What a long, strange trip it's been! I've wanted to start an on-going, diary-like series for too long now. I'll be the first one to say that Transcendence For The Rest of Us was indeed a work-in-progress (the Mike Drop I started on September 25th, but I was far too overloaded with other work to keep the flow there) it quickly morphed into something else. I've been slammed with RMAF a.k.a Rocky Mountain Audio Fest social. I don't think I've shared this part of my annual audio grind in any of my articles here on OccupyHifi, and though it's widely-known in the industry (even listed in my credentials in places like Part-Time Audiophile - whom I used to write for) I felt called to share this part of my Hi-fi life with my readers, as the last year's been a heavy one. The silver lining: I'm in an interesting position: Where I'm finally willing AND able to do some of the things I've been yappin' about for years! Regular OccupyHifi readers know this, and so please pardon the broken-record intel: But in the last year I walked-out on a 20-yr marriage that I thought was gonna kill us both. Timing is never good for that crap now is it? Walkin' out on a life where I thought of myself as a partner, in everything, forever. We were together half my life. Wow: That was pretty intense when I typed it. For some reason it really hit me in a different way. Who wants to go through some shit like that anyway? It's almost as if I caught a feeling of finality when I typed-out those words. Nonetheless, despite whatever I maybe feeling and processing now, it's all bad. There's just no escaping it.
Somehow I've managed to get through it (that's not entirely accurate - as I'm still going through it). Of course it had to happen like this: I ended up walking out on those 20 years just a few days before the first CanJam SoCal (2015) and at T.H.E Show Newport the same year, my headphone show: T.H.E Headphonium was supposed to be in the main ballroom of Hotel Irvine (then the new digs) but we ended up "stuck in a tent" far behind the hotel where all the high end audio auditions were taking place. That tent also ended-up housing some of the classic cars on display for Newport. So it was a logistical nightmare. The idea behind the ballroom was two-fold: One: We needed a helluva' lot more room! I'd asked my dear friend Warren Chi to help me with the show the year before, and we worked so well together (as we did when we wrote live reviews via Google Docs for our former website Audio360.org. 360 was also the initial host of T.H.E Headphonium - named by Mr. John Darko of DAR). Next thing we knew; more and more potential exhibitors started reaching out. So, not only did we end up in a tent as opposed to a large posh ballroom, but we had to turn away more than fifteen potential vendors for that show. Translation: It was, quite simply, a shitty situation to be in. But our dearly-departed friend and boss of T.H.E Show Richard Beers took care of us, and promised it would be in the main hall this year. Unfortunately that did in-fact happen. But, Richard took a one-way ticket to the greatest stereo store off-Earth. Yep, that line was so very gay (oh, don't get your panties in a wad) - it's not like I came up in this industry working for, and then spending most of my life getting to know Harry Pearson (the not-forgotten King of high-end audio) who would've approved. I think that's like an invisible shield - but let the venom spew below if you got it... Though now, with Richard gone, it seems pretty petty to even consider it. I loved Richard. He believed in me. So when he asked me to put together a headphone show for him at his then-new T.H.E Show Newport back in 2013 I didn't flinch. The fact that he approached me surprised the shit outta me and it also made me proud. Richard didn't mess around, so if you approached me it's because he didn't just think I could it. He knew I could do it before I did.. That meant the world to me; that he believed I could pull it off.
I just enlisted the help of my friends to be brutally honest. So, BTW: Thanks to Jason Stoddard, Ken Ball, Alex Rosson, Michael Goodman, and others! Better late than never right? Well: There we were in 2015, in a much-swankier hotel but we (Headphonium)were rockin' the Barnum & Bailey show. I should've seen the whole damn thing as a sign of what was coming. Bottom Line: There was no T.H.E Headphonium at Newport this year! How's this for fuckin' irony: The tent housed Richard's memorial! My buddy Frank Iacone did a terrific job with the "Marketplace" (2016's fragmented version of T.H.E Headphonium) which ended up being a large portion of the main ballroom, peppered with everything from audiophile record labels on tables to Manley Labs headphone amplifier prototype! EveAnna and team were showing off their newest tube headphone amp. I don't remember the name, but it's aesthetic is certainly original I'm sure it sounds great and has a cool feature set though (nah, I didn't read anything or check in with her, I wouldn't do that kinda' shit). There was an unfortunate familiarity there. We had an overt case of the old guard vs. the new, and on top of all that, Mr. Richard Beers, who was the Captain of that ship to me, had left us! I never even got a call about doin' another Headphonium show! And this time: It was where it should've been in the first place! That kinda' sucked. But by the time the show came around I was workin' for my lifelong friend Bruce Ball at Questyle Audio. You can check out the article at Positive Feedback on that one! Nothin' much to say here. I just, sorta' quit my job so I could take my friend and boss at-the-time to the hospital on set-up dayt!. The rest is in the article. Despite what anybody may think about that, including me, something happened far greater; and I'll be writing about that soon enough! I don't remember his name at the moment, but Bruce received a phone call from one of the leading cardiologists in the Country. The doctor already owned a QP1R DAP (digital audio player) and when he read my Behind the Booths and Back article ho told bruce he felt obligated to give Bruce a call and offer him a free work-up: A kinda of full-body scan that I'll get more details on. And: Bruce ended up in the hospital a few times. So, apparently I'm better at averting other peoples disasters than my own. Duly noted. Alot of stuff went down - believe me, it has been surreal!
