spotify

I admit. When I was first told about Spotify, I dismissed it as my experience with most web based players had been pretty poor. Most of the time I couldn’t find what I really wanted to listen to and when I finally did the quality was too poor to be enjoyable.

Now I’ve been using Spotify now for a few days and I’m tempted to actually go as far as to say I’m impressed. The only thing stopping me from giving it a full 10 out of 10 is the fact that it doesn’t have anything by two of my favourite bands Tool and A Perfect Circle. I already have those albums as mp3s, so no big loss. The big plus is I’ve already listened to a number of tracks and albums legally that I would have otherwise pirated. I’ve paid the £9.99 for premium access, which gives me ad-free listening (they are annoying) and a higher bit-rate music. To be able to listen to that much music for that much a month, is extremely worth it. For the price of a single album, I can now browse and try out as many different artists and albums as I like.

Another nice feature is the radio. I’ve spent some time just listening to random music and come across some really good stuff I would have otherwise never heard. My only gripe though is the lack of a “World Music” or “Classical” option. Sometimes when working I find that foreign music is pleasant to listen to while not being distracting. I raised an issue in Spotify’s GetSatisfaction page, so who knows, perhaps the feature will turn up someday soon. If you haven’t checked out Spotify already, I highly recommend you do so. Oh, but if you’re not in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the UK, France or Spain, sorry, you’ll just have to find another service. For you Americans, consider this minor payback for not giving us Hulu.

Corda 2Move & CMoy headphone Amps

While doing my research into decent headphones, I stumbled upon quite a few references to “Headphone Amplifiers”. Curiosity got the better of me and I started to dig a little deeper. I was impressed with the cheap DIY CMoy amps people were making and pretty shocked at the sight of desktop amps costing over £500.

As with anything “technological”, there’s always a lot more to things then you ever think possible. One of those things was the need for properly driving a set of headphones. I had assumed (reminder to self; never assume anything) that headphones and their connections were a set standard; that there would be no real difference between the headphone socket on my computer, my mp3 player or my TV or the level of input expected by the headphones themselves. It would seem that there is and that headphones all want/expect differing levels of drive to perform to the best of their abilities (this becomes more and more true the higher up the headphone quality ladder you go). This is where headphone amplifiers come into play. By increasing the amount of power available to headphones, especiallly those with higher ohm ratings, they really start to shine and the music starts to come alive.

Even with the piles and piles and piles of positive ratings of most amps, I was still skeptical about spending too much on one and as so many people swore by the cheap CMoy amp setups, that fit snuggly inside an altoids tine, that seemed like the logical place to start. I’m too lazy to assemble one myself so I scoured EBay and found a seller who made them to order. I paid my £25 and waited for it to arrive. Five days later my homemade CMoy amp arrived, encased in nice silver Altoids tin. I didn’t hold my breath for anything spectacular but just like the moment I first tried on my SR80s, I was again floored. Everything sounded so much more well defined. Everything felt ever more crisper and the bass felt a hell of a lot more tighter. I was sold on headphone amps for sure. Nothing had ever sounded so good.

My initial plan had been to try out the CMoy at home first and then look into getting another or something better as its replacement so that I could use the CMoy at work. One of the things, I consider a flaw (while some will disagree) of my CMoy amp is that you take a signal from the existing headphone output, pipe it into the amp and then pipe it out to your headphones. What you want is a digital input, so that you don’t lose any quality between the source and the amplifier. When I had been first doing my research into amps, a lot had been said about the Headroom Total Bithead, which has it’s own built in DAC. Connect it up to your PC via USB and comes up as it’s own soundcard, allowing you to bypass the internal soundcard completely and get a “purer” signal. On top of that, it powers itself through the USB connection, no need for a batteries or an extra power adaptor. I sent a couple of emails to headphones.com asking about shipping to the UK but received no reply, and soon resigned myself to the idea that I wasn’t going to get one. Then I came across the Corda 2Move, made by Meier Audio in Germany. It was about the double the price of the Bithead alone, but that included shipping, and seeing as I had no way of finding out how much shipping of the Bithead would be, I fired off an email to check on availability. I received a reply pretty much straight away, so I paid my money, and a few days later it was sitting on my desk at work.

The Corda 2Move is a beautiful piece of kit and sounds absolutly stunning. I gave it it’s initial test run with my Etymotics 4ps and the difference was huge. Even with the Grados at home there was a big difference between it and the CMoy amp. The in-built crossfeed also goes a way to giving a better impression of sounds. It smooths out the channel seperation just enough to take of the harshness on really far mixed tracks.

I can’t recommend either of these two amps enough. If you’re willing to spend the money, then the Corda is the way to go, but the CMoy is still phenomenal considering what it costs. If you’re serious about your listening pleasure, you’ll want an amp to go with your headphones. Turn ’em up and rock on.

Grado SR80 Headphones – Aural bliss

Grado SR80s

I didn’t think that headphones could sound much better then my Etymotic ER-4Ps (One up from my ER-6s), but it would seem that you can and by a big margin.

How I had managed for so many years with my el-cheapo Technics RP-F350s at home, I don’t know. I never used the etymotics at home, but after trying them once on my iMac I realised I’m really missing out when it came to listening to music at home. And considering I spent more time infront of my machine here at home then anywhere else, it made sense to get myself a good pair of “cans” for home use only. After some research, the Grado SR80s headphones seemed like the way to go. A bit more then the SR60s (but well worth it from what I read) and more convinent then the SR125s as they had a 1/4″ connector rather then the 3.5mm one needed for my iMac or iPhone. I tracked a pair down on Tottenham Court Road and sat down to give them a try.

My jaw literally hit the floor the moment the first few notes came through and no matter what I threw at them, they just sounded more and more amazing. I swapped between a few headphones to make sure I wasn’t dreaming it and boy, I sure wasn’t. This is pure audio bliss. Everything, and I mean everything, is perfectly defined. It feels like instruments are floating in space and that you’re really there listening to everyone playing their part. No muddiness or distortion, just clarity. Bass feels tight and deep, the highs never too sharp or piercing and just such a vast expanse throughout the whole range. I read that many people found the headphones too uncomfortable to wear for more then an hour or so, but I’ve had no problems what-so-ever. I can easily wear them for 4,5,6 hours at a time without bother. The only real flaw is the open back design, unlike closed back headphones, sound leaks a lot (this is what probably gives them the spacious sound) so you can’t wear them out in public as you’ll piss a lot of people off. Thankfully this doesn’t really effect me as that my Etymotics are for.

Why I made myself suffer for so long, I’ll never know. I wish I had known sooner.

(And things are going to take an even bigger leap with the arrival of my handbuilt headphone amplifier. Post coming soon)