Music always played some role in my life—be it growing up with my parents’ Tagalog music playing around the house, piano lessons at 5 years old, or picking up the alto saxophone for the first time at 10 years old. While I didn’t stick with the piano for long, I did play the saxophone through college, picking up the baritone sax along the way. Despite playing music, my music taste just started to develop some time around sixth grade, when my friends introduced me to—don’t laugh—the pop punk scene. I have absolutely no idea why I latched onto bands like My Chemical Romance, A Day to Remember, and Alkaline Trio to the degree I did, but I’m glad they had that impact on me. Illegally downloading all this music from YouTube (it was 2006 and I was afraid of LimeWire) gave me recommendations for other bands that I’d heard of but never really listened to, like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, and Nirvana. There was a world of music that I previously was afraid to approach but found I absolutely loved. I even got into Tool in middle school, and somehow didn’t make them my entire personality! Since then, my music tastes have continued to expand and the question, “What do you listen to?” always catches me off guard because I still do try to listen to a wide variety of music and never have a straightforward answer. I still have phases where pop punk emo bands are what I really want to listen to, but if anyone gives me an album recommendation, I’ll always give it a listen.
My involvement in the audio hobby started at around 2005 when I was looking for reviews of a Skullcandy headphone that nobody had written about. Since they cost $70, an enormous amount of money for me at the time, I decided to look for other options that did have reviews and discovered Head-Fi.org. I went back and forth between the Shure E2C and Ultimate Ears Super.fi 3 until fully pivoting and buying an Audio Technica A500. When I received them, I was shocked to realize that…I didn’t hear a difference between them and the Sony EX-082 that came with my Sony A726 DAP. I forced myself to use the A500s for a while and after letting my brain adjust, switching back surprised me, as I actually did hear a difference in the elevation of vocals. Then not too long after, I bought an AKG K271 because I wanted to hear more differences and it snowballed after that. I ended up taking an interest in reviewing to help hone my writing skills for college and have had the great opportunity to express my opinions at numerous outlets.
While I’ve been writing about audio in a few places since the early 2010s, it was only the past 5 years that I’ve developed an idea of what I’m looking for: those hours I spent trying to improve my embouchure and really work on my tone forced me to be a critical listener in my playing. This, in turn, has molded what I’m looking for in a music playback experience. Timbre and tone have ended being my main priorities by a significant margin through my own journey as a musician. They are what I feel best show a player’s emotion and voice, and any piece of gear that takes away from that has rarely given me the frisson that I get with gear that does focus on those aspects. Frustratingly, that journey in itself has been a rough uphill battle. After cycling through, legitimately, over two hundred headphones and demoing likely another couple hundred, it’s wild to me how much stuff out there gets these fundamental things plain wrong. But when I hear the rare piece of equipment that does get it right, you’ll all be among the first to know.