Communities and sellers.

tumblr_inline_mlaiu3hvfk1qz4rgpOne of these days I was visiting a Brazilian headphone community at Facebook when someone asked if his motherboard was compatible with a pair of headphones and if he needed a external DAC.
Now, this is normal on that community thus I went and read some of the replies until my eyes gazed at so much bullshit that I had to reply to the apparent intelligent user who wrote it.

His reply to the question was something along the lines of telling the person to change the power cord of the PSU and also change the SATA cable for a special audio one, he followed all of this bullshit by giving a link to a very known Brazilian audiophile community that has some really nice members but also a lot of pseudo-science bullshit. Sadly this link was of the last type.

My reply was simple, all elements inside a computer case are made to tolerate a lot of interference, if that wasn’t the case CPUs would not process data, power cables are important for their amperage and will not change the audio or affect the DACs of the motherboard. SATA cables are made for data not audio, and adhere to specifications which are on paper.

Things went down hill from there, after the guy laughed at my reply I dismissed him as the typical audiophile which believes in voodoo and went my way.
That was until someone in the group told me he was a seller of audiophile gear, after a fast Google search I found his site and BEHOLD, he sold very expensive audiophile cables, with prices high enough for me to raise my eyebrow.

I was looking at a snake oil seller, just my luck. Everybody knows I love them!
I went back and told everyone that I didn’t know the guy was a seller and that I would have not interact with him had I known it beforehand. I avoid this type of people like the plague because they go against everything the audiophile hobby represents.
Anyway, another group member called him out as a charlatan and the seller actually left the community after that.
I must admit I had a little fun with his departure comment and shown him the way out, just like a good internet gentleman. Maybe I was a bit out of line but I hate snake oil sellers.
To be sincere the guy could have stayed because nobody would have cared anyway.

Now I’m sure this was not the last time a seller tried to sneak in to a community to guide future costumers. A nudge there, a push right or left and voila new primed costumer in the horizon.
I believe people who sell or are related to manufacture companies should always disclose where they work before interacting in a community.
In this case the seller could have put a visible link to his site on his Facebook profile but he didn’t do it. Clearly the idea is to sweet talk less informed people in to believing bullshit.

This is another fine example why one should be careful with reviews, opinion makers and hype. Bullshit is just around the corner and it will jump at you when you least expect it.

Spotify, so I was wrong.

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Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

A little disclaimer, I’m not being paid by Spotify or have any kind of commercial deal with them, I pay my subscriptions from my pocket.

I love the physical medium, after all I still avidly collect CDs and already shared that I think streaming services hurt the music industry in the long run.
After some heavy resistance I subscribed to Spotify Premium, even if it goes against some preconceived opinions I got about streaming services, stuff like:
1. I’ll never ever own the music.
2. Streaming wastes my smartphone data plan if I’m not careful.
3. Artists are not paid enough by Spotify.
4. Subscription services make music disposable.

To the above I had to consider after some resistance:
1. I also watch YouTube and will never own that content.
2. Ok, at least in Premium one can download the songs to hear later and that’s a nice touch to save my short data plan.
3. I’m sure it surely beats having their music downloaded for free on the internet.
4. Well, if you love music it will never be disposable.

So why the hell did I start using Spotify Premium after all?
– The free option sucks hard if you enjoy choosing the music you want to hear. It’s ok if you need a radio like option. Premium is the way to go if you want to control the music.
– The quality is way better in Premium, I’m an audio enthusiast after all.
– I don’t need to change CDs to put some music for my kids, choosing music was never so easy and my kids love it. 5 hours of Disney songs…just press play.
– I got a stand alone application for Linux, thus I don’t need to store music on the tiny SSDs my laptops use.
– It’s possible to use a smartphone to control what other device plays from any place in the world thus making Spotify Premium the best remote control in the world.
– It’s a fun way of knowing about new artists.

Less attractive things.
– Some albums are not available.
– Some artists still refuse to let Spotify stream their stuff, and I totally respect that.
– It’s a service so it can change prices or even be terminated.

