A Memorial to the Grandfather of Headphone Enthusiasm
Facebook and social media inform us, almost daily it seems, of the passing of great musicians and producers. And yesterday, the feed for high-end audio enthusiasts was filled with posts by industry insiders lamenting the loss of Richard Beers, founder of T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas and co-founder of T.H.E. Show Newport. How a human body could contain this larger-than-life character I don't know. He was hugely influential and productive in bringing the audio industry and enthusiasts together for a great time. Many, many, many of us will mourn his loss. Please visit this T.H.E. Show Newport page to read of his passing and the many remembrances of him from others.
I mention the above because on February 12, 2016, with no notice or fanfare on the web, Pow Chu Moy, founder of HeadWize (the first headphone forum) and creator of the Chu Moy Headphone Amplifier, passed away in Reno, Nevada. A sad day for our hobby.
Chu Moy launched HeadWize on May 1st, 1998.
I got the idea to start HeadWize a while back, after spending many hours online in search of information specific to headphones. I was listening through headphones several hours each day and had many questions about how to improve that experience. Although I found numerous audio-related sites, the only sites that featured headphones prominently were commercial and tended to promote their own products. My hope is that HeadWize will become a clearinghouse for headphone-related news and other information.
In this day and age of WordPress and vBulletin that doesn't seem like too difficult a task, but in 1998 things weren't nearly so easy. In fact, Chu Moy wrote not only the HTML but some code for the site. I think he also wrote its simple search function. From this page:
For the techies out there, the Links pages use a PHP hypertext preprocessor to interface with the mSQL database backend.
HeadWize did indeed become a "clearinghouse for headphone-related news and other information", mainly because Chu made it so. He tirelessly wrote article after article, essentially defining the scope of the hobby for all to follow. For example, this "Announcements & News" page will provide you with a great glimpse of what the headphone world looked like in 1999. He also wrote numerous introductory articles like: "A Quick Guide to Headphones"; "Judging Headphones For Accuracy"; and, of course, the article that launched a thousand DIY careers "A Pocket Headphone Amplifier", which is what we now call a CMoy amp.
Chu Moy's work laid the informational foundation headphone enthusiasm, and many of our cultural memes originate in his work. Here's an example from his FAQ page:
Is there a simple way to improve in-front localization in headphones?
The soundfield of most headphones appears in a straight line between the ears or even towards the back of the head. This effect is caused by the lack of HRTF and visual cues which aid in spatial location. Here is a simple trick for pulling the soundfield out front (it works best with supra-aural or on-the-ear headphones): move the earcups slightly lower and forward on the ears. Experiment to obtain the best localization (don't expect miracles, though). The goal is to get the sound to enter the ears at an angle and thus engage more of the HRTFs of normal hearing.
Chu Moy was also very busy behind the scenes that first year, and by HeadWize's first anniversary he had created one of the few early PHP forum instances on the web. From this page:
The forums software is based on a heavily-hacked version of the Ultimate Bulletin Board, which has been ported to a mySQL backend.
And so, on or about May 8th, 1999, the first headphone forum, and thus our community, was born. Here are some snapshots of the forum front page roughly every six months over the next few years. Watch as the post counts in the forum areas and number of members (starts to appear on the fourth image) grows strongly.
Unfortunately, there was a problem. Chu Moy was a very principled man; he felt very strongly that there was no room for advertising or commercial promotional activities on HeadWize. He had no income stream from the site and had to pay for site bandwidth out of his own pocket. By the end of 2000, he found himself unable to keep up with the rising cost as more and more enthusiasts entered the fray. As a result, HeadWize would at times become unavailable as the ISP shut it down when it reached Chu Moy's budget limit. At first it was only a day or two, but as traffic increased the monthly outage got longer and longer.
At the time, as CEO of HeadRoom, I thought his stance on zero advertising was was a huge mistake. I called him maybe 3 or 4 times making a variety of offers that might be beneficial for both he and the community, but was rejected each time. He struck me as a peaceful and sweet soul with very good intentions. He wanted the hobby to remain pure. I felt the community included manufacturers and retailers, and the resources they might bring. But he was insistant, and the outages became longer, which was very aggravating for enthusiasts.
In 2001, Jude Mansilla knew he had the capability and resources to put up a headphone enthusiast board that would be open 24/7/365, and one day in June when the lights went out at HeadWize, Head-fi was born. Which, of course, began to deflate HeadWize. I find no fault in Jude for this, it was quite painful to sit on one's hands when HeadWize was down. Conversations aborted mid-post for a week or more was quite uncomfortable.
Regardless of the end, Pow Chu Moy was the spark and elbow grease that launched what now today is a very large community of headphone enthusiasts. I'm so very grateful for his work; headphone enthusiasm is a vibrant and growing hobby, and we owe him a debt of gratitude that now cannot be repaid.
Thank you Pow Chu Moy, Grandfather of the Headphone Hobby, your work yielded great reward for us all.
Rest In Peace