TouchMyApps » Headphone Interviews http://www.touchmyapps.com All Things iPhone and iPad for those who like to Touch. iOS App reviews, News, New Apps, Price Drops and App Gone Free Fri, 17 Oct 2014 21:42:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.7.4 Maximo iP-HS5 inner earphone headset in Review – the emperor’s nylon clothes http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/12/13/maximo-ip-hs5-headset-in-review/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/12/13/maximo-ip-hs5-headset-in-review/#comments Sun, 13 Dec 2009 13:45:07 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=24650 If anyone can one-up the Nuforce, it is Maximo. They sport many reasonably priced headsets and upgrade inner earphones which work well and sound good to boot. The iP-HS5 is their premium model which hits the important price point set by Apple’s new dual-driver inner earphone headset. But unlike the white-on-white of Apple’s sparsely accessorised … Read more]]>

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If anyone can one-up the Nuforce, it is Maximo. They sport many reasonably priced headsets and upgrade inner earphones which work well and sound good to boot. The iP-HS5 is their premium model which hits the important price point set by Apple’s new dual-driver inner earphone headset. But unlike the white-on-white of Apple’s sparsely accessorised kit, Maximo pack in a lot of black. In fact, its accessories kit might even make Jays blush.

UPDATE: Maximo have informed me that newer iP-HS5 cables are different to the model I have. If that is the case, I will update this review accordingly.

Specifications
Earphone drivers: 9mm neodymium
Frequency response: 12Hz-22KHz
Sensitivity (1KHz, 0.1V): >100dB
Maximum SPL output: >120dB
Microphone Sensitivity: 44dB +/-3 dB@1KHz
Microphone Frequency response: 20Hz-16KHz
Microphone impedance: 2.2K Ohm

Fit and Package
I am pleasantly surprised by Maximo’s comfortable snowman-shaped ear pieces which drape over each earphone’s driver section. They are extremely soft, fit well into any ear type, and come in three ear sizes – there are four sets in total. The earphone unit itself is small and light, making wearing a charm and is pretty easy to insert. The problem, basically, is that in order to get a secure fit, you may have to push the housing so that it fits well. And removal requires the opposite action. Unfortunately, this Maximo earphone, like the q-Jays, has very little protection at the end of the housing. Over time, the connection to the housing may weaken, breaking either the cable or the pseudo stress relief at the earphone’s base.

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The iP-HS5 can be worn normally with the cable hanging down, or looped over the ear for reduced microphonics. Doing so though, limits the use of the microphone. Either way is comfortable, and as we will see later, sounds very good. Though not exactly earplug-territory, it blocks a goodly amount of noise.

The iP-HS5 comes pretty well outfitted with a generous accessory package which includes: a 3,5mm extension cable, two smaller 2,5 extensions, 4 ear pieces, a lanyard, shirt clip, and carrying ‘case’. The latter is the weakest link of the package, hardly protecting the contents, but with loads of space pouching everything very well.

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Build Quality and Cable
Maximo chose to tether the iP-HS5 to a horribly noisy nylon-coated cable. The upside is that it looks cool, but god has it got problems. The first is that it is noisy. If the Head Direct RE-2 was annoying, the Maximo is nigh’ on frustratingly so. And like the Z-buds, it is prone to kink and even unravel at places. Thankfully, when worn over the ear, touch noise is diminished, but remain on the wrong side of annoying. Then, there isn’t a single proper stress relief on the cable. The upper portion which connects to the earphone has a rubber insulator, but it is seamed, and liable to split near the earphone. The nylon sheath does provide some protection, but it isn’t foolproof.

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The housing is made of turned aluminium, and the pause/play button is similarly strong and light. Had Maximo not chosen a nylon cable sheath, the earphones and play/pause button would needlessly weight down the overall design. The rubber neck cinch is a very good design – at first. But after a few weeks of constant use, loses its grip on the cable as its inner openings grind into larger bores and eventually lose their grip on the cable.

