Butterflies & Brews

Look, it came down to this. I could have written a long-winded tome on any of the following:

  1. The irony of Tesla (the car company) being named after Nicola Tesla. Tesla cars run on DC but Tesla was a pioneer in AC. Why didn’t Musk call his brand Edison since he was so into dynamos (because he had a company that made them) and so DC?
  2. How Tesla’s marketing and party line may suggest they don’t want their buyers to operate their cars in autonomous-mode yet their wink-wink understanding is that their kind of customer is the exact kind of person who will take their hands of the steering wheel at the slightest invitation.
  3. How ridiculous the idea of a president being able to himself is. Nixon thought about it seriously back in 1974 and got the same answer Trump would get if he really pushed the idea. Some guilty folks act as if they’re innocent but this is a guy who acts guilty because he knows he is. Amazing.

But, who wants to read and write about that dreary stuff?

Let’s look at a lovely butterfly instead…

P1040397 (1)

I saw this fellow in some nice light yesterday afternoon at the Butterflies & Brews fest at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont. It was a very SoCal event and I’m glad we decided to brave the Friday rush-hour traffic to get out there.

I was lucky enough to meet Simon Brown, the head honcho at Claremont Craft Ales, and gave him an earful about excess hoppiness at the expense of overall balance & flavor that’s characteristic of IPAs from San Diego. Happily, he agreed and his Jacaranda Rye IPA was superb; love that copper color and richness that balances against the 80 IBU.

You can drop by their website here.

Anyway, it was worth the somewhat grueling battle on the 210 East heading out there.

Butterflies & Brews

An Interview with David Edel of Edel Golf

edel
David Edel Applying his Craft

Paul Cervantes:

It’s been a while since we’ve touched base. In that time a lot has happened at Edel Golf. You’ve relocated from Oregon to Texas. You’ve added a lot of variety to your putter and wedge offerings and really stepped it up when it comes to irons. Tell me a little about the ups and downs of the move and the development path of the new Edel clubs.

David Edel:

Moving to Austin, Texas was a huge move for Edel Golf, my family, and for me on a personal level. I love the Oregon coast as it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. However, running a golf club business on the Oregon coast was very difficult. Moving to Austin centrally located Edel Golf where travel was so much easier and being in a vibrant growing town centrally located between Dallas, San Antonio and Houston gave us a base to expand and grow the brand.

Another factor that made a huge impact was finding an investment group which was based out of Austin at the time. This investment group invested much needed capital and strategies that helped grow other revenue streams other than our base product line of putters. We started making wedges within the first year after moving to Texas and, through that process, we were able to develop and move into the iron category. Having once been involved with Henry Griffitts, I saw a huge opportunity in the iron market that was not being implemented with the large OEMs, not to mention the increase in bottom line revenue as a result. We knew the metal wood market would be difficult to compete against large OEMs that put millions into R&D, but also knew that we could be a force in rest of the bag with in-depth fitting systems and bespoke made irons, wedges, and putters.

Paul Cervantes: 

I was intrigued to see that Edel has branched out into Single-Length irons. How did that come about?

David Edel:

As a result of machining our own iron heads, a unique opportunity arose with Bryson Dechambeau, who at the time needed to have a custom made set of single length irons and wedges. Bryson had played my putter since he was 11 years old and once he moved to Dallas to attend SMU our relationship blossomed to help him with his special needs. At the time, he was a talented player but I didn’t really see at the time his interest in single length to go where it went. I merely was trying to help a talented young player get the proper equipment to achieve his goals. What happened was a complete surprise to everyone, and I think for him as well. Not that he didn’t think or believe he could do it, just that the 2015 season was truly magical by winning the NCAA National Championship and the US Amateur. His efforts showed that his idea to play single length, which had been done before with Tommy Armour’s EQL single length clubs of the late 1980s, had teeth.

Based on Bryson’s achievements, and the knowledge obtained from trying to make the best possible club for him, gave us the foundation to take our club knowledge to develop the most sophisticated single length fitting model and product line the industry has ever seen. His efforts proved that single length could work for the best players in the world, and moved the concept from a gimmick to reality.

Single length isn’t without its issues, most of which are more mental than physical. Mental…meaning the golf industry and its players are reluctant to change. Overcoming the physical issues are nothing compared to mental change needed for players to take a great idea to implementation. It is understandable…people have been playing years with variable length golf equipment, so moving to a one-swing, single-length concept at face value seems like a huge change. It is actually not, and only simplifies an already complicated game.

