Occupy Pondering, Spreading Bass & Headphone Culture Domination

If you've been following my OccupyHifi On-The-Road series, you know it's been a crazy, shit, I'm sorry, it's been a crazy muthafuckin' year! OK, so I got it outta my system straight out the gate. If you can't move past that bullshit I still can't help you. Stop hatin' and move on to the polite section of the interwebs. I tried to hide how heavily this twenty-year divorce journey affected me earlier on Occupy. Think I said somethin' like "Yes, I'm getting divorced after twenty-years and that sucks - that's all I'm gonna say about it here". More apologies for this digression, but I'm spittin' from my heart to the readers that stuck with me through some pretty straight-up un-productive times here on Occupy Hifi. I've had the kinda breaks and blocks that plagued our beloved Audio360 (which I will NOT give up on - life got in the way, sure - but we had, and HAVE something special there - Oops: all-caps again - good thing this is cyberspace, and the 21st century) but I'm not going to let this blog wither, let alone wither and fuckin' die. I may stray from the light, but the music, and the people in my life because of the music, believe it or not, always bring me back. So, as of our well-received joint column last week: Bass For Miles Pt. 1 - I'm committing to, at the very least, updating Occupy once a week from now on.  Once I'm no longer actually living OccupyHifi On-The-Road, and get my own place, then we're back to bizness for real. For now, we're gonna get back to a somewhat regular frequency (editorially speaking  of course). Hopefully, we'll also begin to see some content from a few of our long-time street soldiers: Chris Sommovigo, Harmony Hicks (a.k.a Headphone Princess), Warren Chi, and maybe I can convince our partner in Audio360, Mr. Michael Liang (a.k.a HifiGuy528 on YouTube) to slap a few thoughts here now and then. We've also got some surprise editorial treats coming from various names in the music and high fidelity industries: So holiday season 2015 and the New Year should be an amazing time for Occupy Hifi. We just gettin' our groove again - and it's good to be back. Ya miss us?

If you haven't been checkin' in on the OccupyHifi On-The-Road adventures - the playlist in TIDAL keeps evolving, so give it a spin!

Other than the Occupy playlist, if I had to pick a couple of LPs that sorta' represent, emotionally, spiritually, and sonically the insane life that has unfolded before my eyes and ears since my soon-to-be-ex and I split - I would definitely dig through the crates and grab Mumford and Sons Wilder Mind, The Chemical Brothers Born in the Echoes, Nosaj Things' Fated, and Mr Oizos' Lambs Anger (for the sonic assault that conjures all sorts of wonderfully strange imagery and memories). Writing about music has been more therapeutic this year than ever before, and that itself has brought forth its own journey: Inward, and that's something I needed as much as freakin' air. There's been so much stuff swirling around in my brain for months. Music has the power to calm me, excite me, make me the happiest man you're gonna meet that day, or the meanest muthafucker you've possibly ever met. It has that kinda power over me. As the result I'm addicted to music, and thank freakin' God it's not a vice I'm likely to give up, ever. This may all sound like overly-dramatic horseshit. I'm sure it could. But I believe every word with every fiber of my being. If I didn't believe it, I wouldn't be couch-surfing in Los Angeles, saving for my own place at forty-one years of age! I'm never gonna be no Rockefeller (as my attorney says, God bless him) but I choose to stay dedicated to these thing I love so very much: Music and great sound! Gratefully, both have been instrumental in the preservation of my sanity through my perseverance during these troubled times. Not to mention some wholeheartedly dedicated friends and family - ya'll know who you are. Whenever I feel like I'm tweakin' out about my situation, bout livin' on the road sorta' speak, I think of one of my favorite Hunter S. Thompson quotes from his revolutionary Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well...maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”
— Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

So over the course of the last five months, while couch-surfing all over the damn place, I managed to audition and live with (for extended periods of time) some amazing personal audio gear. I've also kept up with a few of the designers/manufacturers that I believe are a looking-glass into the future of high-end headphone culture. I just gotta say, there are a few components that've become vital elements in my every-day:

