Headphones in Edmonton, Calgary

What’s up bros,

Before Just Listen opens its doors sometime before I die, here are the current offerings in Edmonton and in Calgary. The best resource on Google is this thread, but I’ll add my two bits. I’ll update it as I go along since there’s a lot out there.

The key differentiator, however, is that there is yet to be a store in Alberta where you can test out great headphones like you can with TVs. inMotion Entertainment has an extension store called Headphone Hub with two locations. There’s also Headphone Bar in Vancouver. Both have headphones right out there, ready to demo. Maybe one day we’ll have it here in Alberta.

Edmonton

Calgary

Battle of the Flagships

David Mahler of Headphones.com has put up a comprehensive comparison of all the greatest headphones ever (over 50+ models). Reading his honest personal perspective is refreshing because he’s motivated not by brand loyalty or personal aggrandizement, but a true love for audio and music. His post is reference level material.

David Mahler’s Audeze LCD2 on the Sieveking Sound Omega Headphone Stand in zebrano wood

Also, I’m back.

Source: head-fi

New Direction

Loyal fans,

In an effort to become successful and relevant, we’re going to try some new things at JLA. For now, headphones will take a back seat, and do-it-yourself audio will come to the front burner. I’ve had a marginal amount of success in that area, and now that school is done, I’m going to put a little bit more time back into that. Charles and I had a heart-to-heart, and this whole headphone thing is way off in the distance. To build momentum, I’ll have to leverage whatever success I (used to) have in the DIY arena, and then we’ll move from there.

I have never seen this show

This means that I’ll start transitioning diyMod documentation here and redirecting traffic from the original ualberta website. I’ll start playing with circuits and PCBs again, meaning that we’ll start seeing the Carrie Amp, babyDAC, and other designs come to life here. I’m sure a completely different crowd will start showing its face here (different from the usual BMW M70 V12 crowd) as I start supporting these projects. Off in the distance, I’ll totally get back into the headphone game because I still truly believe that the process of buying headphones could use a little elbow grease. There is no timeline for it.

That’s it for now, folks. I’ll still post the occasional educational post about headphones because I want this place to be an organized resource, but that’ll take time. Despite the terrible feeling of crushing failure I experienced at Beaver’s Den, I’m not giving up or letting it slow me down one bit. Consider me crashing into a wall and totally bouncing back.

Such horrible memories

Thanks for stopping by. Watch this space. :) If you do, then I’ll have to start doing something about it.

Also, a good friend, Robin Wainwright, is converting a Porsche 944 from gas to electric. Follow his progress at electricporsche.ca.

DJ Headphones

I just went to the Dirty Tones DJ competition at Habitat Living Sound. It was pretty rad. You could see me dancing up front, and I totally lost it when @3verplay finished with dubby-wubby. Listen to the set on his blog, Mixing Juice.

That got me all thinking about DJ headphones. It’s a pretty specialized field, and these guys have needs. Headphones to some DJs are like hot pockets for gamers.

How I truly learned what a microwave minute was

Finding the right DJ headphones depends on style. There are different areas of disc jockeying, such as producing on your laptop at home or in a studio, live mixing in a club, and clicking play on your iPod for board games night. Depending on where you find yourself on the spectrum of this value chain, you’re going to need different headphones. Earpads need to be comfortable yet seal out sound. The frequency range has to fit in with the environment, eg. playing bassy hip hop on a 1000W system requires headphones that overcome this competing source. Weight becomes a big issue if you wear them for hours on end, making earpads even more important in whether or not they make your head sweat so much that you get all your electronics wet with the dripping.

Electrocution is not funny

Some sets stow and go quite easily. Some have swivelling ears, and some have spring-loaded swivelling ears. Some have coiled cables, and some have cables that disconnect from the ears. Sometimes you need an 1/8″-1/4″ adapter, and sometimes you need one that screws together with the cable plug. Sometimes you need a mono to stereo adapter. Sometimes you want them to be built like a tank for when you inevitably trip over the coiled cable.

If you’re like me and you want to be completely satisfied with a purchase, you want to talk to someone who knows what they’re talking about, who understands the nuances of actually using a product in a certain way. I certainly have much to learn about all the different listening environments and applications, but I don’t know where else I’d go to find this information easily. I hope that this blog acts as a resource for people in a similar situation.

