Episode 0021 · February 28, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Headphone Conference

Paul Ford: [00:00:00] Richard!

Rich Ziade: Paul, how are you?

Paul Ford: Oh, I’m okay, I got a little cold, so if anybody hears that in my voice, uh, don’t, don’t, don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay.

Rich Ziade: It’s not lack of enthusiasm.

Paul Ford: No, exactly. So Saturday, I wake up and it’s a very special day…

Rich Ziade: Why?

Paul Ford: Uh, it’s, it’s the day of get ready for it… can jam.

Rich Ziade: This is a trade show on fruit preserves and canned goods.

Paul Ford: I probably wouldn’t have gone to Can Jam solo, uh, but you turn out to be, and we’ve talked about this on the show before, we have hobbies, you and me, we, we have hobbies that we, uh, enjoy and uh, yours is headphones you like good high-end headphones. [00:01:00]

Rich Ziade: I do, I, I, I don’t even know if it classifies as a hobby, like hobbies you have to do things. I’m just sitting there listening.

Paul Ford: Well, just buying, buying a couple headphones, right? So, no, but, but hold on actually, because yes, that is true, you’ve bought a couple expensive things, but when we talk about it, we don’t actually tal, we talk a little bit about the audio and we talk a lot about supply chain and the people who make YouTube videos in the community, and why are people so motivated to seek perfect audio fidelity and the fact that there is no such thing, and the fights that people have about it, right? Like it’s all, it’s all really relevant.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Paul Ford: And so, so it’s not just, it’s not just, “Hey, look, I, I looked into catalog and I saw a thing and I bought it”, it’s way more subjective.

Rich Ziade: It, it really is, and, and let me get one thing outta the way cause we’re not gonna record a podcast about high end audio, but I do wanna end it with a couple of recommendations, it feels good [00:02:00] to give recommendations that are not sponsored, not anything, um, of really great products that don’t break the bank. So that’ll be fun to do at the end.

Paul Ford: Let’s be clear, you gave me the headphones I’m wearing and they’re hundreds of dollars and they’re excellent, they’re great. I use them all the time and I love them.

Rich Ziade: They’re amazing yeah.

Paul Ford: They’re, they’re, they’re worth the money. So, okay, look, we’re two spoiled guys who get to have spoiled guy hobbies, that’s just put that out there.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: But we’re trying to learn from the world at the same time. So let’s describe the scene, okay, so I, I take the Q-train and I meet you at, uh, times Square, so that’s great. That–

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: That’s definitely where I like to go on a Saturday after 20,000 years in New York City is the Marriott Marquee Ballroom on 46th street.

Rich Ziade: [laughter] I did bump into the the Bubba Gump Shrimp Shrimp.

Paul Ford: God, is it still there? Is it still real?

Rich Ziade: Yeah, oh yeah. You know what it is too? When you’re a pink furry mascot on Times [00:03:00] Square, the pink becomes a gritty pink.

Paul Ford: Oh yeah, like that gray, pink, yeah. They’re not gonna, I, I gotta imagine they’re saying, “look, we’re gonna stretch this Bubba Gump thing as far as it’ll go, but we’re not paying for new signage”.

Rich Ziade: Well, we signed the lease, let’s see this through. Uh, you know, it’s the density and insanity of Times Square is funny in that you are gonna do a minimum, a minimal amount of business because people are not sure where to go and they get exhausted at 1:15 PM and they need to have lunch, you’re gonna get a good amount of business just because of that. Um, anyway, we get to the, the ballroom at the Marriott Marquee, which, uh, you know, and, and we’re not gonna get into the audio end of it. I think here’s why I love it, and I think why you love what you love and why a lot of people love what they love is, um, uh, the culture and the stories and the people in these places.

Rich Ziade: Um, [00:04:00] and it’s been a joy to be in there, and I’m not in there all day, by the way I’m in there peeking in, it’s a nice sort of exit off the main highway of the internet, it’s not toxic. There’s strong opinions and feelings, but I mean, you have strong opinions and feelings about, well, ultimately you know amplifiers.

Paul Ford: It translate to an experience in which you’re listening more closely to music.

Rich Ziade: That is the one thing that if we are gonna talk about the audio, it has reintroduced me to music in a strange and pretty personal way, uh, which is great. Like I’m very, I’m very much enjoying that.