Like the Zagg Z-Buds, the build quality isn’t up to par with its 80$ price, trumped even by the cheaper Nuforce NE7M and by the mic-less MEELectronics M6 and M9. But then again, Maximo comes strapped with an accessory kit fit for MacGyver and a decent sounding microphone. And, Maximo’s proprietary ear pieces really are a step above most of the competition, providing ample isolation and a smooth fit, though Maximo would be wise to at least provide hybrid foamies for folks who don’t get on with silicon.

Sound
I will start with what I like (and there is a lot to like). Akin to more neutral headphones, the Maximo iP-HS5 isn’t overwhelming despite its large dynamic driver, nor is it ‘dark’. Bass notes have good presence, but not a lot of excess weight. In other words, any genre flows and moves with speed. If Monster’s Turbine seats bass near the front, the iP-HS5 ushers him a little further back where he still can reach 20 Hz, but not without struggling.

Male and female vocals sing sonorously, but neither are this headphone’s strong suit. Female voices (and to a lesser extent, male), can sound reedy – thin in comparison to their surroundings. My guess is that the iP-HS5’s sparkly treble is the biggest influencing factor, spreading its shimmer and shine down the homage-paying chain. Of course, we are not talking about the somewhat grainy or harsh highs of the PFE 112 and 121, but it is sure that Maximo’s headset has a special affinity for highs.

And while we are at it, delineating it all isn’t too big of a job. Don’t worry about smear – the iP-HS5 is clean, drifting from frequency to frequency with ease. Still, it isn’t the most dynamic of headphones. What it does, it does well; and those who like it will like it a lot. But, it doesn’t ventriloquise music all over the place. No, it remains mature, keeping music right around the ears for a good, focused listen.

And lastly, its microphone records cleanly without much interference. But if you use it whilst walking, it will pick up on all the intense noise its cable is capable of. Again, placement is great when wearing the earphones down and when chatting up a storm, won’t miss a word. But don’t expect it to replace your taper’s kit when recording that U2 concert on the sly.

Out and About
As much as I would love to praise Maximo, I cannot. The iP-HS5 is a tangled, microphonic mess of cable headaches and iffy build quality. Every step pounds a new definition of noise into the earphones; every movement invites the grating sound of the nylon-covered cable – and sadly, any touch, however slight is loud and annoying. Cable length is pretty good, but could do with another 10 cm; the extension is too long for real-world use unless you plan on attaching it to your home amp. The problem is that this headphone, while nice, does not sound good enough to warrant a dedicated amp, so I can imagine that it will stay in the plastic tray long after purchase.

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Conclusion
Does the iP-HS5 sound better than the former cost/performance king? Yes, it does but it is no revelation. It is brighter and more fun than the NE7M with clearer highs, lows, and an attractive midline. Like the NE7M, it packs a well-placed microphone. Add to that a play/pause button and excellent comfort, and the iP-HS5 begins to look very good indeed. But, it is 30$ more expensive investment with an overall lower quality build to the NuForce without offering much better sound quality. And eventually, the nylon cable sheaths will kink, fray, and possibly pop out of their protective rubber grommets, or cut teeth on the headphone jack. So while this package comes with loads of goodies and has up-to-par audio, the iP-HS5 is very much like its neck cinch: immediately impressive, but unfortunately coloured by a debilitating future which if anything, isn’t able to keep up alternatives.

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Headphone Summary
Title: Maximo iP-HS5 Developer: Maximo
Reviewed Ver: 1.00
Price: $79.99
  • Great accessory package
  • Good sound
  • Comfortable ear pieces
  • Good mic
  • Horrid cable microphonics
  • Cable kinks
  • Underwhelming build quality for price

Hot damn! Headphones really are a rockin’ way to enjoy music, right? Feel free to explore TMA’s headphone oubliette.

