What are you up to for the moment then? From why understand you have some big plans and projects. Can you tell us something more about them?
Early this year I made a decision that I want my children to grow up in Singapore rather than in my home country Indonesia. It is not easy moving from a country with a $3700 per capita GDP to a country with a $60K per capita GDP. Everything becomes much more expensive and it’s not like I have a permanent job to pay for everything there. I’ve never been that ambitious about my business and really this Singapore store is just a way for me to make my plan a reality.
At first we didn’t think we could afford renting a store space in Singapore but we got lucky and a spot opens up in the popular Adelphi mall which is where all the audio stores are at. The level of competition in Singapore is brutal and just about everybody I meet say I’m crazy to start an electronic retail business here. But I’m doing this for my family and so I will take whatever chance and try my best to make it happen.
The good thing is that over the years I’ve been building relationships with many Japanese brands . Their work ethic naturally leads to extremely good products in just about any industry, and perhaps due to their lack of economic growth, prices remain very low in Japan.
In fact price level is so low that the majority of Japanese products are priced similar to or even lower than the products coming out of China (I’m referring to brands, not location of manufacturing. Everything is made in China these days). Despite also being made in factories in China, I find that the products from the Japanese brands are consistently better in terms of design, build quality, and quality control. When I noticed that none of the stores in Singapore are interested in selling sub $200 Japanese earphones, I decided to make this as my entry point strategy.
Does that mean we’ll be seeing Headfonia Stores all over the world soon?
No, definitely not. 😉 I’m just doing Singapore now. Maybe South East Asia next.
Now for something different. I bet a lot of the readers are dying to find out: what is your favorite DAP – DAC – IEM – Headphone?
I don’t have a single “ultimate” set up. Because I use mostly sub $300 products, it becomes easy for me to own a few and shuffle between them. And since I hand picked all the products that gets sold in the store, quite a percentage of the products are perfect to my liking. For instance, for headphones I use the Phonon SMB-2, Phonon 4000, ATH M70x, and Soundwarrior’s SW-10 and SW-20 headphones. I also use a Fostex T50RP Mk3 at home. It comes with a detachable cable and I made a 5 meter cable for watching Netflix and playing video games. For IEMs, I shuffle between the TTR Co-Donguri, Radius NEF, NHR, and TWF series, TFZ and Zero Audio stuff. I don’t limit myself to a brand. If the sound is clean and the price affordable, I will get it and add it to my collection.
I do have an Ocharaku Flat-4 Keyaki IEM but I only use it occasionally because it’s very expensive and I’m afraid I may lose it in Starbucks or something. I also have a huge collection of headphones that I display in the store but I very rarely listen to them because the newer stuff is good enough for much less money.
For the source I use the Iphone, Radius NePlayer, and the Radius AL-LCH81 DAC. The NePlayer and the LCH81 DAC makes for a very clean sound that competes with a lot of audiophile DAPs and I buy my files from the Itunes store so I can use it with the NePlayer.
I have a desktop tube amp from a little known Japanese manufacturer that is very special, but it’s hard to find a time to sit down and listen to a desktop setup these days. There is also a special portable tube amp from a different Japanese manufacturer, but I am on the road a lot these days and need a simpler set up for the road.
For the Phonon headphones I either use a Fiio X5 3rd Gen to get more power to drive the headphones, or the Radius LCH-81 paired with a JDSLabs CMoy that I modded.
What is your daily setup for on the go?
I travel a lot these days so it’s mostly the Apple Airpods for making phone calls and Bose’s QC35 for watching Youtube, when I’m on the gym, and on the airplane.
Do you still use any of the oldschool stuff?
I used the Sennheiser HD25-1 for a while last year but then I got the Phonon 4000 and it trashed the Sennheiser so bad, I couldn’t listen to the HD25-1 for music anymore. I used it for a while for the gym, but after I got the Bose QC35, I prefer using bluetooth when I exercise.
My daughter now uses the HD25 when she plays game on her Ipad.
What gear, no matter what, impressed you most ever since you got in to audio?
I think the last high end headphone that really impressed me was the Audeze LCD-XC and though it’s still very very good, I never use it because I prefer smaller and lighter headphones. Which brings me to the Phonon SMB-2. The sound is so clean and the background so black. While not LCD-XC level, it’s so much easier to live with daily.
What review do you still remember doing most and which review still has the most meaning to you after all this time being “out”?
The Altmann Tera review. Unbelievable how many people got upset over it! It was about $700 when I reviewed it, but these days people are still looking for 2nd hand units of the Altmann Tera that now sells for about $2000.
What do you think of how Headfonia evolved over the last years, have you been keeping track of the site and its work?
I think it was a good decision to let Lieven manage the site as he is turning out to be a much better manager than I was. I was the founder, but I think after three years the site needed someone who could grow the site and I am very happy to see the work that Lieven has done the past few years.
Is there anything you want to say to the Headfonia readers? After all we wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for you. Any advice you want to share?
I’ve been out of touch with the high end products scene and I don’t think I can say much about the products featured on the site.
One thing that I can share that may be relevant is that with the hype of DSD-compatible players, it is becoming far too easy to use the DSD label as a guarantee of quality, while in fact it does not guarantee anything but large filesize. What’s important is the quality of the recording and mastering, while the DSD is just a file format. I personally just use AAC out of the Itunes store because the quality of the mastering is very good and in many cases better than CD.
A convenient analogy is from photography. You can take a photo file from a smartphone, save it as a large 100MB TIFF file, and at the end of the day it’s still a lousy file. Or you can take a photo from a good full frame sensor, save it as a 1MB JPEG and it’s still a better file than the 100MB TIFF. The size of the file says nothing about the quality of the file.
Of course what’s more important is taking the photo with the proper exposure and lighting condition. In photography, when the light is good, any photo you take will most probably be good. So, in the case of a recording, when the acoustics are good, any recording you take would probably be good.
At the end is all about the music, which in photography terms is like the scenery you’re photographing. A breathtaking scenery taken with a smartphone camera will move our emotions better than a dull scenery taken with a $7000 Leica. Good music is the most important piece of the system.
And one last question, something people keep asking me all the time: Will you ever be back on HFN for a guest review?
I gave this a serious thought last year but I’ve been out of touch with the type of products Headfonia has been reviewing. I can try to do a product to review but if I have no point of comparison with products on the same price bracket, or previous versions of the product, that would make it a very shallow review.
Thank you for freeing some time for us Mike, it was great talking to you again and having you on Headfonia.com. We wish you, your family and your business all the best. And guys, if you’re living in Jakarta or Singapore, you now know where to go to! 😉
Thank you so much for this opportunity.