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.

Portable audio quality since the 80s.

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Photo By Binarysequence (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Gear centered audiophiles rave about portable audio players all the time, most follow reviews sites in the quest for the audio quality grail. Often young enthusiasts search for audio quality like its some illusive thing that only the newest most expensive players will deliver, but sound quality is not a new thing.
In-fact brands marketed portable audio quality since the start of the 80s.

Sony was the first one with the TPS-L2 Walkman at the beginning of the 80s, the now iconic blue and silver metal cased Walkman was the first of many in the successful line of cassette players the Japanese brand would ship around the world.
I never had the chance to hear the TPS-L2 player but would own a WM-FX421 (1998)  and have access to a WM-EX622 (1995) a friend had.
Both cassette players had good quality if my memory serves me right.
Later I would have a Discman D-171 (1995?) and a MZ-R35 MiniDisc Walkman (1998) in both cases the audio quality was on par with the digital audio players sold at stores these days.
In 2001 I would have access to a friends Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox also known in Europe as the Creative Digital Audio Player an amazing MP3 player at the time and also during that year I would hear a Apple Ipod for the first time.
Many other portable players I had the chance to hear are not listed, mostly because I don’t remember the models or because they are rather new like the Sony Playstation Portable Slim, Philips Opus 16Gb and Creative Zen Stone I own.

Sure I can’t confirm objectively my claims but all of these players had the sound quality you can find almost 15 years later in a typical off the shelf DAP or cellphone.
Quality did improve in the high-end gear that is now capable of driving very high impedance headphones at ease. Also High-resolution music is now the new trend because sound quality sells even if sometimes you might not actually hear it without very good headphones or a little help from an old musician.
The main difference to the gear of the old days is in the size of the tech, my MZ-R35 played a physical medium making it a fairly complex mechanical DAP.
Today’s tech in comparison is cheaper, thinner and physical medium free.
With solid state cards reaching hundreds of GBs in size, audiophiles are now free to take their full collections on the go without the need for carrying CD cases but with all the bits and bytes intact.

More than 3 decades ago Sony gave the masses Hi-Fi sound in a way the world never seen before, later Apple would revolutionize the way people interacted with their players and music collections and now the omnipresent smartphones are the new DAPs of the masses, the standalone DAP is now a niche product made for the ones who are still on the quest for the holly grail of portable audio.
Quality is now the rule not the exception.

Smartphone audio, downgrade to upgrade.

BQ E4 Aquaris running Neutron Music Player, Erutan is pretty amazing so go buy her music!

Until recently I had a Sony Playstation Portable as a music player, the PSP Slim has a Wolfson Microelectronics chip inside so it had a decent audio section to read my lossy music files. I was mostly happy with the sound besides the following nags: The proprietary memory card price per Gb is expensive as hell (I can buy a 32Gb SD card for the price of a 4Gb proprietary card). I also wanted less conversions when uploading my music to the player, most of my music is in lossless Flac and converting it to Mp3 was a tedious task.
Changing memory cards weekly is not very good in the long run hardware wise.
With that in mind I started searching for a new music player, a cheap one if possible without the above nags but with all the good things my Sony PSP had.
The audiophile in me craved some high resolution players, Fiio has some really nice ones but after my experience with my now half dead Philips Opus I knew that after some years I’ll would end up with a shinny brick because like most people I enjoy new gear from time to time… a multimedia solution was needed, a player that could still be useful around the house or at least for my kids when the time came.

Thus enters the Android OS smartphone to the brawl, limited to CD quality audio by default unless it uses a modified kernel or an external DAC, the typical Android smartphone was something I always advised against as a music player mostly because its a “all-in-one” solution that doesn’t have audio enthusiasts as target consumers. Android based smartphones struggle to drive impedances above 16Ω, so I knew I probably had to build a portable headphone amplifier to use with my

32Ω Sennheiser HD 449 headphones.
Not all is bad, some smartphones have FM radio, they also can be customized software wise and even a 4″ phone has a better screen than most audiophile players in the market.

With that in mind I went shopping for a cheap Android smartphone.
I choose a 150€ Spanish designed BQ E4 Aquaris, this Spanish brand was the first to release a Ubuntu OS smartphone so you might know it if you follow Canonical’s Ubuntu OS.