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Interview with ALO and GR9 about the ALO Rx, music and everything http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/12/06/interview-with-alo-and-gr9-about-the-alo-rx-music-and-everything/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/12/06/interview-with-alo-and-gr9-about-the-alo-rx-music-and-everything/#comments Mon, 07 Dec 2009 01:26:12 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=24305 Recently, TouchMyApps had the good fortune to review the excellent ALO Rx portable headphone amp. As you can read in my review, the amp is a driving champion, supplying power and flat frequency response for a very wide variety of headphones. The Rx isn’t only your “prescription for sound”, it is also a partner product … Read more]]>

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Recently, TouchMyApps had the good fortune to review the excellent ALO Rx portable headphone amp. As you can read in my review, the amp is a driving champion, supplying power and flat frequency response for a very wide variety of headphones. The Rx isn’t only your “prescription for sound”, it is also a partner product from the newly formed team, ALO and GR9. Both Ken Ball (ALO) and Matt MacBeth (GR9) have had years in their respective industries, and if I may be so bold, left indelible marks on each. Naturally, I was intrigued about their philosophies, goals, and good ol’ fashioned teamwork. By the way, Matt’s often detailed answers are a great reference for what is possible via the iPhone. Yes, his answers were typed 100% on a virtual keyboard.

For reference, please take a look at TMA’s ALO Rx review and follow any links in the text.

Questions and comments from me will be bolded; Matt will have a nice ‘M’ in front of his name, whist Ken will be fixed with a ‘K’ in front of his.

1. Gentlemen, both of you are benchmark players in the audio world, having founded or worked in amazing, pivotal companies; how is it that you decided to hook up? Whose idea was it and how has the partnership worked out?

M: We actually met waiting for a shuttle bus at LAX on the way to CANJAM ’08.  This was my first “headphone” show & I didn’t know anyone in this industry, or many of the products.  We started chatting & I found out he was the guy who makes the really nice iPod line out cables.  So during the show, we continued to chat & we began discussing my iPod transport project & I also showed him some of my other projects, like the ultra high-end iPod speaker dock.

We eventually got around to discussing the possibility of working together on a portable amp for the ALO brand.  We’re both very easy going & figured that we should give it a shot, so we began to make a headphone amp.

K: This is my favorite story.

Ok I have a table at the international Head-fi shows every year. I get off the plane at LAX and get on the shuttle going to the hotel. On my hand carry I have a ALO cable sticker and this guy sitting right next to me asks me “hey are you going to the headphone show?” I said yes and he asks what I do, I say that I own a cable making company, with my main cable is a ipod dock connector cable. What do you do I ask he (Matt) ;-) says Oh i have a device that takes the digital off an ipod! the rest is history I was bugging Matt the whole weekend.

2. Describe how you work together. Who is the bigger visionary? Who is the bigger blood-and-guts designer?

M: For this project, I’d say Ken is the marketing visionary & I’m the engineering visionary.  We took a look at the competitive landscape, and found a void that together we could fill.  Ken knew what this amp should be & I knew how to get us there.

K: Matt is the man with the digi chopps, I just told him what it should look like and add some hints on what it sounds like. I am just a cable maker with some business points. For the Rx it was all Matt. I was responsible for (asking for) the double Li-Ion battery, listening and making some suggestions. Headphone amps are ALL about the battery.

3. How are your audio philosophies entwined? How much compromising have you had to do to combine both of your goals/visions/dreams?

M: Our personalities combine very well, and we both have a passion for providing the utmost in audio quality and product support – I don’t think this project could have gone any better.  Because of our instant synergy, I don’t feel that I had to compromise anything to realise Ken’s vision for this amp.  The ALO Rx amp is the perfect combination of size (just right for iPod Classic, Touch, and iPhone), power (drives anything from a 4-ohm subwoofer to 600 ohm cans), battery life (I typically get over 30 hours per charge), control (likely the first portable amp on the market with an analog stepped attenuator audio chip), and reliability (the Rx has a real battery conditioning/charge supervisory circuit for the lithium-ion batteries to ensure the batteries are always safe and “well fed”).

K: It was pretty easy for the Rx we wanted something to pair up well for the iPhone it was really pretty easy Matt know exactly what I was after. I think we both have the same goals of course there are business parts that make some things we want to do no possible but we both really look forward to coming up with new things to bring to the market.

4. How did you decide on the name Rx for the amp and audio accessory brand?

M: This one’s all Ken… I still think it’s pretty cool; especially the “prescribed by ALO” on the back panel.