Cobra Golf’s entrance into the space was a good thing for us. It showed that a large OEM believed enough in the concept to validate its merits. They also applied much need marketing that small companies like Edel Golf can’t afford. The downside was a result of a rush to market with a non-fitted product that gave many their first attempt at one-length as they call it to be less than effective, especially in the 5, 4, and 3-irons. I knew with such a new and industry-changing concept, if it wasn’t fitted without a superb fitting model and product line, the movement would have its issues. Fortunately for us, we accomplished our goal of a great head design, coupled with Paderson shaft advanced composites and truly great golf club was born.

Paul Cervantes: 

I was also impressed to see how much work Edel has done to evolve your putter line. How would you sum up the advances you’ve made?

David Edel:

One advancement came about during our move to Texas was our Torque Balance putter concept that evolved into a superb putter fitting model. Torque Balance or toe up tech was a concept I developed as a result of creating a teaching aid that I thought would help golfers with over acceleration issues. It was an adjustable ball bearing system that would allow the putter head to rotate about the shaft in a 360 degree manner. If the player over accelerated the putter, the face wold rotate open and make the ball roll to the right. What I found out astounded me; putters we were making were very difficult to keep from rotating open due to the design and MOI. So, it hit me right between the eyes that regardless of my fitting process I could assemble for the player to aim and weight the putter correctly, this hidden monster of face rotation was a real problem.

Testing other putters that professed face-balance, also showed that the implied warranty wasn’t truly face-balanced. For this reason we developed a new fitting system based solely around Torque Balance or Toe UP, which was industry changing, and gave us a technical advantage over our competitors. The difficulty was making a putter that was toe up without looking funky, something I believe we accomplished.

Another inclusion to our putter line since moving to Texas was our special relationship with Pixl face insert technology. Pixl inserts are 91 hexagons with a special carriage to hold them in place, provides us the largest sweet spot in the industry. This proven technology makes the sweet spot larger because these individual Pixl’s act as independent sweets spots making off center hits roll farther than a solid face.

Paul Cervantes:

You know I’m kind of a wedge freak. Just think of me as Lee Trevino without the game. Edel seems to treat bounce differently than other companies. What have you learned that can help the average player’s wedge game?

David Edel:

Our wedge tech has also been transformative to the industry. With the help and collaboration with famed instructor Mike Adams, we developed a wedge fitting model and product line that changed the narrative for the industry. We developed concepts around a wedge with the center of gravity in the middle of the club, where at the time almost all wedges due to their design had the CG towards the heel. We did this by shortening our hosel, and scalloping heel weight and redistributing the weight more towards the toe. We created four grind patterns with heel, toe, trail, and leading edge bounce relief that made the club very versatile for different playing conditions. We developed a unique groove pattern that moved the grooves towards the toe, placing those grooves to the middle of the CG and the total face width. Making all three centers in the same spot. Another advantage to our wedge model was a 25 shaft model that allowed the fitter to change flight and spin numbers to offset launch conditions and spin values that were the result of the new groove changes implemented by the USGA and R&A. As each shaft has different weight values, coupled with length requirements each head would be hand ground to ensure proper swing weights. Our research concluded that low bounce was not advantageous for players, and through countless fittings, higher than industry standards were needed. We developed a bounce system based on width and angle to help the fitters and players achieve optimal turf interaction. So when the industry is moving to lower bounce numbers, we went the opposite direction with our average bounce being the 18 to 26 range, which may sound alarming, but is neutralized by the correct width. We were fortunate to have In Gee Chun win the USGA Women’s Open, and The Evian Masters plus countless other international events. Also, Hoo Joo Kim won the LPGA’s Pure Silk Classic.

As a result of our understanding of bounce in wedges, we applied the same attention to our iron fitting model. Since each player is unique with regard to angle of attach and lean conditions, the most important angle besides lie, was the angle of the bottom of the club that is directly being influenced by the ground. We were the first company to implement bounce angle concepts to all irons, ensure that each player would have perfect turf interaction relative to their motion. Since the shaft in a huge engine to value of the club and as a result of each shaft having different gram weights, we developed an iron that could be hand ground to achieve optimal swing weights without having to add lead down in the hosel, changing the CG. The heads are also uniquely designed to have centered CG which was not talked about until recently.

