#8. A Consuming Passion on the Rocks: How Even the Best “Customs” Follow the Same Customs of "Consume"

When asked, why “traditional” audiophiles are not interested in high performance portable audio, my usual reply is that it’s a “chicken and an egg scenario”: in the absence of registered proposition there is no registered demand. And vice versa.

In the “old-fashioned” home High End Audio a custom is that a “better” product always has got a more limited appeal. The often unspoken limitation is not only expressed in its price, but also a direct result of some inbred product idiosyncrasies which appeal to a very specific and narrow niche of its potential customers.
In the current state of the best portable audio, especially on its transducers’ side, it’s the opposite scenario: despite obvious variables, particularly, the different anatomies of the outer ear and the different sizes and shapes of the human ear channels, typical transducer manufacturers, following the inbred tradition of the Consumer Electronics industry, continue to insist on the “universal” appeal of all of their portable products (the feature, which, in reality, they almost never deliver).
Without openly stating so, the CE manufacturers use the same “universal” approach even in the category of products they’re calling “Custom-In-the-Ear-Monitors” (CIEMs). What they mean by the word “Custom” is that the manufacturer installs a CIEM model’s standard elements of construction into an individual’s ear mold impressions.

Why are “The Golden Ears” not impressed even with the sound coming out of their own (!) plastic “Custom Ear Channel Impressions”?
Can it be that, as their nickname suggests, they are accustomed to be treated as “The Precious Customers”, but instead, despite whatever the name of the applied technology suggests, they are approached as some cheap consumers?!

The foundation of High End Audio’s marketing is built, as a rule, upon an unproductive resolution of a conflict between various dopamine networks in a large majority of audiophiles’ brains. At a moment of coming to a purchasing decision, a substitute of tasks is taking place: delayed gratification from seriously planned projects networks lost out to a stronger influence from more primitive lymbic instant gratification - "a correct purchasing decision” - ones. Such substitute is not possible without distorted self worth (to console the latter is to many the whole reason d'etre for this hobby) , so, in the absence of any real achievements in audio, the hurt self worth is healed by a projection: to the positive image of the considered hardware. Being totally unproductive, in the vast majority of the cases, this unfortunate situation perpetuates itself, cycle by cycle, during the whole personal history of the hobby.

Because, as they say, “many men, many minds”, the “traditional” high performance audio manufacturers’ community and thеir various allies believe that they’ve got no choice, but to play up to such a customer mentality. That is, by expanding a “true audiophile” very own specific choice area, the former expand the boarders of the latter’s self worth gaming field, where the neophyte can feel comfortably special in his gambling attempts to stumble upon his very own audio “golden nugget”.
Providing a multitude of alternatives with the choice delegated to an "audiophile", the manufacturers, their dealers and the specialized media create an impression that a potential client is treated not just as a passive “consumer”, but as an actively participating and feisty “customer”.

Tube vs solid state, triodes vs pentodes, single ended vs push-pull, direct heated triodes vs indirect heated ones, OTL vs transformer coupled, bipolar transistor vs FET ones, panel speakers vs dynamic, multi-bit DACs vs DSD ones, and so on, and so on – all these choices are like “a shooting gallery”, where this potential customer can stay permanently high on dopamine just trying to decide on what he’s, sooner or later, going to get.

My blog #1 on our website dealt with this audiophile arrested indecisiveness. It’s even got a name: “the audiophilia nevrosa”. An outsider would think that the term is used for a psychological disorder, in reality what it means is that an audiophile is stuck in this ambivalent “pleasuredom of the equipment selection”, all the while being very reluctant to proceed any further, namely, to what it’s all about: to the next phase of actual usage of his purchased equipment for elevated music listening.