K: That was my gimmick ;-) I really see being “a portable audiophile” much like an addiction, a real one. The amp I wanted Matt to develop was to be like a drug, to ease the addiction.. hence the Rx. I think its a potent prescription that we are both super proud of.

5. What is the one internal component or technology which you are most proud of?

M: This one’s a toss-up of the volume controller & the battery chip.

I first used this volume control chip back around 1999; it’s a real dual stepped attenuator that’s designed specifically for audio.  There are many other stepped attenuator chips available, but they’re designed for microprocessor interfacing of signals and sensors, not audio fidelity.  This chip gives the tracking performance of a digital chip, and the audio quality of discrete thin-film resistors.  The ALO Rx amp is the only portable headphone amp to use this volume controller.

As far as the other technology, The Rx is actually the very first product on the market to use this lithium-ion battery charge/supervisor circuit.  This circuit constantly monitors voltage/current/and temperature of the battery circuit, and determines the best combination of current and voltage necessary to charge the battery.  If the battery is mostly full, the circuit does not allow the battery to charge, until the battery level gets lower; this greatly extends the life of the battery.  Lithium-ion batteries are very powerful and require careful attention to the voltage & current from the load AND the charger.  If the battery level gets too low in this circuit, the battery will automatically disconnect from the circuit to prevent damage to the battery AND the rest of the amp.  Plugging the charger into the amp will engage the charging/supervisory circuit and safely bring the battery back up to full charge.

K: Thats Matts baby

6: I hate blood and guts, but I reckon that TMA readers aren’t. Any tidbits about the guts you might share with us?

M: I’m a minimalist in all aspects of audio design, and many of my designs defy “conventional wisdom” in the world of very high-end audio.  But in the world of extremely high-resolution medical video devices and unlimited budgets, my designs make perfect sense.  Basically I’ve experienced electronic design philosophies ranging from medical imaging to PC microprocessors & motherboards to the tweakiest of audiophile products.  I pick what sounds the best, no matter where or when it was conceived.

Specifically for the Rx it’s a basic op-amp circuit that’s very similar to a high-res video circuit.  Nothing fancy, just the right combination of a chip and thin-film resistors.  The schematic and parts list is actually very boring, but We don’t listen to schematics or bill-of-materials, do we?

K: Matt

7. In designing the Rx (apart from sound quality), what was the crux of your design plan? Did it work? Do you think anyone else could have done it? If not, tell me why GR9 and ALO have been able to achieve the impossible.

M: The non-audio design goals were to mimic the size & shape of the most popular iPods and use a good/reliable rechargable power supply.  We accomplished these goals without compromise in any way.

Could any else have done this?  Sure, but the early development of the Rx used pre-production silicon, so they would have had to wait a bit.  We’re not rocket scientists, but we’re quite good at what we do – but more importantly – we work very well together and have common interests and goals.  This amp is the result of unselfish teamwork.

K: Again for me its all about the power supply, Matt nailed it.

8. What sort of headphones did you design the ALO to drive? And, what headphones personally do you listen to when you are not ‘critically listening’ to new gear or competitor’s stuff? What portable audio equipment do you carry around?

M: for big cans, I use Sennheiser HD650′s and some other stuff I have in the works; for single-armature IEMs, I use Klipsch Image X5′s (one of my projects when I was at Klipsch, so I’m extremely familiar with them); for complex load IEMs I’m switching over to JH13Pro’s (after hearing them with the Rx amp at RMAF).  For battery/power supply/output stage testing I use a pair of big ‘ol 12″ 4 ohm subwoofers; I figure if the Rx can push two 12’s, it can handle any headphone.

I use just about everything as a test source, from 24/96 wav to YouTube clips.  I design with test tones, but tweak with music; final tweak is always with TV news – the best source of various vocal sounds anywhere (if a system can measure well, sound good with music, AND sound natural/neutral with voices; you really have something good!)  For fun/exercise, I typically listen to Pandora and concert clips on YouTube via iPhone with IEMs.

My iPhone is the centre of my portable audio world, and is always within reach – I’m still amazed that I’m almost never more that 30 seconds away from any song that I want to hear!

K: When I was listening to the prototypes I was using a pair of Ultrasone Edition 9s and a modified Grado GS1000.

