Disclaimer: The pictures in this article are taken by Michael Ting himself and they are his favorite gear at this moment.
Hi Mike! It’s been three years already since you left the Headfonia.com team, it’s a pleasure to have you back here on the site, even though it isn’t for a review. I’m sure a lot of readers have no idea of what you’ve been up to, so let’s tackle that first.
For the readers that don’t know you: Could you tell a little bit about yourself and how you’re related to Headfonia?
Well my name is Michael Ting and I started Headfonia and worked on it for the first 3 years ☺
How did Headfonia start actually? And why?
I didn’t really have a strong reason to start, other than that there were no full-time headphone review sites. There was a review site that does reviews on some Grados but that was it. (somebody probably can help me with the URL which I’ve forgotten now).
Meanwhile I was a member of a local headphone community with access to many different headphones I thought about creating a review site so more people can benefit from the information. With my background as a photographer, one of my concepts was to make high quality pictures for the articles. I think initially we were famous for our pictures rather than our reviews hahaha.
How were the first few years when you were running things on your own?
It was a lot of work because I didn’t have a partner. I asked a friend who was into headphones but he wasn’t interested. Another friend wanted in but he had a different concept on how we should execute and so that didn’t work out. It was just me doing everything that needed to be done and even though there was a lot of work to do, I don’t remember the work to be that burdensome. Maybe I’ve forgotten how hard it was.
And then I joined you in 2011 or so. How was that for you?
I don’t remember what I was thinking when I asked you to join. We only knew each other from the Internet and somehow I made the offer to you. I am trying to dig deep from memory here but I think you had a way of thinking that complimented my weaknesses and I thought you’d make the perfect partner.
And then….I remember 2014, I was on holiday in the South of France with my family in a very remote area with no phone or internet. I was completely off the grid and when I got back to the modern world I had like dozens of calls from you and even more WhatsApp messages. We had been working as a team for several years but all of a sudden you were desperately trying to get hold of me because you were leaving Headfonia.com, leaving me shocked.
Why did you all of a sudden leave Headfonia? What made you leave the site you started all by yourself?
It was the store business that pulled me out of the review site. I don’t like the idea of me being both a review site owner and also a store owner. It was an uncomfortable position due to the conflict of interest and after some time thinking about it, I made the decision to leave the site.
What have you been up to? I know you’re still active in the audio world but there are a lot of rumors making its round, so please enlighten us.
In 2013 I started the Headfonia Store. I didn’t want to use the Headfonia name but everyone around me kept on saying I should use it. Obviously using the name would help the new store pick up traffic and after much persuasion, I decided to use the Headfonia name. I’ve been concentrating on the store business and this year (2017) Headfonia Store is expanding into Singapore.
So it looks like you are completely focusing on selling nowadays? What kind of products is your store in Jakarta selling? I remember you were selling some really high end stuff to the local market, is that still the case?
Being a reviewer, I had relationships to many of the brands that were not yet represented in the market. Our strategy for the first year was really simple and that is to bring in all these brands that were not yet represented in the local market. We did business with many premium portable brands and we had very little competition.
As we entered the second year, I started looking at the more mainstream market where people are not willing to pay more than $200 for a pair of headphones. We started moving our business toward catering to the sub $200 products and ever since we have been doing this market which we feel is more stable than the high end market.
What trends can you see in the local and international personal audio market?
At the top of the price chain we are seeing increasing price levels every year: $1000 IEM becomes $2000, $3000, $4000, and so on. Looking at the macro view, this is a very small segment of the market but apparently it’s big enough to sustain the presence of many premium brands, and the network of retailers that sell them. I don’t know how long prices will keep on climbing, but it seems that people are still buying the latest wave of flagships introduced.
For the majority of mainstream brands, I see most products being driven by marketing and not actual product people. The market is definitely over saturated. Because there is very little differentiation in the way these brands market their products, I think the collective marketing budget that is being spent only enlarges the industry rather than each respective brand. I’m guessing that it’s mostly Beats and Bose who are profiting from the growth in market size.
The non-headphone enthusiasts only know two premium headphone brands: Beats and Bose. I’m not too familiar with Beats’ audio performance but their brand power seems to still be very strong. Bose has also been stepping up their game with more success than all the other brands. As a businessman, I respect Bose both for their success and for actually having a clear focus on the product: noise canceling, comfortable, and sleek businesslike design for the average business traveller. I personally use the QC35 when I travel.
While I’m seeing a healthy growth from Beats and Bose, the opposite is happening to traditional brands like Sennheiser and AKG. I don’t feel that their newer products are as great as they were 10-15 years ago. They have shift their focus to the mass market, but they seem to get lost in the sea of competition, among brands like JBL, Harman Kardon, B&O, B&W, NAD, and others. I pay special attention to Sennheiser because I used to be their biggest fan. But Sennheiser headphones these days are very uninspiring, and their price level very high in the Asian market. The new Orpheus is nice but nobody can afford it.
I also noticed that Sony re-entered the premium headphone business, but I don’t know, I don’t get excited by expensive products. Their consumer products are good and decent, but Audio Technica generally offers better performance for money, and most people still consider Beats and Bose the brand to go for $300 headphones.
The lower end of the bracket is where I’m focusing my business at and where I feel most of the excitement is happening these days.
During the past few years high-end technology has trickled down and these days you have IEMs costing $50 that sounds better than $500 IEMs from a few years back. To mention just a few, Radius Japan’s entry level series are packed with technology like high-MFD drivers and proprietary design eartips that gives you a very clean sound for less than $50. They also have a mid-fi priced IEM that uses a dual piezzo-dynamic-beryllium driver technology that I think outperforms Audeze’s iSine IEMs at the same price bracket. Then you have companies like TTR with their highly successful Co-Donguri that licensed the technology from high-end Ocharaku, mass produce it, and sell it for a market price of $70. There are so many good products and the relatively low price makes collecting fun and painless.
Of course there are still a lot of junk products at the low price bracket and so you just have to know where to look. After all most manufacturers are probably not focusing their engineering team to make superb $50 earphones. This is where my background as a reviewer comes in. I hand pick the products that is sold on the store to ensure that they are great products that people can be excited about.
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