A farewell to ears, from Nathan with love

Wireless:

When it’s time to lose the wires, I really choose only one of two earphones: AirPods, and Flares Pro/Flares Gold. The former are easy, have great bass and decent sound stage, and take a licking well enough. Apple hit it out of the ball park. But Flares Pro/Gold, are almost perfectly engineered. I say almost, because their wireless DAC, while nailing range and signal quality, hisses. Fortunately, the earphones aren’t sensitive enough to pick it out. But if you want to attach that damn fine Bluetooth DAC to another earphone, you’ll hear it. While this sounds like a backhanded compliment, it’s not. Flare Audio perfectly connected the parts of their Flares Pro/Gold. They came to market with a disruptive design and nailed just about everything. Do I prefer listening to Flares Gold/Pro over AirPods? Yes. But when practicality trumps absolute quality, I’ll choose AirPods every single time. What I’ll never choose is FiiO’s FB1. Ugly, bad-sounding, and poorly made, it belies the quality generally represented by the FiiO name. 

DACs:

My favourite DAC to listen to is LinnenberG’s Vivace. Gosh, what a gem. Subtle high-end stereo cues, and power, clarity, and compatibility. It’s unassuming design is fresh and generally utilitarian. If your amp is up to it, it is part of a powerhouse HiFi system. Scaling things down a bit, and including with it a headphone amp, AudioEngine’s D1 wins my heart. Bus-powered, nearly noise-free, and lush, this USB DAC/headphone amp powers beyond its asking price, and is powerful enough to stand toe to toe with a bunch of the big boys. Fine, fine machine. But you probably know me as Mr. Mojo. I even had mine modified for balanced output. Yep. Chord’s Mojo has served three years as my reference DAC. Several weeks ago, however, Spectra X supplanted it. It tests almost as well, but costs less, works easy with an iPad or iPhone, and is more powerful than either, all whilst staying compact and unassuming. Spectra X: you’ve changed my world. 

Portable headphone amps:

While the portable headphone amp world seems to be drying up, pairing any of its top dogs to high-quality DACs will net you an unbeatable compact system. And the best amp of that sort I’ve ever tested is the Vorzüge VORZAMP DUO II. The only thing it sort of lets slide is channel separation. Everything else is gold. And the Portaphile Micro is hot on its tail. The former gets better battery life, and is finished and built nicer. But signature-wise, it’s got it in spades. But the most interesting, and frankly addictive portable amp I’ve tried, is only barely portable. It’s Phatlab’s Phantasy. Great valve sound, super construction and interface, and a futuristic face that’s to die for, it’s got it where it counts. Alas, it’s not the best for driving my favourite portable headphones and earphones. If it was, I reckon that even the DUO II would feel the subjective heat of eroding loyalties.

Mods:

Finally, let’s talk mods. While Ryuzoh’s MOJO Kai (added 2,5mm balanced output among other upgrades), is something of a dream, it’s Mezzo HiFi’s MS-AK100 that defines ‘transformative’. Why? Simple: the original AK100 was a poor DAP. It had good format support, got numerous firmware updates over the years, and, when the right headphones were plugged in, sounded good. But when you were listening to earphones or sensitive headphones, you’d hear lots of hiss, and you’d get hit with lots of high-pass and other filter-style artefacts. Along came Mezzo HiFi and that player became gold. Wow: no noise, balanced line output, hybrid attenuation, and upgraded DAC chip. What level of crazy is that? No mod I’ve come across attempted half the things Mezzo achieved with ease. 

The end:

But in the end, what most impressed me was you: by and large, Headfonia readers ask the right questions, understand the market, and keep their editors in check. It’s been a great learning experience. And it’s been humbling to work with and under one of the industry’s true gentlemen: Lieven. He has put up with a few big and numerous small misses of mine and allowed me a wonderful platform through it all. Many thanks, Lieven. I really appreciate all you and Mike have done to make Headfonia one of the world’s premier headphone sites, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to play a part in it. 

Starting January, any Headfonia article I quote at ohm or Fauxtaku Lounge will be from an outsider’s perspective. To the readers, the writers, the proprietors of this great site, I bid adieu.

Thank you Headfonia.

Well done, Headfonia, well done.

A farewell to ears, from Nathan with love
4.7 (94%) 10 vote[s]

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

27 Comments

  • Reply December 18, 2018

    Edy Tansil

    Auf Wiedersehen, or auf Wiederhoeren, maybe auf Wiederlesen?

    • Reply December 18, 2018

      Nathan

      I hope that one at least works.