RE: And, what headphones personally do you listen to when you are not ‘critically testing or listening’ to new gear or competitor’s stuff?

Currently HD800s with the ALO aftermarket HD800 cable.

RE: What portable audio do you carry around?

iPhone and 3 Nanos, one loaded with hip hop/ downbeat , one with classical and the other rock

9. Ken, you’ve been involved in creating some of the nicest looking, phattest line out iPod cables since… well since a long time. What do you think of the iPod/iPhone/iPod touch as an audio source?

K: I guess its about the music really, and how it aids and or effects the users life. I mean sure the iPod is not some super uber high end audio device like a $50,000 CD play can be. Its about the availability and usage and how that effect work on us. The ipod is in many respects a gigantic audio mile stone, and amazing audio enabler. Even the more snobby home audio audiophile can not discount the iPod. So yeah as a music source its amazing, and soon to me even more amazing with new technologies and larger flash drives.

10. What other plans do you have to revolutionise the market? Anything that you can ‘leak’ here or do you need to take a few minutes, send over a beat team who will sew my lips together and my fingers into my ribs?

M: The only comments I can make are that the Rx is just the beginning of the “revolution” and the iPhone will soon be the standard-bearer for portable audio fidelity.

Here’s my visionary statement: It is quite possible by this time next year for small portable audio products to meet or exceed the performance of the most esoteric high-end home audio products, forcing the home audio guys to start playing catch-up with the portable guys!

K: I’m mum…

11. Gentlemen, what would you as designers say to the portable audio community in general in closing? Any non-partisan hints to help them enjoy our music better?

M: It all boils down to enjoying the music; I’d rather watch/listen to an awesome concert on my iPhone via YouTube than listen to a perfect reproduction of something that does not interest me.

K: For me its an exciting time to be a portable audio enthusiasts, I think there are a lot of very interesting developments by larger audio companies jumping into the “high end” portable, headphone and earphone market and we will all enjoy this!

Thank you gentlemen. If you have anything you would like to add, I will be happy to put it together. Also, if you have photos (nice mug shots) for instance, please attach them.

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Ken Ball has recently opened up a new brick and mortar audio shop: 32 OHM Audio which complements his web store: ALO Audio.

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SoundCAT – internet audio’s ferocious feline http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/11/30/soundcat-interview/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/11/30/soundcat-interview/#comments Mon, 30 Nov 2009 08:25:15 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=24006 Tucked away from Seoulʼs flashy fashion and meet-market districts is a unique and foreign world. Geeky and lively, Yongsan is home to major electronics companies, importing thoroughfares, haggling hawkers, and most importantly, a thriving distribution/ manufacturing community. This teem of life and business spans the gamut from massive corporations to one-person electronic chop-shops: an organic … Read more]]>

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Tucked away from Seoulʼs flashy fashion and meet-market districts is a unique and foreign world. Geeky and lively, Yongsan is home to major electronics companies, importing thoroughfares, haggling hawkers, and most importantly, a thriving distribution/ manufacturing community. This teem of life and business spans the gamut from massive corporations to one-person electronic chop-shops: an organic melange of commerce and concoction. It is also home to SoundCAT, sponsor of Head-fi, and one of the audio communityʼs most diverse and fastidious distributors.

As you know, TouchMyApps reviews headphones and other audio equipment: the simple prerogative set by an audio-obsessed editor whose handheld platform of choice just so happens to be the iPod. Before coming to Korea, I started reviewing custom earphones with Sleek Audioʼs excellent CT6, and after arriving in Seoul, I directed my searches firstly for a good audiologist. But here, they arenʼt easy to find — especially if your Korean is about as good as your gaming skills. Fortunately, SoundCAT just so happened to come up under the Google search for: ʻcustom earphones Seoulʼ. Under one roof, they supply high end professional audio interfaces, cables, headphones, amplifiers, a host of musical adapters, and a growing list of well-respected suppliers and customers. Among those who pay their bills are: Westone, Jerry Harvey, Ultimate Ears, Jays, Sensaphonics, CrossRoads, Sleek Audio; the list goes on, but suffice it to say that SoundCAT are deeply entrenched in both hobby and professional markets.

