Publisher’s note: Dagogo welcomes Frank Iacone as the latest member to its reviewers group.
The year I first discovered high-end audio was 1979. The company I was working for sent me to a customer’s house to give an estimate for some remodeling work. When I entered the house I heard music coming from another room. It was so alive and so real that it sounded like there was someone performing live in the other room. I asked the gentleman what was playing that sounded so good, and that was the beginning of an experience that would change my life forever.
He proceeded to take me into the next room, and on a reel to reel with two large speakers he was playing Harry Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall. Never before had I heard anything so real and so vivid. I still have a very fond recollection of that house and the man who introduced me to high end audio. I remember getting home and telling my wife about my experience, and for days I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I then started to visit all high end specialty stores in New York and my journey began. Fast forward 30 years, and I had that same experience once again.
In 2009, I was forced into early retirement because of some health issues and started to listen to headphones. I found myself not listening to my 2-channel speaker system as much and spending more and more time with headphones. It was also the year I discovered headfi.org and, like 1979, I had my second life altering experience with high end audio. When I became interested in headphones and started to do research on what would work best for my musical demands and taste, I discovered the website headfi.org. It had so much information on all types of headphones. Similar to the Audio Asylum, it is loaded with information but specifically caterers to headphones and related gear. I quickly became a member in 2009, and that led to my first headphone purchase with the AKG701.
The community led me through auditioning and hearing every high end headphone I could get my hands on. I became obsessed much the same way I did in 1979. Over the last four-plus years, I have heard almost every flagship headphone, owned most of them and reviewed them at one point or another. Much of the credit goes to the digital revolution. Digital audio has matured in the last 10 years to a point where it has changed the way new music lovers listen to music.
Many of these young audiophiles are using very sophisticated high end DAC’s. They buy high resolution downloads from various sources and use high resolution systems to decode the music. They are moving away from MP3 and understand there is high resolution music that can be obtained by utilizing FLAC. FLAC is a free lossless codec system that offers bit perfect copies of CD’s and also can be used with portable MP3 players, iPhones and iPad’s. These young audiophiles also purchase master quality files that are 96kHz/24-bit or 192kHz/24-bit, which has more information than either MP3 or CD’s. They understand that MP3 is a poor choice for listening to music and much of the information that is recording is lost with the format.
Companies have taken notice of the trend and have raised the bar on their product offering. There are companies producing better and more high end sounding headphones and DAC’s. It is an exciting time to be a music lover. There is so much new gear being introduced into the market and the business is thriving. Startup companies like Audeze and Hifiman have introduced game changing products. Veteran audio designers have also taken notice. High End companies like Bowers and Wilkins, PSB, Focal and Polk have introduced headphones. Sennnheiser and Beyerdynamic are also releasing new products all the time. DAC’s are near state of the art , and they are being offered in every price category making them affordable for all.
Celebrities have also gotten into the act. Tony Bennett has his name on a Koss headphone. Quincy Jones endorsed AKG with the introduction of the Q701. Music mogul Jimmy Iovine in partnership with Dr Dre have the majority of market share with their Beats headphones. Beats is a fashion statement and has a brilliant marketing strategy. You can’t turn on an after game interview in sports today without noticing an athlete wearing Beats headphones. It is so refreshing and exciting to see music being revived. People are listening to music and buying new gear all the time.
In every major city not only on the nation but in the world, there are headphone meets being held. Some are being held in members’ homes while others are held in venues where a group of dedicated people rent a hall or room and invite members to come to the meets and bring their gear. Some of these gatherings have as many as a 100 people setting up their portable system and everyone goes there to listen to the various headphone systems. If you never attended one of these meets, I encourage everyone to attend at least one. The headphone community has set a new trend. None of this was available with two-channel high end systems. If you wanted to listen to two-channel systems you needed to attend a dealer’s showroom or meet a person who had a dedicated sound room. If you attend a headphone meet you can sample just about every headphone on the market with various different amplifiers and DACs and audition many different sources.
High End is very much alive and has a brand new following. The generation entering our hobby is very enthusiastic and extremely passionate. They are pretty much the age I was in 1979 and just as enthusiastic. In the months ahead, I hope to introduce many readers to where I believe the real future growth of our hobby will be coming from. I encourage everyone to get one good set of high end headphones and see what all the fuss is about. You may discover, as I did, there is so much more music to enjoy if you give it a try. You may hear things in recordings you have never heard before. You may also notice that listening to music so intimately is such a rich and rewarding experience. Once you get started, you may find, as I did, there is no looking back. Happy Listening!
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