Since moving to Texas, our clubs have been involved in winning four USGA titles, two on the Web.com Tour and one on the Champions Tour. Currently we have five players using putters on the PGA Tour, and two on the Champions Tour which is quite an accomplishment for a small company. With that said, what we take a lot of pride in the large stable of quality fitters that have made huge a huge impact on the golfers of all abilities to make long-term changes in their games. Tour support is important for the sole fact it validates to the general consumer that your products are good. Our philosophy is we treat everyone as if they were a tour player. We don’t make a club different for a tour player than we do for an average player trying to get better. The concept is no different and when people are spending hard-earned money and time dedicated to playing the game, deserve nothing less than an excellent process and product bespoke made for them. We take great pride in being a steward of the game, upholding tried and true techniques, philosophies, and quality manufacture which over time will ensure our place in the industry, regardless how big we are.

Paul Cervantes:

Thanks, David…I’m looking forward to checking out your latest putters and wedges.

Edel Golf

An Interview with David Edel of Edel Golf

And so the green is gone but beauty remains

That was fast. One day the green was here and now it’s gone. It’s true that a few small yellow and purple wildflowers survive but to paraphrase Shakespeare, their lease, too, is short. The loop trail was a little more dry and dusty each day and there’s pretty no one around since it’s been quite warm for the last few days. Without noticing, I nearly walked beyond the point where I took the photo of the vibrant if short-lived green when I happened to glance back. The perspective here is changed a little but it’s still easy to see how different the grasses look now that a month has passed.

Grasses

It was an odd day. The sun had gone a little bit yellow as is dropped in the sky. The air had that dry dusty smell that says home to me, for better or worse.

The grasses had died but still it was beautiful.

A few strides earlier I when I came to the first full vista of Simi Valley I noticed the marvelous clouds that accompanied the hazy approach of sunset.

For me, it worked best in black & white.

Simi Pano BW

 

And so the green is gone but beauty remains

A little pitch

Pitch shot pine mountain club BW

I think this was taken during the last round of golf that three of my brothers and I played at Pine Mountain Club in 2017.

Though the grasses on the course go dormant some locals play all winter long. But I think it’s better to give the course time to recover between Thanksgiving and Springtime.

The real frame was full of color of course but for some reason I liked this better in this rather severe black and white processing done with Silver Efex Pro.

The wonderful colors of Spring will be all around us when we start our 2018 season in a couple weeks. After battling a bothersome shoulder injury that pretty much gutted my entire 2017 golf season, I’m finally ready to tee it up again.

A little pitch

The surrender of the fleeting green of spring

Southern California has now played the very same trick on me for over a half century. Each spring I revel in the tall green grasses that grow on our local hills & fields.

But, just when I get used to their verdancy, they dry up and die.

It’s true these kinds of grasses have very short life spans but in an area that’s so short on green it’s always hard to see the surrender of the fleeting green of spring.

I know summer is on the way.

Fleeting
Sage Ranch Loop Trail Just Before Sunset
The surrender of the fleeting green of spring

Better Right Than Happy: A Cautionary High End Audio Tale

The high end will continue to shrink. There will soon come a day when every surviving high end guy will come together in a room, shake hands with one another, and then all fall over dead.
– Kevin Halverson, co-founder of Muse Electronics.

After all these years, this final meeting still hasn’t happened…yet. I started The Audio Observatory way back when, even before Kevin laid this hard bit of prophecy on me. I didn’t really have much of a vision for TAO, which is the one big reason that it never became much of anything. It existed to serve my own purpose and my purpose was to do what I could to undermine the then-existing attitudes toward the relevance and influence of reviews. I simply wanted people to have the confidence to listen to what they liked and to enjoy what they listened to.

TAO Masthead
The TAO masthead, original artwork in ink, by Mimi Sheean

A mother-fucker can either listen to what he likes, or he can listen to what some other mother-fucker likes.
– Joe Roberts, Editor of Sound Practices.

TAO started out and ended up modestly. At its peak, I was sending out a few thousand issues at a time. But, when I started out I was only mailing a few hundred. Most were sent to my high end heroes. I sent issues of TAO to guys like Nelson Pass, Ray Kimber, Yves-Bernard André, Jim Winey, Bruce Thigpen and Roger Modjeski. After a few dozen issues I got a hand-written letter from Roger Modjeski and a poem. It turns out that he liked the line I used to close each issue.

Listen well, but listen happy.