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In South Korea, SoundCAT is also one of the only companies to cater to professionals with custom earphones; they fit enthusiastic musicians and audiophiles alike with many of the worldʼs finest (and most personal) earphones. This “cutting edge” — precisely where president Woni Chang wants to keep the company — business brought SoundCAT into the high-end earphone business which began with the importing of Westone’s expensive dual-driver UM2. This decision opened the door for SoundCAT to import many other fine pieces of audio equipment. And, years later, the UM2 remains a great seller.

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In Korea, the iPod has been beset by many obstacles such as high pricing and an almost invisible Apple Store presence. And the audiophile community? They have been an outcast lot in the flashy Seoul population. In fact, according to Mr. Chang, high-end audio is “usually perceived as an old-man’s business” where stodgy fogies eek out a living in the relegated hermitage of high-powered magnets and expensive cables. Fortunately, headphones are coming into vogue as more and more young people plug themselves into the innards of buses and trains to get to work; the resultant combination is a hitherto absent fashion-conscious crowd of hipster portable audiophiles who would as soon leave home forgetting their mobile phones as their high-end earphones.

After the successful Google search, I made a couple of telephone calls, and a few hot summer days later, I suffered the strange pleasure of sucking a syringe and gooey gel into my ear canals for custom earphone fitting. That was the easy part. Finding SoundCAT, however, was no small task. The surrounding area is crammed to the brim with small audio vendors, computer parts shops, SRO cable companies: a cacophony which seeps through SoundCATSʼ four walls. Currently, SoundCAT employ 8 people whose fastidious schedules keep them hopping from sales to after service. They also sponsor cdpkorea, one of the countryʼs largest audio-websites. As you can imagine, things are hectic. But inside, you can count on a few constants: SoundCAT employees will have at least one ear plugged by something sweet (think q-Jays) and the other cupped by a telephone; at their finger tips: headphone amps and fingers which dance to the tune of customer response emails, manufacturer’s orders, and the audio world’s most influential medium: the internet.

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I swear there was a q-Jays there a minute ago...

Mr. Chang and I cross paths at various points. He listens to a lot of Hip Hop and thus, loves the bottom- heavy s-Jays. And for trance, he loves the prodigiously deep Ultimate Ears UE11 Pro, the custom earphone which he reckons is ʻitʼ. On an uppity note, he loves pop and the warm, but accurate sound of the Sensaphonics 2X-s, a custom which I also own and love. And thanks to SoundCAT, I have been fitted for what arguably is the best production-level custom earphone on the planet, the Jerry Harvey Audio JH13Pro. Of course, Mr. Chang is eagerly awaiting his own in which case, I think we will have even more to talk about soon.

SoundCATʼs early days were invested into the professional market, a category which they have not forgotten. So, while Ultimate Ears and Jays earphones sell well in the audiophile arena, Sensaphonicsʼ soft silicon customs are the bread and butter for musician customers. Currently, SoundCAT make ear impressions for about 10 customers per week.

But, how has this relatively small Seoul-based company broken free from the shackles of an ʻold manʼs businessʼ stigma? The answer is simple: internet. Their customer base is composed of young enthusiasts who eagerly purchase new and exciting products, and on the trusting recommendations of their peers, make big decisions. TouchMyApps is honoured to be read by many of these up-and-coming audiophiles who are customers and regular traffickers at SoundCATʼs beautiful website which is new and fresh every day.

Especially on the web, their efforts are revolutionising the home market. Currently, 90% of business is concentrated in Korea, but SoundCAT also have a USA office and are linked with Uncle Wilson’s in Singapore. And under the bonnet, there is a lot going on. Mr. Changʼs staff do loads of travelling — think of it as sending diplomats to spy out foreign lands — where they meet manufacturers, attend conferences, and firm up their growing place in a market which they lead. But, one could argue that SoundCATʼs claws scratch at too many posts. Interfaces, cables, amps, customs, fitting – the list marches on and on, but no matter how much they expand, SoundCAT remain focused and well-connected. They also stay clear of a problem which has been infecting audio circles lately: commercial shilling. The products they sell come from abroad, and so too do the reviews; their review resources come from outside and keep customer’s interests in mind.

