Question and Answer Session with Tyll

When Jana Dagdagan, Stereophile's Editorial Coordinator, told me she was planning a trip out to Bozeman to shoot videos we had a long conversation about what kinds of things we could shoot. One of her ideas was a Q&A session. I thought that was a cool idea and we started brainstorming questions. O.M.G. She thought of some doozies. Some of then I just flat out said, "No way, I'm not going to answer that." Fortunately she managed to convince me to leave most of them in.

So, if you're interested in watching me tap dance around manufacturer relations and what I think about the forums splash a little water on your head so your hair doesn't catch on fire and push the play button.


Watch on YouTube.

tony's picture

I'd say that Sales is the most difficult part.

I've been manufacturing since the 1950s, I was born in manufacturing families, I could sharpen a lawn mower blade or repair a broken bicycle spoke when I was 10 years old, we are those kinds of people.

The Sales People were/are the beautiful people, they are always nice, well dressed, nicely groomed, polite.

We factory people talk "Shop-Talk" which can and does slip out occasionally & embarrassingly.

Tyll seems the Analytical type that mostly exist in the Engineering Labs, where they speak "accurately", think "accuracy", value integrety and create ( for themselves ) a unique persona that helps them stand out as an individual.

Our Tyll also seems to have a few extra gifts: Linguistic abilities and social skills that are "wide enough" to allow work in Public.

Tyll & Co. are our source for accurate answers ( including JA ).

Even the most intricate manufacturing is not difficult, we're standing on the shoulders of manufacturers going back 200 years.

Explaining Politics to my grandchildren is difficult, phew.

Tony in Michigan

ps. go back to RMAF11 and see how Tyll has 'polished' into a "Camera Ready" Public Personality. ( while Steve G. is vloging in his underwear ! ) god bless em

coastman25's picture

Hi Tony
This is a reply to your previous post as well as this one.

Our hero Tyll says about forums in his latest video blog and I quote: “You should not press the post button 20% of the time. You should look at your post and say am I really being positive or constructive or am I just making noise?”

I have been guilty of making noise lately. However, you seem to respond to just about every post regardless. Enough said.

tony's picture

I regard this as correspondence, letter writing, as in : person to person, like answering the phone.

I'm considering these Tyll articles as Campfires, at the end of the day, a place where interested persons share their views and experiences.

Tyll's insights are thought provoking stimulations, he is an Investigative Journalist working in an Interactive Medium.

We as consumers of Journalism have never had any chance to answer interesting concepts being explained, now we do, finally, the magic of our time.

I suppose it goes without saying that Professors would never tolerate misc. students voicing comments, at will. Now, our peanut gallery can SHOUT out all manner of "noise".

Well, uniquely, we here in the USA have a First Amendment "Right" to speak un-impeded. I doubt that the rest of the Planet's inhabitants enjoy that ability.

In response to Tyll's 20% thoughts

I'll have to say that Tyll's innerfidelty articles and comment sections are
"rich and deep" in intellectual content, the smallish percentage of "noise" is to be expected and easily tolerated, if Tyll is attracting "noise", it's the best darn noise in the business.

John Atkinson's stuff and Alex Dyke's posting have less "noise" than Tyll's ! but neither one of them have the "Color" that Tyll radiates.

My Industry is by far the largest supplier of Audio Gear in the World, we sell a HiFi system in every Car we make. Even Cars being crushed & recycled have useful & usable HIFI systems.

Tyll is reporting on Driver/Transducer Technology, he's front line reporting, he's right there behind the Armies shooting it out, he's reporting from the "Field", he's a War Veteran Reporter.

I'm not a hobbyist, I'm an Industry participant.

Tyll ( and his group ) is out there in the Field, reporting on the gear that our customer base will use in our Products ( Cars ).

Where else can anyone go to learn "accurate" information about headphone transducers? ( or transducers, for that matter? )

I love these guys,

Tony in Michigan

AMW1011's picture

Hello Mr. Hertsens, I'd like to pose a follow up question from you're Q&A:

What steps do you take to check and balance your own bias towards and against products and manufacturers with whom you have a relationship with?

I think the very common criticism you receive in this regard is your praise of Mr Speakers products and perceived close ties to Dan Clark, the founder and lead engineer at the company.

For instance:

In 2012 you wrote:
"How the Wall of Fame Works

The WoF will be an ongoing project. Whenever I find a headphone that is my favorite of a particular type/price, I will put it on the Wall of Fame and it will receive a Wall of Fame badge"

Yet you rescinded this logic in 2016 in favor of the Ether Flow C:
"It began to dawn on my that making the "Wall of Fame" wasn't just about my personal likes or dislikes exclusively. It's also about being a reference headphone of a particular type and price range. Even if I personally have some dislikes about a headphone, if it's worthy of being a reference headphone, it's worthy of a "Wall of Fame" slot."

