NwAvGuy...Troll or Hero?

I can't believe it...NwAvGuy has come up yet again. In a recent post on the IEEE Spectrum site called "NwAvGuy: The Audio Genius Who Vanished", David Schneider provides a short summary of NwAvGuy's brief stint as an audio industry influencer, and informs us about problems with the manufacture of the O2 headphones amp due to it's Creative Commons CC BY-ND license which forbids derivative works. The power input connector specified in his amp is discontinued and the replacement part has pinouts that are too large for the holes on the circuit board. Unfortunately manufacturers of the O2 are forbidden by the license to change anything in the layout...even something as simple as the hole sizes, and to make matters worse, only NwAvGuy has the files needed for proper adjustments. Evidently JPS Labs has found a workaround and is modifying the boards because, as John Seaber sees it, "... (it's) okay in this case because it didn’t violate NwAvGuy’s fundamental intent." Personally, I'd agree with John in this case, but the ethical issues remain a bit uncomfortable none-the-less.

What I'm more interested in today is whether you feel NwAvGuys contributions to the dialog in the headphone enthusiast community were fruitful or not. I know he did a superb job of pissing numerous people off in on-line forums, and found himself banned from numerous sites. But he also did a great job of measuring gear, and providing quality technical information for hobbyists. Trolls come in two flavors: those the piss us off and are destructive, and trolls that piss us off but make us think leaving us the better for their annoyance. You can visit NwAvGuys now abandon website here.

Which one do you think NwAvGuy fits into best?

NwAvGuy...Troll or Hero?
NwAvGuy is a worthless troll and should have never come out from under his rock.
4% (132 votes)
NwAvGuy is definitely a troll, but he left legacy that's largely positive.
10% (376 votes)
NwAvGuy was great, but abandoning his efforts prematurely hurt enthusiasts.
28% (1031 votes)
NwAvGuy was right on the mark and his influence will remain positive.
58% (2110 votes)
Total votes: 3649

thelostMIDrange's picture

dichotemy. Like his designs or not, setting up a debate with one option being 'troll' is lame. In what possible way does all his time and effort in helping us 'finacially challenged' hear what transparent sound, sounds like, constitute anything resembling a trolling contribution? If there's a debate to be had it could be centered around the nature of transparent sound or how his pieces compare to pieces several times the price. I personally do not favor super clean transparent gear and don't use his products, but I applaud the man for providing such gear to those who do want that kind of sound without having to empty their kids tuition account or their own retirement savings. The fact is, knowledgable diy'ers like nwavguy are a thorn in the claw of the industry and it's lame facade of price points and marketing mumbo jumbo. in the end, all he did was get back to basics and utilize components with consideration of the guidelines given by their designers and with cost and reliability in mind. it's called solid engineering where I come from, so If that's the new definition of trolling, god help us.



google 'artificial scarcity' or free energy or learn about what the power structure did to tesla and how they confiscated his papers for similar endeavors as nwavguy and the threat they pose to an establishment that relies on an uninformed public, so that it can operate in a profit generating scam.........For all we know, the reason he hasn't been heard from in a while is because he was silenced or threatened and we should be concerned with his well being as a fellow man.

Jazz Casual's picture

Being one flavour of troll, I am abstaining from voting for the other.

thelostMIDrange's picture

troll and a guy who makes crank phone calls. Nwav simply noticed how poorly the headfi apple cart was stacked against the people and did what he could to upset and restack it. The hobby will be better for it in the long run. Especially for the end user. This industry, like everything else these days, is a little too frothy at the head with poor fundamentals below / but water tends to seek it's own level without any help from us trolls. Wasn't he simply showing that transparent gear can be made inexpensively and without voodoo? how can anyone argue with his concern>

"AUDIO DOUBT: The high-end audio industry mirrors the wine industry. Websites like Head-Fi create massive amounts of doubt among those who spend much time there. I’ve received hundreds of messages like:

“I have the $200 UltraCan Five headphones and I thought they sounded really good with my iPod. But then I found Head-Fi and read the new $500 UberCan Golds are a lot better but they apparently need at least the $500 UberAmp Titanium to really perform. Should I spend $1000 to upgrade?”

