Review - Tangzu x HBB Xuan NV

Interview - Antdroid of Audio Discourse

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Today’s entry on the blog is something a little different, moving away from the usual reviews and news of gear, to focus on those that actually publish the reviews, sharing their opinions and experiences with all of us, something that is very valuable to those of us that don’t have the chance to try before buying.

I have just published a video on the Acho Reviews YouTube channel, unfortunately only in Spanish, about the measurement tool that has been added to Audio Discord. To coincide with the publication of that video, Antdroid, the creator of Audio Discourse and well known in the online headphone world, has been kind enough to become our first reviewer to be interviewed on the blog.

Without me rambling on, here is the interview...

Why Antdroid?

Antdroid is a combination of my first name, Anthony, and my likeness for both robots, Star Wars, and Android. My friends gave me that nickname because I was always saying how Android was better than iOS back in the day and it stuck.

When did you start in the audio hobby and with what?

I’ve been a life-long audiophile. My parents and mostly my father was really into music his entire life. He plays piano and guitar. In the 90’s, they got into “karaoke” and my parents and their friends and relatives all built-up massive audio systems in their homes to listen to music, sing, and have people come over for karaoke parties. And when I say massive, I mean it. My dad had probably 25 pairs of speakers of all brands (Martin Logan electrostats being the center piece) and several amps from Parasound, Carver, Linn etc, 2 or 3 Pioneer laser disc players, and Nakamichi and Yamaha cassette players, Mackie mixers and Shure mics to record themselves with – all crammed into a small room. It was ridiculous.

It was that reason that really got me into the audio/video stereo side of things. I always had music playing in the background and all of that, but seeing how various components and speakers made them come to life was great.

How long have you been reviewing?

I’ve only been reviewing headphones and in-ear monitors since about 2016 and even then, it was just random posts on forums like Head-Fi or Reddit, or Amazon. I started my blog for audio reviews soon after. 

Long before this, I started a music review site in college in the early 2000s along with my best friend. We ended up having 6-8 writers on this music review site and got demo CDs from all sorts of bands and labels, interviews with musicians and concert tickets to go see. This lasted about 3 or 4 years before we all got busy with our real careers, but it was fun times.

Do you have a specific procedure for reviewing?

Yes and no. It varies for the most part, but for some items I’ll do an unboxing video and some others I won’t. For most IEMs and headphones, I try to listen to them for at least 1-2 hours and even longer sometimes, before I pull out my measurement rig and run some measurement tests on them. I try to listen and predict the squiggle first, and see how close I am. It’s a challenge and most of the time I am pretty close now. 

Other than that, I typically write up the introduction and unboxing sections of my reviews pretty quickly, and take notes on my initial listens on my sound impressions. Then I’ll come back later once I feel like I know what I am going to write and carve out the rest of the review. 

One thing people who have read a few of my reviews will notice is that some products get shorter reviews and some get longer and more in-depth ones. I typically spend more time and going into much finer details on the products I like a lot, and not so much on the ones I don’t, usually. There are some exceptions to this, but enjoyment is important to me, and if I don’t enjoy something, I will tell you.

How did audio discourse start?

Audio Discourse, as it is called now, was the idea that I wanted others to join me in sharing our opinions in audio gear and music enjoyment, no matter if we have the same or conflicting opinions. At first, my review blog was just “Antdroid Audio Reviews.” But I wanted some of my favorite audio voices to showcase their opinions too, and I added a few writers and podcast content creators to the site that I felt were strong writers/voices, had good solid opinions, and could add flavor and real substance to the reviews already out there in the world.

Many of these people are ones I’ve interacted with on Reddit, Head-Fi and Discord, and are people I trust opinions of myself. So, getting them to join and share their opinions wasn’t too hard from my point of view. It’s nice to also see some of them move on to bigger and cooler things as well. A couple are now writing or posting videos for and others are starting their own audio gear company.

What is your most memorable review which is not necessarily the thing you liked the most?

The Tin T2 was the review that really got my foot in the door with the rest of the audio world. I had written some stuff before that, but the T2 was the one that got audio companies interested in my writing. Linsoul was the first company to provide me review samples based on the T2 review they read and that really got my review writing to take off. soon followed by lending me their gear to review and post on their site soon after. Those two companies really helped open the doorway for me, and it all started with the Tin T2 review. The T2 is also a budget classic!

Is there anything you would have loved to review, and maybe still would, but weren't able to get hold of?

There’s a couple. One would be the Sennheiser HE-1. It’s one of the most expensive headphones on the market at $60K USD. I don’t think Sennheiser will be sending that over to me any time soon. 😊 There is actually a demo unit available locally here, and I have contacted the store about trying it out, which they said “OK” to, but I have not followed up on it. If I ever do follow up on it, I doubt I’d have much listening time on it for more than a really quick impression.