After admitting that you still were not thrilled with the Ether Flow C,
"In the end, it was that bright spot that had me feeling the previous Ether C was the better headphone. It too is somewhat bright and less neutral, but I feel it's more refined sound made it a better headphone once EQed to have a bit more bass. I continue to feel this way."

While it is valid to re-evaluate past methods and ways of doing things, there has never once been a mention of you applying this new logic to the rest of the Wall of Fame. The Ether Flow C was put on the WoF after re-evaluating the WoF system, but no other headphones were changed due to this completely new approach at qualifying for WoF status.

Equally, there have been some questions raised about your bias in the ZMF Eikon and Atticus reviews, two headphones directly competing with Mr Speakers from a company following the "T50rp mod -> Fully bespoke custom headphone" formula just as Dan had.

In your reviews of the two ZMF headphones you opened the headphones up and showed the damping/tuning schemes used in both while saying, "DIY headphone enthusiasts have long modified headphones by adding damping materials and know first hand what a difference it can make. ZMF Headphone was born in that world". This description directly fits Dan from Mr Speakers as well, as he too started his business with purely DIY style products. However, you've never once opened a Mr Speakers product and showed the proof of Dan's many years of DIY experience and penchant for using a lot of damping material that most major brands outside of Mr Speakers and ZMF refuse to do. This raises questions oh why we haven't seen Dan's damping schemes, but we have Seen ZMF's.

This is all compounded by the fact that every single released Ether headphone has made the Wall of Fame and received a glowing review. Not something alone that is noteworthy, but Mr Speakers is the only brand to have gained such persistent praise from you and a flawless WoF record.

I think this is the elephant in the room in regards to you and your work in the communities that I am involved with. I think its only fair that we get your take and clarification on the matter, instead of accusations being flung within certain communities.


Anders's picture

Dear AMW1011,

I had not registered on this website until you posted your comment. I have over the last decade worked in a unit responsible for world-wide investigations. We investigate allegations far worse than the ones you raise, but I thought it might be of interest to you as well as other readers and perhaps Mr Hertsens himself that I assess the assertions made in your posting.

1. What steps does Mr. Hertensens take to check and balance his own bias?
In the video, Mr. Hertsens explains that he checks user reviews online and measures headphones agains the Harman curve. In general, some personal bias in the assessment must be assumed since everyone’s hearing and tonal preferences are likely to be different. I see nothing untoward here.

2. Mr. Hertsens has a relationship with “products and manufacturers” and “Dan Clark... the lead engineer and founder of” Mr Speakers.
As human beings we have many relationships. However, for the relationship you describe to be problematic, I would like for this to be spelled out, otherwise it is just an inuendo. For example, you would need to tell us that Mr. Hertsens has an ownership share in Mr. Speakers, has previously worked in the company, his close relatives work in senior positions in the company, has received significant gifts from Mr. Speakers, relies extensively on Mr. Speakers for ad based revenues, etc. I don’t see you making any of these arguments, nor have I noted such conflicts. At this point, I would say the case is rather frivolous.

3. After Mr. Hertsens admitted he was not “thrilled” he put the Mr. Speakers headphone on the WOF
I am not sure whether mr. Hertsens’ used the words “not thrilled”, but would assume you have checked. I see no problem revisiting what goes up on the WOF. Any number of factors could change, e.g., the price of headphones, headphones could get discontinued, etc. I also don’t find the argument convincing that, if the methodology is revisited, why was only one headphone put on the WOF. My question would be, how many other headphones should be added to make you happy?

4. Every Ether headphone has made it to the wall and received glowing reviews
Now, if one can prove that the Ether headphones clearly lack the performance, I’d say there is a case. However, I did a search for the Ether Flow C you mention in the posting and found the following statement from Headphone.Guru: “ETHER C Flow is a phenomenal performing effort and has clearly raised the bar for planar magnetic headphones.” Also, there are many headphones above the Mr Speakers entry on the WOF, and the Aeon itself has several of its warts pointed out in the short description in the WOF. Alas, I don’t find any support for your argument, unless you can show there have been Mr. Speakers headphones on the WOF that clearly do not deserve to be there.

Overall, I don’t find it particularly constructive, when you make vague references such as “the very common criticism you receive” and the “accusations being flung within certain communities”. There is no way an honest man can defend himself against such innuendo, it cannot be proved, and is even harder to disprove. In the end, AMW1011, it undermines your credibility.

Now, you seem like an intelligent person, you are clearly interested in the integrity of headphone testing, and you took the time to write this long post. A helpful approach would have been to say that you have listened to the Eikon headphone and you find it superior to the Mr. Speakers because of x, y, and z, and asked Mr. Hertensen to explain why he preferred one over the other.

Anders from Washington.

reader's picture

Your allegations are not well grounded.
1. Tyll kicked out LCD4, and then put it back to WOF with some reluctance. Ether C Flow is not the sole case in that regard.
2. Tyll kicked out more expensive Ethers from WOF in favor of cheaper ones AEON. Mrspeakers may not like it as it may hurt its profits. I don't think Tyll has a special interest with MrSpeakers.
3. MrSpeakers openly provides filters, and users can insert or pull them out without opening cans. Tyll provided measurements with and without filters. In the case of ZMF, you need to open cans to see filters.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Thanks for your question, AMW1011.