Paul Ford: You also- I mean, this is the thing, right? So a hobby like this, okay, I bought the headphones, now I think about the recording of the, of the records that I really love, and we talk about that and you’re like, check out the production on this. My concern is always that this ends with two middle aged dudes into Steely Dan, which is just kinda always a risk, I think [00:05:00] I, I think that–

Rich Ziade: That’s a universal concern. That’s, that’s just–

Paul Ford: It’s true, if you have a man over 42 years old in your life and he ever has been like, ah, “I kinda like Michael McDonald”, you gotta watch out, you really, you need to check in like on a regular basis and be like, “Hey, reel it in the years?” and if he’s like, “oh God, yeah”, you know, you just get in there, get ’em.

Rich Ziade: Steely Dan has some great songs and, and yes, they are liked by audio files cause they were ahead of the curve from a production perspective. They, they were gearheads.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Uh, that, that were pretty kind of, they, they, there was part art, part science going on there. Um, but this podcast is not about steely Dan.

Paul Ford: Not yet, not yet.

Rich Ziade: Not yet, not yet, exactly.

Paul Ford: Okay, so here we are at the Sheraton Ballroom, walk in. First of all, tickets are not free, like you, you’re gonna go have a consumer experience essentially, but it was 40 bucks ahead to go into this room.

Rich Ziade: Just to walk in, yes.

Paul Ford: How crowded is it? At that point you would expect like, okay, headphones, yeah, it’s [00:06:00] New York City. How crowded is it?

Rich Ziade: I mean, it was crowded, it was, it was not, well, first off, you’re going to check out high-end audio gear, it’s loud, it’s noisy.

Paul Ford: Yeah, it’s loud.

Rich Ziade: So it was kinda a sloppy mess, I’m gonna be honest. And, and no one minded. It’s worth noting people, nobody was throwing a tantrum about it. Um, it’s-

Paul Ford: I’ll tell you what was cool. Everybody knew what they were talking about. Like everybody was really, and not just like they were really into the subject, but like there was no- nobody was looking around for discussion topics. It was-

Rich Ziade: It’s a common language, right?

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: And it’s a common knowledge and that feels really, really good, and, and, and look, there was a lot of gear. My read was there was a lot of gear there that most of the people can’t afford to be frank, and that’s okay. It is almost, there was a, there was a mus walking through the museum [00:07:00] quality to it. Um, and nobody was angry or bitter about it. Um, I think it was more like, this is my community. I get to be here and I get to connect with, uh, other fans of the community. It’s worth noting the whole thing is born out of a forum, an online forum. The forum came first and they’re like, “okay, wait a minute. There’s tens of thousands of people in here”. They do it around the world, they do it in Singapore, they do it in California. It’s a big deal. Um, and it’s great, and I’m glad I was there, and it’s fun to be in that setting. I’ll tell you what I liked about it, and I’m gonna sound old for two seconds. Um, it, it was friendly and not about promotion or marketing, and it wasn’t toxic like that was me, it wasn’t about the individual. There are, there are-

Paul Ford: It’s literally like a marketing event, everybody’s got, you go in, there’s people with [00:08:00] banners behind them, they have listening booths to try to sell you their headphones. How is it not about marketing?

Rich Ziade: It’s not about marketing yourself.

Paul Ford: Oh, okay. Okay.

Rich Ziade: The big, big, big like trade shows and conventions are around marketing yourself.

Paul Ford: It’s a networking event maybe for the distributors and for the, the, the people who are selling, but, but not for the participant. The participant is just there to experience the headphones.

Rich Ziade: Even, even the brands, nobody’s walking outta there with bags of stuff, it’s worth noting. First off, you couldn’t, some of the things were the size of a small refrigerator, so you, nobody was walking out of there.