SAD STORIES: I read messages like the one above and it makes me sad. Here’s this college student, probably eating macaroni and cheese for dinner, contemplating spending $1000 more than they’ve already spent to listen to music on their $200 iPod? And this is from a person who, until they found Head-Fi, thought they already had really good sound! In my opinion it’s just wrong—especially when the doubt is largely based on flawed listening perceptions and often hidden commercial influences"


tony's picture

  The Objective type guys are not unusual in the Science Community where accuracy and precision dominate .   

  NwAvGuy gave the tiny group of Kit Builders ( Heathkit types ) a useful pair of entry level , bare bones , no-frill product designs that ended up being hard to fault .  

  A build-it person can start with the Odac and one of three Amps : Cmoy , O2 or BottleHead Crack which will result in a fairly compitant Music System , who can fault that ?   Even our Guru Tyll built one of these in front of his little Video Camera for all the World to see , ( thanks Tyll for that confidence building ) , personally I'm a Schiit man , I'm not tempted to solder and "fuss-about" but I did value seeing one of these things being build .  

  NwAvGuy's upsetting people is not unlike Glen Gould the Piano Guy or quite a few other hard working high-skilled people who come to an Understanding  , proclaim it and upset people in the process , these Souls never had to learn Social Skills , they are hard to love .   

neo's picture

Come back wherever you are NwAvGuy...Why would you call him a troll? He replied with concrete and serious answers when people attacked him. O2 is a great little amp. The way he dealt with some audio equipment manufacturers is questionnable, but again he was censored and banned. Also a lot of people attacking him are bu**hurt people and fanboys who spent crazy money on gear.

AstralStorm's picture

We need a HydrogenAudio kind of troll too - try correlating the measurements vs perceptible differences in amplifiers. Run an excellent double blind trial with an extensive crew, two (or more) competent (as measured) amplifiers and any gear you want to connect to them.

Is it something that escapes measurement, or are certain fun individuals terribly wrong? Whole amplifiers, not opamps alone.

Run another test for DACs then.

If it's been done, please advise. I could use the derived audibility thresholds for all kinds of distortion.

castleofargh's picture

asking if this guy was a troll is a little offensive IMO. all he did, he did seriously without asking for anything in return. I find strange that you of all people wouldn't recognize him for who he is/was. but as he rubbed a few "important" people the wrong way maybe you too need to go with the flow?

I've seen this from the sidelines, but to me it looked like he was pushed out of the audio community by any means necessary long before he stopped being active.his biggest fault might very well be that he got fed up with all the bullshit and desappeared. but should he be blamed for this? did he not do enough? I don't see why he should be treated as a troll.


the patent on the O2 was obviously to avoid people selling crap on ebay with the name O2 on the box, and I'm sure if he was active he would have himself made the changes for the holes without asking for anything. as always.

oh internap, the marvelous place where eye candy and social skills are much more important than being right... and meanwhile legions of trolls spam about some cable improving sound in ways never heard before without a care in the world. you have to appreciate the irony.

Eric_C's picture

Tyll didn't call him a troll. He's just asking readers if they think he is a troll.

Seth195208's picture

 John Krutke of Zaph audio, who had the same type of undeserved "objectivist  troll" reputation, but in the diy loudspeaker world, had a huge fan base, and eventually stopped posting(Probably due to a combination of family responsibilities, frustration and burnout)but not like Nwavguy's mid stride "poof". It doesn't make sense. No one just does that to their fans..

swilliamsffc's picture

I would venture that the most likely scenario is some company/companies bought nwavguy's silence.

