About InnerFidelity Page 2

Tyll Hertsens
Every once in a while, someone asks how they can get a job like mine. The closest I can get is: Follow you heart with all your might and someday a wonderful job doing what you love may appear. I can tell you for sure I wasn't planning it. I reckon a short personal history is in order.

Features_AboutInnerfidelity_photo_momMy parents were ballet dancers. My mom danced in the corps de ballet at the Metropolitan Opera and my dad was a character dancer for American Ballet Theater. Neither were soloists, which means we were poor. Ballet season runs in the fall and winter, so between roughly April to September my parents performed in "summer stock." I moved a lot as a kid--13 different schools before high school. Often located in tourist and vacation destinations in upstate New York, Connecticut, or Florida, and usually in large tents with seating in-the-round, summer stock productions in the '50s and '60s were most often light-hearted broadway musicals like: Annie Get your Gun; Oklahoma; Brigadoon; Music Man; Paint Your Wagon; and many others. My love of music was born with my feet dangling in an orchestra pit on weekends and after school. To this day, my favorite music is broadway tunes that have become jazz standards.

My dad discouraged us kids from becoming artists. He said there was far too much junk art done by people who called themselves artists but weren't. He also figured if we really were artists he wouldn't be able to stop us, and that would be fine. I have to say, sometimes I think I am an artist without an art. He did encourage us in the sciences, though. As far back as I can remember, I had books showing the inner workings of things. My first toy was a small percolator coffee pot. I can remember to this day the "Aha!" moment when I figured out how it worked. I think I was about three.

Features_AboutInnerfidelity_photo_jarvisI was a pretty crappy student through high school. Smart enough to get A's on tests and class participation, but I rarely did homework. By graduation, I wanted out of school and home; I joined the Coast Guard. In boot camp, after reviewing my Naval Battery Test scores (a comprehensive aptitude test) the detailers (people who guided you to various jobs in the service) wanted me to become a sonarman. I had great hearing and the aptitude to learn electronics. But I said no, I wanted to drive boats on rough water, so they sent me to a search and rescue station in Charlevoix, Michigan. By the time the second winter of lake effect snow began I wanted out, so I told the station chief I wanted a change and asked about the sonarman idea. He said sonarmen stand a lot of underway watches, but Gun Fire Control technicians (who repair the radar, computers, and various gadgets that point the ship's main gun) had cool gear to play with; had their own control room on the boat that very few could enter; and basically didn't do anything because, after all, who does the Coast Guard ever shoot at? And so I became trained in the basic principles and troubleshooting techniques of all manner of electo-mechanical gadgetry from radar to mechanical computers to hydraulic amplifiers used to point the big 5" gun.

Features_AboutInnerfidelity_photo_SEMAfter leaving the service, I had a number of jobs repairing all sorts of things. I worked for Tektronix repairing vector-scan graphics terminals; for Hughes Research Labs repairing high vacuum systems; and even a three week stint for Epson at the end of a manufacturing line troubleshooting optical sensors for daisy wheel printers--boy, was that boring. Eventually, I landed a job repairing scanning electron microscopes--one of the most complicated widgets you can possibly imagine, filled with high-vacuum pumps, electromagnetic lenses, and lots and lots of analog electronics. I traveled a lot fixing machines all over the western U.S., averaging three cities a week and virtually every working day on the road. I missed my music and home stereo.

So one day, I decided I needed to make a little headphone travel rig. I bought a Walkman, but the headphones sounded like crap. I bought a pair of Beyerdynamic DT801 headphones, which was an improvement, but still not very good. I bought one of those new-fangled portable CD player Discmans, which was better, but still not really satisfying. I thought for a long time about what could be done to improve the sound I carried, but couldn't find anything on the market to improve my little system.

Features_AboutInnerfidelity_photo_firstprototypeThen one day, an idea occurred to me: if a good pair of speakers needs a good power amp, then maybe a good pair of miniature speakers (headphones) needs a good miniature power amp. Almost certainly the little amp circuit in my Discman wasn't designed like a really good high-end power amplifier. What I needed was a nice battery powered amp to put between my Discman and my headphones. I searched to no avail, so having some modest skills in electronics I built one of my own...and by golly, my little portable rig sounded much better--tighter bass, cleaner highs, glorious music.

Some time later I was on a plane listening to my rig, and the guy next to me, who was a recording engineer, asked what it was. I told him my story, and he asked me if I had ever heard of Ben Bauer and his crossfeed circuit--a circuit that would mimic two speakers on headphones by feeding a little of each channel through a delay and mixed over to the opposite channel. I did some research and built another headphone amp with crossfeed. (You can read more about it here.) I traveled with that amp for years.

