Trying to navigate the foggy universe of the audiophile is an intimidating prospect. One can spend years and thousands of dollars without ever finding the sound desired in the first place. The journey can feel so daunting that most amateur music lovers and PC enthusiasts just settle for some overpriced name at Best-Buy and call it a day. And then one year later, that sexy piece of garbage breaks and we're back at the audiophile doorstep too scared and confused to venture inside.
This was me. I joined these forums determined to finally step through the audiophile door and one month later a wealth of your knowledge and opinions has done well to answer some of my many questions. But I found myself with more questions and concerns than I started with, rabbit-holing my way into frustration. Such is the nature inside the overgrown walled garden known as high quality audio.
Yet, my true dilemma was not being able to include my ears in the decision making process when ultimately their approval would be the only opinion that mattered. So I stopped reading reviews and spec-sheets and instead focused on finding a place that allowed my ears to have a say in the matter.
Guitar Center has a strict "touch but don't listen" policy and online retailers use lengthy return contracts and restocking fees to eliminate any trial-period users. I was close to losing hope of ever being able to try the products on my list when ArmAndHammer and gmiossi suggested I contact Frank over at EarHead Audio. I would soon discover that my entire month of search results and browser bookmarks would be worth these suggestions ten times over.
I shot EarHead Audio an email explaining that I was once again building a new computer system and my desires for finally doing audio justice. Shortly after receiving that message, Frank called me and began translating my questions from newbie-speak to head-fi and back again with answers I actually understood. He should have sent me an invoice just for the phone conversation, but we set an appointment for later in the week instead.
My time during that appointment consisted of sitting in chairs fit for a king and listening to amazing music (both mine and Frank’s selections) through an expansive array of headphones and amps specifically chosen for me based on our previous conversations. Having the ability to hot swap devices in the middle of a song allowed for such a finely tuned comparison between every make and model. No other place of business allows the client to develop such an intimate opinion with such a large variety of products without any guarantee of purchase. There were no clocks in the room, no hurried sense of schedule, and no other customers competing for attention. On many occasions my time with Frank felt more like old friends sharing their favourite music than any sort of shopping endeavour.
If you take away anything from my lengthy story, take away this: Frank is not a salesman, he is one of us. His products are not chosen based on potential resale profits or popularity, but instead chosen because Frank uses them for his own listening pleasure and only carries extras so he won’t miss replacing them in his day to day appreciation.
Even now, back at home listening to the devices I chose from his stock, I cannot decide which was more thrilling: Finally giving my ears the listening experience they’ve been begging for, or the five-star as-family treatment I was granted inside Frank’s home. His method of business is a lost art and a rare treasure. If other retailers, be it automobiles or clothing, treated their clients to the same degree, they would never want for business and we would all delight in the pleasure of being their paying customer.
As Frank said, “Whether your budget is $79 or $20,000, you’ll receive the same quality of service here always.” If you find yourself even remotely in his general location, you owe it to your inner-audiophile to make an appointment.
I’ll post reviews of my purchases after I’ve had more time to enjoy their immense capabilities, until then, check out www.ear-head.com and thanks to the other NoVa guys for the excellent recommendation.