MrSpeakers changing-the-game-yet-again magical ETHER-C closed-back planar cans. Dan Clark & Co. have outdone themselves yet AGAIN! I'm completely addicted to listening to music through my beloved ETHER-Cs. They have just eclipsed my also-beloved Audeze LCD-XC as my top-reference closed-back planar headphones. The first part of my new on-going ETHER-C series (just like my original ETHER series) should drop next week, hopefully before Thanksgiving here in the States. I listen to these cans more than any other right now, and it's been that way for a couple months now. They're excitably dynamic ,and yet also finely nuanced. How Clark and Co. have managed to do the very opposite of what I loved about his MrSpeakers Mad Dogs (his first closed back planars, designed around the Fostex T-50RP)  - buy bringin' the inside-Out - and by that I mean they don't sound like closed-back headphones, is beyond my current understanding. Well, perhaps if I spent more time studying the design I may discover a part of their recipe - but I don't give a shit how they achieved this effect. I care about the sound of my music through the damn things and that's transcendent at times. Cliched yes, but it's my truth. MrSpeakers has given me a set of closed reference headphones that I love listening for pleasure on - and I would trust them while mixing a record as well. That's a home-run - and my in-depth review is coming ASAP! 

The upcoming Cavalli Audio Portable headphone amp  - This isn't the limited-edition Liquid Carbon currently for sale through the thread on Head-Fi  - though that's awesome thus far too (JUST got it) - This is his battery-powered portable headphone amp with 15 hours of Cavalli solid-state sound! It's also rechargeable through its power supply or 5v micro-USB port - so you can charge it with your laptop or a USB battery pack if you need to. That's a great lil' feature. I'm working on some formal impressions - those will be published over at Positive Feedback. However, I can already say with confidence that if high-performance personal audio is one of your hobbies, OK, ugh, I'm just gonna come out with it: If you don't pull the trigger on a Cavalli Portable at $500 bucks you're just being stupid. Do I sound too harsh? Sorry, it's that fuckin' good. As a matter of fact, at this point in my auditioning of the portable I'm thinking about selling two of my desktop reference headphone amps! That probably says more than all of my salad-shooting put together. Full review coming - gotta be sure I have a full-on production unit for that... 

The Questyle Audio QP1R, Astell-n-Kern AK380 and Jr DAPs (digital-audio-players) - These three DAPs have different strong points, but IMHO, they're at the top of the current heap of portable music players. After sitting down with these and the Pono player (uh huh, my boy Russ Stratton pulled his out - but it was great to have a bunch to do direct comparisons) it was clear to me and Russ that the AK380 won in terms of overall resolution/detail retrieval (not surprising to me - given its dual-mono AKM DACs) and depth - while this may not sound different from resolution, it is. I'm referring to the depth of the sound in its ability to affect my mood - what I often call "emotive transference". I'm sure the two characteristics are linked (thus my love of great sounding music systems) but here, resolution is speaking to the detail of the music, and "uber-details" if you will. Sometimes a component can have all the detail in the world, but fall flat when it comes to soul. The AK380 nails both and A&K are still the DAP kings IMHO. However, even with that being the case, Questyle Audio has completely won me over with their QP1R! It's my current favorite DAP because it's so freakin' simple to use, sounds so damn musical - dynamic, and capable of great detail at low listening levels. I love it's dedicated line-output (lockable into 2.25v out - so it's just like a miniature CD player for you old school cats - no guessing w/ the gain knob, wondering where ya are in terms of output level) and it drives the bottom-end of IEMs unlike any DAP I own. It's CRAZY good at that. The upcoming Echobox Finder X1 IEMs have such mean-ass bass through the QP1R it's just ridiculous.  It also connects to my MacBook Pro as an external hard drive - there's no quirky UI to deal with. Sure, because there is no UI! But I'm ol' skool myself that way - I'd prefer to just drag-n-drop and go. The QP1R is one of my favorite products of 2015. The Astell-n-Kern AKJr is a slick lil' player. It's looks clean and modern, sits nicely in my hand, and sounds like a player three-times its size. However, it takes too damn long loading the songs I upload to it when I connect to my laptop. But, I'm sure A&K will fix that issue with a firmware update at some point. I'd recommend that player to anybody lookin' to get into portable high-resolution headphone audio, even with the delayed music loading - it's well worth its price tag as well in terms of it's sonic prowess.  

I would include the new Sony ZX-2 high-resolution Walkman, as I got to use it over the Summer - but I don't have it in-house to test against these three. However I loved the ZX-2, as it gave me TIDAL where-ever I went! If I wasn't hooked up to a network, I could just play everything in my TIDAL via offline-mode. BANG! I'm hoping to get another Sony for a full review here.  