Oh yeah, check out the Pioneer HDJ2000. They’re awesome.

I listened to them myself. If only there were some retail store where the rest of us could try out headphones before we bought them…

Quick Update

These last few weeks have been quite eventful, so I won’t be able to post anything new except to keep you guys in the loop.

Just Listen Audio just pitched at Beaver’s Den at the University of Alberta this past Saturday, and it was a great experience. It’s like Dragon’s Den, but nicer. Though we didn’t receive any funding, there were some excellent pitches presented that day, and we learned a lot. Charles and I are going to figure out what our focus and strategy will be going forward, and we owe a lot to the Beavers. There were some truly terrible pitches as well as excellent products, which gave really great perspective.

Image

Now I’m craving a BeaverTail.

Next up, I’m going to take on a new venture while we figure out this headphone retail situation. As of yesterday, I am now a member of iCracked, joining the group as an iTechnician. I’ve been fixing iPhones for friends for a while now, so I thought I might as well join their team. Today, they’re demoing at Y Combinator’s Demo Day, so you know they’re a huge deal. They’re one of the largest iOS repair companies out there, so if you or anyone you know in the Calgary area needs an iPhone repaired, give me a jingle.
 
Image
You can call me Tyrone
 
That’s all for now. Next time, DJ headphones. My friend is in a DJ competition at Habitat Living Sound on Friday between 9 and 10:45. You should come out and listen. Follow him on twitter.

Aesthetics

Hello faithful readers of JLA,

I’ve been busy and lazy since moving to the new city. I’m trying to get back into regular posting, so here goes.

I’ve written a lot of mainly fluffy pieces about the world of headphones, but this post really aims at the heart of our beliefs. Let’s evaluate how people judge what “sounds good.” Sometimes people look at shiny metal, smooth wood, or big brand names and think “that piece of audio equipment sounds good.” This is obvious when one is made aware of the thought, but for some, it still influences our decisions in making audio purchases. Since a lot of music is listened to in the car, people shopping for their next vehicle put a lot of emphasis on what brand of stereo is installed. Looking at headphones, one might think that the Dre Beats or Bose QuietComforts automagically sounds great because the shell is nice and smooth. Some companies prey on consumers’ value of image in order to make money, so judging by visuals alone won’t land you with a solid set of headphones. Often, it’s the weirder looking units that provide the best sound.

“Houston, these headphones you gave us look like they came off a page of Import Tuner.”

It seems odd how important visual appeal is in the business of audio. If headphones are shiny, then they must sound like a choir of angels showering in unicorn tears, right? I won’t knock a set for looking cool, but there’s a point after which visual appeal takes precedence and priority over all else. There’s something to be said about mechanical and structural integrity, but there are also many DIY modifications users can make that add great depth and texture to their listening.

One time, an audio DIY nerd and I were talking about a new amp making the rounds, and I wanted to see what he thought of it. He said something to the tune of “I listened to it, but the power supply capacitors made the bass too boomy.” Now, how in the heck were his ears able to hear something that specific? There is certainly an effect of power supply quality on amplifiers, but most opamps have such high power supply rejection ratio that a dirty power supply, let alone a specific component in the power supply, has barely audible impact. It’s like saying a slice of bread tastes weird because the flour wasn’t sifted enough. Certain people in certain situations can notice the impact of these components on the whole, such as if they’re in prototype testing or doing a double blind ABX test, but these are situations are far removed and highly specific. Then there are also people who look at datasheets for opamps and say it sounds horrible. We won’t get into that.

There’s a field of study called psychoacoustics that is relevant to this discussion. While psychoacoustics really takes into account the effects of sound waves on the ear and as well as human perception, it bears repeating that something that looks good doesn’t necessarily sound good.

