A photojournal by Eric Franklin Shook
I have the luxury of lifestyle to live nearly alone and without neighbors. Full-range speakers, big amplifiers, a large music collections and an unhinged volume knob are not a problem at any hour of the day or night. Let her rip! Many out there are not as lucky. You might have kids or a wife, or both (yikes). All sorts of impediments towards the 24/hr discoteque you’d pretend to live in if life were to be lived on your most selfish of terms – not one resides here. But there must be a way for the rest of us to get our fix right?
Headphones: admittedly something I’ve been sandbagging for four reasons.
- At some distant crossroads if I’ve run out of enthusiasm for standard of hi-fi toys in general, headphones can be that “something new” to get excited about.
- I don’t have to make practical sacrifices in my listening routine with hot sweaty earmuffs just to get a tune going. It’s our house (son and I) and we make the rules. There are no rules (when it comes to music).
- Cost: Do I really need to expand what I spend on hi-fi into whole other segment?
Enter Axpona North America 2017, one of the many traveling holy lands of our music loving hobby. Here we can look, touch, and play with drool worthy eye-candy that often only inhabits our computer screens and sensorial wish lists. As I enter the BLAH a wave of apprehension, guilt, and waning allegiance to my hardened audiophile ways takes a hold of me. I can’t move. I just stand there. Slowly I creep in and make a practice lap just to acclimate. Whew! Second lap, let’s plop down at a familiar name: Audeze.
I’ve Heard This Before
Something you don’t expect to do at a headphone table is listen to three songs back to back on your first go round. Oddly, I think the two gents on either side of me were perched at the merch long before I came and left. The reason I was entrenched for as long as I was, was the huge SOUNDSTAGE presented by LCD-3 headphones I was listening to. First some jazz; easy. Second some rock; also easy. Lastly something classical; an unexpected favorite. I was floored. It’s too soon. Too fast. I can’t become a convert this easily. I need to re-evaluate my life. Get up and run before I spend money.
Oh Drat! I Can Afford This.
– Still with heart racing to the tempo of the Audeze table, I stumble my way over to HIFIMAN, another familiar name, and a welcoming face asks me to settle in for a listen. She begins telling me about the headphones price first. She knows what she’s doing. She knows that what she is offering is a price to sound ratio I won’t hear elsewhere in the room and she’s right. I won’t find it. I listen for two songs and fresh off of my session at Audeze I’m hearing a lot of what I liked about the EL-8s. This is a nightmare. I could buy something at the show, and it fits in my carry on luggage. Dangerous.
Wizardry and Rockstar Appeal
This corner endcap (sorry, retail term) was just too busy with conversation and interactivity with showgoers to merit my interloping. I’m too much of a headphone newbie to interrupt or clog the seemingly diehard-est of headroom junkies. Then I’m accosted by a the sounds of a love affair. A chap in gold headphones is bobbing his head along and loudly (unbeknownst to himself) exclaiming “Oh yeah!” and “You know that’s right!” He’s having way too much fun. My interest is piqued, so I linger over his shoulder snapping pictures. Not too soon after this a snazzily dressed rockstar beckons me to the corner and says, “Don’t just look, listen.” I bag my camera, take the little on-ear monitors he hands me and DAMNNNN if it wasn’t more than I expected. The small Audeze iSine monitors I’m listening to are being fed a healthy dose of DSD by a small complex and sexy looking box that Questyle calls the CMA400i. The experience is outright astonishing when you take into account the lack of weight and comforting feel of such devices as the iSine which still give you so much sound. I was blindsided. Feeling still unworthy a participant I quickly handed off the corner spot to an interested showgoer and stuck around to hear this rockstar tell us about the wizardry that makes these small headphones induce chills with a touch of anxiety from the yearning. Such passion upon from which he speaks. Long story short, I’m sold, and he wasn’t even speaking directly to me. Silly, I know. Maybe that’s why he’s the CEO.
A Diamond In The Rough
I’m a dastardly contrarian. My ethos of being is that everything deserves to be challenged. Things comes mostly from myself believing that the masses are dumb and whatever they are doing is probably not as good as what the select few in the know could be and are often doing. I pride myself on curating the best of the least known, setting trends, and doing things my way; and I think I just found someone else who thinks along those same lines. Enter then Zach with ZMF Headphones who hails proudly from Chicago where not surprisingly his headphones are made to bespoke detail. I take attention quickly to a tube driven pre and power amp on the table pushing an overheard “1.7 watts of electric gold.” I pick up a pair, the build quality is there, I inspect the venting, cool. I try them on, even over my hat they are very comfortable and forgiving.
That’s where the “forgiving nature” stops. These cans need juice. 200mw of cell phone and portable device twinkle will get you going, but you will not get the best tone. Tubes are almost a must have. Not to say the Schiit amps won’t be a nice fit, or even the Rogue Sphinx headphone jack. They just need power. Sound wise — well, they can tailor make them to your tastes so what’s the point of me telling you that what I heard was up there with some of the best I’ve listened to.
“VOYEURISM is participation” a once famous drag queen told me on the streets of Savannah, GA
To this day I still carry that truth. It was my reason for walking into the room, and seeing what all the fuss was about; and document it. Here at Axpona I felt safe to dive into the proverbial cuddle puddle that is headphone addiction. It left me wondering, could this venue have a single purpose? Probably not.
Here we have a couple listening to music at the HeadAmp table and more importantly to them, enjoying each other. Isn’t love grand?
Here we have two friends, excited to geek out and be fanboys on social media at the Schiit Audio table. Can you blame them for wanting a selfie?
Here we have… a mother and daughter, living life.