The Portuguese headphone scene.

siddharth-bhogra-143322What you’ll read next is my view about the headphone scene in Portugal, it’s a incomplete and somewhat subjective opinion, so please keep that in mind when reading.

Portugal like all countries in Europe has a massive smartphone user base, it would be expected that most Portugueses would care at least a little about the sound quality of their headphones but sadly that’s not the case.
Sure there are some headphone related subtopics in the biggest Portuguese online forums, but for most part consumers are more than happy with the stock options the companies provide with their smartphones.
I can actually know who reads reviews and who uses stock headphones just looking at what they use daily. I find it sad because at least 95% of the people I watch on my daily commute use average stock earbuds and the other 5% are enough people to grow the hobby but are dispersed on foreign sites.

Luckily the Portuguese audiophile magazine “Audio e Cinema em Casa” actually reviews High-End headphones so in a way the landscape is not a barren desert for the audiophile hobbyists. We love headphones just like foreign enthusiasts but there isn’t a dedicated Portuguese community to talk about the subject.
Brasil in that point is way ahead of Portugal, mostly because of Leonardo Drummond work on his reference site and forum “Mind The Headphone“, so at least there is a place on the other side of the Atlantic ocean to ask advice and help in Portuguese. I should also note there are some Brazilian facebook groups related to the topic who on their own right help both communities. Sadly it’s not really possible to share hardware with the guys/gals so far away.

The Portuguese headphone scene lacks a connecting hub, I’m sure if all Portuguese enthusiasts joined ranks we would at least share headphones locally and help each other like other communities do with so much success. After all the best way to know a headphone is to hear it first hand.
That community hub needs to be built soon or the headphone enthusiasts in Portugal will be missing a lot. Just look at the meets and greets on the US and it’s apparent their communities share more knowledge and thus have even more in return from their hobby.

Some will point out that I write in English and do little to help the Portuguese headphone community, they are probably right because I write for my own selfish reasons, this is after all a personal blog. Plus I don’t have enough skills or money to review headphones on a regular basis but hope someone does enter the rabbit hole and follows that path after reading my opinion.

My rules for ebay.

This is my way of buying stuff on ebay. It works for me, so maybe it works for others. I don’t sell stuff so I’ll not touch that topic.

  • Before buying stuff check the import rules of your country. When buying from outside Europe I never ever go above 22€, mostly because above that I’ll have to pay taxes in Portugal.
  • Be polite on your ratings and comments. If the seller is serious try to understand his/her point of view. Before going for a negative review, just request your money back. Most Sellers will return it. If they refuse ebay will try to solve the problem.
  • Always return if you found a serious shop, it’s better than getting ripped off just because the price was 5 cents cheaper.
  • Always pay attention to how many sales and negative feedback a shop has,  lots of complains are usually a no go for me.
  •  Pay attention to the shipping price, some things might look cheap but they aren’t.
  • Always read the description of the product, twice.
  • If it’s too amazing to be true, it’s not true. Scammers love eBay
  • Test the seller before committing too much money on a parcel.  When I buy in Europe I try to know a seller and only after some cheap buys will I risk buying expensive stuff.
  • Avoid bids if you can, and be prepared to lose sometimes if you bid on ebay.
  • Some things are just too expensive on ebay, I once saw four tuna cans selling on ebay for about 25€ plus shipping, in Portugal you can buy them for 6€. Enough said.
  • Last but most important, use common sense when buying stuff on ebay, always pay with paypal and never ever pay money outside the ebay system our you’ll probably lose it all for scammers.

This list is by no means a complete one, but it covers my basics of buying safely on ebay.

Setups, headphones, amps & wish list.

What follows are some lists of gear I use to enjoy my music. Keep in mind that I change my setups to test new stuff.

Home “Hi-Fi” setup: Swissonic CDMP 1 V2.0 CD Player -> Lake People G103-S Headphone Amp -> Beyerdynamic DT880 Premium / Grado SR80i

Computer setup: Laptop/Desktop -> Creative Labs E5 DAC/Headphone Amp -> Grado SR80i / Superlux HD330 / Shure SRH440 (If I need noise isolation)

Commute setup: Sony Walkman NWZ-E580 Player -> Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ZST Pro (I might use portable amplification to test new earphones)

Travel setup: Sony Walkman NWZ-E580 Player -> M-Audio Bass Traveler Headphone Amp ->  AKG K518 / Superlux HD330