If I were running a company selling £1000+ amps and someone came out with something comparable, at less than a tenth of the cost, I would pay this person as much as I could to get them to stop. Especially since he spent a lot of time criticising and measuring overpriced audio equipment,

Willakan's picture

I'll say what I've said elsewhere on the subject of NwAvGuy: he wanted to reach those who may not be hugely knowledgeable on the subject of audio as well as those already engaged. As a result, he sometimes oversimplifies, and his approach is frequently one considered to attract attention; nonetheless, he's largely correct in what he has to say. He does a good job in writing both for those with some knowledge of the subject matter and those who lack the time or inclination to, say, learn about the effect of harmonic distortion composition on audibility and just want to know roughly which parts of the audio industry are silly before they spend lots of money.

In the end, I think he did a very good thing. For anyone who hasn't got a very serious interest in audio, there's a choice of audio belief systems: be a bit wrong or be almost completely wrong (the "objectivist-subjectivist" 'middle ground', and indeed dealing with the labels and logic properly, would require rather more space than a comment provides for, so they'll have to do). NwAvGuy directs them towards the former. That's a good thing.

KG_Jag's picture

It is said (often wisely): Put up or shut up.

He put and for some reason has now shut up.

Tyll--I seem to recall that you were in contact with him and used &/or planned his contributions on this site.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I taked to him on the phone three or four times, and he helped me out while working on amp measurements. And he wrote an article for InnerFidelity re: amp measurements. 

I thought he was a strongly positive influencer for the hobby, and was sad when he stopped posting. 


stevej's picture

Tyll, do you have a way of getting in touch with him, so we know that he's otherwise ok? Physically, I mean. 

Uchiya's picture

I wondered if anyone had any real contact with him at all or knew his true identity.  I think a person who has no real identity other than his pseudonym really has nothing to lose, I read many a comment from the people who strongly supported his claims and these had a tendency to portray an enthusiastic admiration but almost foolhardy zealousness.  Who would trust the words of a stranger and then let themselves be emboldned from them, and in doing so with such righteous vigor?

Knowing that Tyll does know who he is and Tyll being a most credible person in this hobby - imo anyway - one whose opinion I, a novice, regard for consistant and healthy information, I vote nwavguy as a positive influence.  He really called out a lot of the shadiness going on in the business of which my own naive nature fell victim to also.  If anything, his opinions persevere in the sense for that of vigilance and self-culpability, to the exhuberant and almost blindly optimistic consumer in all of us.  

A watch dog is exactly that it is, should we be surprised or dismayed when it barks to warn us of danger?  The man has done us all a service.

Meshail's picture

Tyll please if you can contact him by any way to make sure he is ok please do it and let us know ... thank you .

Uchiya's picture

It is sad that one need not be liable, yet can be sued and found liable merely for the reason alone they cannot afford adequate represetation in court.  This is speculation on my part.

ultrabike's picture

I think Nw123Guy brought positive things to the table. I actually gave the Sansa Zip a try based on his blog results and discussion, and I'm glad I did. Hell of a portable for the price. His technical discussions had quite a bit of merit IMO.

Wish the price of the O2+ODAC combo was that of my Sansa Zip. Also wish the NwDude would come out of hidding... Hopefully with a less conflictive/crusading attitude, and with more of a helpful/informative/understanding disposition.

alexandrov's picture

I've listened to his DAC. It's crap for less money. I don't care about the measurements. Just "cheap" crappy sound, achievable by most china dacs at this price point. After all the buzz about it I was very puzzled.....

This listening session put the end of my interest in this prolific blogger.

itsastickup's picture

...seriously, man.


It's also represenatitive of what NwavGuy had to put up with: unsubstantiated, groundless or poorly justified accusations. 

AstralStorm's picture

Where's your properly conducted double-blind listening trial?

Running even a single blind trial is hard in its own right.

islandman's picture

This is as good as any reason for my first "chime in" comment.   I currently own an ODAC, Keces DA-151, FAT DAC (Firestone Audio Tobby), and a W4S DAC 2.  I recently sold a Benchmark DAC 1.  I work recording studios, am a Steinway Concert Piano Technician, and have worked with orchestras, and concert artists from around the world.  You could say I make a living with my ears. 

