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BLOG #20. StereoPravda Exhibiting At CanJam@RMAF -2016: Flipping The Switch Of Audio's “Yin”/“Yang”

For us at StereoPravda the CanJam event at Rocky Mountains Audio Fest-2016, that was taking place in October in Denver, CO,” was a critical switch from a "passive" mode (buying audio as a home audio distributor in Russia) to an "active" mode (manufacturing and selling our own audio).

With a world premiere of our StereoPravda Spearphone “SB-7” In-The-Ear Monitor  and our StereoPravda DACCA audio processor/ active two-way amplifier we flipped the switch and, figuratively speaking, turned the (exhibit booth') table FOR US at all 180 degrees.

When my first interview about the StereoPravda SPearphone project was published in the July/August, 2015 issue of Widescreen Review magazine I was all anticipation: what is going to happen after it will be out?!
Of course, it would be naïve to expect a flood of orders for our products, but, would we get, at least, a flood of inquires?!

Actually, the reaction to that interview was zero.
I have to admit a bold move on Gary Reber’s, the WSR’s editor, part: there was no doubt that our product was still in its development stage, so to publish that “scoop” required a lot of guts.
In any case, I do feel very grateful to him for that first move, as he was the one who started our ball moving.

After that interview, despite the lack of response to it, I started to feel very confident about our future products, and that there is no way back.

In hindsight, the total lack of initial response to our project meant only one thing: that we are on the right path.
Because eventually it dawned on me that the zero reaction to my WSR interview in reality meant a perplexed reaction, which was a way of confirmation of the fact that we came up with some truly original products.

For such “upstarts” as us to try to reproduce established concepts is not productive.
The only way to fit ourselves in file and ranks of high performance portable audio manufacturers is to come up with a new concept.
And that is what we did applying and combining such technologies as deep IEMs’ drivers insertion inside ear canal, “naked” BA-drivers, “active” earphone section configuration, special earphone tips, and also using true home audiophile-grade components in a portable scenario, including the connecting cables, specially developed for this project.

As I already figured out the (zero) results from my last year’s “WSR” interview, my expectations from the forthcoming CanJam@RMAF-2016 were set at just to raise our hand and, possibly, to shout out our name.

This year I and my colleague from StereoPravda Dmitry Sokolov were the only Russian visitors at the show (with an exception of a group of some expat Russian programmers residing in the US who visited our booth, as they claimed, “to provide us with their support”).

  When I arrived at my first audio show ever, it was The Stereophile Show in Los Angeles in 1992, I was also the only Russian there.
So, after almost a quarter of century, it’s like a full circle of audio: again, we are the only ones who came to an audio show from our Motherland (except that this time I am wearing a new hat: “a hat” of a manufacturer).

However, that was not the only reason why we felt like the odd ones at the show.
As I expected, we were the only exhibitors at this portable audio show, I am aware of, who does have a serious home High End Audio’s background.

The most of the headphone/earphone companies’ personnel at the show came from the fields not directly related to High End Audio: most of them started in professional music equipment industry and “proper” consumer electronics.
I don’t want to sound judgmental about other products around us, but there was no way I couldn’t feel at odds with the most of the products around there after all these years spent in “big Audio”, as I couldn’t avoid but to think of a saying that says that: “an apple doesn’t fall far from an apple tree”…
Especially, when I’ve had a chance to talk to “the Apple Trees” of some “the apples” that have fallen all over around us at the surrounding booths.

I’ve had my first encounter with the journalists’ side of the portable audio at this CanJam, and it demonstrated some very similar character traits.
Compared to “the old school” writers (like Chris Martens of “Hi-Fi+”, who’ve spent a half an hour auditioning our gear), the most of the currently “hot” “digital” journalists which have passed our booth are totally OK with the ubiquitous flare of superficiality which they don’t even try to disguise.

Anticipating this type of the scene reaction to our appearing from the wings to, sort of, the center stage, I’ve got quickly accustomed to our booth visitors’ slightly bewildered look.
Even if the vast majority of them reacted very positively to our StereoPravda SPearphone “SB-7” ear monitors/StereoPravda “DACCA”/double-stacked HiFiMan-801 demos, they were still not very sure of how to correlate their sonic impressions with “what we are really up to”.
And their face impressions were showing this ambivalence.

  At the same time, obviously, there were some visitors to our booth who seemed to have no doubts about our intentions.
Their body language gave away all signs of complete satisfaction from what they saw and what they heard during our demoes.
Some links illustrating the latter kind of response can be found here:


http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/rmaf-2016-show-report-steven-stone/

- Steven Stone-17Oct16

http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/canjam-rmaf2016#deDVQPYx8Ywv7urQ.97

- Tyll Hertsens- 17Oct16

http://www.hifiplus.com/articles/canjam-at-rmaf-2016-part-4-of-4/?page=4

- Chris Martens - 15Nov16

Completely unexpected by us at the show was the fact that the most anonymous positive response to our products we’d be constantly getting there was from the Japanese.
For some reason, either because they’ve got a national penchant for strange looking objects, or, inadvertently we hit their soft spot, but they expressed their audio ecstasy from our products in the most obvious way.