Oppo's ridiculously out-performing-their-price-point PM3 closed-back planar headphones  - I've been sharing the PM3s like mad ever since I got a pair for review months ago. I don't mean just sharing about them online, I mean literally sharing/demoing the cans all the freakin' time when I'm out and the right time presents itself. I've moved a bunch of pairs for em just by telling my friends about the silly-stupidly-low-priced sexy closed planar cans! $300 bucks?!?! And they come with a dope denim/padded carrying case and a proper cable for listening and making calls on my iPhone. I was gonna share this picture my boy Joey sent me from Spain - he's rockin' em in the shot (on the beach, lounging in a chair like a burly, happy middle-aged Jewish man from Long Island -ALL SMILES). I love these damn cans. They're comfortable, look great, are truly portable, and of course I kinda love how they sound. Some folks have claimed they're too dark, but after further listening all of those same peeps have come around to diggin' the PM3s. I don't think I could recommend another pair of truly portable headphones at that price that beats the Oppos. If you've heard it feel free to share below in the comments! I wanna hear about it.  

Echobox Finder X1 Titanium universal IEMs (in-ear-monitors) - I don't give a shit bout the crowd-fundin' crooks when I tell ya to check somethin' out. And I learned the hard-way, how to check out a project or a product/company-run crowd-funding campaign to be sure I'm gonna get my product, and so are you. Echobox Audio is a small company with a few cats workin' they asses off, committed to making solid personal audio products at real-world prices. I know George and Sam at Echobox. George is a fellow Head-Fier. I met him last year at the Lambert party, another crowd-funded (successfully) product line - they were introducing their awesome lil' tube headphone amp and mini two-channel system at that party for their campaign. Actually the Finders mate well with the Lambert! They're revealing and rich. I don't mean exaggerated, quite the contrary, I think they're the most truthful, cut-straight-to-the-soul of the music universal IEMs I've experienced to date. As stated above - they've also got some killer booty-shakin' bass when utilizing the dedicated bass filter (you get one for treble, bass, and "reference"). I recommend the Finder X1s most highly - and yeah I got a pair - but it was my birthday, so you can cry if you want to. If I didn't like em I'd just stay quiet. I love em, and they're also indestructible (practically anyway - just about three-hundred cars drove over a pair in Los Angeles and they still worked). Check out their campaign that's goin' on RIGHT NOW. You can also get their upcoming Explorer DAP through that campaign. It's a streaming player in a high-quality flask-lookin' chassis. It's coming in three different shades of wood grain - and all three look magnificent. I got to demo the original player back at CES this year, and we also checked out the current model before we chose to give testimonials for their campaign videos. After hearing familiar tunes through the Explorer via my TIDAL account and trusty Oppo PM3 planar headphones - I was hooked. I need a high-quality DAP that streams TIDAL! Using my iPhone takes my phone outta commission. I hope the Explorer gets all the accolades it deserves. It's not the most powerful player - I've heard others that give me more headroom (like the Sony ZX-2 - but that thing is $1,100 bucks) but I'm jumpin' on this opportunity during Echoboxs' first time out!  I recommend you check it out and pull the trigger if you're lookin' for personal audio components like these.   

The new Kimber Kable AXIOS headphone leads have proven to be something truly magical themselves, and it's great to see Ray Kimber and Co. jump into the personal audio community with a BANG! I'm fortunate enough to have a pair of AXIOS headphone cables for my MrSpeakers ETHER series, Audeze LCD-series, and my Audeze EL-8s! And I have to give a nod to my Publisher at HiFi+ Magazine: Chris Martens for sayin' somethin' that NAILS it when it comes to AXIOS: I'm para-phrasing here based on a telephone conversation - but Chris said something like: He put on his Audeze LCD-3s and was like "neutrality just entered the building". I thought that was brilliant. I especially like the way the AXIOS renders the sound on my LCD-2s and 3s when paired with tube equipment. That's eargasm galore! They're also a match made-in-heaven for my Audeze EL-8s. They seem to aid in clearing up a bit of sonic smudge in the upper-mids that the factory cable probably introduces (well, yeah, admittedly it sucks - the Double Helix Cables EL-8 leads are also excelllent BTW) and the bass on my Audezes and ETHERS through the new Kimber Kables is sublimely executed. This is a cable I'm going to be recommending for a long time I think. The braiding work is also exquisitely executed. My hats off to Ray Kimber and his team for AXIOS. I'll be providing more commentary on these throughout upcoming columns.   