The line captured what I wanted readers to get, that their happiness with their own beloved music was all that mattered. When I got that letter from Roger I knew I had gotten at least one thing right and lots of folks can’t even do that. He invited me to give him a call and to come up to Santa Barbara for lunch…just to talk. A few weeks later I did and so began an association that, to this day, informs a good deal of how I think and how I see the world, especially the world of high end audio.

Right away, Roger and I enjoyed each other’s company. I think we each sensed that we saw the other as an odd yet accurate reflection of our other self. If that doesn’t make of sense rest easy; t doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either. In some ways, we didn’t have much in common. Roger was an engineer’s-engineer and I was a mere layman, though one possessed of a strong appreciation for formal reasoning and a quick facility for the occasionally clarifying analogy. Sometimes Roger’s engineering rigor created an angst-inducing forest-for-the-trees situation that needed that ability on my part.

We both loved music and thought that vacuum tubes were the best path to achieve its reproduction in the home. That’s not really true. Roger thought that but I believed that the very best transistor gear was in fact superior to the best tube gear. But, I also thought that better designed vacuum gear outperformed most solid-state gear that was even remotely similarly priced. And, there was and there is no vacuum tube gear that’s as well designed as the gear Roger Modjeski designs. He simply has no equal.

Roger’s brilliance came from, well, brilliance. He had made the mistakes (in his mind) that lesser engineers had often made in their products and he never forgot a lesson once learned. After we got to know each other, he began to share his thoughts on his own designs and the designs of others. Some were old and some were new but he always looked to examine what had been achieved, or what had not, and how the failure of knowledge or experience or both had led to the result.

After a few of our lunch meetings, Roger offered me a job. I would handle Music Reference and RAM Labs sales and marketing. Me being me, I knew I could handle the task. I am not prone to delusion. I knew that Music Reference and RAM Labs were small companies in a small market. The job would not be a path to anything other than the chance to do something I’d never done before and to work along side someone for whom I held a genuine respect and fondness. I took the job and instantly The Audio Observatory was transformed. It was impossible for me to review tube gear in my own journal. My readers objected, but from then on I confined myself to reviews of solid-state gear. It was an unsatisfying turn for my association with The Audio Observatory but I knew it was the right move for me at the time.

Working with Roger was never dull, never easy, often frustrating yet frequently entertaining in a way that’s hard to describe. We met two Mondays a month, always for lunch. The day went like this. I’d hit the road from Valencia around 10 a.m. and look to arrive at Roger’s house in Santa Barbara around Noon. His mood upon meeting me at the door determined a lot. Sometimes I could tell that he’d been waiting for me in a kind of intellectually anxious way. Perhaps he’d read something that annoyed him but didn’t quite grasp in a way that satisfied his reasoning. Other times, I would be met with an air of frustration that he tried to hide behind a futile mask of cordiality. I could sense his dissatisfaction simmering. Sometimes I could find a kind of voice for whatever was gnawing at him and sometimes it persisted right on through our initial meeting, our lunch out, and our after-lunch meeting. Those could be some long-ass afternoons.

Still, I treasured our meetings. Roger Modjeski was a consistently fascinating person to hang around with and our customers loved his gear and the tubes he tested. And, I learned a lot. No, I didn’t learn many of the kinds of things that were very likely to improve my financial fortunes but I didn’t care. I was doing what I wanted to do and I was learning to do things I wanted to learn how to do. Roger wasn’t what anyone was likely to call a traditionally good teacher. Still, I learned a great deal from him and also from myself. Roger liked to say that pretty much every success he ever had at Music Reference and RAM Labs came from doing something for the first time, and learning from the mistakes that first effort had brought to light. Mistakes never pleased him, but he knew they were an unavoidable part of learning in the same way he had learned.

The greatest challenge for Music Reference was production. As much as Roger loved design and engineering he hated manufacturing. I’m not sure if he always hated it or whether the years of coordinating everything it took from a taking a product from concept to final testing fell on him. Either way, manufacturing was a constant topic. Roger wanted a production manager who could take over the most onerous duties. That would free Roger to develop new designs and also to do the kind of extended travel he believed the ongoing day-to-day demands of the business prevented.

One of my first bits of inexperience was exposed by my belief that finding the right candidate for the job would be doable if not easy. Music Reference and RAM Labs were located in Santa Barbara and I figured that between UCSB and Santa Barbara City College there would be a good number of qualified applicants in the area. I was wrong. Roger and I interviewed a number of candidates and one seemed less likely to be able to do the job or even to truly understand the substance of the job than the next. It was a sobering experience.

