Big Sound 2015 Roy (Romaz) Nails It!

I'd been communicating back and forth with Roy a bit about his visit. He's a fairly long term headphone enthusiast and has had quite a bit of gear flow through his listening world. Pretty wise about his purchases, he mostly buys second hand and re-sells without a loss. Level headed and soft spoken, he certainly doesn't come across as someone who is nervously looking for something better all the time, rather, it seems to me he has an idea in his head of what a great headphone system should sound like for himself, and is meticulously hunting for it.

We started out the day as usual with an introduction to blind listening and some tips. He mentioned doing some blind tests in the past with AC Power cables and interconnects, and found himself disappointed to not be able to tell the differences. I told him not to worry; I don't think I could blind test out cable differences.

We set to the task of identifying the Bakoon, TTVJ Teton, and Simaudio 430HA with the Sennheiser HD 800. I set the levels and then handed him the headphones identifying which amp was which on the switch so he could familiarize himself with the sound. After about three minutes Roy said he was ready. I told him this would be a trial run so not to worry. I swapped the cables and he began to listen. Within a minute he identified first the Bakoon and then the Teton, leaving the Moon as the remaining am—three for three first shot. Sheesh. Let's make that one count and see how you do. He missed one on the next trial, and then aced three in a row. Basically, a 14/15 score.

I then switched to the HE-1000, which has a flat impedance curve and would interact much less with the amps making it a significantly harder test. Again, I set the levels, told him which amp was on which switch position and asked him to familiarise himself. After a minute he took the headphones off and agreed: this would be harder. Three minutes later he was ready to start. The first four trials he nailed perfectly; when we got to the very last one he missed one. I think fatigue was starting to set in. But, wow, 28/30 correct guesses! Outstanding!

Of course, now I was really interested to hear what conclusions Roy would come to on the gear present—and I wasn't disappointed. But for the hour we spent over lunch, Roy intently evaluated gear for about four solid hours. Not only did he have detailed comments about the headphones themselves, but also had quite a few notes on parings with the various amps. Don't miss the video below for the details, but his basic conclusions follow. His four favorite cans followed by his three favorite amps to drive them:

  1. HiFiMAN HE-1000 - HeadAmp GS-X; TTVJ Teton; Eddy Current Black Widow
  2. Enigmacoustics Dharma - Woo WA234; HeadAmp GS-X; Simaudio 430HA/Black Widow toss-up
  3. Mr. Speakers Ether - Woo WA234; Black Widow/GS-X toss-up; Simaudio 430HA
  4. HD 800 - Bakoon; Teton; Woo WA234/Black Widow toss-up

Don't miss his detailed comments in the video below! Good stuff.

Click here if you can't see the video.

tony's picture

I can hear the Crows fighting in your back yard.

Tony in MIchigan

tony's picture

Roy has an amazing expressive ability, clarity, precision and only using standard American 5 Cent wording. Phew

He has more depth of interest in headphone detail than I could ever muster.

Once again the 800s score well.

When do we ever encounter such an Eclectic range of Appreciations?

He's the first person I've read about to drop back from Stax ( other than myself ).

Roy is way beyond Black vs. White, seems Strongly into Relative and acutely interested in exploring.

I think our Roy is decidedly Social and Science.

Hmm, Roy could be our Poster Boy for "Evaluations".

Testing well is a skilled, trained talent. Our Roy is Educated.

Nice going, super video coverage.

I could live next door to this person, 4-sure, it's rare to see an Adult that hasn't had their curiosity squelched, full-marks for his parents and associates.

Dear Roy,

Thanks for your explanations, have you considered the Transportation Industry?

Tony in Michigan

veggieboy2001's picture

I am detecting a theme here...
the HD800s have been on every list so far.
That mod must make a real difference (of course the brief audition I had with a mere stock version, I had no problems....).

Very well done Roy. This is turning into a VERY interesting series...a good time to be in this hobby.

