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.

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.

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.

Streaming Hurts Music Sales.

I’m a modest music buyer, I spend about 30€ monthly on CDs or legal lossless downloads, with that said I still visit sites like Youtube for movie trailers, oficial music videoclips and live shows. Sadly I have mixed feelings about these kind of services because their rise is hurting the music sales around the world.
Common sense tells me that most people will avoid buying a full album when they can hear it for free online, sure some money might arrive to the industry but in the end only the streaming platform makes real money from pirated music content.

The industry targets piracy sites but forgets that the easiest way to hear music is in fact a legal service, most people will not download big lossless files to hear that new pop hit, they will use Youtube over and over again.
The problem with the music industry now is the refusal to admit that they lost a lot more to free streaming services than what they would like to admit to the public. Sure there are paid music services, but for most people the worlds biggest video platform is good enough.

Explaining why people should actually try to buy music is hard these days, after all even the music store clerks don’t get it, maybe it’s because some of them are young and online services are now a given right.
Being born in 80′s I’m still attached to the physical medium and I really enjoy having a piece of story on my hands, plus a music collection is the window of the soul.

Sure there’s hope, teens these days are enjoying vinyl again and that’s a small victory but only a few will actually keep buying music after they are on their 30′s. Those few are very important if the industry wants to be relevant again for the attention of the mainstream public, because they are the pillars that support the music community, don’t believe me? Look around you’ll be surprised by the music collectors in your own community. Treat them right and enjoy the music ride because they’ll open the doors of your mind to new music.

Using steaming services to hear music is almost a blasphemy to a music collector even if some fail to admit that in all that bad there’s some good.
The exposure of hard to get music to new generations opens the gates to new fans and the rediscovery of the history of music.

A lot was and will be written about music streaming and yes maybe it’s the future for the mainstream consumer, but if you really want to understand the feeling of owning an album maybe it’s time to visit a record shop.
Maybe you’ll make new friends or just find that version you always wanted.

Disclaimer: I didn’t sell my soul to the music industry yet…also I don’t actually worry about the CEOs of the music industry, I do worry about artists that might not get record deals because the industry refuses to make a bet on new talents thus keeping those musicians outside the mainstream attention. New artists need some money to record albums and even if some think Youtube is a good enough platform for some artists, if you ask them I’m sure most will dream of making a deal with a big player on the music industry. I have nothing against Indie record labels but few have the know-how to deliver amazing albums.
Anyway be it big or small ones go buy some music to show your love for a band or artist, sure they’ll make more money in a concert than selling CDs or vinyl but that’s another story.

AKG K-518.

I love the AKG K-518 BLK edition, they are my new headphones for traveling, sure they can be a bit bass heavy but when one is outside that can be good thing.
They are not perfect so if you got a big head these will clamp hard on your ears, in fact that’s also the main reason why they isolate the outside noise so much, also these headphones have a huge and I mean huge cable so be prepared for that.
For 40€ these are great but grab them soon because they were discontinued.

Raspberry pi + Wolfson Audio Card project.

 

So I finally finished my Raspberry pi + Wolfson Audio Card project.

Yea, I was lazy….anyway I now can play 24-bit, 192KHz lossless audio on my rig and there’s no need for a power hungry computer.

The Pi box is behind the TFT, its a simple black box similar with the one with a wood front in the photo. HDD is next to the decks and yea I’m gonna disconnect the blue LED ou cover up that light.
I did a little overclock to the CPU but nothing too serious, heat dissipation is enough and the box has an open back.
I also have a little hub to connect the keyboard and mouse.

Software wise the Wolfson cards suck…most distros out there aren’t compatible with it.
It runs the OS image provided by the amazing Ragnar Jensen.

As for playing music, it does sound nice and there aren’t dropouts or noticeable hum.
Anyway I’ll put a decent keyboard on the thing when I can.

On a final notice, stay away from this board as it doesn’t have decent support.
There are better things out there these days.

Some updates on my gear.

So I bought a new CD player on Thomann, its a cheap Swissonic but for the money it’s pretty impressive.

Massive bonus is the fact it has XLR outputs.
I’ll be sincere I wont use half of the pro specs it has.
It’s a pretty solid piece of gear for the price, the fact its designed for a rack also helps.
Now why the hell did I buy a pro deck..because there isn’t any good Hi-Fi deck on this price range. Second hand is not an option, CD players are awful deals unless you really know the seller, have mad skills at repairing or have plain luck.

Also because I wanted free shipping I had to stack some more stuff on my order.
So I also bought two original Beyerdynamic DT-880 headbands and new pads for my DT-880…Always nice to have those in stock even if I know mine will last at least 10 or 15 years until they get awful but better safe than sorry.

