I took (and passed) the bar exam in 2017. Needless to say, this was a much more enjoyable experience, even if it was a bit overwhelming at first.
For iems, my favorites were the monarch mkii and the u12t, both of which I loved. I was also pleasantly surprised by the V16 divinity. After owning the blessing 2, which I enjoyed, I decided that I’d lay off iems for the time being. The monarch mkii and u12t are making me reconsider that decision.
For headphones, I managed to listen to the Susvara, LCD-5, 1266 TC, Rosson RAD-0, and DCA Stealth.
Unlike Chris, I was immediately blown away by the Susvara. My first impression was that it was the most resolving headphone with the best detail retrieval I had ever heard (including the other TOTL cans listed above as well as the Utopia, HD 800 S, and VC). But I don’t think that’s actually correct. I think I perceived it as being more detailed and resolving because the imaging was so precise and the stage so impressively presented. Whereas the wide soundstage of the HD 800 S sounds unnatural to me, the horizontal and vertical reach of the stage of the Susvara was superior to that of any other headphone I had ever heard. I think the Utopia has slightly better detail retrieval, but the Susvara is no slouch in that department, and the Susvara’s imaging and staging make it feel more exciting and lively to me. If money were no object and they came with a lifetime driver warranty, then I’d own a Susvara (and whatever amp I’d need to power it, though preferably not the titanic at the Hifiman booth) and be set. But that fantasy isn’t reality, and these feel flimsy. As I found with the Aryas and the Sundaras (less so for the Anandas), the build quality doesn’t feel premium. I’m glad I got to listen to them, but I couldn’t spend my money on them.
The 1266 TC, which I listened to on the Nautilus, didn’t impress me so much. Honestly, I wish I had gotten to listen to the amp using a different set of headphones like my VC or the LCD-5. I’ve enjoyed every ampsandsound amp I have ever heard, but I don’t think the 1266 TC allowed me to get a real sense of what the Nautilus can do.
I listened to the LCD-5 on the Red October, a pairing that I found to be a match made in heaven. The tuning on the LCD-5 was spot on to my ears. The imaging was excellent. Bass was tight and well extended. The soundstage was sufficiently wide. It’s the best sounding Audeze I’ve ever heard. And they look and feel amazing. If you handed me the Susvara and the LCD-5 without giving me any additional information about either, I’d pick the LCD-5 as the $6k set. It’s a work of art.
The Red October is also a work of art. And it might have been the single most impressive piece of gear I sampled, but it’s also $12,000…
(I actually began the morning by making a beeline for the ampsandsound table where I got to pick Justin and Tyler’s brains. I’ve gotten a lot of solid advice from both of them since diving into this hobby, so getting to meet them in person was nice.)
Rad-0—I really enjoyed this headphone. It did a lot of things well, but wasn’t really the best at anything. And that’s all good in my book. The Utopia has much greater dynamic contrast (i.e., punch/slam) and superior detail retrieval. The stage on Susvara is infinitely more impressive. But the Rad-0 has very good bass, a pleasant tonality, and good imaging. I liked it a lot, but at the price point, I think the VC exceeds it in each of these areas.
I also liked the DCA Stealth. That said, with the exception of the 1266 TC, it was my least favorite of the TOTL headphones I tried. I found the dynamic contrast to be so muted that while it was otherwise technically a very fine headphone, I thought it was a little boring. The genres I listen to most are jazz and hip-hop. I also listen to a lot of female vocalists and non-jazz acoustic music. I think the Stealth works well with jazz, female vocalists, and acoustic music; hip-hop less so.
The only underwhelming part of the experience was the music selection on a lot of the sources at the various booths. I waited in line 20 minutes (maybe even more) to try the Susvara, and once I sat down and scrolled through the music options, I had no idea where to begin, the choices were so mundane. Mindful that a long line had formed behind me, I didn’t want to take up too much time, but I had to ask to connect my ipad to play some of my reference tracks. I’m glad that I did.