IMG_20170223_165203
KZ ZST Pro

On the shelf right now:
Beyerdynamic DT880 Premium (250 Ohms)
Grado SR80i (With new pads)
Shure SRH440 (With new headband)
Superlux HD330 (With Beyerdynamic parts)
AKG K518
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ED2 Special Edition
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ATE S
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ZST Pro
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ED12
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ZS3
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) ATR
Sennheiser CX 3.00 (On the workbench for repair)

Amplification:
Lake People G103-S
Creative Labs E5
ART HeadAMP4
Creative Labs E1
M-Audio Bass Traveler

IMG_20170316_194318
Creative E5 DAC

Wish list:
Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro

On their way to me:
Knowledge Zenith (KZ) IE80

Updated: 25 March 2017

Audiophile hype is necessary.

treesinlisbonIf you are a stressed commuter, the tree in the photo will make you curse specially in rainy days. Not only it hides the time of arrival panel but also the incoming bus.
Now let’s say there’s an car accident and the same tree saves the lives of the commuters, will they still hate the placement of the tree after such event? Perspective is a curious thing and it can be applied to everything.

The audiophile hobby these days is flooded by hype products but some of them can actually bring more music enthusiasts to the hobby, and that is a great thing at least for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate hype specially when it brings bullshit to the table (Yes, Sony! I’m looking at your SD audiophile cards), but hype also makes big players in the Hi-Fi industry move their asses and actually make good use of their engineering teams. Sadly it also makes some products more expensive, for instance you now pay more for entry price turntables because of the vinyl hype.

I wrote about hype before the Pono player was released. Pono the High-Resolution player gain massive traction from artists that really noticed the difference of High-Rez audio inside a car. On the good side because of it, companies from all around the world jumped on the bandwagon and now everybody can purchase better audio players.

The Beats headphone hype also gave a breath of fresh air to the on-the-go music market, companies like Sony, Sennheiser, AKG and other big players had to up their design, quality and advertising to face the competition of star athletes turned audiophiles. Yes, because everyone knows soccer players know how good headphones should sound.
Hype, gonna love it! Jokes aside, finally headphones started to be viewed as an amazing way to hear music even by high-end magazines.

The hype behind the portable digital to analogue converters (DACs) and headphone amplifiers also made companies like Creative Labs release solid gear for a decent price.
As the owner of the Creative Labs Sound blaster E1 and soon the E5 I can only be grateful of the hype behind this kind of gear. When the big players come to the market everyone wins! Niche audiophile companies might suffer but the consumer wins.

Hype for all that matters is a necessary evil if the hobby wants new blood in the ranks.

Consumerism gone bad.

In 2012 Charles Duhigg  wrote an amazing article in the NYT called “How Companies Learn Your Secrets“. The article is still fresh after all these years and depicts a consumer society gone bad.

Sadly these days consumer data is the new gold for corporations, social networks, search engines, online markets and other corporations will go to great lengths to acquire information about us.

Users are not forced to use said services and I understand that corporations need to make a living from selling services and goods, what I dislike is the fact most users and consumers think they can easily control what they share with corporations.

The fact some corporations have enough data to predict with confidence a pregnancy is enough to make me wonder what other things they can predict.

Ebay the Chinatown of the world.

chinatownDon’t get me wrong from the title because I love China, it has a beautiful culture, amazing views outside the urban areas, and pretty badass Ebay shops.

The Chinese I know are very hard workers, they take their work and income very seriously and thus Ebay is the perfect window to sell stuff to a compulsive consumer world.
People might complain about the time it takes to receive stuff from Shanghai and give bad reviews when they don’t receive their goods but they’ll keep coming back for more cheap stuff, let’s be sincere everybody loves free shipping.

I don’t like all made in China products, some have poor quality and very little user safety, but if you know what to buy and find a decent Ebay store, Chinese clones are amazing ways to save money. Sure I don’t enjoy all imitations but in some cases they actually improve the design of some products from the feedback they receive from customers.
I dare to say some factories in China are more open source than some GNU/Linux operating systems.

Some stuff I won’t buy from Chinese Ebay stores, mostly anything that is a intimation of a known brand or pirated media goods. Those I will never buy on Ebay!
One thing is to buy a multi-tool card imitation, or a cheap USB dust cover, the other is buying a clone of a swiss brand watch. Besides the massive headaches one might get because of legal issues of importing stuff like that, the quality of complex cheap goods is never a good one.

Ebay these days is in fact a Chinatown with all the good and bad things that brings.

One thing most American and European consumers don’t understand is the fact cheap stuff will often be made of cheap materials, be it of Chinese, Portuguese or American origin. Plus cheap stuff comes at a high social price but that’s a boring detail because free shipping is so nice isn’t it?