In my previous life, I was enrolled in a piano curriculum that emphasized ear training. I don’t know if it ever goes away, but I at least retain some ability to judge what sounds good. I believe everyone is able to develop their ability to judge good and bad sounds if they quieted their souls more. Try this experiment: on any given weekend afternoon, when the dishes and laundry are put away, lunch is packed in the fridge for the next day, and you find yourself with a free block of 30 minutes, grab your favourite album in your quietest space, and sit back and just listen to it. Let the screech of the guitarist’s hands across the strings send shivers up and down your spine. Listen to the double kick drum pound against your ears, and follow the cellist taking the bass line for a walk. Let down your guard for a minute, and let the music reach your soul once again.

That’s baby making music right there

The Portable Rig

Today’s fast-paced lifestyle requires headphones that can keep up with the busy man and woman of the world; headphones that work as hard as they play.

Wow, that sounded so dumb. Let’s try again.

A conscientious music lover would be wise to take note of the different factors unique to the application of their headphones. Arguably, one of the toughest markets to satisfy is what we headphone enthusiasts call the “portable rig,” or “portable rig” for short. It’s where headphones see the most abuse and the most use. You’re on the bus, you’re at work, you’re in the library redditing, watching awesome YouTube cat videos, and smugly judging people who still haven’t seen McBain: The Movie. You quickly change venues and stuff your earphones in your pocket. You rip them out while you’re on the move, and you wrap them around your audio player when you pack up again. You’re a regular Freddie Wilson, you are.

I don’t get that reference

Let me break down the three areas of weakness your headphones are going to see. Once you learn what they are, you’ll realize you already knew this and that you’ve been doing this all along. Then you’ll argue whether you did or not. Then you’ll shrug it off and continue off in your merry little way, cursing my blog for being so meta.

The principle of portable rig care is twofold: investing in quality headphones with quality materials, and ensuring an acceptable bending radius on your wires.

1) The Plug

If you’re a former iPod user, you’ll remember how annoying it was to slip your iPod into your pocket with the headphone plug facing out of your pocket. You did it to protect the cable, but sometimes you just said “Eff it” and slid it down headphone plug first. *gasp* iPod touch users don’t face this problem because the headphone cable enters from the south more gracefully than an American blockbuster movie maker to an oilsands production site.

“My wind-powered helicopter tour didn’t cost blue people their entire planet.”

When you put your pocket player in your pocket, ensure the cable is facing out of your pocket. If it isn’t, make sure you dont kink it 180 degrees facing into your pocket and then directly out. U-turns are illegal in Alberta, so just don’t do it, yo.

2) The Y-splitter

Some headphone cables go directly into one ear, but the 99% have the dreaded Y-splitters.

#occupyleftear

For some, this is an aesthetic and practical issue, but for others, it’s maintenance. Lots of headphones break around this area because, well, it’s weak or something. Usually when earphones are stuffed into pockets, they get tangled, confusing the orientation of which ear goes to which piece. Be a pro and totally wrap your headphones gently around something with a good bending radius.

Exhibit A – Sumajin Smartwrap (unpaid advertisement)

3) The Ear Area

This weakness applies to both headphones and earphones. With headphones, the cables generally have more strain relief, but since they’re more stationary, little quick pulls and tugs could do them in. The strain relief inside the earpiece of earphones is typically accomplished by tying the cable in a knot and shoving it inside the plastic housing. You aren’t going to have a big problem with surprise snags with earphones because they’ll just fall out of your ear. Pulling them out of your pocket and untangling them is where you’ll find the most danger, so again, just be careful.

The average audiophile owns a portable amp and/or DAC, but I’m here to proclaim that it was all too inconvenient for me. I used to carry a pouch around with my Electric Avenues PA2V2, ALO Audio silver-plated copper braided interconnect, and Creative Zen Vision:M, but it was just too much. Batteries, charging, lugging. Admittedly, most headphone audiophiles just carry that stuff in a messenger bag, but I didn’t have room in mine. Plus I was trying to make a fashion statement with the pouch. It was me against the world, and I lost. Hard.

Since then, I’ve switched to just carrying my iBuds with my aforelinked Sumajin SmartWrap. You could get away with a BIC lighter, a piece of cardboard, or even your music player if you keep a good bending radius. I have little fuzzies on my earpieces just so I can tell which is left and right. This reduces the trouble I was constantly having with my portable rig.