The other would probably be the Hifiman Shangri-La or Shangri-La Jr. As you see, I haven’t tried too many electrostatic headphones besides store demos of Stax, and even then, that was short-lived and a while back. I’d love to try more of them!

Is there anything you think you would review differently if you re-reviewed it now?

This will be a bit of a long-winded answer as I will provide some background context first.

When I first started reviewing IEMs, they were pretty new to me. I have owned IEMs for a long time but nothing “great.” My first IEM was the V-Moda BassFreq, which I bought in the mid-2000s. I never really thought much of IEMs because they didn’t really work for me and fit me well, so I just did not care. I preferred headphones anyway.

After hearing all the hype of KZs, I tried my hand at IEMs again in the early-to-mid 2010s, and was disappointed again. Then I gave them another try with the Tin T2. At this point in time, I discovered you can change tips and there was a whole world of tip rolling out there to make the fit better. I was doing it wrong the entire time!

Anyway, I think starting over again and discovering IEMs could actually work for me, and beginning at the bottom and moving my way up, I probably wrote some reviews that sound like some budget IEMs are amazing. They may still be great for their price, but through the years, and hearing what else is out there, I probably wouldn’t praise some as highly as I did. 

Your baseline for quality is only what you’ve experienced at the time, so it is what it is though. And that’s why I think you get all sorts of hype and flavor of the month gear, especially in IEMs. The good ones will stand the test of time.

How did you get into measuring?

Measurements and that sort of stuff has always interested me. In my day job, I am a Materials & Processes Engineer, and so measurements, testing, etc, are important for me no matter what the case. 

I think I got into measurements mostly because I wanted to know how things behaved on my own with the gear I had in my hands and not rely or wait for others to publish it. It helps me understand what’s going on in an objective means that may or may not explain some of my subjective thoughts.

I also felt this was a great way to mix some objective and subjective thoughts into a review format, much like Tyll at Innerfidelity and the folks at Stereophile had done for years and years.

What is your procedure for measuring?

I use a clone of the GRAS 43AC/AG system for measuring earphones and headphones now. Before that I used MiniDSP EARS. The GRAS clones (we jokingly call it GRASS), are really great, once you get the hang of how to use it and you create a compensation curve to make it compatible with the real units.

For IEMs, I typically measure without the 43AG plate and artificial ear and just use the 43AC style steel coupler tube. I use a specific set of foam tips for all my IEM measurements normally, though in some cases I do have to use the tips that came with the unit due to fit. I find that foam is more reliable to stay in the coupler and not slip, plus tames down the resonance peaks and to me looks more realistic. I don’t use comply foam tips as those dampen too much treble. Instead, I use tips made by Newbee, which seem to give me good results. I have probably 50 pairs of these in my drawer just for measurements!

For headphones, I do use the 43AG style flat-plate + artificial ear. Headphones are trickier because any small movement or placement changes can change the measured frequency response. I normally take at least 3 to 5 or even more measurements per channel at different positions and then average them out, and throwing out any weird outliers in the process of the average. I will show the average along with the individual measurements usually in my reviews if there is a bit of deviation between placement.

For all of these, I of course compare to how I actually hear it to see if it makes sense. I may listen to sine waves and test tones just to get a better feel if I think there’s an issue with the measurement.

Do you measure before or after you listen?

I normally measure after I listen to new gear for at least 1 hour. I normally will want to draw my own sound conclusions first and try to guess the frequency response to challenge myself before measuring it.

If before: Do you think it conditions your opinion?

I think this is a tough one. We are all biased in some ways, and seeing something will inject some new biases into our brains as well. I can’t say it doesn’t affect my opinions, but I try to block out as much as possible. I’ve listened to and measured hundreds of headphones and IEMs at this point now, and in almost every case, what I hear makes sense to how it graphs. It’s rarer that it does not.

If after: Do you think your opinion changes at all after measuring?

I normally write down my first impressions in my reviews as the first one or two paragraphs in the Sound section (before I post the graph). This doesn’t typically change unless I was having a bad day or I had seal issues or something. I try to leave this part as-is before diving deeper into my sound impressions later one.

How do you feel about the whole objective subjective debate?

I think people need to see both sides of things. I think I am somewhere in the middle, though lean objective slightly. I personally don’t think we know everything about how measurements respond to actual human perception yet, nor do I think the basic measurements out there tell the whole story and conclusions can be made in 3, 4, or 5 simple tests. I don’t claim to be nor am I even remote close to an acoustics engineer or a sound processing engineer or any of that, so I could be totally off here. But if it was that simple, my normal job would be a piece of cake!

