A Music Lover’s First Impression of the Audiophile Experience
“Let It Be” by The Beatles
- HiFiMAN HE1000 V2 headphones
- Astell and Kern SP1000 Digital Audio Player
- Silver Dragon Premium headphone cable by Moon-Audio
What exactly is an Audiophile?
I met Drew Baird for the first time when I entered the lobby at Moon-Audio's headquarters in Cary, North Carolina for my initial interview. Drew is a self-described audiophile, and the founder of Moon-Audio. He's the creative genius behind the award-winning line of Dragon audio cables, lauded by audiophiles and music industry professionals around the world. Having years of experience using professional in-ear monitors to help me sing on stage with other musicians, I was already familiar with Moon-Audio’s variety of IEMs for sale. But, I hadn’t personally explored the sonic benefits of upgrading my headphones to Moon's Dragon cables. I heard and read online that Moon Audio’s team of music-loving mad scientists also enhance high-end headphones with several dragon cable options to suit a wide range of musical tastes. So, I was excited about a personal listening session to experience this for myself. I also wanted to find out when it comes to listening to music for personal enjoyment as opposed to performing professionally, are the upgrade cables and high-end IEMs or headphones really worth the price tag? Would my musically-trained ears even hear a difference? These were the burning questions as I started my listening session.
Everyone loves music.
Unlike Drew and his team of engineers and music lovers, I’m not an engineer. Nor am I well-versed in all the nuances of high-fidelity sound. However, as a recording musician and vocalist, I do feel confident calling myself a music enthusiast. After all, what got me interested in making music from the very start was being a fan of music, first. But, who isn’t a fan of music? Everyone loves music and it’s a universal language that seems to captivate audiences around the world, cross-cultural barriers, and heal people, young or old. So, when separating those who are fans of the music from those who make music, the distinction is an easy one to see. But, what constitutes an audiophile? Well, I was about to embark on the trek, and find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
I prepared myself for the audiophile experience with a track I’m familiar with: one that’s somewhat nostalgic, simply because I’ve heard it so many times. Drew gave me the Astell and Kern SP1000 high-resolution digital audio player (DAP) for my first listen. As Drew connected a Silver Dragon Premium detachable headphone cable to the AK SP1000 and a pair of beautiful camel-brown HiFiMAN HE1000 V2 headphones, I waited with intrigue. Drew handed the equipment to me and I chose “Let It Be,” by The Beatles. Like anyone these days, I’ve heard this song at various stages in my life, and so often, I feel like I know it better than any song I listen to on a daily basis. The Beatles have always been the background music for my family gatherings, so I've heard it countless times in my life.
To the uninitiated audiophile, there’s a certain caliber of listening-skills one must develop I've learned. According to Drew Baird, in order to acquire a sincere appreciation for the effects audiophile equipment can yield to its avid community of highly developed listeners, one must learn what to listen for. The devil really is in the details, and to the untrained ear, it’s the minutiae that define the journey. In the world of high fidelity equipment, audiophiles trek a vast soundscape of hi-fi options. Like almost everyone, I love the sound of music, and I love listening to it. So, even better, if I can customize my music-listening experience more thoroughly by finding headphones, amps and audio cables that are best for my listening preferences or genres. There are so many options and how does a music enthusiast (or, rather, an audiophile newbie), like myself, set about getting started in this seemingly overly-complicated audio world? This being my first experience with true audiophile-level equipment, I didn’t want my initial impression with the Silver Dragon to be influenced by too many novel details all at once. So, it makes sense. What better way to begin addressing the issue than by starting at the source of my listening experience, and changing out my headphone cable to the Silver Dragon?
Diving In: The Session
I put the HiFiMAN HE1000 V2 headphones on and pressed play on the Astell and Kern SP1000 DAP. I waited with some anticipation for a few seconds until, finally, I hear the familiar sound of Paul McCartney’s Blüthner piano, introducing the track’s melody. At first, I didn’t hear anything remarkable about this or it just sounded familiar; but then, enter Paul’s sweetly sung vocals. Paul uttered that famous first line, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me…”, I instantly hear a slight smear of analog distortion that tape famously smolders onto the vocal. The detail is minute, but very noteworthy. I decide immediately that I’m enjoying the detail. “…Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”
Historically, the sound of tape distortion, or tape noise, was considered a problem for audio engineers, and audiophiles alike. It was just a sign of the times, and the expectations “purist” of the era held. I surmise this can serve as the explanation for why musical tastes change with the comings-and-goings of the generations. But I like it. For me, the warm toasty smearing-effect of analog tape distorting a musical phrase makes it feel like I’m being transported back in time.
On May 9th, 1970, this song permeated America’s radio airwaves. As I close my eyes, and imagine my parent’s generation, hearing this piece of music for the very first time, I imagine the debates they must have had together, and the vibe of that era feels a little closer. And that’s when something interesting happens. Suddenly, I’m aware that I’m hearing something familiar as though I’ve heard it for the very first time. To be honest, I’m perplexed by this. My mind races, querying for answers. How can this be? I keep listening, searching, gleefully, for the rationale. “…Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”
At bar 8, I hear Ringo’s signature drum-style come tumbling into the measure like a pair of shoes being tossed around in the dryer. Upon closer inspection, I can hear the effect of the compressor gracefully squishing on the tom and snare hits like newborn puppy teeth gnawing on a chew-toy. The kick drum thumps and thuds a steady pulse in time within the same space that Paul’s vocal and piano share. The sonic distinctions are savory, and satisfyingly thrilling my ears. “…Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”
Then in bar 16, something interesting happens. George Harrison’s guitar solo slides into a measure for the first time, and I hear it. Something I’ve never heard before. Harrison executes his guitar riff with a bad note. Did I just hear that? I rewind and check again. I hear the sound of his finger slipping on the fretboard, and then followed by the wrong note that’s not in scale with the key of the song. It happens fast, but it's incredibly apparent. And what’s even more perplexing is that I’m not even bothered by this. For me, I’m hearing this track as it really stands. On its own. Somehow, I’m hearing this overly-familiar song in a way that’s not so familiar anymore? Did this audiophile cable allow my ears to hear George Harrison’s humanity behind the legend? I have never heard that detail before this experience, and with so much clarity. “…Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.” Just like the title of the song, it’s almost as if the Moon-Audio Silver Dragon line of headphone cables just lets it be? Could that really be?
Letting It Be
I realize that what I’m actually hearing is the sound of humans making harmony through a set of mistakes being documented onto tape, and the so-called “happy accidents” they can all create, harmoniously. It’s kind of magical, actually. When it comes to making it, or listening to it, music, itself, is a human experience. I’m genuinely surprised to consider the possibility that a headphone cable can really invoke such a potent experience to become even more alive. Much like an artist selects from a palette of colors to unlock a creative vision, the audiophile’s pursuit is in the choices one makes from the plethora of tools available. These educated choices have the power to unlock precisely what music is for so many: a feeling.
Now, a new awareness fills my mind and opens my heart. The great George Harrison I hold in my mind isn’t perfect. In fact, he’s human, too. There's a little bit of wisdom I'm taking away from this experience as well. Listening to Paul's voice sing the lyrics, the thought of it makes me grin ear-to-ear, “…Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.” Is it ironic this headphone cable lets The Beatles just be? For a moment, I wonder how many others have the tools (and the ears) to experience this too? Did I just join a secret society of elite music lovers? It certainly feels like it. I can say it with sincerity. As a music enthusiast, this experience is game-changing for me. The Silver Dragon Premium audio cable will change the way I listen to music going forward. Thanks to Drew Baird, I just might be an audiophile too.