Features_AboutInnerfidelity_photo_headroomlogoOver time, I switched jobs, slowly working my way into sales and marketing of technical products. I participated in a few start-up companies, and when I found myself having the opportunity to start a company of my own, my mind went back to the little headphone amp I used while traveling. Surely others might desire great sound on the move. In September of 1992 I found a venture capitalist to bankroll my idea and started HeadRoom (www.headphone.com). At the time there were only a couple of headphone amps on the market: the Melos SHA-1 and the Stax electrostatic headphone amplifiers. HeadRoom's first product was the world's first battery powered headphone amp. We went on to produce the first commercially available solid state home headphone amp; the first balanced headphone amp; and the first USB headphone amp.

There are many others who deserve credit as founding fathers of headphone enthusiasm--Corey Greenberg at Stereophile with his articles on the Grado SR60 headphone and "Aunt Corey's Homemade Buffered Passive Preamp" which drove headphones; Chu Moy with his CMoy DIY amp design and his work establishing HeadWize (now archived here thanks to Kevin Gilmore); Jude Mansilla establishing Head-Fi.org after HeadWize's demise--but if you ask 100 long-time headphone enthusiasts who's fundamentally to blame for the crazy world of headphone enthusiasm, most fingers will point toward me. Sorry about your wallet.

In late 2008, when the economy tanked, owners decided that HeadRoom's entrepreneurial years were at an end, and it was time for a real business professional to run the operation. Frankly, being a boss can suck, and my passion really lies in headphone listening and the hobby it spawned, not business. I worked with the new boss helping in various ways, but by the end of 2009 I was over it, and decided to cash out and move on. I purchased HeadRoom's headphone measurement system with the agreement that I'd continue measuring their headphones as needed, but I had no idea what I was really going to do for a living. It was going to be about headphones, for sure, and hopefully about the hobby as well. Maybe I'd be a consultant; or start a non-profit hobbyists association to take care of the finances and underwrite the big meets; or maybe I'd start a headphone blog. At the time I just didn't know. Didn't really matter right away either because the first thing I was going to do with my full wallet was take about four months off on the back of my motorcycle. I needed a break, and I took it.

Fifteen thousand miles later, I was home and ready to start a new chapter. In October of 2010, I decided to go to the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest to do a little networking and maybe dredge up some ideas for a future direction. I saw John Atkinson in the lobby on the second day, and having the idea that I might provide measurements for Stereophile's headphone reviews I approached him for a little dialog. We talked about the measurements a little bit, but it was obvious he had some thoughts of his own.

"What do you think about writing a headphone website for Stereophile?" he asked.

"Um...let me think about it."

Boy howdy, did I ever think about it. I've always held Stereophile and John Atkinson in the highest regard, and the opportunity to work for the team there burrowed into my heart like a virus. Emails were exchanged, and by CES 2011 a meeting was set-up to ink the deal.

InnerFidelity was a bun in the oven, and on April 1, 2011 the new Home Tech Network personal audio web site was born.

But what, exactly, was InnerFidelity? What is this new web site about?

ARTICLE CONTENTS
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COMMENTS
Bubba Blackjack's picture

A+++ would read again.

ultrabike's picture

Great article.

"Headphones are the premier focal point, but products like: portable audio players; headphone amps; small desktop speakers; smartphone apps and streaming services; clock radios; and boomboxes will also be covered."

Clock radios are very interesting indeed. I wouldn't mind hearing about those and how they stack up against monitors sound quality wise. Probably not that great, but other considerations aside, the future may surprise us (Squeezebox). And along with it, its ramifications to other audio products.

Personally, I have found that the funny thing about doing what you like professionally is that you still have to deal with deadlines. Some are reasonable, some may not be. As boss, I heard layoff times can be brutal. As for myself, I love what I do for a living (I think it is uber-cool). But above all, I love my family.

