Big Sound 2015 Pyrates Aboard!
(Ed Note: No joke...there are some very good and legit reasons Mike's face is not photographed. 'Nuf said.)
Just a little background here for those unaware of the inner-workings of the headphone hobby. Head-Fi.com is the mothership of all headphone enthusiast forums. It has a culture (if one can even really wrap this type of thing up in two words) of cordial collegiality, which makes it a comfortable place for the masses, but sometimes at the expense of the learning that occurs with heartfelt disagreement and the difficult dialog that follows.
Changstar.com is just the opposite: They'll happily agree to disagree, and then just carry on disagreeing. Not in an angry or insulting way, just in that if you have an opinion, you're expected to be able to hold it out there confidently regardless of the contrary thoughts of others. If you're thin-of-skin, Changstar.com is going to look awfully rough and tumble. But if you're well prepared to state your best formed opinion, and have a centered, stable sense of self, you may find the feedback there illuminating...maybe a little thrilling...
It's not for everyone.
Additionally, many of the pyrates at Changstar.com have built their own measurement systems and are heavily into modifying headphones to improve over stock performance. I mention that because some of the talk in the video will be about the state of the art in modified cans.
Just to complete the trifecta, Head-Case.org is also an important resource for headphone enthusiasts, especially those interested in electrostatic headphones and DIY headphone amplifiers.
N00bs be warned! Head-Fi is probably your best first stop, followed shortly thereafter by long term lurking at the other two sites to learn their respective cultural norms.
Anywho...Anax and Hands have spent the weekend working at blind tests and listening to the headphones available. Blind tests were attacked with a here-to-for unparalleled zeal, and headphones were plugged and unplugged with unceremonious vigor as the iPad app was rapidly requesting one reference track after another of the obedient Aurender. None of this really bothered me at all...until after returning them to the hotel Saturday evening and coming back to shut down the room, I found myself in need of airing it out, lest the stench of a small harbor at low tide permeate the rest of my home.
Tyler did a top-notch job of identifying the Bakoon current source amp, the TTVJ Teton, and the Moon 430HA with the Sennheiser HD 800. Its widely varying impedance response interacts strongly with the very high output impedance of the Bakoon, and less high (about 120 Ohms) output impedance of the Teton, and with the Moon's sub-0.5 Ohm output impedance not at all.
Switching over to the HiFiMAN HE-1000, which has a very constant, flat impedance response, and differences were much more difficult to identify for Tyler. He spent quite a bit of time training himself to hear the differences, and once his groove was found he only made 3 errors out of the possible 15 right in 5 trial test.
Mike, on the other hand, shot for the brass ring and decided to try to blind test the differences between the Schiit Yggdrasil and Antelope Zodiac Platinum DAC (without clock). This is the test that both Bob Katz and I failed. Mike similarly did no better than a coin toss during his Saturday attempt at a series. In both cases, however, we all felt we heard differences...small, but subtle differences that tend to be obscured by the cruel nature of blind testing.
I cannot emphasize enough how difficult blind testing is; not because the differences are so smallwhich, of coures, they are sometimesbut because your mind plays such nasty tricks on you in the process of blind testing. Doubts, fears, and uncertainties in ones personal capabilities nag at you; as you start to get an inkling of which is which while blind, you also tend to project biases based on what your guess might be, which causes you to hear it a little differently and second guess yourself. When journalists at times take a poke at audiophiles by performing blind tests with untrained, man-off-the-street listeners, they do a huge disservice to the to the true nature of the variations in audio reproduction. Blind testing is not easy or reliable unless listeners have a degree of experience and conditions are very well controlledat which point results can be meaningful.
On Sunday, however, Anax arrived with his eye-patch and game face on. "I want to do it again. I am going to crush this test!" Seems to me Mike has the word "determination" spelled out somewhere in his genome. He spent at least three hours rigorously learning then executing a blind test differentiating between the Schiit Yggdrasil and Antelope Platinum DAC. (Again, the Rubidium clock was not used as it creates a huge disparity in price between the two.) During one of the blind tests Mike might listen back and forth between DACS for 15 minutes, and then take a five minute stretch break to clear his mind, and then go back to the test to continue to evaluate. Quite near the end, he had a six right out of eight trials score. I told him, "Mike, that's 75%, that's statistically valid and damned good. You've been at it for a long time now; you should stop right here." But the Anax determination kicked in and he wanted to go fo two more to make a 10 series trial.
He missed the next one.
We agreed he should stop at 6/9, still giving a solid 66% score. There's no doubt he could tell the difference blind; he was just wore out.
His take was the Yggy was the more "incisive" sounding DAC. As we talked, we agreed his experience might be similar to mine where I felt the Yggy was the more dynamic of the two DACs. He didn't have a comment about image width or depth to compare with Bob Katz's impression that the Antelope had a wider and deeper image, which I thought I heard as well.
Unlike other visitors to Big Sound 2015, the two pyrates had significant experience and well formed opinions of most of the new headphones present. Their opinions are quite complex, it really is best to point to their informativeand at 50 minutes, very longvideo rather than try to digest an amputated version. And it's a good opportunity to hear how two experienced headphone enthusiasts think talk about modern-day headphones.
I will offer this personal opinion however: Just as Bob Katz thought this crop of ultra-high-end headphones falls short of the state-of-the-art in studio monitors, Mike, Tyler, and I all felt we still have a way to go before headphones are really hitting the nail on the head.
What Bob doesn't have an eye for is how far we've come in the past 10-15 years with headphones, and how these new cans do represent significant corporate learning in getting ever closer to an ideal headphone sound. All three of us thought the companies represented at Big Sound 2015 were making forward stridesIt may sometimes be two steps forward and one back, but it is progress...and that's a good thing.
With that, I'll leave you with nearly an hour of pyrate dialog on the poop deck of the good ship Changstar.com. Enjoy!