The Saga of Headphones- Part I- The Amp

On a lighter note, back to my current hobby (aside from photography)- musick! The more I was listening to music, the more I wanted a better way of hearing it. Going to Hi-Fi shops in Akihabara, I could treat my ears to the sounds of so-called ‘high-end’ systems and really, there is no comparison between these and the usual consumer equipment. True, it is smaller and better than ever before. But the quality of sound is often tinny and small- not only that, but it lacks the details of the better-made stuff. Often you’ll see features like ‘mega-bass’ advertised, which artificially add bass to the music. Whilst this may make it more enjoyable, it doesn’t help the fact that most equipment simply can’t reproduce the rich and moving bass of the original. So, I set off on a quest to get somewhere closer to that golden dream of ‘hi fidelity sound’, not just as an advertising slogan, but as an aural reality.

Auditioning speakers there was really no doubt (albeit without a subwoofer present) that the larger, more expensive ones sounded many times better. They sound rich, dynamic and amazingly detailed. If you take a moment to really listen, you can hear each instrument distinctly, each having its own placing and ‘colour’, being so similar to hearing live music. The music becomes a whole, living universe that you are getting wrapped up in, they are just that close to the original. I started to realise why audiophiles are into them. The only problem, of course, is their equally large price. There is a way to have amazing audio, though and at a price that doesn’t break the bank- a pair of good headphones.

Soon Tristan, who was over from Australia at the time and also wanting a more satisfying experience and myself soon found ourselves in possession of portable headphone amps. “Portable what?”, I hear you cry. Well, this is something we’d both read about many times before, but didn’t really believe you need. Aren’t headphones supposed to do all the work themselves? Well, no, they actually can’t and the best headphones, or quiet equipment need really good amps to reach their potential. They turned out to be pretty hard to find- the floor assistant at Bic Camera hadn’t even heard of them, even though they sell some very expensive headphones there. So destiny took us to that place we know and love so well… Akiba.

After a quick visit to the newly opened shopping mall in Otakanomori, where we met various staff and had some fruit juice, we were off on the sleek Tsukuba Express. We gradually found our way to the one place we could find there which had the item… ‘Dynamic Audio- Pro Shop 55’. This place really is headphone heaven- they have perhaps a hundred types here, along with every conceivable amp to try them out on. Most amazing are the tube amps- old, analogue designs with a rich, lush, sound. We each left with a Dr Head Headphone Amp. Made in Korea, they can run for around 8-14 hrs on their rechargeable batteries, depending on the settings. As soon as I got home, I had mine opened up and switched to the ‘hi-fi’ mode and was experiencing some definite benefits, even on my Sharp MD-33.

The music had a much richer bass than before. Everything was ‘bigger’ and wider. It wasn’t just a case of more volume, there was more amplification, which is different. Smaller details were easier to hear, but most of all, the music had more of that ‘energy’ I could hear in the better speakers. It was much more enjoyable to listen to, more of a sensual experience. The only thing was that these ‘phones are good, but in the low end and I knew that there was a lot more enjoyment to be had with better ones. I was using the expensive, high-octane petrol at last, but it was going in a Yugo. So the next chapter was the far more testing one of choosing better headphones…

Leave a comment


  1. Gideon

     /  April 17, 2007

    Funny you should say that, as my fave pieces to listen to are the stuff I got from you!

  2. The Whitemeister

     /  April 16, 2007

    All that may be well and good Mr Gideon but if you\’re listening to your usual tripe then it really don\’t matter what type of headphones you have as it will still sound rubbish! Fact!


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