From such a home audiophile perspective, a variety of proposition in the wearable/ portable electronics, and especially, a variety of proposition in the portable acoustic transducer choices are way too limited. This lack of extremely wide proposition demonstrating a decent sound, exacerbated by the lack of resolution to overcome some new practical obstacles, are the two main reasons, which inhibit “traditional” audiophiles’ possible incitement to the new musical listening technological platform: in this new field the buzz from the constant audiophile gambling wears off (sic!) way too fast.
As a result of it, when traditional audiophiles don’t feel that initial buzz from a multitude of their own idiosyncratic choices, they look at the portable electronics and transducer proposition with boredom and disdain.

In the last few years, the mobility of the modern society has changed dramatically, and to avoid high quality portable music listening in favor of home audio, to me, is like to avoid using a cell phone insisting on using, exclusively, a home land line.

So, instead of instigating home audio community‘s excitement in these new technologies, which, in their highly evolved state, are currently pressing their relevance due to the changes in demography, music distribution and listening habits and economy, to name a few, we end up with that “chicken and egg”, or, in our case, “the audiophile portable proposition vs the audiophile portable demand”, scenario mentioned at the very beginning.

To start with, the variety of proposition is limited because, to a typical headphone or an earphone designer, following Robert Frost’s wise remark about roses, “…an ear is an ear…”. Compared to the huge variety in the sizes and shapes of all the possible listening rooms and their acoustics, even if the variance in the anatomy of a human ear’s listening environment does present a certain challenge to address properly, still, it is substantially more predictable, both acoustically, and in terms of its physical dimensions and shapes.

In spite of, literally, hundreds of headphone and earphone companies fighting with each other over a place under the sun, if you look at their total proposition, the scope of all the products available, compared to the home audio, is, relatively, narrow. Not only all of them sit in or on the same relative spot of the human scull and have very similar physical dimensions, or sit in very similarly shaped and sized ear channels, but however hard you, as a neophyte portable customer, try to specify your own personal demand for something, like, portable elliptical horns or portable plasma drivers, the scope of all the viable «toys» in this field is too narrow to incorporate them.

Let me now to remind you what constitutes a typical portable audio system: first, you, obviously, must have an ability to listen to it while carrying it around, and, second, its acoustic transducers should provide you with a sufficient level of acoustic ear isolation.

Following this definition, from all the currently available headphone and earphone technologies electrostatic headphones are first on the way out because they need an AC power supply.
Then, “open” dynamic or ribbon driver headphones are also out, because, as their name suggests, they barely isolate an ear from the external noise.

So, based on the portability criteria above, a choice, a home audiophile would be introduced to, when being initially exposed to a portable high performance audio market, boils down to the four available alternative technologies:

- “closed” dynamic headphones;
- “closed” ribbon headphones;
- “universal tips” “In-The-Ear-Monitors” (IEMs); and, finally,
- “Custom In-the-Ear-Monitors” (CIEMs), a conventional IEM technology version, its claim to fame lies in using a “customer’s” individual ear mold impressions to carry inside them all the necessary components.

Beside the “dopamine” reason mentioned above, there is another very important reason why “home” audiophiles still don’t feel too excited about portable audio: the typical performance attributes of the existing portable technologies in the context of High End Audio’s old and proven system of sonic values.

The latter is the most evident if you consider typical portable acoustic transducers’ performance.
Compared to much more benign portable electronics' audiophile appeal, it defines the "bottleneck" of proposition, on the one hand, and limit the audiophile acceptance of portable audio, on the other, so that's why we will concentrate in this story on this foundation for the "chicken and egg" cul-de-sac.

Even if I can be barely content with the level of acoustic isolation they provide, what “close” headphones do to your music can easily be heard with cupping your hands around your outer ears so you can hear the “sea shell” noise from the cavity’s multitude of sound resonances. In my book it means that this technology can be very problematic as a viable option for making the highest quality portable transducers.
Judging by the sound I’ve been exposed to from such headphones, currently, the only excuse to use even one of the best of them, beyond a status symbol, is that they can provide a very high level of physical comfort. There is no doubt that there’ll be further improvements of this technology in the nearest future, but my thoughts on how far these improvements, sonically, would take us, will digress us too far from the slant of this story.
My personal bottom line for the “closed” headphones to be used for the audiophile purposes is that, for the time being, even granting “the benefit of the doubt” to them in getting completely rid of the “sea shell” problem, we should still wait and see before I would recommend this technology for the highest quality portable playback.

