I received this yesterday from Mr. SM. I have reproduced it in full here. I am most grateful to him for taking the time to put finger to keyboard. The bold type has been inserted by me to enhance clarity while scanning the online page.
My Journey into Head-Fi
This is the story of my journey through the world of headphone listening culminating in headphone hi-fi, or head-fi, and my discovery of a unique method of selling hi-fi equipment in the UK.
It all started a few years ago when I decided that I wanted to listen to my ever growing music collection in a more intimate way, driven to some extent by the distraction of having three young children in the house and the detrimental effect that this had on my enjoyment of music via my speaker-based system. I already had a pair of cheap Philips headphones, but I was convinced that there was another level that I could go to in order to get more enjoyment from headphone listening.
Through talking to a friend who was an experienced headphone listener, I discovered an internet site dedicated to headphone listening, including amplification, interconnects and sources. This site was www.head-fi.org. It was here on this site that my journey started.
Through reading all the forum messages and asking questions, I decided that I would buy a pair of Sennheiser HD650 headphones. One these arrived, I plugged them into the headphone socket of my stereo system and was immediately disappointed. After spending quite a lot of money, the difference over my Philips headphones was noticeable but not a revelation. So back to the Head-fi forums I went.
The problem was quickly diagnosed as being the inability of the headphone socket to properly drive the HD650 headphones. The remedy was to buy a dedicated headphone amplifier. After lots of reading, I opted for the Graham Slee Solo headphone amplifier. I connected the Solo to my source, the HD650 headphones to the Solo and then listened to some of my favourite CDs. The difference was amazing, the clarity and dynamics of the music were superb, and I could hear nuances that I just couldn’t hear through my speaker system. Within two weeks, I has re-listened to over 100 CDs and my enjoyment of them all had reached a new level.
After about six months with the Solo, and many hours spent on the Head-fi forums, I decided that there was perhaps yet another level of performance to be had from my HD650 headphones, and what would provide me with that was going to be the Meier Audio HA-2 headphone amplifier. Yet again, the difference was clear and the HA-2 was indeed a step up from the Solo amplifier. The blackness behind the music, the separation of the instruments and the soundstage were all better defined. Back to listening to all my CDs again!
The only negative aspect of listening to the HD650 headphones was that, being an open design, I could still hear the three children in the background when they were downstairs and near my study/den/listening room. Again, my research started, and I found that many people who wanted absolute isolation were opting for in-ear monitors, similar to those worn by stage musicians. I found a company in the UK that manufactured these and a few weeks later I received my …
Sensaphonic T2 XS in ear monitors
These had dual drivers in each unit, and were custom fitted to the shape of my ear canals using ear moulds made by trained audiologists. To drive them, I was recommended the Ray Samuels Audio Hornet mini-amplifier.
The first time I put these in was an eerie experience. Absolute silence. No sounds from the children even when they were in the same room. Absolute listening bliss. Once I connected them to the Hornet amplifier I could not believe the quality of the sound flowing into my ears, especially from such small drivers. These were easily a match for my Sennheiser HD650 headphones, so much so that shortly afterwards I sold the HD650 and the HA-2 amplifier.
Another year or so passed and my longing for full size headphones returned. The children seemed to have become less noisy, and I decided to see what could possibly provide a better listening experience than I had with the HD650/HA-2 and TS XS/Hornet combinations. Again, a few months of research started and I started to hear people reporting great things about the STAX range of electrostatic earspeakers, especially the Omega II earspeakers. However, at around £2,500 for the Omega II with an amplifier, or driver as Stax calls them, I really didn’t want to spend that amount of money without being able to listen to them first.
I approached a few shops that had the Omega II earspeakers with either the Stax 717 solid state amp or the 007t tube amp, but it meant travelling to a showroom and listening to my music in a noisy environment and with a limited amount of time. It was then that I head about Simply-STAX and Howard’s unique approach to selling his audio equipment.
I called Howard and told him what I was interested in. I enquired if he had the equipment in stock to which the reply was yes, and not only the Omega II earspeakers, but all the other current models and all the driver units as well. I conveyed to Howard that I wanted to be able to listen to my music and satisfy myself that this was an investment with which I would be pleased, and it was at this point that I was surprised and amazed by the response.
Howard invited me to his house where all the equipment would be set-up. I could spend the afternoon there, listen to as much music (mine and Howard’s) as I liked, drink Howard’s tea and all under absolutely no requirement to make a purchase. This was a surprising but ultimately refreshing approach and I took Howard up on his offer without hesitation. The following weekend saw me sitting in Howard’s house, listening to my CDs and some of Howard’s CDs and LPs, and switching back and forth between the Stax 404 and Stax Omega II earspeakers and the Stax 717 and 007t driver units.
After about three hours, during which Howard demonstrated his in-depth knowledge of not just Stax equipment but the hi-fi market in general, I decided that the Stax Omega II with the Stax 007t tube driver unit would indeed take my music to yet another level, which I would have thought impossible prior to meeting Howard and listening to the Stax equipment.
Howard had everything that I needed in stock, and I came home that day with the Stax equipment, plus the earspeaker stand and dust cover. I connected the 007t driver unit to my Arcam CD73-T CD player with my Chord Chorus interconnects, connected the Omega II earspeakers to the 007t and sat back and listened. I had finally reached headphone audio nirvana. The sound from the Stax set-up was un-coloured, musical, with immense clarity and separation that I had not previously heard.
I was so pleased, more so because I had been given the opportunity by Howard to know that I would be pleased via his unique selling style. Once again, in a two week period I listened again to over 100 CDs, and enjoyed them even more.
So, had I reached the end of the road on my head-fi journey? Well, not quite. There was still something missing - the sound was not quite as good as it sounded when I auditioned the Stax equipment at Howard’s house. Howard was using the superb Ayre C-5xe universal player as a source and some very high quality interconnects. So, into research mode I went yet again. I settled upon an Ayre unit as a source, but as funds did not permit the universal player I opted for the CX-7e CD player, which has had nothing but superb reviews in the industry press. I also got a good deal on a pair of Stereovox BAL-600 XLR Reference interconnects, at a price much lower than the RRP of £1,000!
So, hooking it all together, I can honestly say I am content with no desire to research, upgrade or change. I keep in touch with the Head-fi forums, and never hesitate to give people interested in Stax equipment Howard’s name and point them to the simply-Stax website.
I can say that the most memorable part of my journey into head-fi has been meeting and dealing with Howard. He is very knowledgeable, totally genuine in his desire to please and give people the opportunity to make up their own minds, and I can think of very few people over the years with whom I have been so pleased to do business and so comfortable in making the decision to do so. Once you buy from Howard, it is like joining a family, and I have been invited back to his house with other enthusiasts for an evening of listening to music and eating the lovely food prepared by his wife.
About three months after buying my Stax equipment, I got a letter from Howard asking me if I was still happy with my purchase and whether I had any questions. Excellent service!
If you want to buy hi-fi equipment I thoroughly recommend the experience of dealing with Howard, either at simply-Stax or his other company Listen Carefully.