BLOG #65. Our Shrink Blessing

In one of his latest books, “David and Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell wrote:

  “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”.

A few years ago, just after the formal opening ceremony of a Loudhead portable audio “fesival” in Moscow, a couple of Sony reps from Japan sat at our table to audition our ear monitors.

Initially, I thought that they would quickly audition them - out of politeness – on the way to the next table. But the time went on and on… and they were still listening.
After about 10 minutes both of them removed our SB-7s from their ears, raised the eyes at me with a completely bewildered expression on their faces, and one of them asked me: “Who buys this stuff?!”

“Japanese”, I answered (we just had shipped an order to our Japanese distributor). And then, I added: “Look, there is no doubt, that we’ll never be able to do what you’re doing, but the paradox is that you’ll never be able to do what we’re doing. I mean, we don’t have access to your technologies and your markets for obvious reasons, but for, possibly, much less obvious reasons, you also don’t have access for our technologies and our markets”.

When they were leaving our demo, they were still wearing a puzzled expression on their faces…

The “shrink” motif in the title is a triple entendre.

The first one is referred to the blessing to have a miniscule size of our company, which “shrinks” to just a few people in it.

The second one is referred to the blessing from our ability to use the “shrink” material for our IEMs’ cases (one of the most “controversial” techniques we use in our earphones’ manufacturing).

And the third one is referred to a distinctive feature of our sale force, namely, that only venerable audiophile “shrinks” who tried everything and know everything will definitely bless people to use our products.

In our case, all three are inseparably interweaved in a direct correlation with each other.

Unlike StereoPravda, the big companies and the huge corporations will never have anything to do with the references in this blog’s title on all three counts, which can be a brief outline of what I implied to the Sony people.

Unfortunately, their puzzled looks on their faces on the way out were telling me that they still didn’t get it.

And that’s why, despite their numerous attempts through all the years, and however hard they’ve been trying, the big players have never been able to even slightly penetrate the truly audiophile market.

I speculate in more details on the subject here:

A recent release of our new SB-4 ear monitor prompted me to blow the dust from our own “David and Goliath” saga and reach in it for another anecdote on one of our own “sling” innovations: the application of a thermal shrink material to form the outer case for our earphones.

Once I spotted Jerry Harvey at RMAF-2015 in Denver. I approached him with a request to audition one of our first SB-7 production samples. After spending a few minutes listening to it, Jerry Harvey (the one who was the first to commercialize Custom-In-The-Ear Monitors concept) pronounced “a very nice voicing”. And then, (in a slightly irritated tone) he mentioned that at the very beginning of his CIEMs’ technology development, he’s been also experimenting with some very similar (to the SB-7s’ inner construction) BA-driver arrays.

Beyond (my wishful thinking!) his possible jealousy of my sonic achievement, I would guess, a touch of exasperation in his voice could be a knee-jerk reaction to a whole multitude of such BA-driver rollers who’d be so overexcited by their first experiments, so that they would never miss an opportunity to show off their next “revolutionary sonic breakthrough” to him.

But in reality, that comment gave me a good clue on a turning point where his and mine ear monitor development paths has splitted up and when they started to spread in completely opposite directions.

During his first experiments with the “raw” BA-driver arrays he’s been looking for a way to come up with 100% “universal” IEMs (i.e. when a sample of each model can be made for each and everyone of all 100% of potential ear monitors customers).

While I - during some very similar initial experiments – have been looking for a way to come up with 100% “optimal” IEMs (i.e. when all the elements in my design would be optimized to serve one main goal: to provide “the best it can be” sound quality).

Along our paths in opposite directions, Jerry has been gradually sacrificing some “percentage” of the initial, let’s say, all 100% of his products’ sonic “optimality” while moving towards achieving of his goal of all 100% of his proposition’s “universality”. As I have been gradually sacrificing some “percentage” of the initial, let’s say, 100% of “universality” of my products while moving towards achieving of my goal of 100% of their sonic “optimality”.

