What Are You Looking At?

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Sep 132012

Is it insane to believe that the quality of sound reproduction matters, that it makes any real difference to anyone who isn’t trying to make a buck off of selling you more stuff? For many, OK most people, the answer is an absolute no. The majority of folks see music as something that is always in the background. It is there, pumped out by speakers in the supermarket ceiling, the romantic Italian restaurant you love, or coming right out of those little white apple earbuds.

Those people, those blessed individuals who don’t listen so much as allow music into their lives will never know or care that there is near perfection to be had for the listening, if one is shrewd or has enough disposable income. They will never know that Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & The Dominos recent remastered release is an atrocity of digital compression, an affront to anyone’s God with ears, and in my opinion a capital offense. They will not know the soft rasp of David “Fathead” Newman’s saxophone reed on Diamondhead, the work of someone so loving and careful as to cause a physical reaction when played on a good system.

To a headphone audiophile, knowing what so few know makes us look, well, perhaps we are, insane. We certainly look that way when we step onto the street wearing a full size over the ear headphone. The look isn’t the real story though because attached to those cans by a custom built replacement cable are the portable amp, DAC (Digital to Analog Converter,) and the source itself, probably something quadruple the price of the most expensive iPod.

A small portable rig

I find peace, relaxation, and comfort in my systems. I can step away from the world and replenish the optimism that today’s life so quickly sucks from my body. I know people may, for many reasons, dismiss us as insane, and that is alright by me because I question the sanity of anyone who has ever willingly watched even 1 minute of Honey Boo Boo, The Bachelor, Survivor, or so many other popular shows. I don’t judge them but I do question their sanity when everyone knows watching Game of Thrones: Teenage Boob Edition, Breaking Bad: How I learned to sell Meth, Walking Dead: OK, this one may save my life someday, are much more worthy of my time.

Are you a Honey Boo Boo fan? Do you feel your clock radio provides all the sound quality anyone needs? I would love to hear from you. Take a minute and tell us what you think, give us your questions, or just to tell me I’m an idiot. Hopefully the line will be short.

Sep 112012

Music and its enjoyment have continued to evolve since man first banged out a beat on a hollow log accompanied by a hairy fellow shaking the noisy end of a dead rattlesnake.  Sometime later we moved to wax wheels, tape, shiny disc formats, and eventually to sterile digital files. Audiophiles have existed since the first recording equipment went on sale to the public and has continued to this day. No matter the cost, the beauty, or the level of technology, an audiophile is constantly looking to the future in the hopes that something new will squeeze out just a bit more resolution, be a smidge more realistic.

Through much of the twentieth century technology continued to improve and eventually audiophiles prepared to embrace what they believed would be the game changer, the change from analog to digital with the introduction of the CD. It was going to remove the pop and hiss of analog formats and be, well, perfect. Then we jumped in and paid the insane prices for the first CD players, bought out the crazy expensive first CD releases, and sat down, underwhelmed at what we heard. We were in shock.

Digital music formats, even modern hi-resolution formats, fail to deliver life-like audio. All those ones and zeros sound as shiny as the discs that hold them, they sound harsh, digital even. To an audiophile, the previous decades have been painful but the last few years have been reversing the trend, even if it is a small change.

It started with the revitalization of vinyl records, those shiny black, often warped, popping discs that everyone thought dead. Over the last two years vinyl has been the only growing sector of the music industry. While digital downloads and CDs still make up the vast majority of music sold, they both continue to show falling sales. The resurrection of vinyl is all the more impressive when you realize that it is not just old men longing for the experiences of the past, it is being driven by today’s youth, or at least some of them. They are embracing something more than the terrible sound of their iPod and it doesn’t end with vinyl.

This brings us to the focus of this blog, to the digital meat and potatoes of this publication, if you will. While a true audiophile sound system costs upwards of $50,000 and often many times that, an audiophile quality headphone system can be had for a fraction of that price. And if so desired can be as portable as your iPod.

While Beats Audio and Bose headphones helped bring a focus back on headphones, they are largely the product of a beautiful marketing campaign rather than leaders in performance. Without them, however, the sudden and dramatic sales growth of headphones and amplifiers would likely have never come. We should embrace these cans for what they are, a gateway headphone that compels many to look deeper into what music can really be, what it should be.

This is a small piece of the story; it has many intricacies and is ever changing. It is vast beyond one blog post or even one blog, but over time we will discuss the myriad facets related to headphones, amplifiers, sources, and music itself. Together you and I will explore the joy of audiophile headphones and an enthusiasm for the music they deliver.