The Aquaris is small with only 4″ screen, a rare thing in a world were bigger is better.
It has the correct size for a DAP, the IPS screen is made of Gorilla glass, you can also remove its battery when it dies, something most DAPs don’t let you do easily unless you know your way around tools.
The battery lets you enjoy a lot of music before it kicks the bucket.
Hardware wise the plastic doesn’t feel very solid, on the other hand its fast enough with it’s Quad-Core 1.3GHz CPU and 1Gb of Ram. You also got 8Gb of internal memory for apps, OS and other stuff, I advice against using the main memory for music files but that’s my opinion. You can use a microSD card up to 32Gb, I recommend a class 10 microSD.
It also takes photos and other stuff but you should really see the site for more information.

Sound wise it’s fairly decent and detailed but you might need to access the MediaTek engineer mode if you want more output power, I made a slight change (+5) to the output but I advice caution if you want to mess around the audio section of the BQ, if you kill your headphones or the phone don’t complain to me, it’s your problem not mine. If you have a portable headphone amplifier you won’t need to change anything in the audio, in fact as soon as my headamp is done I’ll return the settings to the default. Like I said the sound is detailed with a my 16Ω Philips in-ears, above that impedance you won’t have enough bass or enough power to drive headphones loud without distortion, my

32Ω Sennheisers felt lifeless and under powered so you can be sure there is a need for a external headphone amplifier and this applies to most Android smartphones.

I often use airplane mode when I play music with this phone, I also don’t have any Sim card inside because I won’t be making calls from it.
The FM radio is sensible enough and has RDS, I always enjoy having FM on my players, I’m sure old Walkman users know this need.

The E4 runs on Android 5.0 almost stock after you update it, I disabled a lot of apps because I’ll use it as a DAP but it doesn’t bring many from factory.
I installed the paid version of the music player Neutron, I went for it because it has a solid way of dealing with music files and folders, plus it doesn’t go fetch cover art to the internet. I enjoy that a lot, its a offline player, no need for internet unless I want it.
Some say it’s one of the best audiophile music players for android, I can’t claim it’s true but it does a pretty solid job, plus it has some details I enjoy like starting and stopping the player with the insertion and removal of the audio jack, every time my headphone jack was accidentally removed using my PSP people would hear music in the street, I didn’t enjoy that at all.

I’m happy with my downgrade, lost the Wolfson chip but gained a solid DAP under 150€ and if I get tired of it I can always use it as a phone.

My portable headphone amp is in the workbench so I‘ll enjoy my Sennheisers very soon. To the curious it will be a based on a JRC4565 IC. The TI BBs are nice to push 600Ω loads but nothing beats a solid JRC4565 on low impedance loads.

Update: I’m now using a Sony Walkman and this as a smartphone. The Walkman is more or less untouchable in terms of size and quality.  

Audiophile objectivity & online harassment.

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Illustration By John Bauer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m usually all in favor of scientific testing made by professionals and will often joke about subjective testing of gear and interconnects, I’m known for using the bullshit word very often when writing about audiophile cables, but I don’t attack reviewers personally via the comment section of forums or blogs because I think its a rude behavior, we are guests in their home thus we should behave like guests.
In fact one of the reasons I created this space was to rant about audiophile bullshit without the need to pollute forums or comment areas.
I didn’t create this blog to attack reviewers, magazines or brands.
If my memory doesn’t fail me I never wrote about any cable brand mostly because I’m legally accountable for my writing and will not risk a lawsuit.
Plus writing about audiophile cable brands would be free adverting and I don’t work for free unless I really love a brand.

Ok, sometimes I can lose my temper and resort to strong name calling if people are being rude just because they feel untouchable online.
Objectivists have a natural way of being assholes in comment sections mostly because they think science can shield them from everything. I often bash those so called objectivists because I really hate arrogant people online.
These type of trolls make objectivists look bad and highly intolerant.