I think that the drastic difference in the chosen directions was inevitable due to the drastic differences in our personal backgrounds and, therefore, in the initial intended IEMs’ applications. He wanted to implement his CIEMs technology in pro audio environment for the musicians to work on stage, but I wanted to implement my “universal” IEMs technology in portable High End Audio environment for those who wished to further advance their individual listening skills to appreciate more and more meaningful music.

A corresponding difference in inherent to each industry’s vision of the width of the market appeal, more than anything else, defined our drastically different initial expansion goals: I would be more than content with just a tiny slice of the overall portable High End Audio market, while Jerry’s goal seemed to be to dominate much bigger pro audio one.

The latter is exactly why Jerry Harvey saw the individual ear mold-based CIEMs technology as the one and only appropriate solution for his purposes, so he can cater to each and everyone from all 100% of the potential customers. And, on the opposite, as I had no intention to shove my products to each and every owner of a pair of ear canals – and only to those who would have that special intend and who would feel comfortable wearing them – I also saw my solution as the one and only appropriate one.

To preserve all 100% of sonic “optimality” of our products, our approach is based on abolishing both the typical “universal” IEMs’ outer case, and the outer CIEMs’ case based on individual custom ear molds. Instead, we insert our 100%-“optimal” fully assembled BA-driver arrays, which are supposed to be installed at the “optimal” position in the vicinity of an ear canal’s Second Bend, inside an “optimal” outer case made of a special thermo-shrink tube.

More details on the history of our products’ development and on why we would always try to avoid both to use either a typical “universal” IEMs case, or a case based on custom ear molds for our ear monitors can be found in the “BLOG” section on our web site, for instance,



and here:

When, after a very long period of trials and error, I eventually ascertained that I finally arrived at the SB-7s’ “optimal” driver array configuration, I started to think about the earphone case. As we use a deep insertion approach, we can’t really afford to waste even the most minuscule part of an inch of the overall earphone’s thickness in the environment of the most precious real estate of an ear canal. Therefore, the two main requirements for the sought-for case technology were very simple: first, the case should be as thin as possible, and, the second, it should spread as tight as possible over the inner earphone body.

To us, the “shrink” solution for the outer cases of our ear monitors happened to be a blessing sent to us from Above.

It’s not only the one and the only solution which allows us to fully preserve all 100% of the sonic “optimality” of our ear monitors.

In addition to it, the thermo-shrink technology has also all the advantages and not a single significant disadvantage (with its additional advantage of 100%-repairability, as an icing on a cake). There is only a sole possible disadvantage of the cases, which is their somewhat handmade appearances, which prompts the most backward thinking part of potential customers to become prejudiced of our alleged motive to use it.

Regarding the appearances of the cases, as they say, “the beauty is in the eyes of beholder”, and there are some people who find our earphones beautiful as there are some who do not.

Now, can you imagine a big corporation, like Sony or a big company, like Jerry Harvey, to even consider the use of a thermo-shrink tube for the exterior of their products?!

I cannot, and this fact provided us with a unique “shrink” business opportunity (although, inseparable from two other “shrink”-aspects of our activities cited above).

As in that saying, “to have dinners with the rich, you have to feed breakfasts to the poor” (i.e. “poor” according to their level of demand), the bigger the company, the less chances it would produce an absolute quality product (and vice versa).  

The big companies have no choice but to rely on some already proven technologies that completely correlate with the current scales of demand, therefore, the bigger a certain current demand is, the more limited the big companies are in their choice of applying some off-the-beaten-tracks and “outdated” technologies. At the same time, even the most up-to-date techniques and technologies (let’s say, 3D printing) still have their limitations, and in a lot of cases, the only way to overcome the limitations is still to apply a passionate and métier-type hand crafting.

The refined and honed through the years of application hand crafting skills can be a no smaller asset for a company than tons and tons of some of the most up-to-date and ultra-sophisticated production machinery (American loudspeaker manufacturer Magnepan is the best example of that).

