I well remember my first "real" headphones: a pair of Koss Pro4AAs that I bought back in 1970. The Kosses were relatively expensive, but, like headphones today, they allowed an audiophile with limited cash to get a taste of high-end sound that was not possible with a speaker-based system. I bought the Pro4AAs because I had become fascinated with how the images of the instruments and singers were strung along a line between my ears inside my head. It seemed so much more intimatea more direct connection with the musicthan playback through loudspeakers.
In an August 21 post to his popular Lefsetz Letter blog, music-industry analyst Bob Lefsetz shared with his readers the great and often surprising joy of listening to music through a good set of headphones, specifically the open-back, planar-magnetic Audeze LCD-2. Lefsetz clearly does not mess around: He went straight to the top of the headphone hierarchy. If you're at all familiar with the exciting world of headphone listening, you've heard of Audeze (pronounced odyssey). Since their impressive debut at the 2009 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, the young audio company has drawn from hi-fi critics and enthusiasts the sort of rave reviews typically reserved for the most respected brands.
Even before I'd really listened to PSB's Alpha PS1 powered desktop speakers (see last month's column), I suspected that I'd like them: They're affordable, attractive, small enough to actually fit on my desktop, and designed and manufactured by a true high-end audio company. Besides all that, the PS1s had been highly recommended by a friend, AudioStream.com's Michael Lavorgna. I only needed the speakers to sound good in my home. And they didclean, clear, detailed, and dynamic, with a surprisingly big and bold overall sound.
I couldn't have known it at the time, but Swans' "Lunacy" (see last month's column) would be the very last song I'd ever enjoy in my cozy listening room. Last timeswhether with things, people, places, or, I suppose, especially with ideascan be difficult to accept, tending to overshadow all other times, their lingering memories leading to remorse and games of "what if."
The name Joseph Grado is certainly not new to the transducer field, but the HP 1 is his first entry into the headphone market. The HP 1s are billed as "Professional Recording Monitor Headphones," and Grado is clearly targeting professional recording engineers and equipment designers in need of an accurate monitoring tool. Joe's designs, whether they be phono cartridges or tonearms, have never been ho-hum also-rans when compared to their competition. His products have invariably shown unique design ingenuity, often radically departing from accepted practice. His Signature Tonearm (the last such product he made, now discontinued), which I still use as a reference, is a case in point. The HP 1 headphones are no exception, being rather unusual in design, physical appearance, and construction.
It was another flawlessly beautiful spring morning, and I was in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to help John Atkinson pack up the Lansche Audio 5.1 loudspeakers ($41,000/pair). John had only just completed his listening and bench tests (see his review in the July issue), and was not ready to let go of the lovely Lanschesbut the speakers would be picked up by a trucking company that afternoon and sent to our cover photographer, Eric Swanson, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each Lansche measures 40.9" tall by 10.1" W by 19.3" D and weighs 167.5 lbspacking them and securing them to a shipping pallet is definitely a two-man job. In our case, that job required a lot of wheezing, a little bleeding, and just the right amount of cursing. And because it was only 11am when we met, we were obliged to accomplish the task without the aid of beera crying shame, if you ask mebut we handled it in our usual, manly fashion.
With the release of their first Binaural+ high-resolution downloads, Chesky Records and HDtracks intend to take music lovers one step closer to the real musical event. Made possible by work that composer David Chesky, founder of Chesky Records and cofounder of HDtracks, has been doing at Princeton University with Dr. Edgar Choueiri, Chesky's Binaural+ downloads make possible the playback of binaural recordings on both headphones and a pair of loudspeakers.
It was unusually warm for early spring, without a cloud in the big, blue sky to tame the sun's dazzling lightfar too beautiful a day to be indoors, but Uncle Omar and I had already planned a little listening session, and I was determined to show him that high-end cables would make a difference in his system. I wasn't necessarily feeling bullish about the task, though. It had taken me a couple of years to convince Omar that he should replace his old boom-box speakers with something better, and it was only dumb luck that finally made it happen: I was with him when he found a gently used pair of B&W DM602 speakers at a junk shop in Jersey City. When they were new, the DM602s sold for around $600/pair, but on this happy day they were tagged at $50. "Do it," I begged him. "Doooooo it!"
Headphone enthusiasts had a field day at Mountain View, CA retailer Audio High on January 25, when both Sankar Thiagasamudram, President and co-founder of Audeze, and Lorr Kramer, VP of North American Operations for Smyth Research, presented their latest and greatest. In a refreshing change of pace, both men dispensed with the usual canned presentations followed by group listening. Instead, they welcomed anyone who wished to partake to a generous personal audition.
I've been reading a fascinating book, Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (New York: Viking, 1998). Shlain's thesis is that the invention of the alphabet was the cause of immense changes in primitive society, upsetting previously widespread norms of gender equality and horizontal (rather than hierarchical) social relations in general.
The outer walls of the Cooper Square Hotel reflect blue sky and angle gently as they rise to the penthouse suite. When construction on the hotel began, New Yorkers cried “Abomination!” at the idea of a glass-sheathed high-rise towering over the short brick buildings of the East Village. Now that the Cooper Square Hotel has integrated itself into the Bowery’s landscape, it is the ambitions of the building’s architects that are remembered, not New Yorkers’ gripes.
Kelli’s Etymotic ER-6i earphones ($99) offered a well-balanced sound, with satisfying bass and natural highs, but I found them extremely uncomfortable and I had a difficult time getting them to fit properly in my ear canals. I liked Shure’s SE210 ($149.99) and SE115 ($139.99), but they felt large and heavy in my ears, and friends often balked at their prices. Don’t get me started about the V-MODA Remix Metal in-ears ($99.99); their highs were so pronounced and glaring and bass so completely absent, I wanted to run away from my musicnever a good sign. (But I’ll take the blame here: I should’ve known what to expect from an earphone with the word “Metal” in its name. I have since steered clear of models designed to look like bullets, arrows, and jet engines or whose product literature uses the words “crisp,” “sharp,” or “edgy.”)
Headphone listening is hot these days, due not only to the ubiquity of the iPod as a music source but also because it is possible to get state-of-the-art headphone playback without having to have stupidly bottomless pockets. A plethora of affordable high-quality headphone amplifiers are available, and high-performance 'phones can be had for a few hundred dollars. Used with a computer or iPod to play uncompressed WAV or AIF files or losslessly compressed FLAC or Apple Lossless (ALAC) files, a headphone-based system can offer the audiophile on a budget seriously good sound.