I might not tolerate BS marketing but I still enjoy some subjective reviewers online and in magazines, there is space for everyone and if you trust a reviewer you should have fun.
For example I really enjoy Tyll Hertsens and Bob Katz from innerfidelity.com, in fact I consider Tyll the best reviewer in active. He tries to balance subjective and objective reviews and I enjoy that a lot.
So when someone went after him because he accepted some audiophile cables on loan that were necessary for a future mega review I got upset and lost my temper online, a rare thing.
The same user also complained about his sighted tests and complained about the use of some gear he will use to clean his AC.
In my opinion Tyll is free to do what he wants because its his site and his reputation.

When I want to troll I use my own house, its wrong to troll when you are a guest.

I suspect some of these users are young teenagers that have the need make a stand against older people. My piece of advice to them is to go get laid.
Does wonders to the stress and is really fun specially with good music.
Ok, now I’m just trolling….

About audiophile cables…again.

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Photo By Tom Cronin (Flickr: One hell of a mess…) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

helmuthsposts in a way I agree these kind of tests are stupid, mostly because they are done to discredit and make fun of all audiophiles. (Well, in this test at least the journalist was careful to point that some audiophiles do not share the opinion that audiophile network cables change the sound)
In fact besides guitar players I don’t actually know more people who “fight” over the importance of cabling in audio, and even guitar players have their reasons to fight about cables mostly because cable length and impedance can change their sound.

Its my opinion that audiophile cable companies should be legally forbidden of claiming improvements in their cables without proper scientific tests made by companies like

Bureau Veritas. Any improvement claim without proper tests should be considered false advertising and dealt in a swift manner by the authorities. Yes, I’m that tired of the cable wars…

I have some things I don’t enjoy about audiophile cable companies.
I don’t like the marketing BS some of them use to lure audiophiles and also the massive lobby behind their advertising in some magazines and audiophile websites.
Journalists/reviewers are human and they have bills to pay. So yes, they will hear differences in the cables and they are always good differences, someone point me to a bad audiophile cable review made by a serious site, please!
Seriously last time I paused my ad-blocker I was amazed by the sheer volume of cable ads in audiophile sites. Its like a visual virus!
Only our hobby has this aggressive behavior by audiophile cable makers, most cable makers don’t really need so much visual garbage to sell their stuff.

I’m always highly suspicious of reviewers that claim a HUGE difference when they change a cable, be it a loudspeaker, signal, data or even a power cable.
I’m sure they actually believe in what they are writing but I don’t have the need to believe in them because I make my own cables, plus most of them don’t objectively test their cables. Seriously a capacitance, resistance meter isn’t that expensive or hard to learn to use! Some network players are harder to use.

I respect their opinions if they respect mine, for me there are far more important things in audio than pieces of wire interconnecting gear.
Note that I believe in quality cabling but always supported by objective tests, plus people are free to spend their money the way they enjoy it most.
If someone whats to spend 10K in a cable sure go ahead the economy will be happy.

By the way I know only one man that actually tries to explain objectively why cables make a difference, that man is Mr. Roger Skoff (Former XLO cables owner), I respect him a lot but not always agree with him. With that said everyone is free to have their opinion but always in a civil manner specially in public communities. Mr. Skoff suffers a lot of bashing online and I don’t agree with that. Community made bashing is wrong and rude…
Before someone accuses me of having a double standard, Mr.Skoff actually always says he was and still is in a way connected to XLO so its no secret, some other reviewers are not so open about their relationship with audiophile cable brands.

How well can you hear audio quality?

Did this for fun in less than 10 minutes, using the computer output of my computer and my Grados. Marked all the 320kbps MP3 on the songs I didn’t know. The Vega one I got right at the first try with half the song played, yes I know my Suzanne.

This means that I wasn’t actually hearing the songs, with songs I actually know like the Vega one I can notice mp3 vs lossless because I know the song in it’s full. Anyone who takes this test for more than half hour and tries a second run just because got something wrong needs to chill a bit. Unless you got some really expensive gear.
I think I might need a DAC one of these days maybe that way I can find more correct ones. 

I could lie and say I got all of them or at least half of them correct. 
I didn’t lie because I already know I can’t notice high quality mp3 vs lossless in songs I don’t know. Thats also why I use mp3 in my portable player because I don’t notice the details in the street.

How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality?

Audiophile compilation albums.

