I think it’s pretty much taken as read that there are lots of different kinds of people that get sucked into audio’s high-end. One of the more curious, but still fairly random, distinctions you can make are between headphone lovers and headphone haters.
I cheerfully and happily admit that I was a hater until rather recently.
Okay, ‘hater’ might be a bit strong. Say, rather, that I was a headphone ignorer. I just didn’t care. Several years ago, I sprang for a Stax system — it was comfortable, it sounded great … and I still didn’t use it. Apparently, there are quite a few of you out there, haters and ignorers, so I guess that by itself doesn’t make me weird — not that I really need any more reasons to be considered weird. Yeah. Anyway.
I’m not sure where the neglect on my part came from. I certainly could benefit from a good headphone setup. I have little kids. Little kids and late night jam sessions really don’t go together — hence, headphones. Makes sense, right? Unless you’re actually a Dad, and remember that when the kids go down to sleep, the ensuing quiet is something to cherish, love, embrace and not just preserve at all costs. Oddly (or perhaps not), the older the kids get, the more quiet I appreciate. So, no, headphones never really make it onto my daily radar. In my life, I’d much rather rock it out during my work day, between conference calls and site visits. You know, when I’m supposed to be concentrating.
But something has changed, recently. My reference cans are, now, a pair of Audez’e LCD-2. Right now, they’re sitting on a Woo Audio headphone stand and plugged into a Red Wine Audio Corvina with some tremendous wire from ALO Audio. Nice rig? Oh, yeah. In fact, it’s right up there with the best I’ve heard and it’s pretty much revolutionized the way I think about headphones. Great gear will do that for you.
Which is why I want to talk about Woo Audio for a moment.
If you haven’t been to Woo Audio’s online store, feel free to do that now. All their models and prices are up, online, so I’m not going to repeat all that here.
I will say this, this was some of the best sound at the show. In fact, it’s been the best sound at the last couple of shows that I’ve found Woo Audio at. The why of it is pretty simple — one, they make great headphone amplifiers, and two, there is no room to deal with. What you hear is what you get. I’m shocked that you don’t find more headphone displays at audio shows. Shocked, I say. Shocked!
Woo Audio had a nice selection of headphones for use with their headphone amps, including the top shelf models from Stax, Ultrasone, Audez’e, and Sennheiser. I was in heaven. I got to swap cans, and head amps, for the better part of an hour.
One of the best things about this setup was their simple, user-driven demo. You sit. You attach cans to your giant melon. You use attached laptop and iTunes to select music. Go. Impressively and importantly, it was the same music from one station to the next — and it was a great selection! There was jazz, standards, classical, pop, rock — you name it. And since I got to pick, all the music that was played was awesome. Because that’s how I roll.
As I wrote on Enjoy the Music:
My favorite? The Audez’e LCD-2 wired into the little $1,050 dual chassis WA6SE. I think I’m in love with those ‘phones, and that amp lit them up like a, well, a tube. Hee-hee. In all fairness, the tube in question was a rather special NOS tube, a USAF-596, sitting in a Teflon adapter with a pair of anode wires falling from the top in a rather Dr. Frankenstein kinda way. All the same, this was a great match and I enjoyed the combo thoroughly.
All the interconnects used in the Woo Audio demos, hooking up their DACs and transports to the head-amps, came from Black Cat, out of the brand new, hot off the press, flying out the door, Firefly line. Pricing for these colorful wires is targeting a startlingly affordable $65/1m pair and availability should be “shortly”.
Tucked away into the back room was a tight little setup that wasn’t headphones, but rather, featured some Mojo loudspeakers from Davone. These little guys are $2,300/pair and feature an omni-directional table-top approach to your home audio needs. I’ve enthused about them in the past — and all that effervescence still applies here. A spanky $3,150 Woo Audio WA5 provided 8wpc of integrated 300b amplification. A pair of Sophia Electric Royal Princess 300b tubes, at $1,200/pair, were giving the “warm glow” to the sound.
Todd Garfinkle of MA Recordings was selling his full suite of insanely well-recorded music. If you’ve never had the chance to hear any of his work, you need to treat yourself. Chances are, the artists will be new to you (as they were to me), which is fun, but Todd has a remarkable ear not only for talent, but for sounds in spaces — you’ll know what I mean when you hear the music he’s captured. If you’re wondering where to start, I suggest the MA Recordings SACD sampler!
Why are MA Recordings different? Here’s Todd:
Technically speaking, the recordings are produced with only two omni-directional microphones, the signals of which are “fed” through exotic audio cabling into handmade and customized recording equipment, designed specifically for MA…
…In order to maintain the quality of sound, all M•A Recordings are produced in large, acoustically significant environments such as classical concert halls, churches and galleries. The importance of these environments cannot be overemphasized, as these spaces can only be considered as one of the co-creators of the recordings produced in them. The sounds created in a given space could simply not have been perceived anywhere else.
Todd also has a many titles in high-res formats, including DVDs full of 24bit/176kHz files. Some of my personal favs are La Segunda from Sera Una Noche and Opening from the Mathias Landæus Trio.
Without doubt, this is some of the best-sounding source material I’ve been able to find. Very highly recommended!