Head-Fi meet in Austin, TX

Earphones and in-ear monitors,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs

MrSpeaker (Mad Dog)

Headed by Dan Clark, MrSpeaker is a manufacturer (or perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “modifier/manufacturer”) of relatively affordable planar magnetic headphones. MrSpeaker’s first headphone, called the Mad Dog ($299) starts life as a Fostex T50Rp, but then receives hand-tuned modifications calculated to improve both sound quality and wearer comfort. Despite these modifications, however, the Mad Dog still looks a fair amount like the T50Rp upon which it is based.

More recently, however, MrSpeaker has launched an even more ambitious model called the Alpha Dog ($599). The Alpha Dog is also based on Fostex components, but unlike the Mad Dog it has been so extensively modified that it looks nothing like anything Fostex has ever produced. The Alpha Dog is a vented but otherwise mostly closed-back planar magnetic headphone featuring an enclosure system of MrSpeaker’s design (the enclosure is sufficiently complex that Clark has elected to produce the enclosure housing on a 3D printer). The Alpha Dog claims to offer reference-grade sound quality for what must be considered a bargain basement price.

Clark was showing the Alpha Dog in Austin, but it was interesting to see that Alpha Dogs were showing up with some regularity both in member’s systems and in vendors’ systems. Based on several brief listens, we think the Alpha Dog offers terrific value for money.


Patrick Sutton at Nice Cans

Patrick Sutton runs Nice Cans—an Austin-based high-end audio shop that focuses exclusively on headphone-based systems. Thus, Sutton was showing a range of the product he offers, including headphones from AKG, Audeze, Beyerdynamic, and Fostex, plus headphone amplification products from Benchmark, Musical Fidelity, and other suppliers. Sutton should be congratulated, first for addressing the real need for a specialty shop where discerning enthusiasts can check out and purchase top-shelf headphones, and second, for understanding that—for whatever reasons—traditional (that is, speaker-centric) high-end shops tend to want little to do with top-tier headphones (which in our view is a mistake on the part of traditional high-end dealers, but a fine market niche for Nice Cans).


RK Audiology – Westone earphones and music friendly Lyric hearing aids

Paula Rivers and Janet Krueger (the “R” and “K” of RK Audiology) are full-service audiologists who recognise there is much more to hearing health than helping clients to score well on standardized speech intelligibility tests. The big difference, here, is that Rivers and Krueger take a music-first attitude toward their profession and thus want to help their clients not only understand day-to-day conversations, but also to enjoy music as fully and naturally as possible

To this end, Rivers and Krueger offer high-quality hearing protection devices as well as custom-fitted in-ear music monitors and high-quality universal-fit earphones from Westone. At the Austin meet, RK had on display a smattering of Westone’s recently revamped W-series universal-fit earphones, and it was refreshing to see audiologist promoting well-made music playback devices rather than simply dispensing garden-variety hearing aids.

However, for music lovers who may already have suffered some degree of hearing loss, RK offers the fascinating Lyric hearing aid system, which, says Ms. Rivers, just might be one of the few hearing aid solutions on the market suitable for audiophile use. The Lyric is a miniature, in-ear, always-inserted, and always-on device that—get this—uses analogue-only audio circuitry to achieve a natural, organic sound (unlike typical hearing aids which often use well-intended but garish-sounding DSP circuitry to improve speech recognition, but at the expense of sound quality that is not well-suited for music listening). It is encouraging to find audiologists willing to work toward solutions that may help clients stay in touch with the music they have loved all their lives.


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