I’ll admit I did had my share of “best of” albums, mostly for collecting reasons or because during that period of time I didn’t had a thing called internet.
I should say that one of things that always makes me laugh a bit are audiophile compilation albums, for the ones who never had the pleasure of finding one, it’s a album compiled to show the “best” a system can do, usually audiophile companies make these albums to demo gear but some audiophiles also buy them.
I actually only found one that I really enjoyed, it was related with headphones and had really nice liner notes explaining what you should hear during the music if you had really great headphones.
Compilation audio should not be confused with test albums, these last ones are tools to test equipment and they do work.

People should always aim to test gear with their own style of music and even if compilation albums are really nice to learn how to hear, they should be avoided if you don’t enjoy the artists. Unless you enjoy torture, in that case indulge yourself in compilation albums.

Audiophiles and the need to be

Everyone knows I have a bit of a feud against audio cables and other so called tweaks in the subjective audiophile world, my hate for audio bullshit became so great I almost crossed the troll bridge to the dark side. I’m glad my self censoring works well and I refrained from making personal attacks to the cult believers of high-end cables, paper heights, power strips, cable stands, audiophile software, SDD vs HDD tone differences and all the other stuff the typical audiophile stereotype enjoys so very much.

These days I just dismiss any review about the huge difference a 500€ audio cable made on the soundstage of 200€ headphones, only cult hardcore subjective audiophiles use 500€ cables on entry level headphones and notice improvement without proper testing or any proof to support those claims.
When objectivists ask for blind tests and proper testing, those reviewers will evade by saying they don’t work well under the pressure of a blind test or they don’t have the skill or tech to test the stuff objectively.
This kind of reviewers in my opinion are a bit lazy because people who really enjoy the hobby will go at great lengths to improve their knowledge so yea those excuses don’t look very valid from my point of view. I think most subjective reviewers are afraid tests will show those tweaks don’t do a thing, thus making their reviews one big naive* lie. (Naive for the ones who actually believe they actually hear differences, some out there are more interested in pleasing their sponsors, those are charlatans in my book)  

I read somewhere that objectivists (They call us haters) should mind their own business because its not their money and its all about envy.
Now I don’t mind people paying huge sums of money for so called high-end tweaks, it’s really good for the economy after all! Workers need to get paid in the end of the month and anyone who spends 500€ on a audio tweak without proper testing deserves to part from their money.
What annoys me a lot is the fact those audiophiles raise the price of anything audiophile related. Note that anything with the stamp “audiophile quality” equals over inflated prices the audiophile stereotype will pay or crave for.
This problem is so nasty, even Sony is making audiophile SD cards, the motto “if you built it, they will come spend” is alive and quite well on the subjective members of the cult hobby!         

Another thing I find dangerous is “the need to be” of some audiophiles from both sides of the fence. Passionate claims like “I’m now a audiophile because I use these cables, or have high-end stuff, or because I own all of this stuff so this makes me an audiophile”. These kind of claims show a sad side to this hobby, some might see it as a passion but that’s not my opinion. 
I don’t see the need to be in other hobbies, sure people are proud when they buy new tools or improve their workspace but they are already on the hobby, OK maybe they are newbies but they don’t have that need to be approved by peers or family like I so often see on online communities about the audiophile hobby. 
If you put model makers on the same room they will discuss technics and other fun trivia, put audiophiles on the same room and the system is not harm enough, the stylus needs cleaning, the sweet spot is off, and other bullshit.
Maybe this is THE problem with this hobby, it’s about hearing music using gear. Most audiophiles don’t know how to build gear unlike models makers and most don’t want to leave their comfort zone to understand the gear they buy, believing any pseudo-science dealers and factories claim.

This hobby is about music, anyone how enjoys music more or less like the mastering engineer intended is a audiophile, doesn’t matter if you have 15000€ cables or 50€ headphones from a second hand deal. 
Now I will understand if you prefer being called a audio enthusiast, audiophiles are a bit too complicated aren’t they?

I do know subjectivists that enjoy cables and tweaks but they don’t have “the need to be”, they are nice to newbies and understand why “haters” need solid evidence about tweaks. Those I respect even if they raise the price tag for audiophile products…