I also bought a fender cap, the blackout model. I love this model plus its one of the few ones that actually fits my head. Fender I love you!

Also two months ago I went for a 8Gb Sony Walkman NWZ-E584, my BQ Aquaris E4 smartphone was OK for music with a portable headphone amplifier but the Sony packs a punch even with my Grados. Where it truly shines is with the active noise canceling headphones that are included, sure you lose some details but on a train or bus they are a thing of heaven.
Anyway to comute I use my Sennheiser CX 3.00 in-ears and with the Sony they sound really nice. I don’t enjoy expensive gear when I comute don’t want to get mugged for something stupid as too much bling.

As a follow up to my Beyerdynamic DT-880 purchase I did buy the Lake People headphone G103 and its a match made in heaven.
I don’t actually review gear but the Lake people is not build like a tank, the darn thing is build like a aircraft carrier! 😀

@chiisai-fukurou we both love Japan, you more than me but dude I also love German engineering!

I also got some cheap portable headphone amplifiers one from Creative Labs and one from M-Audio.
The E1 from Creative one can be a nice simple DAC also, as for the M-audio Bass Traveler like the name says it’s has a nice bass boost function that I enjoy using when I comute. I recommend both as entry level headphone amps, they drive my Grado and Shure headphones with ease.

This is a half year list of purchases related to my hobbies, thus it might look like a lot of things but it isn’t all that much if compared with more hardcore  audio enthusiasts.

The hero of DIY audio, Pow Chu Moy.

It came to my attention that Pow Chu Moy the man behind Head-Wize and the Cmoy headphone amplifier passed away in Reno Nevada (US)  on February 12, 2016.

Kevin Gilmore was the bearer of the sad news in the headphone community Head-Fi.

I never had the pleasure of talking with Chu Moy, mostly because his forum went down more or less at the time I finally had access to the Internet, but I know a lot of his work, specially the Cmoy amplifier.
Chu Moy is one of those rare online personalities of whom you can’t find a picture via google.
It’s amazing that a man so loved by the DIY audio community never placed a photo online for us to know his face, but something tells me he didn’t want fame or money.
If that was the case maybe Head-Wize would still be around sponsored by audio companies and with draconian rules uphold by professional moderators to protect the flowing of money.

Chu Moy is probably the best example of a true patron of DIY audio. Others tried to emulate his work but they never achieved his fame, after all he does have a amplifier with his name.
All headphone audiophiles know the Cmoy amp and sooner or later some build it or buy it.

Pow Chu Moy is to DIY audio what Sony was to Portable audio in the 80s.
I offer my deepest condolences to his family, with hope they know his importance to all of us headphone enthusiasts.

Update: 21 Out 2016
More shared online about him. 

On innerfidelity.com, the user Jssnow1 wrote:

“I was saddened to hear about Chu’s passing. I attended high school with Chu and just googled his name to see what he was up to and came across this sad news. As there does not appear to be much info about Chu, I can share a little bit. Chu grew up in Chinatown, NYC and attended Poly Prep CDS before going to Yale for undergrad. He was a very nice person. He was reserved, mostly kept to himself, very studious and hard-working. I will attempt to post a picture of Chu from high school (class of ’79). Best”

On lowyat.net, Jssnow1 also shared: 

“Hi, I was very sorry to hear of Chu’s passing. I was a high school classmate of Chu’s and was just trying to catch up with what he might be up to. Foe some background, Chu grew up in Chinatown, NYC and attended Poly Prep CDS in Brooklyn. He was a very serious and good student; extremely straight-laced with excellent principles. A very nice person. After high school, he went to Yale, and I lost track of him after that. I’ll try to dig up an old photo and figure out how to post it. Best,”

powchumoy

On head-case.org  Tyll Hertsens wrote:

“So I decided to call Frank Patten  at the Washoe County Public Administrator office to see if he could tell me any more about Chu.

He was surprisingly forth coming. He said Chu was “traveling light”, and had few if any possessions. He was renting a one-room apartment week-to-week. It was almost completely empty but for an unopened Amazon box with a Bissel vacuum sweeper inside. There was no bedding.  They could find no job or source of income. He did have a PayPal account but the only thing they found is a few contributions to political parties and disaster relief efforts. They found his deceased dad, and they think he had a sister but can’t find her. He was born in New York. He evidently died suddenly and inexplicably.

And yeah, being alone doesn’t mean he was lonely…but boy, it was a little hard hearing that stuff.”