  On a related subject, at the last “Loudhead-2016” portable audio show in Moscow in November the very first two visitors to our booth were  a couple of Japanese Sony executives.
At the end of fairly extensive “SB-7” auditioning they were visibly taken aback by it and asked us a question: “But who buys this?”.
My reply to them was, “Who buys this?... The Japanese, for example” (one of the concrete CanJam-2016 results for us was that we struck an agreement with a local company for our IEMs to be distributed in Japan, so, ironically, considering the question from the Sony guys, Japanese were the first ones who stepped ahead and bought our IEMs).
Then I added, “Of course, we can’t do what you do, but, at the same time you can’t do what we do. The reason is not that you cannot manufacture an earphone like ours; I’ve got no doubts that you can do this much better. The reason you can’t do what we do is that the whole world can generate only a few sophisticated customers a month to whom you can sale a sophisticated product like this, but your business model just can’t survive on such a tiny demand. However, our business model can not only survive but even prosper on it”.

In my recent letter exchange with Jude Mansilla, the head honcho of head-fi.org, who organizes CanJam events, while discussing “the quirks” of our ear monitors, I mentioned to him that the total potential of the audio industry is, actually, divided between its two (most likely, equal) parts, sort of, like “the yin” and “the yang” of it.
The manufacturers build some gear, which, by itself, is capable of helping to release only a certain amount of creative energy while listening to it.
However, the customers, in their turn, when they fully mobilize their creative effort, dedication and imagination can also release a substantial amount of additional musical energy on top of the manufacturers’ one via their own creative process that, eventually, closes the feedback loop with the manufacturers.

  Therefore, it follows that the customers are as responsible for the industry’s current state of affairs as the manufacturers.
  Considering that “those who pay, those order the music”, for such a technologically stagnating industry you can’t help thinking that the customers are, actually, even more responsible for audio’s current state of affairs than the manufacturers.

Home High End Audio 40+ years history proved the latter with all the certainty.
The open mind, the dedication, and the effort of High End Audio’s early adopters, especially, on the customers’ side, is what that boosted the performance curve of the whole industry.
Some of its stalwarts, like Bill Johnson of Audio Research or Dan D’Agostino of Krell, closed the above mentioned “feedback loop” by switching their role in the industry from an advanced customer to a manufacturer.

In that respect StereoPravda, justifying our motto about “carrying the torch”, by “flipping that switch” in Denver, follows the footsteps of High End Audio’s founding fathers.

Without the energy freely released by the dedicated customers, in the process of realizing their part of the combined potential of audio technologies, the manufacturers would be stuck in a stage of complete audio development that was once named as “mid-fi”.

The portable audio industry’s general reluctance to even discuss that issue of possible additional personal effort on the customers’ side, claiming that “one size fits all”, is what, in my opinion, made the CanJam show to look more like an assortment of “mid-fi” products than anything else.
And this year’s tent environment vs the adjacent home audio show’s hotel rooms, most certainly enhanced this impression.
As all the portable audio technologies “ploughed” their field far and wide having reached their saturation point, then without releasing the customers’ creative dormant energy for dedication and exploration of something new, and without realizing of their part of the combined audio potential,  there is no way we can expect any new breakthroughs in sound quality for the industry.

  In that letter to Jude, I continued with mentioning that “the quirks” in our IEMs’ design are the reaction to the above awareness.
They are the direct results of our fully conscious efforts to release our own creative potential via freeing us from restraints of, for one, the “universality” paradigm, which reigns over the most of the “established” manufacturers tying their hands, design-wise, behind their backs.

At the same time, from what we saw in Denver as a “CanJam” exhibitor it follows that if we want to reach a new plateau in terms of sound quality it is not enough to just unbound the manufacturers’ hands.
What we also do need for that is to have an encouraging environment for all sorts of specialized uncommon (sic!) “feed-forward” and “feed-back” local loops in the direction from manufacturers to the customers, and vice versa, which will allow the open-minded customers to fully realize their “additional” creative potential for growth.

For some categories of portable audio products, such as IEMs, the only successful scenario to accomplish this is to start to make more and more specialized and less and less “universal” products.
For open-minded customers suchlike narrow specialization, versus alleged “universality”, will definitely bring substantial additional sonic rewards.

  Despite all of its former monumental accomplishments, there are many reasons for the current home High End Audio’s decline: the general lack of established and commonly accepted sound quality standards, ignoring the role of the most expensive, but at the same time, the most important audio component – the listening room, obvious demographical, economical and technological shifts it was not able to address, the new ways of music content distribution, reliance on “magic pills” approach in marketing and “snake oils” to fill the awareness gaps in it, etc.
It’s obvious that without resolving all the issues above the situation has got not a single chance to be improved there.
  To prove my point here, its latest desperate attempt to present itself as a status symbol, with no personal effort or passion involved, just sped up its demise.

As I had to man our CanJam booth constantly I’ve been able to visit the main RMAF-2016 home audio exhibits in the nearby hotel only very briefly, but what I saw there only reinforced my determination to stay in portable, at least, in the latter case, “the room” costs nothing.

Wondering in desolated hotel corridors during the last minutes of the “RMAF-2016” home audio show I thought to myself, “Those 25 years were not for nothing. The old generation of audiophiles have taught me about the “yin” and “yang” of  audio through all these years and handed me their torch to carry.
Then, a couple of days ago “the flip of the switch” at the “CanJam” just introduced me to the new generation of audiophiles whom I can pass the torch…
… So, the life goes on.”






07.12.2016 // Author:  (Bigmisha) // Number of views:  604

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