From Philips Headphones to High-End Audio Gear : Siddharth Bhardwaj

I am Siddharth Bhardwaj, I love technology, and I make videos about it on YouTube, while trying to get more academic degrees than I will ever need.

Can you tell us about your first experience with audio gears?

Technically, we all get exposed to ‘audio gear’ very early in life, but ignoring the obvious things, I do remember the 10-year-old me, trying to find a pair of 500 Rs. ‘HD’ Philips headphones at every shop in my city, and getting really disheartened when I couldn’t find them.

It was the time before internet shopping was a thing, so it’s really nice to be able to get most of the things you want at your doorstep nowadays.

I also remember getting the Audio Technica ATH-M50x during my initial days of exploring audio gear, and they are a very good example of why you shouldn’t get moved by the hype on the internet.

What inspired you to start your audiophile journey?

I think that as a technology enthusiast at heart, I was always impressed by tech that allowed a deeper and more immersive experience of content consumption. I am also a musician who started learning at an early age, so sound reproduction was always something I had focused on.

Can you describe a specific moment or experience that solidified your love for audiophile gears?

There have been many moments of discovering a new level of audio fidelity as I progressed to different levels of audio gear, but I remember unboxing my Adam A5Xs, setting them up, and as soon as I listened to them, I called my best friend and asked him to come to my home because he HAD to give ‘this thing’ a listen.

We played a track called ‘Loneliness’ from Naruto Shippuden OST, and the Japanese Violin in that track sounded SO realistic and moving, that I had to stop the playback because both of us were about to tear up. It really felt like the speakers were directly feeding the music to the brain, and things sounded so 3D and lifelike, that it tingled the emotions we had attached to the series, which we watched growing up.

The wow factor of a new level of audio fidelity fades kind of quickly, so it’s a great thing that audio equipment can last almost indefinitely.

How has your audiophile journey evolved over time?

Over time, I’ve realised that aiming for the highest technical performance, and getting mingled with all the tech jargon of codecs, formats, sample rates etc. is really not what you should focus on the most, and even with audio gear, you should focus on something that gives you the ‘character’ of the sound that you’re looking for. There is a lot of stuff that doesn’t sound the best technically but has other characteristics that make people unable to leave them.

Of course, I would run a DSD/FLAC file in Foobar in ASIO mode with my RME ADI-2 FS R BE, which has different Room Correction EQ applied for the left and right channels of my speakers, and a lot of it does make a big difference, but obsessing about these things isn’t necessary.

What are some of your favourite pieces of audiophile equipment and why?

The RME ADI-2 Pro FS R BE and ADI-2 DAC are my absolute favourites. I can’t imagine a device more perfectly designed. The engineers at RME have REALLY thought about EVERYTHING a person could need from their audio, and then they have added even more useful things.

It feeds individually room-corrected channels to my speakers (from individual DAC chips), and automatically switches to my preferred EQ when I switch to my headphones, it can send audio to my speakers, run two headphones at the same time, or run the most power demanding headphones like the HEDDphone in balanced mode.

My video editor literally requested me to not review another RME device because there are so many (useful) features in it that my reviews on them have been my longest at up to 25 minutes. It literally took me a full month to review this ‘DAC’.

Other than that, my Hedd Audio HEDDphone and Adam A5xs are also really sweet.

How does your audiophile hobby impact your daily life?

It doesn’t for the most part, though sometimes I do feel obsessive about getting the highest audio fidelity everywhere, like with my TV. I don’t really like the decent enough speakers in my car, I want the ANC headphones to sound like Drop Panda. But I am slowly starting to obsess less about these things and enjoy whatever I can have at hand.

I’ve also observed that very few girls are amused by me talking about audio equipment at length. I almost can’t talk about that after developing a certain level of rapport with people.

How do you select new pieces of equipment for your collection?

I won’t lie that I don't get affected by hype, but I also enjoy exploring new technologies, like different driver types. The AMT technology is what made me interested in my Adam speakers, and then after being impressed by it, I also went for the HEDDphone which was the first AMT driver headphone. My interest in RME devices was also primarily driven by the new possibilities that they brought to control your audio.

I also get a lot of audio gear sent for review, so I don’t often have to spend my money on it, and it’s great to be able to experience new trends before other people.

Sometimes I also get something that I definitely wouldn’t have spent money on personally, like vibrating headphones, or bone-conduction earphones, and they are also quite fun to spend some time with.

Can you share tips or advice for someone just starting their audiophile journey?

After watching people rave about their new audio gear, it’s easy to get your inner child moved and imagine that the next level up of audio gear is going to be something magical that will solve all problems in your life, but audiophilia can get very expensive with very marginal returns, so do spend your money wisely. Mid-fi is great value for money, so don’t get FOMO of not being able to get a very enjoyable experience just because you don’t have stuff that costs more than an entry-level four-wheeler.

Also, plan out your game in advance, don’t make incremental upgrades. If you know that TOTL is your target, and you can afford that, then save up, instead of getting stuck somewhere in the middle.

I didn’t buy any other headphones after my Hifiman HE-4XX, and the next jump I made was direct to the HEDDphone, to save myself from spending tens of thousands on middle-level stuff, only to feel that maybe the TOTL category would offer something much better.

Auditioning before buying is of course a very good idea because I’ve strongly disliked some of the most hyped audio gear.

Consider prioritising investing in your most used device, so if you don't have issues with playing your audio out loud, invest in good speakers. You do have to spend more on speakers to get the same level of fidelity compared to headphones at lower budgets, but on mid and high-level budgets, speakers can give you an experience no headphones will be able to match.

If you go to the gym, then do invest in good ANC headphones, because most gyms play music too loudly, and you really don’t want to get tinnitus. Also, carry earphones at events like concerts, so you can just block out any excess noise. If your ears stop working properly, even the best headphone won't sound their best, so do take care of them.

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