The Fall of InnerFidelity.com
Thanks to the pile of content that is The Internet, you can type the name of almost any headphone into your favorite search engine and get a plethora of videos, articles, measurement graphs, and user reviews.
Styles range from serious to wacky, from analytical and buried in the numbers to fun and enthusiastic.
Perhaps you love or hate ZeosPantera for his off the cuff style…or perhaps Metal571’s low key honesty is more to your tastes.
You’ve almost certainly seen your share of threads on head-fi where people argue about whether or not the latest $300 release or Massdrop Exclusive is the “new absolute best.”
Perhaps you’ve even found the folks over at reddit’s headphones board, ever-vigilant in their quest to point out Hifiman’s build issues and beat each other with elaborate amp setups and stands while still helping newcomers.
I’ve been to all of these places. And many more. But if you pressed me to pick a favorite, I’d say without question…it was Tyll Hertsens’ Innerfidelity.
THREADING THE NEEDLE
Tyll balanced decades of objective measurement and audio experience from working in the trenches of the retail audio industry with an affable style and likability seldom seen in the audio review space. He’d always produce both a text and video review, and there was just enough unique content in both to make them worth experiencing in turn.
His reviews presented his own personal subjective takes on the headphone, and you knew right away where his tastes sat thanks to his incredibly well-curated Wall of Fame.
You might not agree with him, but it was so easy to see where he stood, and he expressed it with a laid back charm and low-rent production value that were both simply brilliant.
And then, he’d hit you with the measurements.
Innerfidelity’s measurement database is one of the most useful headphone resources on the internet, and as of this writing, it’s still standing. Sure, Tyll’s rig didn’t always line up with measurements from other sites or systems, but they were very internally consistent and the database is vast. Once you know how the rig works, and you’ve heard one of the cans he’s measured, it’s so easy to look at a different graph and get a general idea of whether something will be to your tastes.
Tyll also knew how to explain the measurements in a fun way, focusing on the right details to guide you through.
THE BIG CHANGE
Of course, Tyll retired from his reviewing empire a number of months ago, and the company that owns the site hired some new folks to take it over.
There’s one big article from 3 months ago about how a new measurement system is coming and the rest of the new content is…kind of a weird mess, to be honest.
As you’ve no doubt seen in your own headphone criticism reading experiences, there’s at least 10 good ways to review a headphone. It seems like the new people who’ve been hired to run the site are decent individuals…
But the new direction they’ve chosen to go in is very different from the old one. And that’s hard for me to adjust to. And probably hard for anyone that used to read the site religiously.
Gone is the affability mixed with cold hard measurements, and in its place… a focus on style and subjective experience.
The average price of the products covered has gone up significantly. I can’t personally justify or afford the price of anything they’ve written about since Tyll left.
InnerFidelity is no longer one man’s personal headphone journey, where he welcomes you into his home and shares his experiences both subjective and objective.
Instead, it’s a lifestyle blog with previews written from ad copy for high end products.
And the one new headphone review that’s launched on the site in the last several months is…very different from what came before.
To say the least.
The YouTube channel hasn’t seen a single new upload since Tyll’s departure. The comments sections are largely abandoned. The Wall of Fame is going to be reduced and re-curated at some point by the new editor, though there’s no specific time frame for this.
In a vacuum, where none of the history existed, this would be fine. It’s a totally valid way to run an audio web site in 2018, I suppose.
But as a replacement for the carefully curated and relaxing home that Tyll built? It’s not even remotely a good substitute.
Without Tyll, I would never have tried a Beats product. I would never have learned about how to read headphone measurement graphs. I would never have shared in his genuine delight when low-priced headphones measured and sounded better than high-priced ones.
I got a world class education in headphones for free from a man with boundless experience and a genuine joy for the field, and nothing can replace that. I’m not sure I really need anything to. It was a special time in the world of audio criticism, and Tyll’s balance of excitement and critical dialogue was one of the most inspiring voices in the world of product reviews.
He wanted to like every headphone, and he could articulate very well and humorously what he didn’t like.
If you’re missing Tyll’s voice or you just found out about him and want something similar…there’s a few places you can go.
Metal571, mentioned above, has a low-key presentation clearly inspired by Tyll, and I think his reviews are a fitting homage that also bring his own unique perspective into the mix. He’s on hiatus right now and I await his return excitedly. EDIT: And he’s back! Excellent.
Rtings.com has an exceptional, and growing, database of headphone measurements that matches the objective specificity of Tyll’s, and then tries to go even further. They’ve even developed a system they believe helps them measure and objectify soundstage…and even if I think it’s a little wonky at times, it’s a good start. Also, they have an insistence on rating each and every headphone for its outdoor/exercise use regardless of intention that I can’t help but find hilarious every time.
I never expected the new InnerFidelity to live up to the old one, but now that it’s so different…I almost wish they had changed the name of the site, or just started a new one.
I sincerely hope they don’t delete any of Tyll’s old content, because it deserves a place in the catalog of internet history, and will forever be a perfect starting place for newcomers to dip their toes into the world of headphone listening with one of the best and friendliest guides imaginable.