My Audio Story

So now I’ve gone and given some excellent advice on headphones that no one outside the business could really tell you without thinking for more than a second. Who is this established entrepreneur to be giving me all this excellent advice? (I mean, his advice is so excellent!) Let me paint you a word picture so your imagination doesn’t peg me as a booze-fueling, cigar-having Hedon.

My audio journey began when I took my dad’s iPod in 2003. I was in grade 10 at Old Scona Academic High School (read: nerd), and I wanted to listen to Rachmaninoff while I studied in Cameron Library every day (before it was cool). Maybe it was the way I was stuffing it in my pocket, but eventually those iBuds died on me. This isn’t a new event for anyone in the history of iDevices, and the way I handled it was pretty typical — I bought some cheap earbuds to replace them. No big deal. No need to start a business to open bring high quality headphones to the local masses.

However, the way I lived was clearly too hardcore for those new buds because I ended up snapping something in them. I like to live life on the edge, breaking my belongings which I foolishly assumed could live as hard as I did.

“You want to fight me in a math contest? Then meet Sir Isaac Newton and TI-83.”

This process repeated itself about three or four times. Every time I broke another set, I’d pick out a better (more expensive) one, only to face the same disappointment. In my infinite wisdom, I said enough was enough. I decided to invest in a good set of headphones that would last me and help me study. Surprisingly, going to Future Shop on a semi-regular basis wasn’t helping. I went back to Future Shop and picked out a super expensive one this time. (Not recommended.) I landed on these, the Shure E2C.

You never forget your first in-ear-monitors

For the uninitiated, in-ear-monitors (IEMs) are basically high quality earphones with earplugs. They were the ultimate study tool for me then. For one, I couldn’t hear when they announced they were closing the library, and two, I could hear things I’d never heard in my music before. IEMs are what they call “revealing.” They were my gateway.

Fast forward to the summer of 2006. I was out of school, and I was bored. I don’t really know how it happened, but I randomly typed into my browser “www.headphone.com.” What I found out was better than I could ever imagine. A website that sold high end headphones, and they had so many! I started googling more about headphones, and this website called “Head-Fi” popped up constantly. It was almost always the first three or four results. That’s when things snowballing even more.

That summer, my mom made a trip down to the States. After reading extensively and using head-fi’s search function like a pro, I decided that I’d get the Grado Labs SR60.

Not “The Prestige” like the movie where Batman kills Wolverine

They’re pretty much the industry standard for starter headphones. I still have them today, though greatly modified. I bought them from Headphone.com because I didn’t know I could even buy them locally. Plus, Grado has these restrictions on buying stuff online internationally, meaning Grados vary in price from nation to nation; SR60s are $120 in Canada compared to $79 in the States.

Now the setting is December 2007, and I’m bored again. (Typical.) It was Christmas break during my first year at the U of A, and I had heard about this amplifier for headphones that fit inside of a mint tin can. It was called a CMoy after Chu Moy, the guy who popularized the build. By any electrical engineering standard, this is the most basic amplifier you could design and build. It’s the fourth thing I learned in my analog electronics class, and it’s the easiest thing to draw in the history of the world.

It took me an entire two weeks to build, sourcing tools and parts from who knows where. It should take a person maybe three hours to get it done from circuit to casework properly. It’s also the most frequently built headphone amp. It’s a rite of passage because it encapsulates so many fundamental principles in a simple package. Here’s the original article.

Thanks to the Patriot Act, CMoys are no longer allowed on planes (I’m guessing)

This long introduction of headphone electronics DIY sets the stage for pretty much everything after. Soon after building this amp, I discovered my love for electronics and technology, and I chose electrical engineering as my major.

To date, I’ve built the CMoy, A47, PIMETA, PIMETA v2, Mini³, Millett Hybrid MAX, Millett Hybrid MiniMAX, Starving Student Hybrid, VSPS, Alien DAC, BantamDAC. Not a lot of super high end amps in there, but it’s hard getting up there when you’re a student and your bedroom smells like armpits and solder fumes. I went on to design an amplifier called the Carrie Amp, and I pioneered the diyMod iPod modification. I have my next design in the works (allegedly).

I also played piano for 13 years starting at age 4.

Headphone people like to meet up. I organized the first three meets in Edmonton and one in Calgary. You could say I’m a pioneer. You could also say I’m a huge dork. Here are some galleries of the first meet.

All in all, I’ve learned a lot about this headphone world. There’s still more to learn, and I’m slowly making inroads on this business side. I’ll go into detail someday about the diyMod, Carrie Amp, and babyDAC. I hope I’ve shown you just how committed I am to this headphone industry. Maybe one day I’ll be able to shape it a little. Thanks for reading.

Wow. I’m so sick of myself now. I’ll stop there.

tl;dr I’m really into headphones.

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3 comments on “My Audio Story

  1. no questions were asked when I brought my cmoy in an aluminum box onto an international flight with air canada…. both ways… I intentionally rebuilt my virtual ground buffered cmoy in an aluminum box since I’m sure I would have had to dump it at a checkpoint if it were in the Tupperware box many previous builds lived in.

    how do you like the pimeta compared to the cmoy? I’m considering that next since I’m interested in the battery charging circuit from it anyway. figure I may as well go all out. after hearing a real tube amp I’m not sure if it’s worth the beyond pimeta since I’m assuming cmoy is the best bang for the buck.. even when riced/maxed out 🙂

    feel free to email me. take care and keep building

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