Ebay is an amazing tool, if consumers know what they want to buy, if sellers are actually serious, if you don’t have bad luck when receiving your parcels and if your country doesn’t have draconian import laws, in Portugal anything above 22€ (Product + Shipping) will be taxed and most people don’t try going around it because papers will be requested and the legal outcome will not be pretty. To be sincere I wouldn’t spend more than 20€ in one parcel from China anyway, the risk of losing money would be too high.

Be it in a true Chinatown or a online one be careful with your purchases, always use paypal and never ever go for any other type of payment especially if the seller requests it.
Remember there always be bad sellers, best way is to report them to Ebay and be safe.

Audiophile power conditioners.

voltsGiving 5oo€ for a audiophile power conditioner sounds crazy but depending on the tech inside it might actually help prolong the lifetime of your Hi-Fi gear. Yes, I actually wrote that and I’m not joking.
Archimago’s blog has a great objective test and review about a power conditioner from a very reputable brand called Belkin.
Belkin unlike some audiophile brands actually has some pretty amazing engineering behind their surge protectors and power conditioners.

Sadly its not always the case with audiophile brands, often selling their so called filters and cheap surge protectors inside glamorized power strips.
Anyone with a little knowledge about electricity will notice the ripoff on the components and so called tech. I had the sad vision of a so called power conditioner selling for 5oo€ that had a very minimalist construction, so minimal that my Lidl brand surge protector power strip might have more engineering inside.

Audiophiles will buy that kind of gear and expect better sound because the power line is being filtered, but the gear in question is so basic any DIY enthusiast can actually build something similar from way less money and do a better job at filtering and surge protection. I won’t point fingers at bad brands because I don’t want any legal problems but I advise anyone who really needs a solid power conditioner to search for reputable brands like Belkin or APC.

I also advise anyone who doesn’t have a surge protector to buy one for their sensitive gear, I might actually save the day, specially during thunderstorms.

Buying a laptop, need or desire?

First of all I should say I have a old Intel Core2 Duo 2Ghz laptop and a newer Intel Celeron 1037U Dual Core ultrabook. The laptop now running Microsoft Windows XP is a decent workstation for writing and editing my site when I have a electric outlet near. One hour of batery power is not really much but on a old laptop thats the norm. The ultrabook on the other hand has plenty of batery but lacks the full size keyboard a screen size of the laptop, it runs ubuntu 16.04 so it’s a very rock solid machine for browsing the internet and I’m quite pleased with the purchase.

I admit both laptop and ultrabook do a decent job for basic tasks, but until some days ago I had the desire to have a better laptop. Something in the line of a Clevo barebone with a decent dedicated graphics card for games, a fast CPU and lots of RAM, a typical desktop replacement because my kids often kick me from main rig.

My need for a ubuntu compatible laptop made me research the professional lines of HP, Dell and Lenovo and thus I arrived to the wonderful world of refurbished computers, very desirable one to be sincere.
The idea of buying a refurbished Lenovo Thinkpad makes me smile mostly because I would be using “old” tech and defeting the main idea of upgrading to a better newer laptop.
So after thinking a bit about it I understood I didn’t really had the need for a better machine, I just wanted a new one even if it was a old but very well designed Thinkpad.
Consumism at its finnest and desire turning the cogs on my brain. I love old thinkpads so I’m guilty as charged to fall in that consumer trap.

With that out of my mind I finaly gave up on buying a new computer in 2017, I just don’t need it right now. My desktop does the typical brute work it’s designed to do and does it well.
My old laptop is a fine way to write for my site when my kids take over the desktop and my ultrabook solves most of my browsing needs and multimedia playback.

As a bonus “sad but true” I got a Acer tablet that actually has a lot of computing power, enough to replace a netbook if I connect a keyboard and a mouse to it, just like I’m doing now to  write this article. So in a way I actually have more computers than I should have, but like I often say “they are never enough”, maybe thats because I spent more than a half of my life without one to call my own. Just like a teenager who wasn’t allowed to drink soda, often drinks lots of it when he has the freedom to do so, I now enjoy the idea of having computers around me.

In a way I always knew the laptop project would stay in the back burner, I just didn’t admit it earlier. Also my desire to buy a thinkpad didn’t die but I should not use the escuse of needing a new computer to actually buy said computer. I just desire it because its a beautiful and pratical machine.

In a society ruled by consumism its not easy to escape the little traps of desire, I’m not immune but I do understand how they often work, and I hope this little tidbit makes you think if you really need something new in your toolbox or it’s just desire.

Think about it but not too much. Life is short and some desires are quite fun.