MOVING UP! I’m moving up in the world. First I found a number of inconsistencies with the AMB Mini3’s claimed specs, but rather than have a rational discussion about the discrepancies Ti Kan apparently found it easier to just ban me from the AMB forum (see the Mini3 Review). And now I get banned from a much bigger forum—Head-Fi! This time it’s apparently for questioning the safety of a Head-Fi sponsor’s product.
JUST TRYING TO HELP: I’ve spent hardly any time on Head-Fi since March when Jude started censoring my contributions there. But someone considering a Schiit Asgard headphone amp (yes, the company really is named Schiit Audio and the amp is the Asgard) wanted my opinion regarding a problem reported on Head-Fi. The problem appeared serious so I joined the discussion and here’s a rough break down of how it went (I have copies of the entire thread should it get censored and anyone is interested):
- There’s a rather shocking video of an expensive AKG headphone driver being literally deformed by a large DC current when the Asgard is shut off. I’ve never seen anything like it nor had several other people who commented on it.
- Jason Stoddard from Schiit Audio (a paying Head-Fi sponsor) responded claiming the power down transient of the Asgard is only 0.10 – 0.15 volts and supposedly similar to a half dozen other headphone amps. Therefore, he argued, the glitch was quite harmless. Several seemed satisfied with that response but it didn’t make sense to me. Driving a headphone diaphragm that hard against its limits should require much more voltage. So I continued to push for more answers.
- Several owners of Schiit products chimed in defensively to support the Asgard and some even started attacking me. In their eyes Jason had to be right and I was the bad guy. It was a classic case of “shoot the messenger” (see Subjective vs Objective).
- Another Schiit employee, Mike Moffit, joined the discussion by first attacking my credibility and then singing the praises of Schiit in general. Not very helpful.
- Eventually, with some prodding, kwkarth who owns an Asgard reported his amp has the same problem and he measured the power down glitch at 2.2 volts—about 15 times worse than claimed.
- AKG reported even 0.25 volts of DC during power down might damage their headphones. Based on this, and the above bombshell, the original poster decided to return his Schiit Asgard.
- So I was correct all along and the glitch was far more serious than Jason had claimed. But, despite the glitch being well beyond what AKG considers risky, kwkarth continued to try and downplay the problem telling everyone the Asgard was still safe. This defied all common sense to me. With people’s headphones at stake, I and others tried to reason with him and got nowhere. Kwkarth is a Head-Fi admin, and claims to be an “audio engineer” in his profile. Yet, when challenged, he didn’t respond with much applicable engineering, just mostly hand waving, evasive answers, and silly animated pictures. It’s interesting to me Head-Fi would have someone like kwkarth who seemingly is willing to put people’s headphones at risk for some very questionable reasons. But then again, Schiit Audio is a sponsor.
- About 48 hours after my first post, I was banned from Head-Fi—for trying to protect people’s headphones from damage and not agreeing with a Head-Fi admin who would apparently prefer to see the same headphones harmed.
THE BIGGER STORY: The above drama points to a bigger potential problem at Head-Fi. Here’s a product that deforms headphone drivers and, according to AKG risks damage, but Schiit’s initial response was to dismiss it. And, more alarming, several Head-Fi members simply accepted Schiit’s response and a Head-Fi admin also insisted there was no issue. My impression was they were trying to say “nothing to see here folks” and wanted the whole thing to be forgotten.
THE NEED TO BELIEVE: If you read the thread it’s really obvious people want to believe in their gear and the company that made it. I can understand people wanting to believe in Schiit. But many don’t realize how harmful DC can be to headphones. They may not understand that wrinking up headphone drivers (as seen in the video) likely creates weak areas in the diaphragm changing the sound quality. And some don’t know volts from Volkswagens so when someone like Jason says it’s only 0.15 volts they’re not in a position to question him. Ultimately, with enough continued pressure to find out the truth, Schiit admitted there might be a problem and offered some resolutions. So the ending turned out reasonably OK but the path getting there is still rather disturbing to me.
ANOTHER OUTCOME? Given that most seemed to accept Schiit’s original assertion the glitch was nothing to worry about, what would have happened had I (or someone else familiar with the technical side of things) not been around to keep questioning Schiit’s numbers? Would everyone have gone back to business as usual with Schiit cranking out Asgards that were quietly trying to destroy headphones on power down?
GEEKS CAN BE USEFUL: Ignorance is not bliss here. It’s good to have someone around to keep manufactures honest and help those who might be less technically inclined understand what the issues are. But, to me, it seems Head-Fi would rather keep their members in the dark and protect their sponsors--even if it means expensive headphones being damaged. Consistently, from the threads I’ve seen, the first reaction to any problem with a sponsor’s product is denial. And not just from the manufacture. Before they even come along other members are jumping in defending the product. And the next reaction is to bury the factual information in the thread with dozens (or often hundreds) of useless posts—like kwkarth posting silly animations instead of discussing the problem at hand. It’s weird and rather disturbing.