Now, I've never believed in coincidence. Things always seem to happen for a reason. I'm not sure if Harry knew what he was going to do that first night at RMAF back in 09. I'll never know of course - but I don't think he planned it. Instead of reading from my article, once we got to the spot in his speech where he was going to read from the column (which would've been an honor in itself believe me) he looked over at me, introduced me to the crowd, and asked that I get up and explain some of my theories regarding how to reach the masses in that new dawn of the interconnected economy. I wanted to punch through his face, and hug him forever at the same time. I was nervous as hell, but I had a couple of good friends sitting right next to me up there in the front rows. One of them is also no longer with us: Our fallen brother Lee Weiland of CryoParts and Locus Design Group.. Seems us audiophiles are droppin' like flies. Time to get outside gentlemen, walk around a bit, get that cardio going, the heart pumping, and those pocket-protector audiophile guts (a term coined by by a friend - pretty damn funny) under control. Oh, I strayed: Pardon the brain-dump there. Back to bizness:
But this time of year is always very special to me. The last time I had a run of bad luck, beginning with six broken bones in my left leg in Northern California, it took years to climb outta those holes. Whether financial, mental, physical, every other -ical you can think of; That was a long damn journey back to feeling like a whole person. Shortly after that, exactly seven years ago on Monday, Harry Parson helped kick-start one of the most profound changes in my life. That very thing happened at RMAF 2009. He was giving the keynote speech on the Past Present, and Future of high end audio. Originally scheduled to talk about "the Golden Age of stereo" - I told him if he "got up there and solidified himself as a fossil I would never speak to him again" We talked for hours, and I remember telling him: "you can lead us again." I believed it. To me, the two-channel world had stagnated. I'm not saying that's what actually happened - it's how I felt. So after our talk I got inspired, and wrote the 1st installment of my What is the Future of the High End - What's Wrong With Us series for Positive Feedback. Harry told me he enjoyed the column so much he wanted to read from it for hey keynote address. As my mentor and dear friend this was both an honor, and, pardon my French: Scary-as-Hell. But it also felt amazing. So, in typical Hp fashion, he shook me so heavily I wanted to kill him and kiss em at the same time! Regardless: Harry, the man who literally gave me my path in life (for good or for worse, jury's still out I guess) hearing that he not only enjoyed my work, but considered it important for the "community that is high-end audio" he'd always say to me. Now, having him wanting to read my words on the future of Hi-fi, instead of riffin'' on it like he could've. There's a couple seconds in the RMAF YouTube video where you see him look at me and gimme this awesome childish smile and he even sticks his tongue out at me. He knew, no matter what, I had to do something. I think alot of us cringe at the thought of ourselves on video right? Well, I remember being freaked-out,but this man just had somethin' about him. When he was centered, when he was ON (and he wasn't even on that night, trust me): He made everyone around him feel better about themselves. We saw the Dalai Lama in Central Park. The mans energy glimmered. I'm not talkin' like "there I am sitting there high off my face on drugs - "that's always a possibility." Who knows? But for my dear friend Warren Chi, and eighties buffs everywhere: It's not a Bruce LeRoy typa' glow. I mean, there was a palpable energy about guys like that. Ahmet Ertegun, the man who helped introduce jazz to white America, and who signed acts like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones when there were Moms Against Rock-n-Roll. People thought the music was satantic. These, these giants of men, I was beyond fortunate just to be in their glow. But I've heard it said too damn much lately, and I count myself amongst the guilty parties: We're running out of giants like them. Well, it's not acceptable. I mean, in 2012 I wrote about being left behind in a vacuum of an industry with me at some slack publication, and Stephen Meijas at another! He's way smarter than me. He got a job at Audioquest.
