The Accidental HeadFi Enthusiast

“I wasn’t born so I wasn’t born so much as I fell out” The Clash (Joe Strummer, Mick Jones) and that’s the way this all came about. Culturally, I was child of the SONY Walkman. Those familiar orange headphones made it clear to everyone what you were doing and that was just fine by us. We were going to listen everywhere, even school, when the lectures/lecturers got boring.

It wasn’t about sound quality. It was about the freedom to go where we pleased with our music, and share it with our friends via mix-tapes we recorded off the radio or new records we purchased/acquired. The competition was on to be the first to make a new band their own and gain street cred for being the one in the group to be so cool, ahead of the curve, clued in. That meant reading things like NME (New Music Express) and my favorite, Trouser Press. That was the 80’s.

Fast forward a few decades to a Hi-Fi trade show, where headphones are an industry to themselves and I did what I could to focus on traditional two-channel gear and rigs which were everywhere, but little did I know that an innocent discussion about a DAC could/would start me down this primrose path. I said on numerous occasions “I’m NOT a headphone person”, but that just made it seem more of a challenge to the exhibitors. The DAC sported not only a quality headphone amp but the ability to directly connect a turntable. So here I was, in virgin territory, listening to quality music, quality gear, via headphones, and it didn’t suck.

Thankful for the experience, I politely showed my appreciation and was asked if I care to review the DAC, which was closely followed with ‘you’re going to want to evaluate it with headphones’, to which I replied “I don’t own any acceptable headphones and am NOT a headphone person.” This was not enough to dissuade the headphone manufacturer’s representative, who was insistent, even when I made it clear that HeadFi was not my beat as a writer, the response was ‘you’re going to get a pair, regardless, you don’t have to review them, you do have to understand why headphones have become so popular, and experience the attraction for yourself.’

Those headphones are on the way, but it doesn’t stop there. Social media, read that to mean Facebook and Twitter, have a way of earwigging themselves into our lives. I belong to a number of Hi-Fi groups online and started messaging with what turned out to be a truly hardcore HeadFi enthusiast. After rather long and informative messaging sessions and one phone call, I was introduced to a headphone designer and manufacturer with whom I would learn far more about the business and emerging companies in the space. That 5-minute phone call, turned into almost two hours where my insights on the audio industry, cultural shifts and society turned out to be valuable—more so than anything this individual had learned from articles, blogs and seminars—that he offered me two of his latest pairs of headphones with no strings attached. I begged off, saying that my intent was not to extract gear off him, but he insisted. So here I am, in the space of two weeks, going to have at once more quality headphones in my possession  than I have had in my entire life.

I’ll soon have all these quality headphones, but my listening chair remains fixed at the same distance as when I listen to my speakers. Therein lies the rub. The standard headphone cables range from 4 to 8 feet, which is fine if you’re on the go or at a desk, but my gear is across the room, and I’m not about to haul my chair to get more intimate with my source and amplification.

With the ticket prices for headphones taking off, why can’t more manufacturers (apparently some are) supply a 10-15 foot headphone extension cable in the box? A number of headphone manufacturers confided in me that their demographic includes the home user, who for various reasons, in certain scenarios, would eschew their Class A speakers for headphones, and these people fall in a target demographic for Class A headphones. So, why take them out of their comfort zone in their respective physical listening environments? Offer them up an extension cable with the appropriate adapters. Make life easy for them so one purchase does it all. Let them/me attain an exceptional out-of-the-box experience, where no additional purchases are necessary. We are far too impatient to wait, and far too set in our ways. Think of us as the old dogs, not terribly inclined to turn new tricks.

 Otic Nerve

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