Bradum Becomes an Audiophile (An Episodic Adventure)

audiophile
music

#1

Welcome fellow Strategists,

For whatever reason I’ve felt compelled to share with you my ongoing journey to becoming an audiophile. This series will chronicle my quest for high fidelity audio from the beginning, to the present, and moving forward.

Hopefully this encourages some of you to come along with me on the quest for higher fidelity audio… That or you can just tell me what a huge nerd I am. Either way, I hope you get some entertainment out of my adventures.

Episode List:
Episode 1: From n00b Library to FLAC Library
Episode 2: The First Escalation
Episode 3: The Second Escalation


#2

Episode 1: From n00b Library to FLAC Library

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Ever since my childhood I’ve been a big fan of music. I listened to everything from Blink-182 and The Offspring, to the more embarassing Anne Murray and Spice Girls. Despite my love for music I started out as a complete n00b like the rest of you, recording music off the radio and uhhh… “borrowing” MP3s from people on the internet using Napster and Limewire.

It wasn’t until my first year of university (2008) that I discovered the err of my ways. I had worked all summer leading up to university to save money, and decided I was going to treat myself to some “nice” speakers. I picked myself up some Logitech X-540 speakers for $99. I was certain this “high end audio equipment” was the best way for me to enjoy my music

When I arrived in the dorms for my first year, I became friends with a gentlement named Trent. We hit it off as we were both super cool dudes, and had very similar taste in music (Brand New, Say Anything, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, etc.). Much to my frustration I discovered that his $50 speakers, HALF the price of what I paid for mine, sounded just as good or better. HOW COULD THIS BE??

I eventually learned that it was due to some witchcraft called “FLAC”. Upon doing some research I dicovered that it stood for “Free Lossless Audio Codec”. This meant that they were audio files compressed with zero quality loss compared to their uncompressed counterparts, rather than highly compressed MP3s I had been listening to (the audio equivalent of a blocky JPEG). Thus begain my journey to re-build my music library entirely with lossless files; one I that was complete a few years later.

[sidebar]
These days I often get asked questions like “Bradum, why listen to FLAC files? I can hear the song just fine with my MP3s/Spotify, and they take up less space”. To that I respond “Why watch youtube videos in 1080p? I can make out what’s happening in 360p, and it uses less bandwidth”. To me it feels like people are missing out on a huge chunk of of high quality media consumption. Everyone wants the highest resolution and the best color reproduction, but is willing to settle for mediocre audio; an equally important part of the experience IMO.

Sidebars… aside… I finally had a taste of a higher quality audio experience. I was able to go and re-listen to all my favorite songs, experiencing them in a whole new light. It was like being able to watch your favorite TV show and re-capture all the feelings you had during your first watch. I needed more of this, and so began my (likely never ending) quest for better quality audio.

The saga continues in Episode 2…


#3

What about the soundcard? :wink:


#4

Asking the real questions.


#5

I remember when I got a copy of 10,000 days from Tool in FLAC format a bunch of years back. It blew my mind how great it sounded. Back then storage was so much more limited so it didn’t make sense to get everything in FLAC. Now, it’s easier to deal with it.


#6

Yeah. Even if you can’t dish out for higher end audio gear, getting all your songs in FLAC or ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codec) is an easy way to get a big improvement in fidelity with pretty much any gear.


#7

I usually stream my music, but lately been working on getting a nice library and looking towards FLAC for most of it.


#8

For anyone looking to join me on my Audiophile adventure, Massdrop is once again selling the Sennheiser HD 6XX headphones for only $200.

For context, these are widely considered to be some of the best (if not THE best) headphones for under $1000, and they normally retail for ~$500


#9

Episode 2: The First Escalation

With the realization that I had been settling for sub-par audio for years, I began to wonder what else I was missing out on. Was the speaker system that I spent $99 on perhaps not the best audio experience a person could have? I was beginning to have my doubts… But as a poor student I didn’t have much choice but to settle with what I had.

A couple years later I took a 1 year break between transferring schools to work full time and put away some more money, and decide to use some of this money to up my audio game. Because I was riding the bus a lot, and walking along busy streets, I decided that I should get a set of ANC¹ (Active Noise Cancelling) headphones. No point in having good quality audio if you can’t year it anyways, amirite?

I had narrowed the list down to Bose’s QC15 headphones, and PSB’s M4U2 headphones. While the Bose QC15s had the best noise cancelling in the segment, I ended up grabbing the PSBs for ~$250 after reading that their noise cancelling was nearly as good and they had MUCH better audio quality.

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After purchasing the PSBs I raced home and threw on my music. It was everything I had hoped for and more. I was, once again, experiencing my music in a whole new light; re-listening to all my favorite songs and catching details I had never noticed before. You would think that reaching this new level would have quelled my desire for higher fidelity, and it did temporarly… But long term it only fueled it. If I could TWICE find something that made me excited to re-listen to all my songs, surely I could do it again… right?

I would later go on to realize that ANC headphones, by nature, would always be lacking in audio quality compared to Audiophile headphones; but that’s a story for another day.


¹ Active Noise Cancelling is the process of creating sound waves that are the inverse of the outside noise which cancells it out. While ANC headphones will lack (relatively) in audio quality, they are phenomenal for anyone who does a lot of travel or listens to music in noisy environments.


#10

Episode 3: The Second Escalation

While my PSBs were able to satisfy me for a few years, my desire for something new and better eventually flared back up.

I started to do some preliminary research on good, audiophile headphones to see what was out there. In my research I noticed a certain pair of headphones, the Sennheiser HD 650, constantly being touted as “One of the best, if not the best, headphones under $1000”, and “a steal at it’s price”. Unfortunately, despite being a good deal for its price, it was still 500 freaking dollars! And we’re not talking Canadian Rupees here, that’s 500 freedom dollars! Despite my genetic predisposition to impulse buy, as a young professional just starting his carreer and needing to save I could not bring myself to spend 500 dollars on headphones.

My dreams of an HD 650 appeared to be unattainable for the time being; that was, until I discovered Massdrop. I came across a Linus Tech Tips video about some new headphones Massdrop was working with Sennheiser on called the “HD 6XX”. For $200 I wasn’t expecting a 650 or anything, but I was hoping maybe it would be half decent. Then I got to the part in the video that said it was actually a modified HD 650 and explained the differences:

  • This one had a shorter cable
  • This one was blue

That’s. It.
It was a blue HD 650 with a shorter cable, and was less than half the price.

As you can imagine, I jumped on this immediately… However it was upon ordering that I discovered the caveat; it was built to order so I would have to wait nearly 6 months to get it.

Thus began the great wait…