Alexandrov, how much burn in time did you give this DAC before judgement?  It "came allve" for me at about 75hrs.  Up until that time, it did have a some "glare", and "grain" to it.  Then it began to sound exceptional, especially  for a 159.00 DAC. It was  purchased to be  a "party DAC" to be used out on my patio with my laptop, and EV Pro Audio Speakers when friends came over for a cook out, . For the price vs. performance it may be the best value in a DAC that I have. 

I sent it to a veteran audiophile guy doing a  DAC Shoot Out over at the Polk Forum whose conclusion (along with others who were blind testing the DACs)  that the hundreds of dollars more in cost  between the ODAC, and some of the other "higher end" DACs, in most cases, was not justified.  

I have to give NwAvGuy this: He did more to increase my understanding about how DACs work than any writer thus far.  His articles influenced me to buy my first quality DAC (ODAC) and lead me even deeper into  the "audiophilic waters", and for that, I am very grateful.  I am really  enjoying the swim!

RudeWolf's picture

Rustle some feathers he did and that's always good. I am doubtful if that leaves any long term positive effect. The sound scientists are still welcome to play in their personal ghetto at Head-fi, as long as they don't throw any sticks in the spokes of the hype train.

I don't think there has been any improvement in the quality of discussion, general knowledge in audio electronics or decrease in susceptibilty to marketing poppycock. Nwavguy, Dr. Gilmore, Spritzer, Cavalli or anyone remotely knowledgeable in audio electronics will be either held as gurus or shunned for the spoilsportery they cause. Their engineering escapades will be accepted or rejcted depending on entirely irrational motives. Let's say Gilmore and his accolytes tear apart a known amp by Cavalli. Do you think any of the audience will understand the intricacies of the circuit sufficiently well to engage in a meaningful discussion of the matter? Or will they judge the design based on aesthetic merits (crappy soldering, ugly wires, uncovered high voltage wiring, etc.) and just believe in their guru? Some might understand, but you probably won't find them frequenting Head-fi. To me it is still interesting why these discussions on the said amp haven't been hosted in more knowledgeable circles like Diyaudio.

The most obvious indication of the knowledge of the head-fi public would be their diy thread. Have there been any breakthrough designs  in diy headphone audio? What are the most commonly built "amplifiers"?

In the end I'll just say that personally I'm thankful to Nwavguy - he made me realize that electronic measurements are not everything and well measuring devices doesn't mean that I'll be happy with their sound.

The Federalist's picture

Nwavguy was able to bring some attention to an issue that no matter which side of the proverbial objective/ subjective fence you fall on.... you should at least have a handle on the issue, practices, measurements.... I read just about everything he wrote and didn't fall into some sour die hard objectivist mind set... but am more skeptical of copy that I read... and the voodoo that everyone is constantly trying to sell.

He showed that some OEM were publishing BS specs that weren't properly weighted... He showed that some OEM will assemble a hot mess of an amp, slapping boutique caps and fancy opamps in high grade aircraft aluminum and make a fortune... with an amp that is overworked and unstable. and I think he did it without resorting to tit for tat name calling and insults.... He didn't get rid of the problem.... but he educated a fair number of people on it.

He got pissed off when he got blacklisted for speaking truth to an issue... when an OEM was being ambiguous and resistant to a measured flaw in their design.... but instead of just lighting his blow torch and burning the M^&*()&*ERS down.... he was able to do something positive with it. Albeit with a bit of ranting here and there on his blog. 

Are shady practices still in place? Hell yeah.... Are reviewers still selling voodoo for  2000 a meter? For sure.... Too much money in the game for them to stop.... But a more informed consumer is going to be able to see those things more clearly... and Nwavguy informed consumers.