Now, within the “universal tips” IEMs we’ve got “Dynamic” drivers’ designs and “Balanced Armature” drivers’ ones (and some hybrids of these).
Believe me, it’s again beyond the scope of this story, the 99% of all the best IEMs, for various reasons, are BA-based ones.
Also, as far as I know, all the best CIEMs on the market currently use BA drivers only.

After deleting its first two “closed” headphone entries, the above classification would leave a “traditional” home audiophile, in the whole of portable audio, with the scarcity of only two viable technologies for the best quality portable audio transducers:

- “Balanced Armature” “universal tips” IEMs, and
- “Balanced Armature” custom ear mold CIEMs.

Not mentioning the sound quality yet, but as within these two separate groups of earphones 99% of the products use exactly the same components, it’s not only similarities without, but it’s also similarities within, that would stop a hardcore home audiophile, accustomed to get high from the process of his own hunting for some “exotics”, to “have a fix”.
Just look at all the different loudspeakers, their various designs and finishes…and now look at the various IEMs’ and CIEMs’ selection. Compared to the former, the latter’s not much different from the “Back in the USSR”, right?
Less sophisticated portable audio enthusiasts are pretty content with endless arguing between themselves on the specialized forums over advantages and disadvantages of different “apples” falling from just different “apple trees”.
But for the “traditional” audiophile mentality, to instigate from a hardcore type an initial interest for a new field, this is not enough: the hardcore crews need not only just audio “apples” vs audio “oranges” battles, but in their own “arms race”, they also need audio versions of “pine apples”, “peaches”, “bananas”, and all the rest of the exotic stuff as their possible weapon of choice.

The latter, for the vast majority of headphone and earphone manufacturers, whose roots, by some obvious signs in the production and marketing methods, are firmly placed beneath Consumer Electronics industry’s ground, would look like that it’s impossible to please a “traditional” audiophile, who, with their “absurd” demands, are spoiled by their “sectionalism”. As a result of it, the home audiophiles end up in portable audio with that “zero chicken vs zero egg” scenario mentioned above.

From established traditions of conventional Consumer Electronics companies it follows that even a better quality earphone’s system of values is based, first and foremost, on a product’s price, then its status symbol, its physical appearances, its user’s personal comfort, its reliability, and only after all that, perhaps, on the product’s sound quality. That’s why, from a completely different perspective of home High End Audio, where the sound quality, according to the firmly established and accepted by all canons, is declared as the top priority, even the best commercially available earphones’ system of design values are set “head over heels”.

As a first example of the latter statement, the most common IEMs’ and CIEM’s offence, from a perspective of a hard core home audio buff, is that, as a rule, their driver arrays’ overall sound radiation patterns are set “off-axis” towards the direction of the ear channel sound propagation. Even if the “home buffs” are not aware of that, the Evolution made us all very sensitive to the directivity of sound propagation, so when they are auditioning a typical IEMs or CIEMs, they do sense the results of this sonic degradation.
The problem is exacerbated by the lack of common axis even within the BA driver arrays. The latter would be very much like what you’d hear when a traditional loudspeaker would have had all its drivers pointing in the different directions – above, below, asides and behind. Speaking of which, I did audition a popular CIEM model (picture 1), where its tweeter driver was pointing all 180 degrees backward before making a u-turn through its sound tube in the direction of the ear drum.
To prove my point about “head over heels” system of values that successful CIEM manufacturer, whom I spoke to at one of the “Can Jam” US “festivals”, was sincerely taken aback by my suspicion on the viability of such a design approach to obtain a good sound (even more so he was taken aback by my mentioning of existence of “audiophile” grade resistors).
As the traditional audiophile experience is taking place in the environment of “on-axis” loudspeaker behavior, and, mostly, in the near field, for a typical home audio guy, a typical earphone’s “off-axis” overall sound propagation error, exacerbated by its drivers shooting in all the different directions, and, then, the subsequent sound propagation through some relatively long and narrow IEMs or CIEMs sound bores, the sonic results would not be very much different from what he’d hear when listening from his kitchen through a long and curved corridor to his High End audio system playing in his living room(and with the drivers shooting in all the different directions). There is no doubt that suchlike sound quality would be offensive to those who care, and to make them to like it is almost impossible.

