16 December 2008

Head-Fi Ahoy!

Today is a first excursion into my latest hobby, head-fi. Head-Fi (upper-case) is the name of an audiophile forum, but head-fi (lower case) also refers more generally to headphone and digital audio player (DAP) audiophilia.

(Definitions: An audiophile, says Wikipedia, "is an audio reproduction enthusiast, who typically listens to music on high-end audio electronics. Audiophiles try to listen to music at a quality level that is as close to the original performance as possible." Audiophilia is therefore the love of hi-fidelity audio.)

The slogan of the Head-Fi forum is, "Welcome to Head-Fi, sorry about your wallet." Audiophiles can spend ghastly amounts of money on audio equipment (like, $600 for a one meter interconnect cable). Traditional audiophilia is centered on full-size speakers, amps, transports, etc., needed to fill a room with hi-fi music, and that much top-shelf gear is naturally quite spendy. Fortunately, filling just two ears with hi-fidelity sound costs dramatically less, and headphones can produce incredible audio. In fact, some traditional audiophiles are putting their stereo towers into storage and moving to headphones entirely.

Of course head-fiers can spend a lot in the quest for perfect audio, but in fact, surprisingly good sound can be had very cheaply. There is even a name for this, cheap-fi, and looking for great budget sound is a fun pursuit in itself. It also happens to suit my wallet, so cheap-fi is where I'm starting.

So, look forward to future excursuses on head-fi, cheap-fi, and all things hi-fidelity. And apologies in advance if I ruin the simple enjoyment of your iPod for you.

Now, a few beauty shots of some great portable music rigs from Head-Fi:

A brilliant cheap-fi rig: A Sansa Clip ($20) plugged into a FiiO E3 headphone amp ($8) with stylish Sennheiser MX90 earphones ($25)

I have no idea how it sounds, but the owner wins style points for this piggy amp

A superb sounding rig, even unamped: A Cowon D2 with a set of LiveWires in-ear monitors (IEMs) custom molded to the owner's ears. Owned by a 14 year-old . . .

A couple grand in high-end solid-state headphone amps. I'd be happy enough just with that little Hornet.

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