Paul Ford: You, you talked to like one brand from Singapore, right? And you, you couldn’t buy it.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, he’s, he’s like, you can listen, um, I don’t have any, I’m like, what are you doing here dude? you came all the way from the other side of the earth to New York City, did you bring some inventory with you? Um, I don’t wanna say the brand, it was [00:09:00] phenomenal. Um, but it’s, it’s, it’s funny, it’s, It is about brand building, it’s about reputation, it’s about, you know, your peers and the respect of others. It feels really good to learn casually without being graded at the end.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: It, it, it’s a very fulfilling thing. It feels really good to be in, uh, in that community and share information and knowledge back out. That feels really good. Um, and, uh, it’s, fun it’s the same drama. It’s just not as intensely white hot as the rest of the internet when people are screaming at each other, but it’s also people jabbing each other, people saying, oh, why would you spend that on that? There’s a lot of that. There was, I want to talk about, you know, the, the exhibitors and how it is less about revenue, it seems like, and maybe that’s what passion is when you’re passionate about something, do you [00:10:00] think about revenue also? I don’t know, maybe sometimes.

Paul Ford: It was weird to sit down and put on $5,000 headphones and have them be warm and moist with the previous auto auto nerds head warmth.

Rich Ziade: That’s was tricky.

Paul Ford: That was a lot.

Rich Ziade: I have a friend who lives in Europe, um, who’s learning to fly.

Paul Ford: Fly an airplane.

Rich Ziade: He is in his late, fly an airplane, he’s taking flying lessons. He’s in his, he’s in the late, his late thirties. He’s been, like a, he has a childlike wonder when he sees a plane flying over his head. He’s just one of those people that just can’t believe it’s flying in the sky.

Paul Ford: Yep.

Rich Ziade: He, he, he moved, they used to live in New York. That’s how we got to know them, and he moved to Europe and he’ll tell you about his job and his kids and like getting them into certain schools. But then he starts talking about his flight lessons, and he’s like a child, he’s a banker, by the way, he’s a banker.

Paul Ford: [00:11:00] Of course he is. Of course, right.

Rich Ziade: And, and not, and, and not your stereotypical guy, like a really sweet guy, very smart, kind of a, a quant, but when you talk to him about flying and he, and what he loves telling you about is how hard it is and all the skills he’s gonna have to learn and how he has to do all kinds of new things that he didn’t know how to do before.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: And that is amazing, right? And I, and then I asked him, I said, you know, how do you, who do you talk to when you have a question? He goes, “oh, there’s a dozen communities”, he’s in a German aviation community forum thing where it’s just people helping each other, talking to each other, and I, you know, I grew up on the internet, I built businesses on the internet and seeing these corners, they’re just such good places to go be. First off, you keep growing and second, you connect with others in positive ways. Um, that’s–

Paul Ford: I think that’s the key, right? It’s, it’s a, the internet was really small and I, I feel that [00:12:00] people from our cohort often get nostalgic for this very small kind of indie scene that we were part of.

Rich Ziade: It was like 10,000 blogs.

Paul Ford: Yeah, exactly. And so, and you would participate and people would send you email and so on and so forth. But that is, that’s definitely nostalgia, it, it doesn’t exist that way anymore. It is this huge high velocity force run by giant platforms. Facebook, to me is like the perfect example because it’s like you look at it and it’s, I just recently got back on Facebook cause similar to you, I have my hobby and my hobby is synthesizers, and I was like, oh, I’ll go on Marketplace.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm.

Paul Ford: I haven’t looked at Marketplace in a while.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: It’s a disaster because Facebook is right there.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And then you go on a, you go on like synth oriented businesses and it’s so much easier to shop and you can go on the forums and it’s so much easier to understand what people are talking about. Like you can’t have one giant conversation that sort of [00:13:00] contains all the other conversations.

Rich Ziade: I wanna, I’m gonna throw out a theory here as to why I think these corners are so good, and positive is because so much of the internet got wired up around scoring popularity, right?

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: And, and, and when you do that to people then, and, and I think about that for young people, young people who are trying to impress, I mean, what are you trying to do when you’re 14? You’re just trying to get accepted, right?

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: And so all of your social energy, goes towards a scoring mechanism. And, and this has been, this has been talked about before, and, and a lot of people wanna, they want to attack the platforms head on, and what I would suggest, whether it’s you in your thirties or you’re a parent of a child, is take them to those corners, they’re much better, they don’t score popularity, they score knowledge. [00:14:00] And information and community, um, and they are more positive places.

Paul Ford: Here’s the thing that you’re getting at, I think, or at least where I’m taking it, which is these spaces almost by definition have enormous room for subjectivity. Like you can’t, there is no one pure headphone experience, there are people trying to literally do acoustic curves to say, this one aligns with that curve or the other, what’s it called, the Harmon Curve?