I think there’s a lot of human interaction and psychoacoustics stuff that needs to be more heavily understood and perhaps everything is in the signal noise and data collected by measurements, but has it all been adequately correlated to human hearing? If so, why are there so many disagreements on it?

As far as the full-on subjectivist take, I get it too. The subjectivist only relies on themselves, and that’s all that matters in the end. You enjoy what you enjoy. I think the name-calling and negativity from both sides is crazy. I think both objective data and subjective opinions have merit and marry the two things together will help us understand more about human interactions with music and sound.

That’s why I like Harman International’s research. I may not fully agree with the resultant Target Curves personally, but the research makes a lot of sense to me in its approach and its mix of data and subjectivity. I hope they continue to pursue that more.

Where do you see audio in 5 years?

I think wireless products will be more and more popular. Wireless headphones, in-ears, and streaming devices will rule. I hope one day we have Wifi-enabled headphones and in-ears, so we get the best sound quality possible. That said, that would remove the need for the fun world of chain synergy. Maybe amp/dac modules built-into headphones will be a thing.

Along with this idea. I think DSP will continue to be pushed into headphones, IEMs and speakers. DSP in speakers is already really solid, especially for desktop active monitors, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be implemented in a greater array of products. Audeze is leading the way in this front from an audiophile perspective on headphones/IEMs, as well as the Sony/Bose etcs of the world with their ANC headphones.

Apart from the reviews on Audio Discourse, do you normally read or watch other reviews?

Of course! I read Acho reviews! I read reviews from my favorite reviewers and also some of the big-name sites like Stereophile and Steve Guttenberg (formerly of cnet). If I am reviewing a product, I will try to avoid reading other reviews in-advance and read them once I already formed my own opinions. 

I always prefer reading written reviews over watching reviews. How can I enjoy my music and audio if I am stuck listening to someone else talk about it?! 😊

If I do watch a YouTube review, I end up skipping through it a lot of the time, and normally just care to see how it looks, functions, etc. Most YouTube reviews aren’t the best in my opinion, though there are some exceptions of course. I, of course, really like the Headphones Show and Bert’s Reviews, and for other audio gear in general, I really like Thomas & Stereo and The Audiophile Man.

Are there any other reviewers that usually align with your preferences?

Yes, for sure. For headphones, I align well with Andrew Park (Resolve) of We have very similar top picks in headphone choices, and I think a lot of that has to do with us sharing similar music tastes as well.

For IEMs, I would say I align well with Toranku. He no longer writes reviews, as he is starting his own IEM brand, which I am very excited for. We have both discussed and shared similar opinions on many products out there, and both of our independently created target curves are closely aligned to one another despite having completely different tastes in music.

Tell us about the new comparison tool on Audio Discourse...

The new comparison tool was something that I’ve been meaning to add to Audio Discourse for 2 years now. It is the same tool that was made popular from Crinacle on In-Ear Fidelity. The tool was designed by Marshall Lochblaum and was made open source. He had reached out to me a while back and helped me set it up, but I got lazy and busy and never got around to finishing its implementation.

More recently, Super* reviews and others made some modifications to the source and I decided to implement the newest iteration and make it work finally, with some of my own code changes as well, which are now merged into the master source. This tool has really become a community thing!

I hope the tool is useful to others and helps promote the use of measurements to help on describing and down-selecting IEMs. It is only as useful as the user though, so one does need to understand what they’re looking at to make sense of it all. I think the tool is super powerful and if wielded correctly, can be a very good ally in one’s future buying decision making.

What about the Ant Curve? I am currently using it on the iSine LX and really like the FR but what is it and how was it born?

I had been wanting to create my own target curve for a while now. I had an idea of what it would be already in my head, and hand drew it 2 years ago in MS Paint. 

Last year, I decided to take a few of my own personal audio gear and measure them, line them up, and average them. Once that happened, that was the start of the actual published target curve, which coincidentally lined up pretty closely to what I had in my mind already with my hand sketch.

I did make some tweaks to make it look cleaner and smoothed out it out before I released it. This was the same process for both headphones and in-ear monitors. I do want to note, this only is applicable to measurements using the same rig, or something similar to it.

Do you continue to tweak it or is it already as tweaked as it's going to get?

Yes, I have made 3 changes to each of the headphones and IEM targets now. For the most part, the curve changes are very minimal. Some of it was tweaking it to make it smoother looking and to achieve an actual target with less bumps and dips along the way. The headphone curve did have a re-do of the bass shelf a couple weeks ago, where I flattened the overall curve to what I had always had in mind. I gave up my bass-head dreams. 😊

What are the headphones or IEMs that have come closest to the Antcurve out of the box?