I expect to see Mr. Changʼs dream of expansion into the USA fulfilled in the next few years – SoundCAT possess the drive, knowledge, and business sense to thrive even in that competitive market. This Canadian will remain hopeful that the woeful industry north of those borders too, will open to true geek pioneers.

SoundCAT – SoundCAT’s main webpage

Mold Sarang – SoundCAT custom fitting services

Uncle Wilsons – Uncle Wilson’s audio

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Interview with the Monster: David Leung, Project Engineer of Monster http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/03/23/interview-with-the-monster/ http://www.touchmyapps.com/2009/03/23/interview-with-the-monster/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2009 22:55:38 +0000 http://www.touchmyapps.com/?p=7422 David Leung, Project Engineer for Monster was kind enough to lend his ears and thoughts to TouchMyApps as we asked many questions  regarding Monster and the Turbine. If you are an earphone aficionado, then this article may be a great introduction to the exciting team at Monster who are creating market-leading products in the audio-world. … Read more]]>

The Monster has Emerged!

Interview with the Monster

David Leung, Project Engineer for Monster was kind enough to lend his ears and thoughts to TouchMyApps as we asked many questions  regarding Monster and the Turbine. If you are an earphone aficionado, then this article may be a great introduction to the exciting team at Monster who are creating market-leading products in the audio-world. For Monster’s Fanfare thread at Headfi.org, click here.

TMA: According to the Head Monster, ‘Life is too short to listen to bad headphones’. How many bad headphones did the monster team go through before deciding that enough was enough?

DL: The Monster team sampled almost everything on the market, starting with the Apple ear-buds, moving to in-ear dynamic, balanced armature types, etc. and found that all were deficient in at least one area, whether it was lack of bass, coloration, poor sensitivity, output limitations, etc. By the time we were done, we tried in excess of 30 headphones.

TMA: What good earphones/headphones did you use that impressed you?

DL: We thought that the VModa Vibes or even the Skullcandy FMJ’s weren’t a bad sounding headphone.  Those were some of the dynamic headphones out that were NOT balanced armature that delivered bass in the portions that we were looking for and at a decent price.

TMA: What is Monster doing better in the in-ear business than their competition?

DL: We know what good sound is and are in touch with current music culture.  A lot of the competition is lacking one of the two.

TMA: What was Monster’s reasoning in choosing a dynamic-based driver versus a more expensive and smaller armature driver?

DL: Price does not always dictate performance and although many in the market have veered towards balanced armature, the listening experience dictated which technology was superior.  We listened to many armature headphones and despite almost everyone in the industry steering US towards that technology, we were never happy with the sound. we were convinced that our ears were not deceiving us and through more listening, tuning, etc. found that dynamic drivers offered the type of sound we liked.

TMA: I am a dynamic fan, preferring the tangible rumbling bass and wider soundstage, but many users out there are more attracted to the ‘driver wars’ where more expensive and more drivers equals better.  How do you think Monster can level the Turbine in a market that is obsessed with marketing numbers rather than sound?

DL: You are very much like us then.  Our slogan says it all – “hearing is believing”  If we can get people to try our headphones and provide input to others looking to buy headphones, they can help spread the word.  We’re just starting now and the initial response has been really good.

TMA: What if any disadvantages do you see in choosing a dynamic driver versus an armature driver based earphone?

DL: I would say size may be a point that a dynamic driver falls short on.  But again, it depends on your application.  The compactness of a single armature driver is extremely small.  But to get the performance of a dynamic and by the time you lump together all the armature drivers the form-factor surrounding armatures is pretty big as well.

TMA: Should we expect to see more earphone/headphone products from Monster in the following years?  Is this a market you are wanting to branch out in?

DL: You will definitely see us expand in this market.  We may be the little guy right now, but we have found a niche that is part of our core beliefs – providing audiophiles and music listeners, alike, great listening experiences through our products!

TMA:  If so, what changes or additions do you see Monster pursuing in development?

DL: A full line of headphones to rival our competitors would not be farfetched.  I would say this is TBD.