Another funny thing is that one of my ex-bosses is a very able modem designer himself. Ridiculous amounts of patents and papers. Some really interesting discoveries and achievements. Yet, when he started on engineering, he did so because he wanted to design audio stuff... amplifiers, pre-amps, tuners... Something changed and he went to communications. Still, he got himself some pretty high end audio rigs (and expensive). He now loves his Apple ipod and ear-buds, while his uber-high-end audio rig gets no love... Point is, life takes really strange turns.

jediz's picture

Great history!
From a half of the year InnerFidelity, became website which I must visit each day, is there something new and may be it worth buy)
All started from the time when I looking for headphones, and thanks God i found this website. Tyll Hertsens recommends Beyerdynamic DT1350, and I decide - now it is time to buy this one. I never had such great headphones before, Thanks!. When my friends asked me - where did you bought such great stuff? I'm pleased to forward them to InnerFidelity website to find out what is actually needed.

donunus's picture

Very Nice! Love what you do and wish for more cool stuff being reviewed and cool articles in the future.

i2ehan's picture

Dear Tyll,

I absolutely love this website, and your enthusiasm shows in your honest and insightful postings. I've learned quite a lot since I first discovered InnerFidelity, and I look forward to your continued efforts. Now, can I get a virtual high five please? (:

Merck's picture

I too am a huge fan of this site. I visit it several times per week looking forward to the next article whether its a review of an interesting new product I can't afford or simply an informative piece on the history of an enthusiast website I enjoy. Tyll, your passion for the subjective and scientific facets of this hobby are obvious and it is an attractive quality that I think will provide you with many loyal readers. Keep up the great work and thanks!!

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I'm such a dumbass. I was riding my motorcycle down to play pool after posting this missive, and I realised I didn't have a section on the contributing writers here. I will correct this forthwith. They've been an enormous help, covering products and adding to the flavor here. My apologies to them.
4nradio's picture

...background you have, Tyll. From dangling your feet over an orchestra pit, to headphones dangling around your neck, and now plugged into a leading personal audio website!

A lot of authors would steer away from a detailed personal retrospective, but I appreciate knowing about your background. It says a lot about your publisher too, that he gives you the freedom to elaborate as you see fit.

I'm intrigued by your mention of a possible event ... "not just another trade show", and DIY oriented too. Sounds like a mashup of RMAF and Maker Faire! Consider holding it somewhere in your own Big Sky State. There are awesome resorts and lodges in Montana that would make a unique destination, not just another cookie-cutter urban destination.

Jazz Casual's picture

My parents were circus performers. My mother was the bearded lady and my father was the world's strongest man, but he wasn't really. I wish I could say the same about my mother. I ran away from there to join the civil service, where I have lead a life of quiet desperation 'til this day (it's my rostered day off). Thank you for allowing me to briefly alleviate the interminable tedium by posting here. Others haven't been so tolerant. ; ) I wish you and your site continuing success.

ultrabike's picture

"I wish you and your site continuing success." Me too.

HammerSandwich's picture

Tyll, your work history + love of DIY makes me wonder if you've seen the DIY electron microscope (here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VdjYVF4a6iU).

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Well aware of it: my article.
sankar's picture

Tyll, Looking forward the Innerfidelity Tradeshow.

Frank I's picture

Tyll I really enjoyed the read and it was nice learning of your background because all I was really familiar with was the headroom stuff. Thanks for all you do.

gkanai's picture

Tyll, thanks for the great explanation.

Please try to schedule a visit out to Tokyo for one of the future Fujiya AVIC headphone festivals (twice a year.) We'd love to have you join us and I guarantee that you'll be impressed.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
It's definitely on my to-do list, just going to take a bit of time and budget shenanigans to make it happen, but it will!
vinjo's picture

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HammerSandwich's picture

The really sad bit is that I probably first saw that here...

Lunatique's picture

Ever since InnerFidelity went live, I've been sending people here to learn about headphones and to get all the misinformation that's been coloring their judgment sorted out by the headphone guru himself--as seen here at gearslutz's big thread about headphones for audio professionals: http://www.gearslutz.com/board/7857167-post927.html

There are three areas I'd love to see you guys cover, that I don't see anyone else covering, and they are:

-Using surgical parametric equalization to make headphones more neutral/accurate--as seen discussed here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/551426/my-eq-curves-for-lcd-2-hd650-m50-and-007mk2

and here:
http://www.head-fi.org/t/546077/my-meticulously-tweaked-eq-settings-for-...

Or using speaker/room correction systems for those who can't use acoustic treatments in their listening space--as discussed here: http://www.gearslutz.com/board/so-much-gear-so-little-time/469107-ik-mul...

-Using audio plugins like Redline Monitor to simulate crossfeed on headphones, or using TB Isone to simulate HRTF effects, and to create the illusion of speakers playing in front of you, in an acoustic space--as discussed here: http://www.head-fi.org/t/473885/isone-pro-the-best-thing-you-could-ever-...