Rich Ziade: That’s one of them, yeah, but it’s the big one, yeah. Most review, to your point, most reviewers when they do a YouTube review, they have two sections, they have what they call objective sound and subjective sound, which is hilarious.

Paul Ford: Yeah, but famously what the internet, the, the, you know, the idea of context collapse and the way that people don’t read charitably and so on, we kind of have stripped out enormous amounts of space [00:15:00] for any kind of subjectivity. You kind of need to align with one particular mindset, in order to jump in and participate in the larger thing.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm, yeah.

Paul Ford: Now you have these spaces, and these spaces are highly subjective, they’re not about politics, they’re not about, society or culture, they’re just about this kind of like subjective, interpretive space.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And then, but as they fan out, they connect to everything. They connect to music and they connect to industry-

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: And they connect to supply chain and they connect to, they also do connect to social issues, right? But it, it’s, it’s always one more step rather than like, “welcome, here you are, get yourself ready. You’re now part of an infinite campaign for all humanity that never ends”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah. Uh, you know how you can kind of see this, if you look at the, uh, topology of YouTube.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: Uh, if you go to YouTube, without signing in it is like, [00:16:00] how do I get your eyes to go slightly wider in 2.8 seconds? That is the goal, and so you see things like the stills tell the story, the stills of the videos of like, “oh my God, my, the truck dumped the dirt on the Honda Civic”.

Paul Ford: You wanna know the perfect YouTube video? The cake exploded.

Rich Ziade: The cake exploded, which is fine [laughter]. Look, a little bit of that is okay, but it turns out if you zoom out and you go to the edges, right? You’ll find all of these communities on YouTube and they’re incredible. I just got into Mid-Journey recently, which we’re gonna talk about on another podcast, but-

Paul Ford: It’s an AI drawing tool, like it draws the pictures for you, similar to-

Rich Ziade: It draw a picture you describe.

Paul Ford: Yep.

Rich Ziade: Exactly, exactly, and I was like, okay, I wanna learn this a little bit more, there’s like 45 minute videos, full expert videos of people sharing their knowledge, beautifully produced. Why is that? Like, [00:17:00] and guess what the comment thread is like More questions, nobody’s saying “that’s stupid, so dumb”, it’s just useful and, and you find that in gardening, you find that in audio, you find–

Paul Ford: Gardening is, gardening’s a really good example here. You like to garden? I’m not huge on it, but I, I help out my wife sometimes.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Um, gardening is so, but the, and the same dynamics and I, I think it’s important to point this out cause headphones are in, especially fancy headphones, are expensive consumer goods that can easily run into the thousands, right?

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm.

Paul Ford: Gardening can run into the hundreds and then you gotta really double.

Rich Ziade: It takes work.

Paul Ford: Yeah, yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s like literally you’re buying bags of dirt, it’s just not, but the level of community and engagement is probably great. It’s, it’s much, much greater and much larger.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And the amount of content, uh, we should probably find a gardening conference, except I think that’s just going outside.

Rich Ziade: It’s your backyard [laughter].[00:18:00]

Paul Ford: Yeah. Well, no, actually, here’s what’s real, the nursery and the garden center have been social centers for decades and longer.

Rich Ziade: They love talking to you about it, if you go to like a good nursery, I, I, I, sometimes I go to ones upstate, um, they, they just, they’re not, they’re not selling you goods. They’re selling you their knowledge and they love talking to you about it. They love telling you, don’t buy that right now, it’s not time yet. They love, they love sharing that information and you’ll find that they’re on YouTube, they’re all there. And look, they, they’re, they’re not small numbers by the way, it’s hundreds of thousands, some people have millions of views. Um, because the world’s a big place, right? And, and I guess what I’m getting at here is like, what you’ve seen is a bunch of documentaries and articles and, and shows about like, we have to head off social media before it ruins the children, right?

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: And it wades into regulation and all that, and what I’m trying to say is the internet’s a really, really big place and [00:19:00] I want to go back to how you opened the podcast, Times Square is insane.

Paul Ford: It’s so bad. I got off at [laughter]-

Rich Ziade: Times Square is insane.