The more you’re exposed to some of such design solutions the more it supports a view that the most of the commercially available IEMs’ and CIEMs’ common weak spots are inbred in their typical provenance: the general tendency of Consumer Electronic (and the Professional Audio) companies to only cater the products with “universal” appeal, that is, the products with allegations that everyone can successfully use any of them.

In High End Audio they’ve been even having a name for such products: the audiophile communities, which, on the opposite, believe in their total exclusivity, would be calling them with a derogative term “mid-fi”.
From such a perspective, the vast majority of currently available earphones on the market, even the most expensive ones, by their provenance, can be easily called the “mid-fi” products.

As a side comment, it comes as no surprise that the venerable single BA driver Etymotic Research ER-4s, which “started it all” almost three decades ago, made this earphone revolution outside the CE industry. This company was just a small audiology products’ manufacturer when they commercially released this “bastard product” (according to Mead Killion, the ER president, who used that expression during one of my interviews with him), and at the time they had nothing to do with the Consumer Electronics industry.

As another example showing how an earphone ”provenance” determines its design’s solutions, I’d like to mention that in a case of a specific CIEM model, its manufacture crams the same driver complement into very different physical shapes, dictated by a particular customer’s ear mold impressions (the corresponding configurations of the sound bores, obviously, would also have some drastic individual differences).
The manufacturer needs to arbitrarily move, twist and turn the driver arrays, so it’ll be able to squeeze all the necessary drivers within the ear mold, literally screwing (sic!) the drivers’ propagation angles and the overall sound directivity (picture 2).

This alleged consistence in a specific CIEM model individual sample’s execution (vs inherent to this model overall sonic attributes) is based on an implied assumption that the variance in individual human anatomies and the properties of an individual ear channels are insignificant. But in the context of home High End Audio, that would be equivalent to claims that the best speaker performance, inherent to the speaker, is changed "insignificantly" in different, though similarly shaped and close in their acoustic properties, listening rooms and, also, with "insignificant" changes in speaker placements in these rooms (and don’t even mentioning with any "insignficant" changes in the directions of their individual drivers’ radiation angles). And that even some "slight" variations in the acoustic properties of such rooms do not matter.
But we all know that this last statement is very far from reality. Even if we also know that the human outer ear/era channel’s variance is more predictable than a variance in acoustic properties of "slightly" different listening rooms, the question - how much more predictable? - is still left unanswered.
As every ear channel mold is totally unique, there is no way you can compare the sound of two different individual samples of the same CIEM model to see how different they are sonically, but it’s obvious, that there is no way these two samples, especially radically different in size or shape, are going to sound the same. Yes, their sound will be close, but how close?
To the CE industry such questions, it seems, don’t matter. But to the High End Audio communities, according to its “Law Of Diminishing Returns”, they are the crux of the matter. The whole speakers’ set up process and the “tweaking” of their sound is based upon such subtle to an outsider, but important to the communities, differences.
Whatever the case, this understatement of a CIEM design aspect would not only make their "customers" completely unaware of a specific model’s overall best performance attributes, but would also steer them away from any further personal attempts to seek any new and better solutions.

In this latter respect, in terms of their sound variations from a person to a person, the “universal tips” IEMs are, generally, much more predictable, as their inner physical configurations are fixed. So, despite this earphone family shares the same theoretical overall and separate driver arrays’ propagation error problems with their “custom” cousins, their fixed driver placements, fixed sound propagation patterns and fixed sound bore configurations do not depend on the individual anatomy and, correspondently, can become more predictable than a specific CIEM’s behavior in a specific pair of the customer’s ears (picture 3).

