The Westin South Coast Plaza
So what exactly is CanJam Global? Well, picture a bunch of hardcore audiophiles under one roof testing out the world's premier headphones ranging anywhere from $29 to $55,000 in price. This year that roof was at the The Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Boasting as North America's largest personal audio expo, CanJam Global 2016 had well over one thousand head-fiers and audio enthusiasts.
Since 2006, CanJam events have acted as community showcases for Head-Fi.org, the world's largest website for personal audio enthusiasts. Audiophiles flock to CanJam Global for the opportunity to experience the latest in headphone and personal audio technology and perhaps to get to know their Head-Fi forum buddies beyond their usernames.
With the demand for music ever-growing, where does the headphone industry stand in terms of what they're focusing on to provide consumers? "It seems like people are really wanting blue-tooth and wireless headphones." says David Denson a sales manager for Sennheiser. Certain brands already provide headphones with a lightning connector for iPhone. Headphones with microphones are also popular among millennials according to Denson.
While cutting headphone cords is the future the move to wireless also means audio quality will decrease. For the most part, people seem willing to trade away performance for convenience — are consumers getting lazier or have they never truly known how high-fidelity music sounds like? "Quality is all in the storage, radio is 8 bit, CD is 16 bit and vinyl is 24 bit. The streaming music services right now are at 8 bit or a little bit less." says Michael Brown, an operations manager at Final Audio. "Some people can't tell between CD-quality and high-resolution, it's very subjective." Brown adds.
That soon may change. According to Brown, the biggest game changer on the horizon is the bridge between high-resolution music and music streaming services—something companies such as Tidal and HDTracks have already trailblazed in. The ability to have easier access to high-resolution music will surely drive up the demand for high-quality headphones and earphones that supplement these refined ways of experiencing music.
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Aside from sound quality and convenience, weight, comfort, flexibility and cosmetics all go into play when designing a headphone. When it comes to the stylish headphone powerhouse, Beats By Dre, most exhibitors applauded Beats for their genius marketing but considered the brand to provide fashion statements rather than serious quality headphones. While most agreed that Beats was a sub-par personal audio brand, no one wanted to be directly quoted talking smack about Beats — something I found a tad eerie.
After sampling a few headphones and amplifiers that looked like they were worth thousands of dollars —and in some cases were, I had the inimitable pleasure of hearing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" through a high-fidelity music player and a thousand-dollar set of headphones, an experience I'll never forget as it felt like I was in a studio session with the King of Pop himself. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.