Impulse's picture

It's also one of the cheapest TotLs here too isn't it? I think the Ethers and maybe one other might be cheaper but still, when new flagship models are debuting at multi thousand dollar price points, the difference starts to matter.

veggieboy2001's picture

If I'm not mistaken it's just the Ether & The Dharma...

when you're in this price bracket though, I think it may be best to find the one that really tickles your fancy and save up for that...

but double the price for the HiFiMan?

Definitely food for thought.

BTFYaroslav's picture

He didn't even mention the Ragnarok. Does it mean he didn't like at all or just didn't listen?
And what about the comparison between the R2R and delta-sigma dacs? You decided not to continue because even Bob Katz wasn't able to tell the difference?)

money4me247's picture

wondering if he listened to the raggy or did the dac blind test as well. thanks :)

romaz's picture

I did listen to the Ragnarok with each headphone. I've heard it before and I've struggled to like this amp. It just sounds a bit hollow and thin to my ears regardless of which headphone I used.

Mrip541's picture

Very impressive. First though - this guy is smart and communicates very well. Look at head-fi profile to see Roy is a physician. Yep. Figures.

tony's picture

Now it makes sense!

Tyll snagged his Home Visit Doctor for some Headphone stuff.

Nice of him to play along,

my Doctor is a fuddy-dud nit picker:

She demands I quit smoking and get a Colonosapee, lose 30 lbs ( 15 kg for the Europeans or 2 Stones for the Brits ), quit eating Pizza, take three kinds of Medications plus half an aspirin.

She never has the slightest curiosity about music or fun.

Tony in Michigan

Mrip541's picture


Bob Katz's picture

I wish I had been able to stay to meet Roy. He seems like a very nice guy, very experienced and very knowledgeable. I think that between the two of us we had the "total" Big Sound Experience, but each of us missed a little something and that was because Tyll's total agenda was honestly bigger than two days would manage! What I missed was the amplifier blind identication test, which would have helped me learn the sound of some of the amps I was unfamiliar with. But I still listened sighted later and I have some strong feelings about each of the amps I heard.

But I don't regret having missed any of Tyll's total plans, except that I missed certain headphone/amp pairings that would have been interesting. I tended to stick with my own reference LCD-X when evaluating amps and to the best two amps that I could identify when evaluating headphones. That could appear to be a narrow-minded mindset, but I would prefer that so I could have a long enough time to really come to a conclusion using as many knowns and as few variables as possible. Tyll's original plan was too short a time to evaluate too many permutations. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

I also noticed that Roy is more tolerant of frequency response aberrations than I am, and so that means he is able to accept a wider range of headphones just for pleasure listening than myself, while I tend to go for the most natural, extended and accurate sound possible, which throws out a lot of the contenders!

Different strokes for different folks. At least you know what each reviewer likes and can therefore make good judgments based on knowledge of that bias. I'll try to be honest about that in my written review of Big Sound.

tony's picture

Two days only allows time for Premise, not much more.

All that gear, all those variables, all the possibilities and then double checking, then confirming, then settling down and cooling off for a spell and refresh head clearing.

You'd need a couple weeks with a return in time for another couple of weeks after chatting with manufacturers.

However, you did establish something for the Publisher that he could take to the Bank : the Tyll & Bob pairing.

I watched and saw "Siskel & Ebert" all over the Katz visit.

Two thumbs up,


Tony in Michigan

romaz's picture

I'm sorry our paths didn't cross, Bob. I would have loved to meet you and listen to your amp. Tyll suggested your amp was more Ferrari than Lexus. I share his opinion that the best gear is often custom built. You've obviously opened my mind to the concept of EQing which I will be exploring further.

You are correct about our differences. You use your gear as a tool to accomplish an important task that impacts the lives of many. I use this same gear as a pleasurable escape from reality. You value neutrality and accuracy while I look for gear that can move me emotionally. Predictably, we will come to different conclusions which is ok.