And the last earphone “provenance” vs the applied design solutions example for today is the most beaten up horse of all in the High End Audio – the cable matter. In CE industry, as an audio component, they do recognize that the cables do sound differently. But this recognition, at least, up until now, is fairly subdued, as it’s obvious, that the most of the commercial earphones’ cable stock solutions still look as if their durability is of a primal concern for the manufacturer. Of course, high performance portability presents some different challenges to the cable manufactures, but what about a new customer concept called “regular cable maintenance” or “regular cable replacement”?! In the home High End Audio, a tube replacement, or a vinyl turntable maintenance is taken for granted, so I see nothing wrong, in a proper context, to use the same concepts in portable audio.
But, it seems that the CE manufacturers think otherwise, and built the earphone cables and their connectors the way, which would allow both them, and their representatives to, rather, avoid any future direct interactions with their customers.

Despite the claimed “custom” personalization feature for the CIEMs, if you look closely from a “traditional” High End Audio’s perspective, there is no much of a conceptual sonic difference between a typical “universal tips” IEM and its typical CIEM counterpart, as their systems of priorities in design are slanted substantially more in the same common direction towards the price, the look, the status symbol and the physical comfort, than towards their sound quality.
In terms of overall sound quality, the CIEMs’ design approach doesn’t seem to me any better or worse than that of the better quality IEMs.
Generally speaking, CIEM models are capable of cramming a bigger number of drivers within their shells than what “universal tips” IEMs can carry on their board, but, sonically, more doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Where customization of CIEMs does work, it works towards allowing, usually, a better comfort and a better acoustic isolation than the vast majority of available “universal tips” IEMs.

Nevertheless, again, from purely audiophile perspective, the “Custom-In-The-Ear-Monitor” design approach happened to be just “a little bit more” than a very flashy and effective logistics scheme built within the typical Consumer Electronics (or Professional Audio) industries’ design principles stated above.
What I mean by that “a little bit more…” reservation, is that, if worst comes to worst, and the “admission test” – please, see below – is failed, then, an audiophile can console himself, as a second rate best back-up option, with either a good quality CIEM earphone, or a decent “conventional” IEM.

And now…(roll of the drums)… a small digression: we announce, from the earphone classification above, the best sonic performer... (but, unfortunately, fit for use by only the “the lucky ones”).

“The lucky ones” here are some portable audio enthusiasts, whose ear channels’ sizes and shapes are, more or less, correspond to some “bigger ones”.
In this latter case of a bigger listening environment, these "lucky bastards" can treat themselves with the best currently availble portable sonic scenario.
As, in my humble opinion, the featured technology, still barely visible on the market, can fully attend to what the audiophiles are accustomed to (sic!): a very rare approach, that they, because of its rarity, can massage their ego with, and to render it as “their own” display of exotic whims, and, at the same time, this technology can deliver to them sonically by building a bridge from their High End Audio home hobby to the portable version of it.

There is no official name for this class of earphones yet, but I would call them “deep insertion” IEMs. If a “conventional” IEM fills the precious real estate of an ear channel with its passive construction elements and the sound bores, placing its drivers at very entrance to the ear channel, while a typical CIEM would fill the same precious space with its mold material, instead, this rare breed of “deep insertion” IEMs would place there its driver arrays. Yes, deep inside ear channel, usually, at the vicinity of its “second bend”.

There were some attempts by CE companies to use this approach in the past (some Klipsch X-series models come to mind), but those were all single driver units (again, due to the manufacturer's attempts to cater to the “lowest common denominator’ in terms of an ear channel size). The latest development in this technology, which substantially elevated the sound quality available with it, is that it started to use multiple drivers' arrays completely inserted in the ear channel.