SubPac Tactile Bass Systems - Now this is Some Next-Level Shit. The concept of tactile transducers will not be new to many educated in the hi-fi arts. However, SubPac has provided, for me, yet another sonic frontier to explore: A sort-of blending of my most cherished two-channel/in-room system sensations, and my favorite headphone rig experiences! As I've discussed with many fellow audiophiles: What's too often missing in the headphone listening environment is the sensation of sound waves crashing over our bodies. Most headphones place the soundstage in your head, however, many higher-end cans project the sensation of a soundfield around me. When I couple that with the SubPac S2 (or the upcoming M2 backpack - to be reported on later) I get that feeling of bass traveling through my body, and the whole experience just becomes so much more immersive - like listening to a killer stereo system loading a room - but a huge stereo system, loadin' that space enough so the dB levels sound realistic, like concert-level, hitting with authoritative power! The wild thing is, the sensation itself is not new to us. I mean, it sounds like a silly comparison, but imagine your favorite massage chair experience (if you've had one) and imagine those vibrations arriving at your body in sync with a piece of your favorite music: It's engrossing, and alot of freakin' fun. As we discussed in Bass For Miles Part I here at OccupyHifi: They're all sorts of other sound applications the SubPac can be perfect for (like PC Gaming we found) - but it's transformed my headphone listening experience. You gotta feel it to believe it (hence their slogan: Feeling is Believing) and mess around with the bass levels to get things right - but once you've got it dialed - it's a grand thing to behold: Music affecting you directly like that. I experienced the SubPac S2 for the first time at CES earlier this year with the cutting edge Oculus Rift VR (virtual reality, or, also known as augmented reality - I claim ignorance there) goggles and a pair of Audeze EL-8 closed-backs. It was nuts. Ever see the movie WALL-E? All the people end up as fat blobs, in a giant space ship, glued to their comfortable media-center chairs. They don't need to get up because they can do everything virtually from those chairs. I saw glimpses of that as I experienced this other worldly technology. But, the funnt thing is: I didn't want the Oculus VR goggles (sure, I'd take a set, but they're like ten grand) - I wanted a SubPac! I believe in the future of this technology so much I'm proud to join other official SubPab Supporters. The roster includes all sorts of artists and producers, from Amon Tobin to George Clinton! Occupy's gotta spot on their Supports Page - and so when I see an opportunity to help expose new people to their stuff I jump at that chance. If you're reading this, and it sounds interesting, don't hesitate to reach out to SubPac - end users or fellow reviewers! I'll be reporting on future SubPac sessions in our continuing Bass For Miles column and elsewhere. Check it out  - if you don't have a blast I'd be surprised. I'm looking forward to helping #SpreadBass (as the SubPac tribe says) around the globe! They've already involved themselves in cutting-edge sound projects ,like workin' with Amon Tobin on the Peageut FRACTAL vehicle for this big car show in Europe. The SubPacs were installed in the seats, with Focal taking over the rest of the frequency spectrum. The car looks like something out of a modern-day Bladerunner too! I think they're potential for growth in multiple audio markets is fascinating, and I sincerely hope they break through and become the success story they deserve to be.  We'll be keeping a close eye (and both ears) on them and doing whatever we can to spread #basslove :-)

And by the way: Can you believe I got a call from a buddy of mine in the high end audio industry a couple months ago, actually he's the head of one of the most successful high end audio companies in the States, asking me if "this headphone thing is really gonna take off? I mean, this is also a close friend of mine, who's business acumen I admire more than most. Maybe it's the audiophile industry bubble, or an unwillingness to peak out and view the CE field - but, as the late, great Tupac once said: "if this was chess, we been done yellin' checkmate years ago at these muthafuckers." Which is another way to say: Headphone culture is here. It's taken the hell off, and it can do far more good than harm to the high end audio industry. Because, no matter what, we've now got more people interested in the concept of high fidelity than ever before through the headphone phenomenon. Let's put in more effort to grow this thing, build more bridges between the clicks, and bask in our collective passion for great-sounding music. I think we'll all be the better for it. In the meantime, my former business parter at Audio360 Warren Chi (also a member of the OccupyHifi crew) and I are exploring an exciting new venture encompassing personal audio and high end audio - presented in a way that's never been done before. I'll keep you up to date oh that. And, SOON, I hope - we get some Impressions on the Questyle QP1R DAP that I mentioned above from Harmony Hicks, a.k.a Headphone Princess. She's also got some really funny and intuitive observations to offer, as a dedicated Head-Fier who's coming from the female perspective. We're all lookin' forward to hearin' that! Especially because Headphone Princess usually ends up being one of very few girls at our events! So maybe she knows how to help us out with that. In the meantime, whatever music delivery mechanism you choose: Headphones, two-channel in-room, or that ill car system you bang way too loud: Keep the music hummin' and movin' forward.