Adventures of the travelling audiophile: Endgame (nearly)

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First confession: I’m listening to them now.
Second confession: I seem to have come full circle; it isn’t the first time I’ve heard them. Not by a long shot; in fact, they may well have been the first
really exceptional bits of hifi I’ve heard.
Third confession: I don’t know when to stop; there’s the beginnings of diminishing returns, and then there’s $1,000 cables. I’m not quite there yet, thankfully. And I admit I’ve tried to find something better, but fortunately, failed miserably.

You might have noticed I’ve abandoned the in-ear setup from the previous instalments; part of the problem is one of prolonged comfort/sensitivity – namely my ears’ inability these days to feel good about something crammed in tightly for more than an hour or so – and part of the problem is sonic. In-ears also tend to have a very forward presentation that feels like MAXIMUM ATTACK all of the time, and moreso if you have a detailed, hard-hitting monitor. You don’t get the spatial separation and airiness of an open, over-ear can; much less the coherence of just one driver doing all of the sound generation. The problem with in-ears is they either require you to accept some fuzziness and interstitial connections between the notes and the accompanying lack of definition and precision (if a single driver), or have multiple drivers to cover multiple frequencies, then risk tonal imbalance and coherence issues. It’s not easy to get anywhere up to 12 (!!) drivers per ear to play nice with each other. And that doesn’t even start on the 2018 setups that use as many as three types of drivers – miniature dynamic, balanced armature and electrostatic – in each earpiece. I can’t help but think that’s a reliability nightmare waiting to happen too, given the number of tiny components in there. Having gone off the deep end here (to the point of commissioning my own monitors with their own configuration and tuning, and a modest six drivers per ear) – I’ve gone the over-ear route for the aforementioned reasons of coherence and comfort.

There’s only one problem with all of this: the travelling part. I just can’t do it with this setup, but I have the most amazing static listening experience short of probably some six figure speakers.

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Off topic: For the joy of driving…

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Not so long ago, we’d all have laughed if you’d said hybrid and electric vehicles were the way of the future. I know I did; infrastructure being the main stumbling block, the other one simple physical resource requirements and handling (think of all those batteries and limited lifespans). Technological development is much less of a headache whenever there’s large-scale consumer spending involved; look at how fast we’ve gone from phones with buttons to touch everything – though I can’t help but wonder why small scale batteries are still so rubbish given that market must still surely be much larger than electric vehicles. Long story short, given the current state of legislation, misunderstandings of technology* and social media hysteria – internal combustion’s days are numbered. Even the EU has legislated a halt in combustion engines from 2030. I make no secret of the fact that I like cars. And honestly…the vast majority of these modern-produced things are not cars. Where does this leave us enthusiasts?

*Remember diesel? It was cleaner/more efficient then it wasn’t and now it’s non-existent. All in the space of five years. I know I miss 1200+km/tank range and filling up my car once a month…

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OT review: the 2018/9 BMW M2, midterm

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I make no secret of the fact that I’m a bit of a petrolhead; at least to the extent possible in Malaysia given the heftiness of our taxes and limited market affordability leading to a fairly uninspiring range of choices for the motoring enthusiast. That’s partially offset by affordable petrol and lax speeding enforcement, but given the state of traffic in Kuala Lumpur – the opportunities to enjoy it are few and far between. Nevertheless, I’ve often made my transportation choices emotionally driven rather than rational; the last time I did the latter, it was competent but not very fun. My options boiled down to either something completely impractical but fun (like a Lotus Elise) but cheap enough to afford a second family car where I would spend most of my time (and thus itself have to be tolerably interesting) – or something that could do double duty and have four seats (but not necessarily four doors). Some of you may recall I had a Z4 some time back. It turns out the limits of the car weren’t that high, no matter what one did to the underlying oily bits – there remained this delayed feeing to the steering that felt too indirect and vague for my liking. And whilst the 2.0T motor put out a healthy ~300bhp at the crank after tuning and on the right fuel, there was always a feeling of fragility given how often it would knock if not on RON 98 or RON 100. Fast forwarding a bit though several sensible diversions, I arrived at the M2 after a) waiting a very long time for a manual transmission and giving up, and b) somewhat regretting the F56 Mini Cooper S I purchased previously.

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The continued adventures of the traveling audiophile: going wireless

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As with everything, it’s very easy to go off the deep end with audio – even personal, in-ear audio – and land up in a position where you have an extremely expensive piece of hardware that has zero secondary value (anything custom, for instance) and feel compelled that you have to make that decision before trying all options. And even if you’re lucky enough to be able to try all feasible options, 10-15 minutes of listening and A-B comparisons in an often less that representative (let alone ideal) location simply aren’t enough to make an informed decision. It also doesn’t help that you (I, at least) hit fatigue after perhaps half a dozen samples and can’t really hear the difference anymore – even if I might have fairly acute hearing on a normal day. But, I digress before I’ve even started. Last year’s move to the iPhone 7 and its forced choices of a) no charging with music if you use the Lighting to 3.5 adaptor, b) charging if you use the bulky as hell USB multiport thing and a small amp such as an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red, or c) wireless – has left me with a messy solution when travelling, which with involvement in three businesses in four countries and international clients, I seem to be doing even more of these days.