In general, I'd say I manage potential bias in my relationships with manufacturers and their personal by simply saying I really only care about the product. When I review something my focus is entirely on the product and not on the relationships at least consciously.

With regard to MrSpeakers and Dan I'll point out that even though he gave me every opportunity I never did a review of his previous T50RP headphones...I just didn't like them. It's only with the advent of his Ether, then Aeon headphones that I found them worthy of review and subsequent placement on the Wall of Fame. I'll also point out that the Aeon's have knocked the Ethers off the wall even though they remain MrSpeakers premium offerings. He probably doesn't like that.

In terms of my "close ties" to Dan, I'm not sure where you got that. I like the guy, sure, but I wouldn't say I have any close ties to him than Sankar or Fang or any number of others.

Yes, my view of what it takes to get on the Wall of Fame have changes's really more a change in how I view "reference" headphones. Turns out, sometimes I find a headphone a worthy reference even though it's not necessarily a personal favorite. That comes as much as anything from the realization that some folks with differing taste may indeed be quite satisfied with something other than that which my sensibilities steer me.

THere's also the fact that almost nothing seems "just right" to me and I have to navigate a variety of compromises that sometimes trip me up. Meh, such is life. I try as best I can, please forgive me for not being perfect.

The reason I opened up the ZMF headphones is that damping a dynamic driver is quite a bit different than damping a planar magnetic headphone. Dan's damping schemes are often done with user replaceable pads, which I do illustrate, getting in behind the driver would be quite difficult for his stuff, and the Aeons have adhesively attached pads, so I didn't go there. The ZMF cans are quite easy to open and investigate, so I did. I like to satisfy my curiosity, but I'm not going to potentially damage headphones to do so. (Bose SoundWear Companion destruction notwithstanding.)

I think the very common criticism you receive in this regard is your praise of Mr Speakers products and perceived close ties to Dan Clark, the founder and lead engineer at the company.


I think this is the elephant in the room in regards to you and your work in the communities that I am involved with. I think its only fair that we get your take and clarification on the matter, instead of accusations being flung within certain communities.

Really!? I guess I was unaware of the gossip going on...maybe it's mostly part of that 20% of times people push the post button creating useless noise.

GTABC's picture

For going above and beyond to address the question much as you do with your reviews.

Money makes the world go round and this site is a business. As such you could never effectively argue/prove that you are 100% unbiased and independent all of the time. However, IMHO you are much closer than most writers/reviewers in this hobby and audio in general. I wonder if AMW1011's expectations are reasonable all things considered? Nevertheless, you responded without being defensive. I've always had the impression that you genuinely care about the hobby and your readers. Thank you!

Martin.'s picture

For an answer from Tyll.

johnjen's picture

These videos lend an air of real people doing real things and enjoying themselves whilst doing so.
It would seem that some take all of this quite seriously, for whatever reason.

For me, it's a hobby, a hobby I enjoy and wish to continue to enjoy.
So I do what I can to not take myself to seriously and especially not take my hobby too seriously either.

To my mind it’s a pleasure to see a 'professional' actually enjoy what they do, coupled with 'plenty' of experience and expertise to 'round out' the results of their efforts.

Well done, Tyll.


jpelg's picture

One way to mitigate the problem with manufacturers not wanting to send you their products for review is to buy your own, just as any of us would through a retail outlet. Unlike the most premium speaker gear, even the most expensive headphone gear is not in the mega-buck stratosphere, so a fairly reasonable buying budget would suffice. This also removes the possibility of the manufacturer cherry-picking a unit specifically for review purposes that might be different from normal production runs. You'd also have more license to take apart the products to see innards not easily visible under normal use. Reviewed units could be sold/auctioned off to recoup funds if necessary.

John Grandberg's picture

... which I suspect probably wouldn't work due to cost.

Just my meager contributions here over the past year add up to something like $17,000 worth of review gear. And Tyll covers WAY more equipment than I do. That would really add up.

Rocky Mtn Old Boy's picture

...look at Zeos. He still gets a $5 patronage from me as while I don't find his reviews particularly "accurate", I do find them "good". Okay... entertaining, lol.

As a guess, he's likely around $10 to $12k in funds coming in which he - at least in part - uses for gear purchases. He then auctions the gear off in monthly yard sales.

This is not a unique approach, but it is clever and rather effective. He also borrows a lot of kit, so the purchases merely supplement.


PS Great video...

Bobs Your Uncle's picture

This video provides a really terrific, exceedingly well formatted insight to background elements and considerations that (by virtue of their appropriately focused nature) individual product video reviews do not venture into. I would be thoroughly delighted if this video served to launch a continuing (and ideally, somewhat regular) series of video entries developed along the same vein.

Until we are treated to a second such offering: Sincere thanks for this AV post!