I met Graham Hardy back in my early days as a reviewer. He partnered with Kevin Halverson in the design of the legendary Muse Model Two Digital to Analog Converter. The Model Two was a ground-breaking product. It was the first DAC to show (to me, anyway) that digital could someday rival, and possibly exceed, the fundamental fidelity and musicality of the finest analog systems. Kevin might dispute this, but I believe it was the Model Two that really put Muse Electronics on the map back in the early 1990s.

Here’s where things start to evolve and worlds began to clash. Graham was an avid reader of The Audio Observatory and liked to question me about what I regarded as the essential musicality of a vacuum tube system. His curiosity got him thinking about designing a tube amplifier of his own. Graham had a particular design goal for his amp. He wanted it to be able to automatically bias its output tubes.

It will be as if there are eight little audio nerds living in each amplifier chassis, constantly turning tiny screwdrivers keeping the output tubes in a state of perfect bias.
-Graham J. Hardy

That sounded cool to me though I had always enjoyed biasing tubes for myself, in very much the same way I liked checking my car’s oil level and tire pressure. Still, Graham was passionate about the idea. His enthusiasm brought an idea to mind; could Graham be the production manager for Music Reference?

I thought about it for weeks before I brought the idea to Graham. It turned out he had been independently hoping I would set up a meeting with Roger. In hindsight that motive, on Graham’s part, should have been a warning. Graham was looking for affirmation that his concept was impressive to a respected, even legendary, designer of tube gear. He also wanted to prove to himself that he could slip from the digital world to the analog world and still do valuable work.

Roger didn’t have a problem with the meeting. All of the failed interviews with would-be production managers had worn him out and put him close to giving up on the idea that finding a decent candidate was even possible. We picked a date and Graham and I headed north to Santa Barbara. I knew that it would be a waste of time to make any attempt at coaching Graham about how best to present his ideas to Roger. I also knew that Roger could be a little bit like a roulette wheel when it came to how he would receive someone new. Roger was always cordial. He’d grown up in Richmond, Virginia and I always felt that a certain kind of southern gentility influenced his behavior. He was never loud or contradictory and he could be an excellent listener. But, once he knew that the person he was speaking to lacked a full understanding of what was being discussed he would begin the dissection just to make sure. He did this by asking one seemingly simple question after another. I regarded those questions as if they were the coils of a python; at first it felt OK but then it would get a little hard to breathe. Just when the person being questioned started to figure out what was happening, that answers to important questions had been fumbled, the end of the interview would come mercifully.

The interview went terribly. Roger started questions with phrases like, “You do understand…” -and- “Certainly you’re aware that…” When Roger asked, “Do you realize that capacitors in this kind of circuit will each discharge at different rates while music is playing?” I knew full well the interview was over. The Oxford PhD in physics, the genuine honest-to-God, card-carrying rocket scientist from JPL, had been laid-low by the soft-spoken electrical engineer from the University of Virginia.

Graham seethed all the way back to his house and about an hour later when I finally got home to my house I had a message from Roger on my machine. When I called him back, he thanked me for bringing Graham to Santa Barbara to meet with is. But, then he said, “You do understand that there’s no way I can work with him, right?’

Right.

So then back to the inexorable passage of time. The 1990s ended and then my marriage ended and finally my friendship with Graham came to a coda brought about by his poor behavior when he drank and finally by his subsequent move to Washington. I missed him, but being around Graham was like being close to a moving fire. It was only a matter of time before it became uncomfortable and a painful burn was sure to follow. All that said, I still miss him to this day. He always was, in his way, a great and dedicated friend.

Even more time passes. It’s New Year’s Eve 2017 and I was sitting in an outdoor jacuzzi having a late-night cocktail when I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. The woman who answered told me she was calling about Graham and the water in the tub suddenly felt as cold as the desert’s winter air as it swirled around me. I knew before hearing the words exactly what she was going to say; Graham had finally killed himself.

Without being told, I knew that he had shot himself.

Without being told I knew the gun he pulled the trigger on was very likely one he had bought from me in the months after I was divorced.

Without being told I knew that this was by no means the end of the story.