Pedalhead's picture

...Roy's star has just ascended. What an eloquent chap, he obviously has a lot of experience, a level head and sensitive ears (a rare combination in this business!). Thanks for the video, Tyll. I'm just about to watch it over again...

iAmback's picture

None of the participants, thus far, have really impressed me as to being informed or credible opinion makers.
I found TH's contributions at various RMAF seminars much useful than this confusing "Big Sound" mess-of-a-project he's taken on -- an albatross! Jesus H. Christ!!

tony's picture

You can say that, but keep in mind that our Tyll is crawling back from a Train Wreck.

I suspect he's trying to salvage his Summer Work Schedule.

In 2013, I experienced a Cardiac Event that had me in Surgery, it took more than 6 Months for Recovery, even then I remained weak. Health Issues knock the wind outa any project.

Tyll's RMAF appearances were exciting, maybe because he was a breath of Fresh in a world dominated by salesmen.

I agree that Alek, the Watchmaker and Bob Katz are not Opinion makers.

Alek "is" the typical headphone guy that's buying everything in sight, he's exceeded his father's stuff and won a nice spot on a popular event. He represents scads of folks, including the Changstar group who must be delighted to have "one of theirs "Opening for Tyll.

The Watchmaker is the poor guy trying to make the best decisions his budget allows. All the new guys just starting out will find him useful ( including me ).

Bob Katz owns the Calibration Standards, he pursues accuracy, he owns the tools to critically focus on reproduction. None of us own any Sound Standard traceable to 100% knowns. Bob is our guy from the National Bureau of Standards.

Tyll, weak as he is, plods on, I'd of cancelled the whole series and focused on Tony recovery.

Still, there is plenty more to come.

Besides, where else you gonna go? : HeadFi is opinion land, Jude is selling, Steve G is promoting Wilson loudspeakers in NY City, Darko is kissing up to Deviant, Absolute Sound is promoting Vinyl Twidler stuff, geez, this is the only game in town.

On Balance, I have your same issues with my local Grocery Store!

I regularly complain that they have way too much stuff, items I'll never buy or use, I ask them to only carry the things "I" find useful! plus, I ask them for a "Men Only" Express line, I don't like waiting around while the Women with piled high carts trudge thru, chirping out their silly pleasantries, I get so angry I could spit! Sometimes my wife will say: "I hope you're happy, now that we're all miserable".

Tony in Michigan

JK's picture

Yes, Tony. I wouldn't argue that I might have been the typical headphone guy. My membership at changstar and headfi are both less than a year old, and I don't hang out or personally know anyone at either forum.

I have write up I submitted about my visit that Tyll said would posted in the near future...

tony's picture

You were a great Opener for this special event. I enjoyed your comments.

Are you with that Canadian Outfit that does all those Big Projects?

I'm excited to see your written take on all this.

Glad Tyll continued on, after that Medical Bomb flattened him.

Tony in Michigan

tony's picture

I emailed ( to my Couch Doctor, who himself is a "still suffering Audiophile" ) about Roy. I mentioned Roy being a Physician.

He emailed back, after watching the video, writing that our Roy is "Diagnosing" all that Gear.

Hmm, food for thought.

Tony in Michigan

romaz's picture

I don't disagree. It's a good thing I don't have to make a living doing this. As far as what Tyll has sought to accomplish with Big Sound, I believe it to be a noble ambition. This is a lot of gear and there are a lot of people who have no practical way of auditioning it in a quiet and controlled setting. I find it helpful to get a broad range of opinions as it improves your odds of finding someone you can relate to who speaks to your needs. Hopefully, you'll succeed with some of Tyll's other guests.

Long time listener's picture

I did something I haven't done for a while, since I listen mostly to IEMs now, and checked the response curves for these phones.

I thought it interesting that the HD800 has a well-defined dip beginning at 1 kHz and ending at 6 kHz, thus describing a region of depressed response extending from...wait for it...2 kHz to 5 kHz. The Hifiman's dip begins at 1 kHz and extends to about 7 kHz, describing a region of depressed response from 2 to 6 kHz. What is usually called the "presence region dip," I think.

