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?

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