Another reason the woman had called me was to enlist my help in getting one of Graham’s unfinished designs through final engineering and manufacture. I was astonished but I was also intrigued. I thought to myself, what were the odds that this design would ever surface again, especially after Graham’s death, and that I, of all people, could be the point of nexus required to get it to market or see it consigned to the ash heap of never-produced high end design??

Still, still; it was a very odd thing to consider. Graham’s amplifier, and especially the work he’d done on it after the time when he’d vanished from my radar, comprised a kind of vendetta against Roger Modjeski. There was no way for me to know if Graham had, against all odds, overcome his limitations as a designer of tube gear and created a viable circuit for today’s market. Then and now I say that the odds were against him but that doesn’t make such a design an impossibility.

Graham’s amplifier was made to look like a Music Reference amplifier. Roger liked to say that he had designed Music Reference amplifiers, especially the RM-9, to look as if they had been built by someone in his garage, but by someone who had access to certain elements of construction that would never be attainable to someone building something by himself. It was one of the first products to use a 6061 T6 aluminum top plate. The nomenclature was done in a technique called Anofax that would never wear out the way conventionally silk-screened lettering would. Each of the three transformers were hand-wound by either Roger or a technician who made guitar pickups for Seymour Duncan who Roger had trained in the exacting art and science of transformer winding. Once wound, the transformers were vacuum potted into enameled transformer cans. It was a tricky, laborious and time-consuming process from start to finish.

RM9
The original brochure photo for the classic RM-9

Graham’s amplifier had double the number of output tubes (per channel) of an RM-9. It also had a T6 top plate and a wooden frame. The power and output transformers were made by a company called Plitron which has a somewhat mixed reputation. A written description of Graham’s amp and the RM-9 could lead one to believe that they looked similar to each other, but they didn’t. Still, it was clear that Graham’s design was directed at what Roger Modjeski had created all those years before.

Graham's Amp
Graham Hardy’s cosmetic prototypes

No one will ever know why Graham didn’t finish the design himself or build the production amplifiers. For a time, even before he moved to Washington, he had a created company of sorts and a website, but there was never a product available to buy. When I learned that the prototypes had survived him I considered making the effort to hear them for myself, but I didn’t really want to. In the end, I believed it was very unlikely Graham had achieved a working version of his auto-bias function and, even if he had, I was even more doubtful he had achieved a musically viable product in what was his first attempt at designing a tube amplifier. It just ain’t that easy.

Still, I feel an odd and somewhat uncomfortable connection to Graham’s design. It had been so long since I had spoken to him it was as if the amplifiers were all that were left of him, and even they were incomplete. Somehow the amplifier’s design didn’t feel genuine. It didn’t feel like something that had been created to bring better sounding music to people’s homes. Somehow it felt hard and hollow and empty. I admit that I may be missing something about Graham’s amplifier. Perhaps he achieved far more than I’m giving him credit for, but I’m actually quite comfortable never knowing the answer.

There’s another irony to all of this. A while back I called Roger Modjeski to let him know about Graham’s passing and the amplifier he designed and built. But, Roger didn’t remember the fateful meeting. Even after I reminded him about the specifics, he simply didn’t remember. In the end, the meeting simply hadn’t meant anything to him. And, for Graham, even though he acted as if the meeting had meant a lot, he wasn’t able to find a way to directly benefit from it, or even to see it as a light that showed him a way forward. Graham could only find a way to feel dismissed and minimized even though no one had sought to make him feel that way. Without trying to win, or even knowing there was any kind of competition, Roger had won. In his effort to prove himself as the equal of his own education and professional stature as a physicist and engineer Graham had lost and, even worse, he had undermined himself and his mission in the process. What an terrible waste of intelligence, energy and potential.

Today, after all these years, there’s an effort underway to get Graham’s amplifier built. But, I still wish the whole thing just felt better to me. I wish Graham had been able to create out of a heartfelt desire to build something better rather than a pitiable need to be proven correct. More than that, I wish he had been able to live his life to its full measure. Who knows what he could have achieved had he simply given himself the occasional luxury of being wrong and the right we all have to learn from our mistakes and move on.

With that, I’ll give Graham the last words one final time.

