Sunday, January 29, 2012


I've spouted on about hifi a number of times. But what about hifi for the head? That is, listening to music on the move, or even just privately at home.

Cowon S9
The source for my listening pleasure is a Cowon S9 media player. It has an OLED excellent screen which reproduces video like a jewel, but my main demand was that it should be able to play .flac audio files.

I store most of my music in .flac format. This is a lossless compression codec which delivers high quality audio. I've written before about the curse of .mp3, the legacy of which is compressed audio squirted through cheap ear-buds. Music, still for the most part, is lovingly crafted and recorded. It's just that nowadays most media and playback devices are capable of only reproducing a shadow of the original performance.

The Cowon S9 is one of the few players that is capable of playing .flac files, so it's useful to be able to copy files from my music library straight to the Cowon without transcoding. Of course, I could store several times more tracks on the player if I just used .mp3 files, but its 32gb capacity means I still carry a lot of music, usually just a couple of favourites plus any new stuff I have acquired lately.

Fiio Ell & Fiio E5
Amplification is perfectly good on the Cowon, but I also use a headphone amplifier to remove the load on the device, leaving the music player free to deal with the work of rendering the files without stress.

There are several costly, esoteric headphone amplifiers around, but my choice is rather less than expensive, a Fiio E11. In the past I have also used a Fiio E5, but the E11 supplies much more weight to the music and is happy feeding my more power hungry headphones. Both are rechargeable via USB and have one or two bass tone pre-sets, although I find the sound perfectly good without introducing more processing.

The player and the amplifier are connected using a good quality, but not expensive cable.

I generally chose one of two headphones with this setup. Shure se425 ear-buds for travelling (no longer available), and Grado sr80i headphones for use at home.

Fiio E11 & Cowon S9
The Shure se425s are of the ear-canal type. That is, they sit deep in your ear. They are supplied with a number of buds and it's up to you to select the best for you.

At first this type of ear-bud is disconcerting, even uncomfortable for some. Many people don't like them at all. But headphones of this type provide a quality of sound superior to any other portable headphone/ear-bud.

They also provide a degree of sound insulation way better than noise-cancelling headphones; great for air travel, but to be used with caution on the street.

My head-fi gear
When using my personal hifi at home, I tend to use the Grados. They sound great, but they also are not a sealed type. That is, sound can leak through so I can hear if spoken to. Of course, that means sound leaks the other way too, so the rest of the family can hear your music to a degree.

It's noticeable lately, travelling public transport here, that people are starting to realise that the headphones supplied with even the most expensive portable devices are poor. However, often this results in buying "designer" type head-phones - I'll mention no names, undoubtedly sounding better than OEM ear-buds because they're usually designed to improve perception of a poor quality source, but with grossly inflated prices.

I would bet that a recognised "hifi" brand headphone will sound twice as good as a designer headphone costing twice as much ... Sorry Dr Dre ... Ooops! Mentioned a name ...
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Stuff Cyclists Say ...

I found this the other day on FaceBook:

Of course, I have never been known to say any of these things ...