  • Reply December 18, 2018

    Phong Ngo

    Best of luck to you, Nathan! I’ve always enjoyed your articles and insights. Excelsior!

  • Reply December 18, 2018

    jobbing

    Thank you Nathan for all the great reads, they have been of great help. Your photographs have been candy to our eyes. Sorry to see you leaving Headfonia.

    Wish you all the best in whatever you’ll be doing.

    Take care!

    • Reply December 18, 2018

      Nathan

      Many thanks for the encouragement. Headfonia’s got better lads and better hands now, but I take your words happily.

  • Reply December 18, 2018

    Linus

    Nathan, thanks so much for everything. I’ve enjoyed your articles pre-headfonia times for your unique style, they always gave me great insight, plus I learned new vocabulary from you.
    I was fortunate to have gotten to know you also a little behind the scenes. Thanks for all the laughs we could share.
    I wish you all the best for your future endeavors.
    You’re fantastic.
    Peas, L.

    • Reply December 18, 2018

      Nathan

      “And Iiiiiiiiiiiiii, will always love you-uuuuuuuuuu, Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, will always love you-uuuuuuuu,….”

  • Reply December 18, 2018

    Berkhan

    Nate, I hope I can ever come close to you in terms of product photography 🙂

    You set the bar high.

    Cheers mate, B.

    • Reply December 18, 2018

      Nathan

      When you can do that, by all means make money doing it.

  • Reply December 18, 2018

    Ivan Parshenkov

    Godspeed you magnificent bastard, thanks for your service.

    • Reply December 19, 2018

      Nathan

      I had to look that one up. A YouTuber I follow (Dr. Layman) uses that term all the time, but I just assumed it was his. Then I went down a rabbit hole. Batman?

  • Reply December 18, 2018

    JOHTHOR

    All the best to you in the future Nathan. Many of us that follow Headfonia have appreciated and learned a lot from you and your reviews. Hopefully Lieven can talk you into the occasional “guest review”. Thank you for the many contributions you have made.

    • Reply December 19, 2018

      Nathan

      Many thanks. I know that the new breed of lads here are more than up to keeping up the pace and quality.

  • Reply December 18, 2018

    Booker

    Wow, end of an era. Headfonia has become one of a very few regular hi-fi sites I visit – I really appreciate the effort all of you put in.

    Great idea for a final post too – you’ve given me a bunch of things to thinks about. My wallet, however, hates you 😉

    Best of luck with your future endeavors.

    • Reply December 19, 2018

      Nathan

      It has been awesome here. TMA was fun, but a lot more ‘work’ to keep the momentum going. OHM gets like 1/10th the traffic at best when linked to by God, so writing here has meant interacting with an enthusiastic fanbase that ‘gets’ it from the get go. I hope you keep coming here. I know I will. I’ll be here in this comment section for the foreseeable future if you need clarification on anything I said in this article. Spectra X… nuff said.

  • Reply December 19, 2018

    Andrei

    It was a real pleasure to enjoy your unique writing style on headfonia pages, Nathan. Good luck and thank you!

  • Reply December 20, 2018

    Joshua

    I immediately seeked out the Dita The Answer’s based on your review and they are my favourite earphones to date.
    I have looked forward to your reviews to get the latest in how things sound to you! Wishing you all the best! You have certainly inspired a whole legion here!

    • Reply January 2, 2019

      ohm image

      I am so glad to hear that you love the Dita. They are excellent earphones. Good luck and many happy returns in your search for perfection/fun.

  • Reply December 20, 2018

    Phong Ngo

    C’mon people, each giveaway gets hundreds of comments, but no love for one of this site’s biggest contributors?! Surely we can do better!

    • Reply January 2, 2019

      ohm image

      Maybe they’ve had enough. Anyway, many thanks for your comment. We’ll always be here reading together.

  • Reply December 20, 2018

    Bren Arden

    Im still very much enjoying my flares pro, based on youre judgement. Thanks alot for that and all the other work u have done for uss audiophyle nerdies.
    Have a good one and good luck with anny future proffesions.

  • Reply December 20, 2018

    Volly

    Thank you and good luck Nathan, thoroughly enjoyed your work!

    • Reply February 22, 2019

      ohm image

      Many thanks. I hope you find the perfect system to complement your music.

  • Reply December 26, 2018

    Cesar

    Thank you Nathan for all your contributions to our hobby. You will be missed here at Headfonia but I hope we can still read your posts and see your awesome photography at ohm-image.net. Best of luck in your future projects!

    • Reply February 22, 2019

      ohm image

      Many thanks for your support. For the love of music!

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