Any good Englishman would rather be right than happy.
– Graham J. Hardy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better Right Than Happy: A Cautionary High End Audio Tale

Review of Shinola’s Canfield Over-Ear Headphones

Canfield

Shinola is a fascinating company with a name that is, for me anyway, a little odd. I mean, come on; we all know what rhymes with Shinola. They make all sorts of interesting things from watches to wallets, from turntables to speakers, all assembled in their factory in Detroit, Michigan. The Canfield Over-Ear headphones are Shingle’s circumaural headphones. From a design standpoint the Canfield Over-Ears straddle a modern look with classic headphone shapes, contours and lines from the days of old. They are very solidly constructed. The lambskin ear cups are especially luxurious. The Canfield Over-Ear’s contemporary lineage is confirmed by the presence of an inline volume control and the fact that the (rather shortish) cable is terminated with a 3.5mm plug, though a good quality .25″ phone plug adapter is included.

Before I get into what it’s like to use and listen to the Shinolas I want to comment on its connectors. Disclaimer: I am a unreasonably obsessed by connectors and signal path issues. I accept the fact that the 3.5mm plug has become a kind of de facto standard when it come to the majority of headphones we use today. From this, I exempt really high end headphones which may operate in a fully-balanced mode and so may use XLR or other connectors that accommodate that topology. When it comes to the Shinola Canfield Over-Ears there are female connector jacks on each earpiece. So, there are soldered connections on each earpiece and another soldered connection on the other end. On one hand, this affords the user with an interesting opportunity; this configuration makes it easy to use another cable (that’s similarly terminated). Just pick your brand or make your own cables. The Shinola’s make swapping cables easy, if potentially costly.

But…

Under the best of circumstances you’ll be dealing with a significant number of extra solder points and plug-in connectors. That is not a recipe for a typical high end implementation. If Shinola is using what they consider to be good quality wire I would rather they ditch the female jacks on the earpieces and solder those wires directly to their drivers or crossovers. It’s a tough situation. I can see the advantage of what they’re doing but the downside, especially for a pair of $450 headphones, is significant.

The Shinola Canfield Over-Ear headphones are excellent. They are truly full-range and offer exceptional dynamic capabilities. But, maybe unfortunately and maybe not unfortunately, they do require some significant care and feeding. When driven by purpose-built headphone amps of commensurate quality the Canfields can dazzle. But, when driven by a phone or computer the Shinolas can sound a touch heavy. This problem results from a contemporary belief that’s poorly founded. The belief is that even the finest headphones can be happily driven by even the most modest of amplifiers. Quite simply, they can’t. A $450 pair of headphones deserve proper amplification.

When properly driven, the Shinola Canfield Over-Ear headphones sound marvelous. They are detailed, yet unfatiguing. They handle large dynamic swings with ease yet always preserve a deft portrayal of acoustic delicacy. The midband is slightly shelved back but vocals, both female and male, are always rendered clearly and with great articulation. The bottom end extension and impact are superb, easily besting my other reference headphones that are similarly priced. The Shinola’s even challenge significantly more expensive headphones, and they do so with a sense of ease and a lack of strain. The top end is smooth and extended if a tad soft. Every product is voiced and Shinola clearly voiced the Canfields to be kind to recordings that are not exactly what most would call high fidelity. All in all, though, the Canfields are superbly musical headphones, especially considering their price.

These Shinola headphones are beautiful and obviously lovingly assembled and finished. And, they look as if they would be quite comfortable to wear. The earpieces rotate freely and the length of the headband adjusts readily as well. I found it easy to adjust the Canfield Over-Ears to the point where they fit me just right. The texture of the lambskin ear pads is decadently smooth. My guess is that they’ll feel even better once they’re broken-in; rather like a fine baseball glove. The headband’s padding could be a little wider and more compliant. Since these are heavyish headphones their mass is concentrated on a relatively narrow area of the head. Could they be even more comfortable? For sure. Perhaps Shinola will reevaluate this as they evolve their headphones down the road.

As they are, the Shinolas are amazingly good headphones even in what is a very competitive section of the market, price wise. For a new company, they are a nearly miraculous product. I have every confidence that Shinola will better the Canfield Over-Ear headphones if they decide to stay in the headphone game. In this case, more than in other headphones at this price, the rewards you reap with the Canfields will have a direct relationship to the quality of the device that drives them. I, for one, do not see this as any kind of shortcoming or disadvantage. Think of it as a part of the price you’ll pay for enjoying the musical refinement that Shinola Canfield Over-Ear headphones can attain.

The Shinola Canfield Over-Ear headphones are very much worth the effort.

Shinola Canfield Over-Ear Headphones

$450 USD

Review of Shinola’s Canfield Over-Ear Headphones