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Off topic: Presenting the MING 19.01

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Many of you will know that I’ve recently brought my interest in watches full circle with the launch of my own watch brand earlier in the year. We were surprised and humbled by the response, but also fortunate as we had another project in the works at the same time: something at the other end of the spectrum, and our flagship: the 19.01. Whilst the 17.01 was designed to be an honest watch that brought a lot of the features valued by collectors to a more accessible price point, the reality is there were a lot of things I wanted to do that I simply couldn’t because of production cost restrictions. This is not the case with the 19.01, which was designed without compromises ad to be something very special in a world that’s already got a lot of very special watches. This is of course not a simple task, and required something special aesthetically, mechanically and stylistically consistent with previous designs so as to fit within the MING lineup.

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Off topic: on coffee

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Anybody who spends any length of time in the creative industry will soon realise that it’s really coffee, not money, that fuels everything from ad campaigns to shoots to postproduction. Models don’t shun it like energy drinks because you can have it without sugar, and in small (espresso) volumes, and it’s still just as potent. It’s also legal and relatively easy to obtain when travelling, and you can bring your own without being questioned about what those pills or powders are. I’ve long been reliant on the drink (finance and consulting run on it, too) but only in the last couple of years developed more than a passing interest in it. Like the drink, think of today’s post as a little refresher/ break from the photographic content…

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Off topic: On customer service

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Pro photographers have to be two things: able to deliver (i.e. technically and creatively competent) and fully aware that the whole business hinges critically on being a relationship game: if anything, this is more important than the execution. We are not just service providers, but in a way also providing confidence and reassurance on a product that is both intangible and highly subjective. Uncertainty can be self-reinforcing and the beginning of a negative spiral. Yet the longer I’m in this business, the more shocked I am by what I’m seeing – especially at the ‘developing’ end; both from a country/locality point of view and an immature service provider’s point of view.

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Off topic: Just in case

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That proverbial sink

I was playing equipment tetris* for a job recently – a regular occurrence. It occurred to me that most of the hardware I was packing was ‘just in case’; contingency planning if something happens to go pear shaped or I encountered a situation at the very edges of the envelope. There are of course no excuses for not delivering what the client wants, at least if you intend to keep your clients. This means I basically had two complete Hasselblad medium format kits – including backup lens coverage – a set of filters, double the number of batteries and triple the number of cards, critical backups, etc. Add a spare tripod head and brackets to the mix, plus a day bag to work out of, and you’re soon seriously encumbered. This wasn’t even a job requiring external lighting, which brings the packed weight to somewhere in the 50kg region once you include stands and modifiers. In practice, for that once in a blue moon occurrence, you’re glad when you have it – but the rest of the time, your back is cursing you. The rest of the time, you shoot with one body and the zoom. There’s probably got to be an easier way, right?

*Attempting to fit in various camera bodies, lenses and accessories into the smallest possible volume for that amount of gear, but the largest possible volume that would pass for carry on – my record is 24kg overweight for hand carry, at which point Air France forced me to buy another seat. At full price. In one of the front cabins, because the rear one was full – and with a penalty fee for cancelling the old one. I definitely didn’t want to repeat that.

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Off topic: thoughts on turning 30, or – the trouble with choice

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The barrier: mental, physical, or simply too much confusion?

How many careers will the average 30 year old have by the time they retire – if they can even afford to retire? My guess is anywhere north of five. This is a stark contrast with my parents’ generation, where working with the same company for life wasn’t unheard of – and 20+ year stints were pretty common. A move after anything less than five years was seen as ‘unstable’. When I began my career 14 years ago, that timetable was down to three; these days, a year is just fine. Are we learning faster? Probably not. Are we getting more impatient? Definitely. Tomorrow, I’ll turn 30. I am aware that this is probably a bit younger than most in the audience, if the workshop demographics are anything to go by, but I’m both here and I’m not; having graduated and started work at 16, I’m now on my second career and the vast majority of my friends and peers are in their 40s and 50s – which puts me in a rather unique observatory position (or eternal no-mans’ land, depending on how you look at it). If you’ll permit me the digression – I promise we will talk photography at some point later in the piece – I’d like to share some thoughts.

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Photographic étiquette, part one

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There are some things you must just do, or must not do, as a photographer. Today’s post is to help all of you navigate that minefield…

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