Here’s an easy rule to remember: red is right (except for communism)

I hope that helps someone out there. One of the reasons I started in audio was because I wanted a good quality headphone that wouldn’t break down on me when I was listening to it on the way to school to study. My iBuds came from my iPhone a year and a half ago, and they’re still going strong. They do have a significant coiling effect from wrapping them around the SmartWrap, but I don’t actually mind because the listening experience is so much smoother when I don’t have to untangle anything.

The other lesson is to get a solid pair of headphones.

tl;dr – Keep the bending radius large, and get a solid pair of headphones.

School Part 2 of 2

Hey folks,

I bet some of you are really mad at me now. I was missing again this past Monday, and that’s because I was busy writing the conclusion to this post. More on that in the conclusion.

Last we left off, I was in electrical engineering (EE). I like it because it suits me very well. I’m able to think in abstract terms with imaginary numbers. It’s hard for people to conceptualize some of the concepts, and we do a lot more math than most engineers. I obviously liked the field because of the audio amplifier implications. My favourite classes were the ones in analog electronics, and I did the best in those. However, it wasn’t all roses. There were a lot of terrible things I had to learn along the way, things that I had no interest in. That’s fine to me since most programs have to be structured that way in a bachelor’s degree, but I just wish I could have made more amplifiers that were more sophisticated. We did some pretty bare bones stuff in the analog electronics lab, even though I had built more intricate systems.

Exhibit A.

Going into the program, I was definitely keeping the audio portion at the forefront of my priorities, but little did I realize that the U of A focused more on other fields. Again, that was fine because I learned to appreciate different areas of study. I was entering with a fairly narrow view, but I walked out with a rounded perspective. EE is one of the most broad discplines in engineering with applications in power systems and control systems and signal processing, oh my!

As I’ve mentioned before, I was in the co-op program in EE. I had a great experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone entering into a program with this option. There is great benefit in having work experience before graduating from school, and even though it schedules you for an extra year to finish the program, I think the year is worth it. Working in the industry gives you a good perspective of your role in school. While everyone is scurrying to finish all their last bits of homework, mountains are also made of molehills. People obsess about finishing every single assignment, getting perfect grades, and what the TA will be thinking when marking their papers at 3 AM. Lots of these concerns are legitimate and worthy of our time, but you learn in engineering that much of what you learn has no place in the office. Few people really care what Gauss’ Law is or how to take a triple integral since most of these principles are embedded in the engineering software. Generally, you don’t need to retain the material you learned in engineering school. In other fields, it’s not like this, eg. medicine, psychology, baking. Instead, what you need to retain is the skill set and work ethic. In my experience, school was more about learning and practising problem-solving techniques, self-management, discipline, collaboration, professional behaviour, and so on. Yes, in some instances, it will be important to recall how to find the time constant of a CLC network, but there are references for that type of material. Working under the co-op program opened my eyes to what I really needed to focus on in school: building relationships, working hard, and other stuff I can’t remember.

There’s a whole bunch more benefits of working while you’re in school. It’s a good reason to move out and live alone; (sometimes) you make money to buy toys and sometimes textbooks; you make a lot of professional contacts and friends; you learn about yourself by putting yourself in a different situation; you get a whole bunch of tax breaks; you get better at interviews; you eventually make marginally more money than some of your non-cop-op cohorts.

I would also caution students to manage their expectations. The co-op departments aren’t simply handing out jobs, and some jobs are tedious; I know of at least one EE who made photocopies. It’s a system that assists students in finding work, but it’s not perfect. Especially with the size of the co-op department, it’s hard to get full attention from a counsellor, especially when you already found a job.  They have to worry about other people who didn’t find work, and that number has gotten large over the past few years. I know there’s a sentiment that the co-op office doesn’t care or doesn’t bother with the students, but frankly, I take one look at other fields where students pay to work to not get paid, and then I stop complaining.