The people who still see our “shrink”-case solution as a shabby job, just don’t get it.

Through the years, we did spend a considerable effort to try to come up with some “proper” cases for our ear monitors.

Just recently, developing our new SPearphone SB-4, we again tried to arrive at a more “conventional” case design, which would look more “commercially acceptable”.

Nevertheless, however hard we have been trying, we still failed to marry our signature “a very nice voicing” with whatever “commercially acceptable” solution for the earphone’s case we could think of.

Unfortunately, or fortunately!,  for us – the time will show - the only way to preserve such a “marriage in Heaven” has been to marry our proven solutions for “very nice voicing” with our proven “shrink” case solution.

[As a side note, the SB-4s do feature semi-user-replaceable universal eartips (“semi-“ means that you need to apply some super glue on the seam between the earphone case and the new eartip after the replacement, for both tight acoustic isolation, and security reasons - a very simple procedure for even the least tech-prone customers)].

While doing numerous failed attempts to “conventionalize” the techniques to make earphone cases, we would arrive at either acceptably “nice voicings” but with unacceptably overblown earphones’ sizes, or, vice versa, we would back down on the earphone sizes but would arrive at the unacceptably poor sonic results.

During the SB-4s’ development phase, we were insistent on keeping the set of our main earphone design features intact. That is: the acoustic isolation line is formed at the closest vicinity to the ear canal’s Second Bend (that is why we call them “SB-”), “naked” key driver without a sound tube at the IEMs’ front, each BA-drivers’ axes are all aligned along the same axis which is parallel to ear canal’s main sound propagation axis, eartips are slanted at a certain angle to position the drivers’ acoustic radiation patterns as much as possible “on axis” with the tympanic membrane, etc.

To reiterate, we would never sacrifice our signature earphone design features just to comply with some (outdated, in our opinion) ideas on what is acceptable for an earphone appearances and what is not.

Compared to all other established earphone case design solutions, our “shrink” technology allows us to waste a minimum space and budget for such a prosaic part of an earphone as its case. The”shrink” technology allows us to get a substantial decrease in overall earphone size (due to the very minimal thickness of the case’ wall), and to spend the budget exclusively on sound quality only. In its turn, it allows us to shove some of the “key” drivers in our earphones much deeper within the ear canal, bringing them much closer to the tympanic membrane then in any of our competition. It also allows us to make the sound tubes as short as possible, and as wide as possible. Additionally, “shrink” technology allows us to optimize the concrete material and the concrete shape of each of the sound tubes (for each of the drivers in the array!).

The bottom line is that, as StereoPravda  would always rather spent all the available space and all the available budget on much nobler causes such as the sonic “optimality”, our “shrink” technology for making the cases for ear monitors allows us to provide the thinnest and cheapest earphone cases in the whole industry. And that’s exactly why we use it. At the same time, our cases are as strong and as durable as all the rest (if not even more so).

All in all, without using the “shrink” technology, we would never be able to arrive at that signature “very nice voicing” of our earphones.

In terms of its significance to arrive at the “best it can be” sound quality, the “shrink” technology is on a par with all our other earphone design innovation technologies.

(Although, to be fair, our “fully naked” earphones, without their protective “shrink” cases, are fully functional and, moreover, sound slightly “more interesting”; nevertheless, for a commercial product, you, obviously, can’t avoid but to use a fully appropriate protective case).

To conclude, the “shrink” case for our earphones is not a shabby curse, it’s a thoughtful blessing.

Also, the “shrink” size of our company is the only reason why we stumbled upon this gem of innovation.

And last, but not least, I would kindly suggest to you all – following Jerry Harvey - to see our “shrink” company’s authorized “shrink” in your locality to appreciate “a very nice voicing” “shrink” blessing :-).

(on the picture: Jerry Harvey auditioning StereoPravda SPearphone "SB-7")

27.05.2019 // Author:  (Bigmisha) // Number of views:  174

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