When I watched the Hp at RMAF 2009 video again I remembered Lee talking to me about taking it on: Working on my own, as an evangelist, a writer, social media strategist, someone who works on brand culture. I loved the idea but being all freelance ain't pretty, and it don't pay shit. So I'm at an interesting crossroads yet again. And: Also again: There are some sweeping changes happening in and around the audiophile bubble. Because, again, you don't have to believe my bullshit. People love to say "look it up". So: Look it up! I think over 80% of the worlds music consumption is imbibed through headphones? And, what did Harry Pearson do right before he unexpectedly asked me to address the audience? He held up his iPhone. Was he talking about headphones? No, but Canjam was just gettin' going then. JH Audio hit the street hard with the JH-13 Pro custom IEM, and I was honored to write the first review of the sucker! I was far from an IEM expert, but Jery and I knew each other from my Atlantic Records days, and after I heard em, I wanted to hear them again, and again, and again! I never knew anything IN my ear could sound like that. And then there was the power of Audeze. The original LCD-3 planar magnetic over-ear make-ya-look-like-Mighty-Mouse-when-you-wear-them changed everything for me. Luckily, Harry also got to hear them. He said the original LCD3 "made some of the most beautiful sound he'd heard in a long time." He had 3 headphone listening stations from the first day I worked for him. I inherited his original Stax rig. It means alot to me as I used to pick my sets, and queue up records before DJ gigs on that thing. Lots of butterflies and endless nights started listening on that rig. He also had a beautiful Audio Note tube headphone amplifier with Grado headphones (not sure of the model), and I thought the third rig was a Sennheiser Orpheus, but I'd have to confirm that. Bottom line: He saw the shift the moment the Apple Earbuds became a symbol of "cool" Now the people walking around with them look like jack asses. Check out your neighborhood Apple Store. You might find a pair of Audeze SINE on-ear planar magnetics! A worlds-first! They're also amazing with their CIPHER Lightning Cable in-line headphone amp/DAC! Even Siri is more responsive through Audeze!
So there I was, actually flown-in for RMAF by another dear friend in the industry because of that essay, following my mentor on both nights that he gave his keynote addresses. I was floating on a cloud. I'd survived some of the darkest times I've experienced in my 41-years of age. There have also been incredible changes in the hi-fi industry and community since. We've been experiencing a vinyl resurgence for a few years now. And this maybe for another column entirely, but right after RMAF I began doing social media full-time, along with permission marketing and tribal branding, landing at HRT and CEntrance as Director of Marketing for both companies - and we did some amazing things together. But those days are long gone. Personal audio (headphone culture) dominates the minds of music consumers today. Because when stereo experienced that "Golden Age" they wanted Hp to gloss over at RMAF there was little else coming at the mind and the eyes of the youth when they gathered around the family console, or stereo system. It was possible to get a few moments peace in order to take-in a bit of music. Try that today! I've hung out with married couples that just sit on the couch together, with their MacBooks in their laps! I imagine they're probably even texting each other during that bullshit. Now that we have an undeniable, tremendous opportunity, which hasn't actually changed. It' more access to music and better sound for affordable prices than ever before! Sure, there are shitloads of challenges involved, but without them we couldn't stumble and learn along the way. It's time to not only empower the user to have a voice, like user reviews. It's time to take a fresh look at the field, and figure out how to reach out to them, and commit to do the damn fuckin' thing. Hey: I'm also a big talker. So I'm opening my fat-ass mouth again saying I'm coming out there. I don't care if I have to form a new company to help existing hi-fi brands not look completely retarded to 30-somethings - but it's time to make a damn difference. I got nothin' to lose, and instead of being the worlds most dangerous man. I'm ready to be on of the world hungriest. And I think all we need to nudge the personal audio movement forward is a little imagination and big balls. I'm tossin' my ha in. I'll be at RMAF in a couple days. As a matter of fast - I still don't know when the hell I'm getting there. So while you're figuring out if you want me on your team, because if I believe in the product, I don't bullshit people. I get moved, so I have choice but to share that joy and wonder. Tidal isn't enough. MQA isn't enough. I said everything from more live events to throwing different types of events. No more empty-talk. What's the answer? I sure as hell don't know! If I did I'd already be in Denver! I handle all their social media - and we're kicking ass. So lets get down and spread our collective passion for great sounding music. It's almost like taking candy from a baby if you can find the right music fan. Pull off his bats and toss a pair of Beyerdynamic T51is' on their had. They night have a seizure it sounds so real comparatively! But we're spending ALL our time preaching to the already-converted. For the guys in their sixties, seventies, yeah, OK, that's cool. I don't want to have to turn around at your age and think of something new to do! I was dumb enough to do this in the first place. That's how much I love it. And that's how much I will bring to the table. I really want to find a team ready to take on the big challenges. Who's it gonna be? I'll be reporing from RMAF 2016. Stay tuned...