TMA: That is exciting (on the down-low) news David. I’ve never designed a headphone or earphone but I have dreamed about it a few times.  Tell me, what is it like in those brainstorming sessions?  Are you in white lab coats with clipboards?  Around a boardroom table with suits and ties?  In a recording studio throwing around ideas whilst jamming to your favourite music?

DL: I would have to say that it is a combination of a scientist/user.  We can put headphones on measuring equipment all day long, but you and I both know that you cannot measure everything that you hear.  For the initial creation of a headphone, we spend quite a bit of time in the lab with test equipment, measuring, tweaking, tuning, etc..  But, then again, that is the sterile lab part of the process.  In order to really get to know a headphone, there is the other side where you are the consumer.  You spend time with the headphone and listen to all types of music, over different periods of time, in different listening environments, etc..  You do this as you would anybody else would that were using them.  Use while jogging, eating, traveling – all are part of the development and some might consider it lax.  What things you find you want to improve you go back to the lab again and reiterate the process.

TMA: Are all members of Monster’s engineering team as passionate about audio as you are?

DL: The majority of Monsters are audiophiles or aspiring audiophiles.  You learn to appreciate the importance of sound here at Monster, especially in developing product, and it is the level of experience that would distinguish one person from the other.

TMA: David, are you a basshead or a neutral nerd?  A Sibilance slammer?  A Treble tyrant?

DL: I would say a basshead/treble tyrant hybrid.

TMA: That sounds busy! What is your favourite music to listen to with the Turbine?

DL: Since it is such a well-balanced phone, all the music on my iPod are potential candidates for this headphone.  But, then again, I use music to relax a lot of the time, so a lot of my music has a very elegant female vocals with a variety of acoustic instruments – sublime!

TMA: What tips do you prefer the Turbine earphone?

DL: I use the medium single layer tips.  They are less fidgety than the triple layer tips.  But, I use the triple layers when I am jogging.

TMA: Do you think monster should include a greater assortment of tips?

DL: We don’t believe it is more or different tips that are needed, but more like finding the PERFECT tip for all consumers.  It is the holy grail for in-ear headphones.  Some like foam, some like silicone, others like triple flanged, dual flange, etc.  We’re always trying to find a way to address the needs of all users so that everyone can achieve a phenomenal listening experience with our headphones.

TMA: I love the Turbine but I feel that the cable could be better as it is a bit too full of rubber energy that is prone to touch-noise microphonics.  Do you think that Monster will invest in a different or better cable?

DL: We are always looking for ways to improve our users’ experience with our products and the quest for the perfect cable is never ending.  We will continue to strive to make improvements to the headphone, including the cable, as long as we are in the business.

TMA: What about the stress relief at the end of the headphone jack – do you feel that there is a better way to implement stress relief into the current design?

DL: We rigorously test our headphone designs to endure consumer usage.  So, the strain relief passed with flying colors for endurance testing and was able to match our industrial design goals.  But then again, we are always open to user feedback.  What didn’t you like about the stress relief?  I’d like to know for future details to look at.

TMA: The plug for instance and y-split have no real strain relief for the cable which makes me uneasy but I am extremely hard on cables. The Turbine is still the best dynamic based earphone that I have heard for trance music, full stop.  It has power, speed and translation abilities far beyond other dynamic based phones. Though strong, the bass nearly resides in its own channel, much like a separate subwoofer.  Please tell me what sound element strikes you as much as the bass strikes me.

DL: I listen to a lot of electronic music as well and love the superfast, undistorted bass – even when you turn it up.

TMA: Thank you David.  Do you have any thing you would like to leave us with today?  It has been a pleasure getting to know you and about the team.  Cheers for all your help and I hope the business continues to expand and make marked advances in this industry.

This concludes the interview with Monster’s David Leung. It was great learning about the monster philosophy and design process but more importantly, that Monster are not waiting out their rivals to do something first. Throughout my correspondence with David, he questioned me as much as I did him – and what I can conclude is that Monster are passionate about securing their customer’s loyalty through great products such as the Turbine.

Please check out our Monster Turbine Review.

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