Such “deep insertion” IEMs would have its drivers inside (and, as a rule, outside) ear channel “on-axis”, which allows to fully correct two types of the mentioned above “individual driver propagation” and “overall driver array propagation” errors, which results in much better sound quality than compared to, both their compromised “conventional” IEM brothers, and their best CIEM cousins.
Due to such a configuration, their first serious advantage over any other type on earphone is that they “shoot” directly at the ear drum from a much closer distance. In a way, it the closest approximation of the “near field” loudspeaker performance, which the “home” audiophiles are accustomed to, which substantially increase this class of IEMs’ chances to prick the ears of the “home” crews.
The second big advantage of this class of “deep insertion IEMs” is that, when using this technology, the earphones would seal the ear channel in a close vicinity of the ear drum, and this will not only substantially decrease “the occlusion effect”, but, also, compared with other types of the earphones, would decrease the volume of the operational air, so the deeply inserted drivers, "shooting" from much closer distance, become much more efficient.
The third big advantage of such a design is an ability to shorten the length of the sound tubes (some "naked" drivers in the arrays use no sound tube at all!), to fully straighten them, and to increase their diameter.

The only serious disadvantage of “deep insertion” IEMs, including our own StereoPravda SPearphone “Second Bend” IEMs series (picture 4), which stops them from being adopted by the CE industry and stops them in their tracks for a wider acceptance, is that their physical dimensions narrow down the list of the customers who’d pass their “ear channel size’ admission test”.

As in home audio there are some minimum room size requirements to even consider getting a decent sound, the same is true on the audio’s portable side. As the current BA driver technology settled down many years ago and no breakthroughs in it are expected any time soon, then, exactly, like in a case of home loudspeakers, there are some requirements for the minimum driver complements that would result in a good sound. And these minimum driver complements seem to include no less than five typical BA-drivers, the most of which should be placed inside the ear channel close to its “second bend”.
That’s why we’ve got the ear channel’s size “admission test” for an ability to use the “deep insertion” IEMs.

Generally speaking, an earphone is very much like a loudspeaker: yes, you can shrink a size of a big Wilson Audio speaker to a size of a bear cup…but if you do this, there is no way you can preserve the original sound quality. The same scenario is with the earphones.

If an audiophile’s ear channel is too small or quirky in shape, then after missing an opportunity of using the “deep insertion” IEMs , as stated above, “the second best choice” would be "to prescribe yourself" a good pair of either a “conventional” IEMs, or some good “typical” CIEMs, which, allegedly, are "built for everyone's use".
Yes, I am aware of a status symbol's power, but with the exception of that, for the lucky ones, who can comfortably use the "deep insertion" ear monitors, I, honestly, see no single reason, sonically, to use any other type of a portable transducer.

In any case, the price/performance logic of the selection process should boil down to the two main variables: the size of your ear channel and the size of your wallet.
Very much like as in a case of the home speakers, the only difference is that the size (with a bigger variance in acoustic properties) of the listening rooms in your algorithm should be substituted for the size (with much smaller variance in acoustic properties) of your ear channels.
Thank God, that, compared with home audio, “the bigger bang for the buck” in portable audio, in order to achieve fully compatible, with all canons of the home High End Audio, sonic results, would substantially shrink the necessary size of the wallet.
The latter financial aspect, especially in the current economical climate, despite of all the hindrances for acceptance depicted above, in my opinion, should be a very powerful incentive both for the home audio buffs, and for the audio neophytes too, to, finally, start to treat the current incarnation of the high performance portable audio not just as “a shiny new object”, but with a ( long over-) due respect.

As the time proved it, because “deep insertion” IEMs are, definitely, not for everybody, the CE industry would not touch this technology even with a long stick.
The vast majority of the earphone manufacturers, as their deeds prove, see themselves as a part of the Consumer Electronics industry, so they treat their customers, as the name of the industry suggests, and despite some implications that such words, as “custom” , would ring in your brain, not as “customers”, but much more as “consumers”. Although the logistics of the CIEM leaves an impression that you’re special, soundwise, it’s no more than just a logistics.
Because the end result and the real essence of a technology depend on whom a company is trying to appeal to.
And who is trying to appeal.