Paul Ford: I got off at 49th Street and of course you being, you had kind of screwed up my ticket, so you’re waiting for me, and I was like, don’t worry,m I’m like a minute away and then it’s like 10 minutes to just get through all the Elmos to get three blocks.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah. Times Square is the YouTube homepage.

Paul Ford: Oh yeah, it is that.

Rich Ziade: It’s just, it’s all it is. But it turns out New Yorkers laugh at tourists, right? Not laugh, they’re like, “wait, you’re going to eat Italian food at Sparrows and you came to New York City?”, it’s the running joke, right?

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: It’s, it’s the Olive Garden in Times Square, et cetera, et cetera. Why? Why do we, why are we like just shocked by that decision? It’s because come to the corners, come to the edges, come to Queens, the food scene in Queens, the [00:20:00] ethnic food scene in Queens is incredible, Brooklyn, everywhere else. You came all the way here, what are you doing? Going into the Olive Garden [laughter].

Paul Ford: Yeah, get on, get on a, like hop on the L train, hop on the, yeah, absolutely.

Rich Ziade: That’s right, that’s right. And the same goes for the internet, come off the Instagram main feed come off all the stuff that’s– TikTok, you know TikTok is TikTok.

Paul Ford: But wait, hold on a sec, right, because here’s what we’re saying and I we’re both saying the same thing, which is you’re gonna be happier if you go to the garden center. You’re gonna be happier if you say hi to the guy behind the counter and say, “Hey, you know what can you tell me about these forsythia?”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford:You’re gonna be happier at the bookstore and you’re gonna be happier when you– and retail experiences, I think are just part of life. There’s church and community and and, and there’s stores.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And so like, okay, and now we’re saying the internet boy, it’s a massive platform, it’s now like Facebook is like the, the phone system, right? And you can kind of get in there and [00:21:00] connect, but it, it’s more like infrastructure.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Uh, but that’s not how it really works. We got Amazon, we got Facebook, we’ve got all these giant platforms, do you think there is a chance that the little stuff can get in there and sort of knock over the giant?

Rich Ziade: No, of course not.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Well, all I’m saying is walk, walk two or three avenues east or west of Times Square and it gets interesting.

Paul Ford: Right Times Square will not be going away.

Rich Ziade: No, no, no, no.

Paul Ford: That’s it, I mean, Times Square is the interface to New York City, it’s the public API for the world.

Rich Ziade: Don’t try to regulate Times Square. You’re not gonna, you’re not gonna delete Times Square, you’re not gonna pass laws to make times square, less bright.

Paul Ford: Wait a minute, they did regulate Giuliani, regulated the hell out of Times Square.

Rich Ziade: That’s, that was probably for the best.

Paul Ford: Okay, so some regulation, some regulation, and then, [00:22:00] uh, but don’t, don’t try to do away with the fact that the giant things have their APIs to the world.

Rich Ziade: So to close it out, Paul, I’m going to make a suggestion.

Paul Ford: All right, make a suggestion this is a headphone suggestion?

Rich Ziade: I’m gonna share a brand, it’s a headphone suggestion if anybody wants to spend 500 bucks or less.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: I’m gonna give you two brands.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: Um, one is called, uh, Moon Drop, it’s a Chinese brand that, um, makes excellent in ear monitors or IEMs, a little, little nubbins that you’d put in your ear if you’re into that. And then for, if you want big headphones, there’s a company called Hifiman, H I F I M A N, that makes $300 headphones that can change your life. Like they’re really, really great. They, they’re not Bluetooth, they’re not wireless, there’s no noise canceling, it’s not the point of these. But if you wanna dip into this world and be careful if you dip in, you might end up trying to swim across the ocean. But, uh, check out those two brands, Moon Drop and Hifiman.

Paul Ford: I gotta [00:23:00] say, you’ve, you’ve handed me some headphones that have changed the way I listen to music.

Rich Ziade: It’s wild, it’s totally wild, I recommend it. Uh, and if anyone has questions and wants a 2000 word answer, please email us at–

Paul Ford: [laughter] hello@ziadeford.com, ziadeford.com @ziadeford on Twitter, any, any other ways for people to contact us?

Rich Ziade: I think it’s enough.

Paul Ford: Alright, friends.

Rich Ziade: Have a lovely week.

Paul Ford: Bye.

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