Again I don’t make money from saying good things about Spotify, I just think it’s a really cool way to enjoy music without too much work from the end user.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my CD and Lossless collection but sometimes I just need to have some music handy without too much worry about changing CDs.
As a plus it sure beats using Youtube.

Audiophile reviewers and disclosure.

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Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

A word of warning before you read this, if by any chance you review audiophile gear keep in mind that I’m probably not writing about you.
With that out of the way, I’m totally against people who say they are reviewers or make review blogs just to get free samples or even money for their opinions.

In fact this post came to be because I started to notice a pretty awful trend on so called headphone reviewers, most of them do it because they receive free stuff which they get to keep after their reviews.
Bloggers know it’s wrong and the companies who supply them often make a blind eye, because it brings them more customers already primed by word-to-mouth hype.
In fact this kind of marketing strategies were one of the reasons the FTC made US bloggers disclose any kind of endorsements or free samples.

No wonder we never read truly negative reviews on some audiophile sites or blogs.
Those writers refuse to review bad products because it would ruin their relationship with the merchant who’s giving them free samples! Sad but true.
Sure some bloggers will disclose they are receiving free gear but it’s all for nothing if they are reviewing just to receive the gear, thus they lack the main thing any reviewer amateur or professional needs above all, integrity.

I totally understand the rush of receiving new stuff on the doorstep, but these writers are literally selling their opinion to the lowest bidder.
Because of them most who are serious about their work or hobby are faced with the sad reality of being pressured by those very same companies for positive reviews. After all if one reviewer sells out everyone else will surely will!

I totally suck as a reviewer and I lack the necessary wine tasting vocabulary most use on their articles, but I do strive for honesty on my opinions.
For example in my KZ earphones guide I disclosed this:

– All earphones are bought with my money from various online shops.
– I’m not endorsed by KZ in any way nor do I want to be. 

I can fairly bash any KZ earphone I bought because of this, It’s my money and I’ll give my blunt opinion on the gear. Until now I never gave a negative opinion on any KZ product, but I don’t know what the future holds.

In this niche everyone has their fair share of blame for the problem.   
Some reviewers are addicted to free stuff and sadly some consumers need to confirm their purchases with positive reviews.
Reviewers are very important to the current consumer society but they are also accountable for their words.
It’s up to each one of us to understand what’s bullshit and what’s not.

On the Sony NW-WM1Z Walkman.

Most guardians of the galaxy Walkman fans know the Sony TPS-L2 was released in 1979, in fact we (yes, yours truly included) celebrate this Japanese icon anniversary on 1 of July. Sadly this year I’m a bit late for the party, so to make up for my delay I want to share my opinion on the hefty price tag of the Sony NW-WM1Z Walkman, which was something that was nagging me for some time now.
For the ones who think I’ll be bashing right and left, sorry but you are out of luck, I’m a Sony Walkman fan.

The Sony NW-WM1Z Gold edition that goes for almost 3000€ on Amazon (July 2017) is one amazing piece of engineering at least on paper.
I never had a chance to actually hear or hold one, thus I won’t write about the sound quality of the product but knowing Sony I’m sure it’s Hi-Fi enough.

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Sony NW-WM1Z photo belongs to Sony Corporation.

I want to point that even if I think the price is batshit crazy, I totally understand why a company like Sony actually made this player.
Besides of course the marketing for their 70th anniversary, Sony built it because there’s a market niche who will pay crazy amounts of money for this kind of digital audio players.
Yes, some enthusiasts will buy a 3000€ Walkman because they truly believe sonic nirvana is right around the corner.
Sure some people will purchase this Walkman because it’s a status symbol, but I think the enthusiasts just want the best quality on the market and they’ll go to great lengths for it. Sony was the one who taught people how to use a Walkman during the 80’s, so they know there’s an audience for this kind of product, after all if my memory doesn’t fail me consumers always reacted nicely to other Walkman anniversary editions.

Sony since the TPS-L2 model always injected on their flagship models every know-how they had on portable High-Fidelity and that’s something every enthusiast must respect. Sure sometimes Sony jumps the shark and their marketing teams just look like they want to make a easy buck out of enthusiasts. Akio Morita must be turning on his grave for that one, for he always had a massive respect for Sony costumers.