For headphones, the Hifiman Susvara, HE6 and Sennheiser HD600 are probably the three closest headphones, and not coincidentally, three headphones I own. If you took away the bass-shelf on the Emu Teak or Emu Rosewood, it’d probably lineup very well to it as well.

For IEMs, I modeled it off the Hidition Viento “B” version. This is close to it, but I tamed down the upper-mids/low treble slightly. 

Funny enough, the SeeAudio Yume is extremely close to the IEM curve target, except its lacking upper treble extension. It had me re-thinking about the curve though. Tonally, it sounds great, but it’s really lacking technical chops, and so it ends up being just a slightly above average IEM for its asking price.

The new Kiwi Ears Orchestra is also very close to this target too. Its upper-mids are a little bit less elevated, but it otherwise follows the Antdroid curve pretty closely. I happen to really like this one a lot and review is coming soon!

Is FR the most important part to you or are other details just as important, maybe more so?

I think the FR is important for proper tonal balance. But I don’t exclude other things either. I think technical performance like resolving capability, tactility, and decay are things that I can’t necessarily pull from the FR but are important to sound reproduction. There is some debate whether some of these characteristics can be pulled from other data charts like CSD which mixes frequency and time domain together, but I am not sure how accurate it is for headphones, though I have seen some trends.

In the example I used just before this, the Yume matches my target curve very well. But it also sounds blunted, lacks resolution, and overall sounds a little mushy. And so despite it being tonally balanced the way I like it, I would rather pick something else to listen to instead.

My Target curve isn’t the end all be all either. I like other tunings as well and own or have owned gear that is tuned differently.

Do you have a preference for one kind of driver over another? If so, why?

For headphones, I really do lean towards planar magnetic headphones. Ever since I listened to my first planar, the Fostex T50RP a long time ago, the whole planar sound has stuck with me. I think it’s a great balance between dynamics and electrostatics, and really takes some of the best of both worlds. It has its own limitations of course, but they are things I am willing to live with.

For IEMs, that’s a bit harder. I think I would prefer a dynamic driver if at all possible, but there hasn’t been a dynamic driver IEM that has wowed me. My favorite IEM I own is a multi-BA one (The Viento) and the other one I’d consider buying is the Vision Ears VE8, which is also a multi-BA.

What are your favourite headphones and favourite IEMs at the moment?

My favorite headphone is easily the Hifiman Susvara. It’s also my newest purchase for headphones and one I’ve always wanted to try and own. I know you did a recent set of reviews on the Hifiman lineup just below the Susvara, and I think you would really enjoy this one too! I previously owned a bunch of Hifiman headphones in the past, and most recently the Arya and HE6SE V2. The Susvara is a good combination of the two’s best qualities multiplied by 10.

My favorite IEM right now is the Empire Ears Odin. I don’t own this one, but I had a good 3 or 4 weeks with it and wrote a long review a little while back. This is a great multi-driver product that has quality bass, and superb treble quality. It’s also one that does not necessarily follow my target preferences perfectly, but I enjoy it for what it is. It’s smooth and balanced, yet highly resolving. A great combo.

What would you love to see improved in the audio world?

I think the biggest improvements I’d like to see is just making STEREO audio more accessible to wider audiences. Stereo was popular so long ago, and then everyone was big into 5-channel (and more) home theater and 2 channel got a bit lost. That wasn’t too bad. Then soundbars came out and now Bluetooth speakers. Everyone is listening in MONO now! 

We need to get people back into listening to a proper stereo setup.

What do you hate about the hobby?

The drama around measurements and objective and subjective takes on the forums is pretty annoying, yet funny, yet annoying. I think there’s a lot of people who provide their “factual opinions” out there based on hear-say or based on a chart. People forget to actually listen to the gear and to more importantly listen to music and get the emotion you feel out of it.

I am all about data, measurements, science, engineering and all of that. It pays my bills, and is one of my passions in life, but at the end of the day, enjoyment of music trumps how it looks on a graph or what some else says, especially someone who hasn’t even heard the device before. Less parroting, more demoing!

Anything you would like to add or mention?

Not really, I just want to thank all the people who have taught me things about this hobby along the way and as well as the ones that continue to do so. There’s a wealth of knowledge out there and a lot of experienced and smart folks who are willing to talk to you if you give them an opportunity too. I hope everyone who is interested invest some time reading, talking, and informing themselves to make the best buying decisions or to just explore the crazy audio world with an open mind.

I would like to say a huge thanks to Anthony (Antdroid) for taking the time to respond to our questions in detail and also for all the work he puts in to helping out others, not only with his reviews but also with his willingness to answer those of us that have questions in various forums where he is involved.

I hope you found this an enjoyable read, I certainly enjoyed getting to know him better. Hopefully we can post more of these interviews moving forwards, I think getting know reviewers a little better will help us to also understand their reviews a little better.

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