You may still be wondering why I was missing last week. I said it was because I was busy writing the conclusion to this post, and that’s true. For my post-graduation celebration, I went to visit my brother in Vancouver. Ever since my last final, I haven’t been on a single deadline, and it feels great. I’ve been floating like a ghost on the earth, and it feels amazing. There’s a special feeling you get when you walk out of your last exam, and I’m not letting this feeling go until I have to. I sleep late, I wake up late, I do what I want when I want, and I eat when I’m hungry or bored. I spent the past week in Vancouver, and all we really did was eat. We met up with a few people, went for all-you-can-eat sushi, bubble tea, walked around the malls, took a few pictures, went bowling. What is there to do but really eat food with people whose company you enjoy? We could have done stuff like the Snowshoe Grind on Grouse Mountain or go to Cypress for snowboarding, but we just wanted to relax and eat. I think I ate too much, but that’s the right amount.

That’s the great finish to this amazing series on me and school. I’ll do a better job of updating this blog and developing the whole business thing, so watch this space. Thanks for popping in.

School Part 1 of 2

I just finished my degree this past December. I graduated from the University of Alberta’s Electrical Engineering Co-Operative five-year program with a half-victory lap. I know some people have an enormous appetite for school, but I was getting restless. By some people, I mean those doctor-types who school for 12 years before seeing the light of a work day. With the graduation, however, it affords me a limited-time, sentimental nostalgia which I’m mostly going to concentrate here. I think when these big life-changing events take place, it’s important to just talk about it. I don’t have much of a point. I just wanna talk about it.

I have never felt this way ever.

I matriculated in September 2006 in the Faculty of Science at the U of A, ie. I was still trying to find myself. (Un)Luckily, I decided that summer to switch into Engineering, but I couldn’t just switch. I didn’t list Engineering as a second or third choice program, so I couldn’t transfer immediately; I had to resubmit a $75 application following first year in order to apply to the new program. Despite that little hiccup, I feel fortunate that I had the presence of mind to jump tracks. I think a lot of people imagine success in school to be a straightforward, certain, powerful thrust into whatever field they want to. My experience in finding the field I wanted to work in was a quiet, slow, thoughtful reflection. I spent a lot of nights staring at my ceiling fan, sitting up now and again to furrow my brow and cross my arms in conflicted contemplation. You see, I was the victim of the “Asian Doctor” syndrome. I studied harder for Biology in high school, even though Physic and Math came much more easily to me. As you already know about my life, I was a natural memorizer from my piano training, giving me the false impression that I could memorize things until the end of time. Graduating from high school gave me the now-familiar feeling of growing independence, leading me to the realization that the doctor dream was not my own. I liked to break things and understand how they worked. I was a natural reverse-engineer. I deconstructed our family car engine and put it back together within a week. Okay, that wasn’t true, but really, I did. Okay, maybe not, but yeah, I did.

This is me putting together the BMW M70 V12 engine with my bare hands.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one jumping ship to the Engineering ship. I was in pretty good company, and I had a few good friends that were in pretty much every class with me. I had a set schedule studying everyday in the Students’ Union Building with a set study group. Life was pretty good.

Then the Christmas break of ’06 came ’round, and I built my first Cmoy. Electrical Engineering, it was.

Skip forward one year. I got my marks back from my first semester in EE. Wow, studying for classes in Science was really different from succeeding in Engineering. I couldn’t just cram two days before the final anymore. I had to actually do the assignments because they actually told you what was on the exams. Mind you, I was never an excellent student. I always floated around average, but those two D’s really woke me up.

One thing I know about school and memories is that they can be marked by the music we listened to. Many people remember their summers by what annoying songs were (over)playing on the radio. I remember the summer of 2008 as Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” Ugh. I remember studying in SUB with the tunes of Hillsong United’s Introduction to the album “United We Stand” playing probably over 100 times in the semester. This past term was saturated with Yeezy from The College Dropout to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As the new semester is starting for many of you (chumps), take note of what you’re listening to. When you’re feeling nostalgic, whip out an old record and give it a whirl. Music is an excellent way of marking memories, so take careful note of what you were listening to at important, and even unimportant, stages of your life. You never know what you’ll be reminded of. My hope is that a good set of headphones will take you there.

I hope listening to The College Dropout doesn’t jinx me.

Tune in next week to learn about my experience in EE at the U of A. I know this was a bit of a short post, but again, I’ve been busy moving my life down to Calgary. Changing phone numbers, buying furniture, making it happen, getting it done(, son). January will be a pretty volatile time for me. I’ll be in a different city every week, so expect some consistency in February.