Or using Focusrite's VRM Box to emulate industry standard monitoring speakers in different types of studio environments while using headphones:
http://www.focusrite.com/products/audio_interfaces/vrm_box/

-Using hardware units like the Victor/JVC SU-DH1 or the Smyth Research Realiser to simulate surround sound on headphones.

While these topics are discussed in forums, I think if an authoritative figure like Tyll covers them, he'll be able to bring his expertise into the discussion and enlighten the community on these subjects.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks, those are some very good ideas. I'll see what I can do.
zobel's picture

Good article! Nice to have personal info about you, and dag nab it, it would be wonderful to have you head-up a show here in Montana!

Marcello's picture

It's always nice to see people who can combine hobby and profession.
I did not see anything in your biography that would explain the shirts, but maybe you can address this another time ;)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
It's very simple really: I'm a slob. Early on I figured if I could make a schtick out of wearing Hawaiian shirts, I'd never have to wear a suit again! :)
Timmy's picture

I've been following this site for a while now and seeing how it's one of the currently only 4 sites on the Internet providing actual headphone measurements, instead of just random babble, what you are doing here indeed is of immense value. Thank you for that!

But it's important to take a step back and have a look at the bigger picture too. I was wondering for a long time why this site is not part of Stereophile and this article finally tipped me off to what might be going on - Stereophile is for the most part irrelevant to the newer generation, and thus slowly but steadily dying off.

My guess is you are familiar with that overly long article, by some guy named Salvatore, which has some less than flattering things to say about Stereophile. In the hopes of this comment not being deleted I'm omitting the link - but anyone who has done a fair bit of research on audio gear online probably is already familiar with it, and has also an opinion about it. Salvatore's estimation was that Stereophile had lost its credibility due to the RCL-bubble-up and that ultimately there was little chance for ever restoring it. The only hope would be to at least retain the current readership.

And I'm beginning to think he may have been spot-on with that assessment, and thus his other claims too. You said Stereophile has a limited number of pages – but seriously, what's stopping them from just expanding the online version? What reason could there be to justify the tedious (and costly) creation of a new brand if there already was an older well respected one that just needed some slight modernization? As you said, it's not just Innerfidelity that Source Interlink Media is launching or maintaining for audio enthusiasts. It's not like your job would be any different (the only actual difference would be that your articles would be on stereophile.com instead of innerfidelity.com).

But my guess is that as new and younger potential customers, capable of harnessing the possibilities of the internet and search engines, and raised with an education to trust numbers and distrust salespeople, enter this market, it might be advantageous for a publisher to start off again with a clean slate – hence the new name.

Of course none of this is your fault Tyll. And there is of course nothing wrong in realizing one's mistakes and trying to correct them – although there are arguably more decent ways then just sweeping them under the rug. But please try to keep the history in mind and don't repeat it. Seeing how with headphones, unlike with electronics, there indeed is some room for speculation, since science does not have all the answers about our auditory system yet, it is imperative that you not abuse this situation and separate fact from fiction here, if you want to preserve your credibility. Because, as an example, how are your readers supposed to trust your claims about the overshoot on those 300/500Hz square wave charts being important (which indeed might be the truth) when just a few articles back you (quite obviously) lied about aftermarket cables for the HD800 sounding better?

Rest assured, science will eventually catch up one way or another, as it did with Stereophile too - and the question is whether people will then still ask for your opinion because of your expertise, or whether, much like the church after printing took off, you'll be exposed as a charlatan. I think you are smart enough to see how we would both benefit from the first alternative here.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
First, if I'm not deleting 13mh13 insane posts, why would I delete yours for posting a link? Here's the article you mentioned. This single biggest load of horseshit statistical analysis I've ever tried to read. I tried, really I did, but I could only make it half way through before the taste of bile was too much to take. So much about the reality of performing reviews professionally is left out. The simple practicality of moving shit around a Recommended Components List is completely missing from the argument. I don't really know what to say other than, "Haters Gonna Hate."

Your question: "What reason could there be to justify the tedious (and costly) creation of a new brand if there already was an older well respected one that just needed some slight modernization? " is a good one though. It has everything to do with branding. Because Stereophile's website is an extension of their paper publication, headphone enthusiasm can't be properly covered on their website. The category deserves a brand, the only way to do that is to create another brand. It's pretty much that simple.

This quote: " Because, as an example, how are your readers supposed to trust your claims about the overshoot on those 300/500Hz square wave charts being important (which indeed might be the truth) when just a few articles back you (quite obviously) lied about aftermarket cables for the HD800 sounding better?" is pretty disingenuous. Those are my opinions. You have yours, I have mine. Just because they may be contrary doesn't mean one of us is a liar.