On another note, I was also pleased to find that my $35-dollar Philips TX1 has measurements that could be seen as the equal of these headphones in many areas--especially in terms of lower distortion, and excellent square wave and impulse response (mostly beating the Hifiman in those areas). The frequency response is tailored, however, to gradually lower the response as frequency goes higher in order to prevent the sheer proximity of the driver to the eardrum from resulting in tinnitus. Or unpleasant listening.

castleofargh's picture

ok Roy, you're just too nice. we want blood!!!!! ^_^
being able to be so positive while still giving a variety of argumented feedbacks, I have to say that was impressive. if you're bored with your job, you can become a reviewer whenever you want.

about the "everything is awesome" theme song, is it because as there were only high end gears, you really appreciated them all in some ways? or is it that you're just wired to have a positive mindset and talk nicely?

romaz's picture

You're probably right which is why I wouldn't make a good reviewer. As a physician and patient advocate, my job is to instill hope and to encourage rather than criticize someone for smoking for 50 years. With that said, I do have the capacity to be critical but with the stuff Tyll has on hand, there just isn't a lemon in the group, at least not to my ears. If I was forced to live with any of the headphones Tyll has in his possession, I could easily do so and enjoy the experience. Solid state amps have the reputation of being dry and grainy and yet I didn't experience that. Tube amps are known to sometimes be gooey like molasses and yet none of the tube amps Tyll has embody this quality. If you want me to say my jaw dropped when I heard X after listening to Y, that just never happened to me either. Not to say I don't have my strong preferences but my overall assessment is that everyone has upped their game in 2015. At this level of gear, it really comes down to personal preference. Once you understand what qualities you like best and which headphone and amp provides these qualities with the fewest compromises, then it becomes easier to make a decision. A wise man (Tyll) recently told me that the differences between ordinary and extraordinary can often be subtle. After my Big Sound experience, I completely agree.

JK's picture

I'm a contractor on one of the "BIG" sites up in the Great White North.

Also, I didn't win my spot at Tyll's. I live reasonably close, and asked if I could stop by on one of the open dates.

Marcello's picture

Very nice video, thanks for all the information Roy and Tyll.

Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Wow Roy has amazing experience and sensitivity with amps and dacs to have mastered DBX Tests,
scoring nearly perfect, also since he can verbalize his opinions of sound very well, and has a polite
and a mature pleasant demeanour, Tyll you should seriously offer or suggest he writes, or reviews
amps and dac combo's in the near future, since he clearly has much experience with a lot of the gear here and in general when it comes to being a hobbyist.

I'd love to see some more in depth reviews and impressions of his on the gear out there today,
Your other amp/dac reviewers don't review or write very often, you could use another hand in the
field, and Roy seems to have great character and knowledge.

Please Consider!!!

Thanks for the amazing BIG SOUND project it was a blast!!
Also are you going to do another comparison bout like you did last time
with the stax, audeze, and other flagships, i really want to see how everything fares to date, and more observations on the measurements and how they all stack up against each other exactly like you did last time, since Audeze headphones have received line up changes and update with the Fazors and the drivers, and since their are new headphones on the block, and would really enjoy YOUR blind testing trial and video HAHA :)

Take care Tyll great reads this past few weeks thanks to all who helped and participate
(including the companies that loaned gear for you)

PDC3's picture

As a liberal arts major, I stumbled into my career in Market Research because there's just enough science to keep one honest. (Plus, all the numbers add up to 100%, not too daunting.)

This hobby offers the same opportunity to explore that intersection of science and art. I'm loving Tyll's careful experimental design approach to this, while coupled to the unwillingness of y'all to believe that everything you hear can be captured on a couple of graphs.

Roy's insights are very welcome, well done all around.

JK's picture

It was a real treat listening to the way you described the gear in the video Roy. We'll spoken and carefully delivered, thanks for your impressions.