Confessions of a headphone 'addict'

For this guy, one or two headphones aren't enough.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
2 min read

Astell & Kern AK240 (left), Chord Hugo (center), Audeze LCD-XC (right). Franklin Williams

When Franklin Williams was still in college, he bought a pair of Etymotic ER-4S in-ear headphones that forever changed the way he listens to music. He still listened to speakers, but headphones connected the musical dots better, so then he bought Grado, Sennheiser, Shure, and Ultimate Ears headphones. Williams also experimented with headphone amplifiers and picked up a portable Hifiman HM-801. Later on he splurged on one of my all-time favorite in-ear headphones, the JH Audio JH13.

Williams' current rig sports an Astell & Kern AK240 high-res music player hooked up to a Chord Hugo digital converter/headphone amp, and a pair of Audeze LCD-XC headphones. He travels a lot for work, so his state-of-the-art portable "system" makes sense for a guy as into sound as Williams. I know the headphones and amp really well, and they truly are stellar together. At home, he now uses a Rogue Cronus Magnum tube amp with a pair of Martin Logan Theos electrostatic speakers and a Martin Logan BalancedForce 210 subwoofer.

Of course, Williams' friends think he's crazy to have spent so much money on audio, but when they listen they're amazed by the sound. Not to the point they'd rush out to buy the sort of gear Williams owns, but a few friends are looking into upgrading their headphones. Before they listened, they all said they didn't think they could hear the difference high-end headphones can make, but after they listen, they all "get it."

When I asked the man with a ton of high-end audio gear, "Are you an audiophile?" there was a long pause before he answered with "I hate the term; I'm a guy who loves music, loves the technology, and learning about the best gear out there, and I'm a little bit obsessed with it." I jumped in and said, "You're way past a little bit." Let's face it: audiophiles love music and gear, that's why they're audiophiles -- the fascination with gear is always part of the hobby. Just as it is for car nuts, or anyone who collects watches, guns or cameras, and audiophiles are no different.

Williams grew up listening to a lot of music, and played clarinet, saxophone, bass guitar, hand drums. More recently his music tastes run to classical, EDM, and indie bands, but he loves all genres, except country.

When we last spoke, Williams was looking into buying the new Audeze EL-8 headphones because they're smaller and lighter than his Audeze LCD-XC 'phones. Could he really "settle" for a lesser headphone than what he's using now, just for practicality's sake? I doubt it.