Oh and, " the question is whether people will then still ask for your opinion because of your expertise, or whether, much like the church after printing took off, you'll be exposed as a charlatan." Um ... don't really know how to respond to that one. Let's go with: A change of panties; douching one's sandy mangina; and a nice motorcycle ride will often improve ones outlook on life.

(See, I'm not an Englishman in NY, I'm a motorcycle rider used to sitting around campfires drinking beer. So you probably out-class me, but I don't give a shit.)

Yeah, haters gonna hate. Have fun with that.

Respond if you'd like, but your bait is far too stinky to attract me again.

John Atkinson's picture
Quote:
My guess is you are familiar with that overly long article, by some guy named Salvatore, which has some less than flattering things to say about Stereophile. . . Salvatore's estimation was that Stereophile had lost its credibility due to the RCL-bubble-up and that ultimately there was little chance for ever restoring it.
Arthur Salvatore's case against Stereophile is based a fallacious assumption: that Stereophile's choice of what products to review is based on a Normal distribution of performance; ie, they cover the range from dreadful to superb. If that were the case, then yes, it looks suspicious when so many end up being recommended. However, as has been explained in Stereophile on a number of occasions, our choice does not follow a Normal distribution. We aggressively try to choose products for review based on the likelihood that they will perform well, based on our experience at Shows, in retailers' showrooms, etc. A review represents a major investment of our resources and I don't want to devote that investment to an undeserving product. Thus, if our sonic "triage" was 100% efficient, _every_ product we review would end up in "Recommended Components," not just most of them!
Quote:
And I'm beginning to think he may have been spot-on with that assessment, and thus his other claims too.
Salvatore's case against Stereophile is a castle built on sand, a logical fallacy. And statistical analysis shows that there is zero correlation between what Stereophile chooses to review, the outcome of its reviews, what products it recommends, even what products are featured on its cover, and advertising. There are as many products from non-advertisers in "Recommended Components" as there are from advertisers. End of story, as far as Mr. Salvatore is concerned.
Quote:
The only hope would be to at least retain the current readership.
The print edition of Stereophile has a circulation more than The Absolute Sound, HiFi+, Hi-Fi News, Hi-Fi Choice, and Hi-Fi World combined. So plenty of hope!
Quote:
You said Stereophile has a limited number of pages – but seriously, what's stopping them from just expanding the online version?
We have done so - there are show reports, news, blogs, forums, galleries, unique features, expanded measurements sections compared to the print magazine etc. But 2 years ago we deiced that rather than expand the on-line Stsreophile further, we would devote resources to creating new, related Web ventures, the first of which was InnerFidelity.com. AudioStream.com came next, and later this month we are launching AnalogPlanet.com, edited by Michael Fremer. John Atkinson Editor, Stereophile
Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks, John.

Very kind of you to step in, I wouldn't want to put words in your mouth.

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Timmy's picture

I'm not sure about out-classing you and that's not what I was heading for. You are of course entitled to your opinion, which is probably a lot more valuable than mine - seeing as how you're the expert here and I'm not. But what I am certain of is that there's a distinct difference between mere judgment-free facts and opinions. There is little point in disagreeing over facts.

Please do tell me, with all of your electronics background, for a length of less than 10 ft. (max. practical headphone-cable length?), how much difference does cable quality make for a signal that only goes up to 20kHz? Would you agree on that being a well-accepted fact that your former colleagues would be willing to back up? (This is of course excluding those severely and obviously botched up cables that you have to look really hard for to even find.) Furthermore, if you indeed heard a difference with the better aftermarket cables, why didn't you bother measuring it? You had every possibility to do so, and I think it would have been the logical thing to do, for someone with an inquisitive mind, as well as the responsible thing to do for someone with as much authority as you have.

You could run all sorts of test-signals through both cables and measure how they differ. You could repeat the HATS-measurements with the aftermarket-cables (you've done it for IEM-tips). You could create audio differencing samples and show the entire world how much difference there actually is. All opinions aside, you had (and still have) every possibility imaginable available to you to conclusively prove to everyone that there indeed is a difference - and that would have then been an irrefutable fact, not just an opinion.

Either way, sorry if my last comment sounded harsh - you are not one of the people I'm mad at. The comment really was intended as more of a plea for you to remain honest and not follow in the footsteps of those other reviewers that abuse their position.

vinjo's picture

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