As far as the licensing, maybe he wanted to restrict the design for exactly that reason.... so someone couldn't take his design, slap Mundof Gold/ Oil Caps, BurrBrown OPA627 opamps etc... in a buffed and polished aluminum case and try to sell it for a thousand bucks..... the "OXYGEN" Amp or some crap like that. 

Everyone who rode that gravy train got WAY MORE than they paid for.... which was nothing.... so I think he has every right to ride off into the sunset victorious....  He isn't obligated to help amp builders retool the design.... or soften the licensing on his design so they can use it and change it without his direct input.

They got to ride his wave... Now your on your own guys. People want him to spend his time doing stuff for them to benefit their venture.... our time is the most valuable thing we have. 

Wherever he is, I hope he is enjoying the hell out of it. 

mikeaj's picture

I thought it was interesting the Spectrum article online has "audio genius" in the title. Then, correctly, commenters pointed out that the O2 and ODAC are very simple, straightforward designs. No B.S. and certainly no genius—just apply basic principles and get the results. There's nothing really new there other than that some guy with enough know-how, elbow grease, and decent lab gear did what many audio outfits ought to be doing: cost optimizing and taking time to go through revisions and get stuff (mostly) right. And then he published it in all the gory details.

edit: I checked my digital copy of the March 2014 issue of Spectrum. The title there is an arguably more fitting "In Search of NwAvGuy" with subheading of "An audio engineer created spectacular DIY designs—and then vanished."

The things he said were nothing new either. It's the kind of stuff some population has said all along. The only thing of note here is really the aggressive editorializing and criticism, the technical parts of which were backed by the numbers and analysis. Also, the large platform. As for a legacy, these days some companies like Schiit, FiiO, etc. publish more specs, which is what most of us want, right? 

On a side note, with respect to John Seaber's interpretation and gray area with the O2 license, I completely agree with what he's said. I really don't think NwAvGuy would mind (or rather, does mind) that kind of trivial change that clearly doesn't have an adverse impact on functionality, performance, and price. When he was active, NwAvGuy helped people find alternate equivalent parts for the O2 on his BOM and also in the blog. The intent was to enable people to make the thing.

itsastickup's picture

..but Nwavguy was always measured and reasonable in his replies to those who disliked what he was saying. Just read his 'rocketscientist' contributions on diyaudio. 

And really, that's all his ''trolling' comes to, that some people were irked to be 'found out'. And some of those had financial interests to protect.

To my mind, he was also quite obviously highly intelligent. 

ultrabike's picture

Maybe a dumb one, but what is the relationship between the helmet and NwHeroGuy?

Tyll Hertsens's picture

In the article he wrote for Innerfidelity on headphone amp measurements, he compared himself to The Stig from Top Gear. I just reused the graphic from that post for this one.

AGB's picture

What it comes down to is that people with nothing to contribute will slam those who have something to contribute. It gets worse. The guy who happens to be right is often labeled as being wrong by those who happen to be wrong. That mentality is called "projection," the projecting of one's own characteristics onto another who doesn't possess them!

It goes beyond mere competition on a level playing field. When moderators at a site, let's say HeadFi, don't like someone, they simply ban them regardless of the good guy's qualifications or the ability to contribute something worhwhile to the rest; the banning is typically for a lame excuse. Meaning they don't agree with the fellow they banned.

It is how it is in the real world and the good guys rise somehwere else to do their thing anyway simply because they are made of better material than the bad guys who could not stand the heat in the kitchen.

The good guys opening new restaurants happen to be the better chefs.

The better chefs in the better restaurants are recognized, get awards and become successful.

That, is the real world, and there's nothing the bad guys who contibute nothing but bile, envy and resentment, or the inability to articulate their disagreements, can do anything about it.

AstralStorm's picture

The good guys don't always win.

Smear tactics have been used and will continue to be used successfully in real world.
As well as cutthroat pricing, improved marketing, "fanboy" attacks, also patent disputes and other kinds of legal pressure.