WHY THE BAN? I didn’t violate Head-Fi’s public rules for conduct. I didn’t call anyone names or attack anyone personally (although several tried to attack me). I didn’t use any offensive language. So why ban me? Jude’s public excuse for censoring me last time was that I was using Head-Fi to promote this blog but he deleted benign posts that didn’t even mention this blog. Everything behind the scenes pointed to the fact NuForce was seriously unhappy with me. Now, once again, I find myself in the opposite corner from a Head-Fi sponsor. And I end up banned. I can’t help but believe Jude, in both cases, is trying to protect his sponsors. Head-Fi, from what I can tell, is not an open forum where everyone’s welcome as long as they follow the public rules. Back in March Jude made it clear he could censor or ban anyone for any reason if I kept pressing my point. And censor and ban he does.
BAN UPDATE 7/20: It came out in the comments Jude claims I threatened Head-Fi legally. For the record, I did not and that makes no sense. I can’t conceive of any legal basis as I can’t claim any sort of damages or harm. I have no income related to any of this and Jude’s certainly within his legal right to ban who he wants. So how could Jude feel threated by legal action from me? The only legal involvement I’ve ever had has been seeking legal advice to make sure I don’t cross any lines with this blog that would put me at legal risk.
HEAD-FI: FACTS OR FANTASY? If Head-Fi bans people who are just trying to be factual and help Head-Fi members and visitors understand technical issues, and perhaps save their headphones from destruction, what does that say about Jude’s priorities for the entire site? I’m certainly not the first person banned there for just trying to speak the truth (several came out of nowhere and contacted me over the NuForce drama). And why has he banned any discussion of blind testing everywhere at Head-Fi except the back-of-the-bus Sound Science forum? The factual element seems to be largely missing at Head-Fi. From all I’ve seen it’s rather hard to find under vast quantities of myth, smoke screens, snake oil, and misinformation. And it seems to be rather deliberate.
FOLLOW THE MONEY: It would seem Jude is trying to maintain an environment that supports people spending lots of money on products from Head-Fi sponsors—like $1000 cables from Qables, Asgards from Schiit, etc. While suppressing guys like me obviously benefits certain Head-Fi sponsors, and hence Jude’s bank account, it seems harmful to the thousands of active members. Imagine a $1000 Qables product going up against a $5 cable in a blind test and losing. This article, using blind testing in audiophile’s own homes, discusses how that’s more likely that most probably realize. Check out Sound & Vision Wired Wisdom. It seems, because of his “blind ban”, Jude would rather Head-Fi folks see only the subjective claims and have objective blind testing be extremely difficult to even find. Why not let both sides be presented and Head-Fi visitors can decide for themselves?
SCHIIT AUDIO (revised 7/20): I have never tested a Schiit Audio product. It’s obvious they have plenty of loyal fans so it’s entirely possible they make some nice stuff. It’s also commendable they have stepped up to the problem.But I can’t avoid some NuForce déjà vu here. Small audiophile oriented companies, especially with headphone products, desktop products, and DACs, either seem to be skimping on measurements, perhaps because they design more by ear, or they’re seriously compromising their designs intentionally. This is often because they (usually falsely) think they need to in the interest of better sound. When it comes to the safety of expensive headphones, neither of those are acceptable to me. And I still don’t understand why the issue was initially dismissed given the description, video, etc. From my perspective, the best outcome here is to encourage Schiit, and all similar manufactures like NuForce etc., to do more testing before they ship their products and be more realistic and honest about their product’s performance. And if they don’t have the right equipment, expertise, etc. find someone who does. It’s likely cheap insurance in the long run. Otherwise, issues like this will just keep happening. So for those shopping, and not just from Schiit, caveat emptor.
BOTTOM LINE: I gave up on Head-Fi a long time ago so the ban isn’t a big deal to me. But you might want to ask yourself what Head-Fi’s real priorities are and remember they actively suppresses people and content. I personally believe it’s a very commercial environment focused mainly on the sponsors. Even Jude’s personal videos seem like paid infomercials for sponsor’s products. Ultimately, Jude wants you to buy stuff from his sponsors as that’s how he makes money. And, obviously, I’ve not been helping with that cause (although Benchmark is a sponsor and I have only good things to say about them).
ALTERNATIVES: If you’re not comfortable with the heavy commercial bias, irrational subjective bent, and censorship at Head-Fi, there are some great alternatives that are much less of a sponsorfest and much more manageable in size:
- AnythingButiPod (ABI) – This is a very friendly headphone/portable player centric site with some great content and a much better “signal to noise ratio” than Head-Fi. And most of their sponsors have nothing to do with the products being discussed.
- HydrogenAudio – This is a much more objective site than Head-Fi with lots of really smart people discussing often rather geeky topics. If you’re a geek, engineer, or more objective, it’s worth checking out.
- GearSlutz – This is more of a pro audio site but its loaded with some good discussions and reviews of headphone gear. Musicians and guys who record, mix and master music know a thing or two about headphones.
- diyAudio Headphones – For DIYers, this is the best place I know of.