When we started looking seriously at the personal audio world, there was little to differentiate it from portable audio, and some still struggle with the nuances behind those terms. Let's define terms: personal audio is all about headphones, custom in-ear monitors (CIEMs), and the amps and DACs used to drive them. Many of these are big, heavy, or leak sound. Portable audio omits the previous sentence.
All aspects of portable and personal audio have seen marked increases in interest and sales in recent years, but the personal audio world has seen the most consistency – manufacturers vying for personal audio sales positions face a massively contended marketplace, while personal audio products are more considered, more expensive purchases. This allows for smaller brands to really carve out a niche, in a manner not wholly dissimilar to their domestic audio counterparts a generation or two ago.
A vibrant, almost counter-culture vibe coupled with a love of audio and the modern 'Geek Chic' trend makes the personal audio 'space' a fun place to be. Plus, compared to the often unnecessarily distended prices in high-end audio, owning the best possible high-end, custom-made, personal audio equipment will set you back a lot less than a couple of metres of the best loudspeaker cable. £5,000 or so gets you to 'legend' status in personal audio, and half a metre of the best power cord in traditional high-end.
It's not about displays of wealth, though. Personal audio delivers the goods, too. The products are made by people just as passionate about their products as the most hardcore of audiophile brands, and the listeners take their music and the way it sounds every bit as seriously as gnarled audiophiles with decades in the listening chair.
We continue to be fascinated and excited by this rapidly changing, yet surprisingly fun, branch of audio. Far from it being 'just for iPods' or 'for kids', the portable world might just be the next purchase for even the most curmudgeonly of old school audiophiles. Who knows, there might be life between those ears, after all!
Our congratulations go out to David Manuel in Canada, who wins a superb Henry Audio USB DAC 128 MK II digital to analogue converter. We don't yet know whether he plans to simply listen to it, or to stretch his coding skills and build upon the inherently open platform of the conveter. Regardless – well done!