Looking at the hardware and research they obviously pour on this over-engineered golden monolith. One can only imagine what great things they could have achieved earlier if they didn’t focus so much in their proprietary audio compression format ATRAC and weren’t so stubborn about not supporting MP3 thus allowing the iPod and other MP3 players to dethrone the Walkman.
Now with the portable music players market share devastated by smartphones, Sony must also face heavy competition from cheap and not so cheap Chinese brands and other established Japanese and South Korean companies who jumped on the Hi-Res bandwagon.

In the end all of this competition will be great for enthusiasts and it’s quite welcomed in a market dominated by smartphones.
It would be a nice idea if Sony made a special edition of the TPS-L2 Walkman for their 75th anniversary, I would buy it for sure.

China, the new audiophile superpower.

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Photo by WillSpirit SBLN on Unsplash

I could write a full article about the massive Chinese audiophile community, but I won’t go there for the sake of my sanity. Lets just say they are very enthusiastic about Hi-Fi.
In one point I think most occidental audiophiles agree, the Chinese are very serious about their Hi-Fi and they have the power of numbers on their side.
Those numbers are in fact their biggest strength when it comes to demand accessible high quality High-Fidelity gear, and Chinese companies are more than happy to deliver the goods usually at the expense of quality and originality.

During the 80’s Japan was in the forefront of everything Hi-Fi and the American and European companies struggled with the fierce Japanese competition.
That came to be because the occidental companies lacked courage to release new radical products on the market. Sure some companies had great products but their fear to fail on their shareholders crippled their imagination.
Today ironically that very same problem plagues Sony, a company that in the 80’s was the perfect example of a Japanese giant with amazing research and development (R&D), factories, distribution and marketing.
Japanese Hi-Fi companies like Sony had great quality assurance (QA) when they entered the international markets, mostly because they had very aggressive competition towards them and also because it’s was expensive to send the parts overseas to service the products.
Sure some Japanese companies built factories in the US and Europe but quality was and still is their best weapon to fight competition. That attention to detail and quality still stands today, as “Made in Japan” still means high quality workmanship, QA and a heavy price tag.

The problem with quality is that you have to pay for it, that premium even if well received by most audiophiles is the weak point of companies that need to uphold their brand name, after all it would be beyond awful if a batch of Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic headphones failed unexpectedly after 6 months.
When buying a product from a established Hi-Fi company the consumer pays R&D, production, distribution, marketing and of course QA, this is to name a few because it’s a complex subject which I didn’t study too deep.
With all that system in place for the established Hi-Fi makers, it’s normal that Chinese companies are now in a position to actually compete with cheaper prices because:
They can literally copy designs without legal issues and have the equipment and materials available, because most established companies make their stuff in China, thus no R&D.
Production is cheap for various social-economic reasons I won’t explain here.
Distribution is supported by the government and various local and international commercial agreements. Chinese companies help each other at least from my point of view, but as in all things I can be wrong.
Marketing is not really necessary because word-of-month between enthusiasts is enough, in fact word-of-mouth is so strong it can actually inflate the prices of products praised by the community.
QA focus in making the product work at a short term, because after all most of these Chinese companies don’t really worry about servicing their cheap gear,  they can always send a replacement unit.
Sure not all Chinese Hi-Fi companies are like the above, but let’s be sincere most of them are and they face no competition besides their own.

Having a massive enthusiast base and small companies that only need to worry on the short term makes China the new audiophile superpower.
The large community gives their opinion about the gear and factories almost in real time adapt to their requests. Very few established companies can actually do that and in my opinion some of them should actually start taking notes from their Chinese competition.

I still believe Chinese brands will have a hard time competing against established higher priced gear, after a certain price point enthusiasts will bash any company that doesn’t do serious QA on their products, plus legal problems will arise as soon as some companies setup offices outside China.

I must admit it’s a great time to be a audiophile, thanks to the Chinese enthusiasts and companies anyone in the world can enjoy a good song.