An Introduction to Headphone DIY

Editor's Note: I am very pleased to welcome our first contributor, Nate Maher. He's written a personal introduction to the DIY headphone hobby for you. Anyone who's been around headphone DIY for any length of time at all knows Nate. He's been a stalwart helper for DIY headphone enthusiast for as long as I can remember, and he contributes to the headphone enthusiast community in numerous other ways. I love this guy. I couldn't be more pleased than to have him as our first InnerFidelity contributor. Also, please pay special attention to the links at the end of Nate's article, if you're interested in headphone DIY, they are very important. --- Tyll

The Beginning
Want to get started in personal audio DIY and don’t know what to do? Welcome to my world in late 2004 when I happened upon a little website called www.head-fi.org. I had recently purchased my first pair of “high-end” headphones (Etymotic ER-4Ps) at www.headphone.com and in reading some of the information contained on Headroom’s site and discovered what a headphone amplifier was, I got interested in high-end headphone audio and building my own headphone amps. From there, things spiraled wonderfully or badly out of control, depending on how you look at it. I’ve had more fun tinkering around in my basement over the last 6+ years than I ever would have had wasting away on the couch watching TV. I’ve built 50 or so projects ranging from the very cheap and small to the rather expensive and large. Has it all been fun, nah, but what good journey is?

Two Paths Diverged
There are two basic ways to proceed in the DIY world, The Builder and The Engineer. They are not mutually exclusive, but if your path is more to the builder side of things you’ll do a lot less engineering than an engineer does building. Me, I’m a builder. I enjoy building things and don’t necessarily feel the need to understand the technical intricacies of the circuit that I’m building. I have a full time job that demands most of my intellectual attention and I’m old enough to not want to go back to school. Admittedly, it feels a bit limiting in that it means that I must lean on others for some measure of assistance if things go wrong, and I have to account for my lack of technical prowess when selecting projects, but that's okay. The real note of caution here is to be careful with how you go about selecting a project to work on. I recommend doing a bit of thinking about your personal approach to things before beginning, because then you can always change your mind.


The CMoy amp in a mint tin is a great starter project!

Looking for a Suitable Project
Look around on the forums, don't be afraid, there are lots of folks out there willing to help if you have trouble if you’re willing to take the time to explain what your interests you clearly. The danger here is that if you’re browsing around a place like DIY Audio (www.diyaudio.com) you’re going to see some amazing looking projects and you may want to immediately dive into the deep end. If there’s one piece of advice I hope to firmly plant in the beginning DIYer it’s to build up progressively, and not start by investing many hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on a risky venture. What I do recommend is to start somewhere like Tangent’s site (see reference list below), watch all the videos preferably multiple times and then pick a simple project like the Cmoy (or two) and get to know both your skill set and the various parts you’re working with. Even on something as simple as this, the joy felt when flipping the switch for the first time and hearing beautiful music is a truly great thing. I’ve seen far too many examples of folks taking on way too much as a first or second project under the guise of not wasting money on the smaller things only to get overwhelmed and end up wasting far more on a large complex project. And hey, if electricity makes you nervous (and if you’re working near line voltage AC it probably should) you can always start by building a few sets of cables. While you're thinking about the perfect first project, let's talk about tools ...

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
The Monkey's picture
I got to know Nate through headfi, and he's guided me through more than one DIY major malfunction. And I have an amp built by him sitting proudly in my rack--it's awesome. As someone who really has never been technically or mechanically gifted, I was amazed by how much I enjoyed personal audio DIY. Making amps, cables, modding headphones, and some of it even working(!) has been rewarding beyond any reasonable expectation I could have had. Plus, the DIY community spirit of generosity and helping out is truly special. I encourage anyone curious about this stuff to make liberal use of the info Nate posted and the expertise available in the forums here and elsewhere.
n_maher's picture

Thanks Dinny. I look forward to creating a series of articles here that are DIY focused. It's obviously a segment of the hobby that I feel very strongly about and one that I think there's a way for everyone to participate in.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
... that friggen Gilmore has me thinking about a Dynahi now.

Thanks so much for your piece, Nate. I look forward to anything you'd like to contribute.

I'm gonna do the Bottlehead Crack soon. Just waiting for the right moment when I'm sick of talking about headphones.

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