So, up until very recently, even if hundreds of earphone companies touted their wares before their noses, traditional audiophile communities feel themselves excluded from the world of the high performance portable audio.
Obviously, the reasons why it is so, are not only the mentioned "dopamine" marketing plots and traps, or some portable audio's sonic deficiencies.
Another reason can be that, in traditional home version of the High End Audio, an extra personal effort on the “customer’s” side to push a product’s performance envelope a little further is taken for granted. Not so in a case of the “consumer” in the Consumer Electronics industry, where, even to discuss a necessity for a consumer to exercise some personal effort in trying to elevate the process of the very act of “consuming”, would break the (unspoken) rules of the game (by the way, from both sides of the sales’ “ barricades”).
The latter can become an example of an indirect reason why, as the representatives of such a deeply involving hobby, the “traditional” audiophiles did smell this "lack of depth" even in the highest segments of the portable audio market.

As the total portable proposition creates an illusion of a vertiginously wide selection, despite the fact that too much of a superficial choice can be as bad for your brain as too little, a lot of less “sonically” sophisticated folks caught this bait and continue to endlessly pump gigabytes of information plankton from one corner of the portable audio forums to another.
Possibly, not as tantalizing one as in the case of the “old” home version of it, this illusion of wide choice puts its spell on the potential customers and inhibits the development of some specialized segments of portable audio market, especially on its acoustic transducers’ side, preventing some promising new technologies to exercise their positive effect on Portable High End Audio’s future development.
This customer inertia's negative feedback on the technologies used in the industry is the main reason why the most of the audio technological segments share the same fate of “our future is in the past” stagnation.
Even if the stagnation of commercially available acoustic transducers, both home, and portable, is not a unique audio phenomenon, the other areas of CE, such as digital music delivery and playback did went through some radical positive changes in the last few years. Possibly, in the latter case we're seeing the results of the customers' possitive feedback...

In the context of this story, the reason for the lack of decent audiophile quality transducer proposition for the portable applications is not so much to do with the technology stagnation, as more to do with the CE industry's indecisiveness over what can be done to resolve the paradox between its "lowest common denominator" approach, implied in their inherent production and marketing methods of “universal” appeal, and the existing variance in individual anatomy of the human ear.

The only resolution of this paradox lies in a narrow specialization, but such an approach is typical for different, compared to CE, types of businesses.

For the same basic reason High End Audio manufacturers, currently being barely content with their specialized niche, but always looking for the inspiration at their Big “CE” Brother, besides expensive imitations of some cheap earphones, never came up with anything worth their name.
The High End Audio's elitist stance was almost never openly discussed by its manufacturers, probably, because of that Big Brother's influence and the underlying ambivalent desire to, eventually, grow into "one". But implicitly, these manufacturers, obviously, wouldn’t mind, if their customers would think completely otherwise.
In other industries, like medical equipment or audiology ones, it's taken for granted to built a successful company out of very narrow products' appeal, but it's, definitely, no so even in the highest segments of traditional audio business...

While the vast majority of CE companies continue to spin on their patented oxymoronic “homogeneous diversity” orbits, some of the currently arising companies are becoming more and more successful in expanding a meaningful choice available for the portable audio with their tightly focused and narrow specialized propositions.
And some of them can fully meet the most capricious demands of (alas, still rare) "cleaned of dopamine abuse" “traditional” home audiophiles. The ones, who, eventually, came to a common sense in their music listening habits.

In complete agreement with a Malcom Gladwell’s quote from his last book “David and Goliath”:

- ““There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources – and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former” , -

these small entrepreneurs find their own place under the sun and craft their products using production methods, which would not be compatible with the CE industry’s basic instinct for growth at any (sonic) cost.
The history repeats itself, and like Etymotic Research, which, more than thirty years ago, “did it” with their revolutionary ER-4S, these companies are founded outside Consumer Electronics industry’s beaten up paths.

Such companies usually start with grasping the difference between the true meanings of the words “customer” and “consumer”.
And then they look at the borders that this distinction defines.
And after that they would just decide on which side they are on.

17.02.2016 // Author:  (Bigmisha) // Number of views:  713

Back to the list