A Memorial to the Grandfather of Headphone Enthusiasm

Facebook and social media inform us, almost daily it seems, of the passing of great musicians and producers. And yesterday, the feed for high-end audio enthusiasts was filled with posts by industry insiders lamenting the loss of Richard Beers, founder of T.H.E. Show in Las Vegas and co-founder of T.H.E. Show Newport. How a human body could contain this larger-than-life character I don't know. He was hugely influential and productive in bringing the audio industry and enthusiasts together for a great time. Many, many, many of us will mourn his loss. Please visit this T.H.E. Show Newport page to read of his passing and the many remembrances of him from others.

I mention the above because on February 12, 2016, with no notice or fanfare on the web, Pow Chu Moy, founder of HeadWize (the first headphone forum) and creator of the Chu Moy Headphone Amplifier, passed away in Reno, Nevada. A sad day for our hobby.

Chu Moy launched HeadWize on May 1st, 1998.

I got the idea to start HeadWize a while back, after spending many hours online in search of information specific to headphones. I was listening through headphones several hours each day and had many questions about how to improve that experience. Although I found numerous audio-related sites, the only sites that featured headphones prominently were commercial and tended to promote their own products. My hope is that HeadWize will become a clearinghouse for headphone-related news and other information.

In this day and age of WordPress and vBulletin that doesn't seem like too difficult a task, but in 1998 things weren't nearly so easy. In fact, Chu Moy wrote not only the HTML but some code for the site. I think he also wrote its simple search function. From this page:

For the techies out there, the Links pages use a PHP hypertext preprocessor to interface with the mSQL database backend.

HeadWize did indeed become a "clearinghouse for headphone-related news and other information", mainly because Chu made it so. He tirelessly wrote article after article, essentially defining the scope of the hobby for all to follow. For example, this "Announcements & News" page will provide you with a great glimpse of what the headphone world looked like in 1999. He also wrote numerous introductory articles like: "A Quick Guide to Headphones"; "Judging Headphones For Accuracy"; and, of course, the article that launched a thousand DIY careers "A Pocket Headphone Amplifier", which is what we now call a CMoy amp.

160315_News_RIPPowChuMoy_Photo_CMoy

The famous CMoy headphone amplifier in an Altoids mint tin.

Chu Moy's work laid the informational foundation headphone enthusiasm, and many of our cultural memes originate in his work. Here's an example from his FAQ page:

Is there a simple way to improve in-front localization in headphones?

The soundfield of most headphones appears in a straight line between the ears or even towards the back of the head. This effect is caused by the lack of HRTF and visual cues which aid in spatial location. Here is a simple trick for pulling the soundfield out front (it works best with supra-aural or on-the-ear headphones): move the earcups slightly lower and forward on the ears. Experiment to obtain the best localization (don't expect miracles, though). The goal is to get the sound to enter the ears at an angle and thus engage more of the HRTFs of normal hearing.

Chu Moy was also very busy behind the scenes that first year, and by HeadWize's first anniversary he had created one of the few early PHP forum instances on the web. From this page:

The forums software is based on a heavily-hacked version of the Ultimate Bulletin Board, which has been ported to a mySQL backend.

And so, on or about May 8th, 1999, the first headphone forum, and thus our community, was born. Here are some snapshots of the forum front page roughly every six months over the next few years. Watch as the post counts in the forum areas and number of members (starts to appear on the fourth image) grows strongly.

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May 1999

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November 1999

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March 2000

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August 2000

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February 2001

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August 2001

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March 2002

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November 2002

Unfortunately, there was a problem. Chu Moy was a very principled man; he felt very strongly that there was no room for advertising or commercial promotional activities on HeadWize. He had no income stream from the site and had to pay for site bandwidth out of his own pocket. By the end of 2000, he found himself unable to keep up with the rising cost as more and more enthusiasts entered the fray. As a result, HeadWize would at times become unavailable as the ISP shut it down when it reached Chu Moy's budget limit. At first it was only a day or two, but as traffic increased the monthly outage got longer and longer.

At the time, as CEO of HeadRoom, I thought his stance on zero advertising was was a huge mistake. I called him maybe 3 or 4 times making a variety of offers that might be beneficial for both he and the community, but was rejected each time. He struck me as a peaceful and sweet soul with very good intentions. He wanted the hobby to remain pure. I felt the community included manufacturers and retailers, and the resources they might bring. But he was insistant, and the outages became longer, which was very aggravating for enthusiasts.

In 2001, Jude Mansilla knew he had the capability and resources to put up a headphone enthusiast board that would be open 24/7/365, and one day in June when the lights went out at HeadWize, Head-fi was born. Which, of course, began to deflate HeadWize. I find no fault in Jude for this, it was quite painful to sit on one's hands when HeadWize was down. Conversations aborted mid-post for a week or more was quite uncomfortable.

*sigh*

Regardless of the end, Pow Chu Moy was the spark and elbow grease that launched what now today is a very large community of headphone enthusiasts. I'm so very grateful for his work; headphone enthusiasm is a vibrant and growing hobby, and we owe him a debt of gratitude that now cannot be repaid.

Thank you Pow Chu Moy, Grandfather of the Headphone Hobby, your work yielded great reward for us all.

Rest In Peace

COMMENTS
tony's picture

Seems much longer, somehow.

That was before iPhones or iPods, I was using a Walkman CD player ( I think ) and the Audio-out from my iMac.

I see and read this article and remember owning one of these CMoy things, I never realized it had a history or there was someone behind it.

I think I'll buy one now, for old times sake.

This is where our Jude got his beginnings? fascinating.

I wonder if you and Jude ever figured headphones would grow into a multi-billion dollar thing?, I only know a few folks that don't own a headphone, all are oldsters, almost none are headphone hobbyists. ( most think my Sennheiser "super-tuned" RS120s are a portable Symphony Orchestra )

Thank you for bringing this, it's important to give credit where credit is due but it's sad to hear. I did a Google search to see a photo of this man, found nothing but a 2003 review, maybe Jude will have something on Head-fi, I'll check.

Tony in Michigan

Tyll Hertsens's picture
...the echo is long now.
burhan11's picture

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ssorg's picture

I remember in the sort-of early days of the internet, in my freshman year of college, finally being fed up with the horrible good-for-nothing string of headphones I would use and then discard broken 6 months later. I somehow landed on headwize, was recommended some weirdo headphone company called Grado, and got a pair of SR-80s (that I eventually, and stupidly, traded to an ex for a camera) for X-mas. I still remember the smell of those headphones... I was active for some years on headwize until I jumped ship to head-fi. Now I'm way too busy and have no real disposable income, so I haven't been much involved with headphones for quite some time, but I can still appreciate in those early days how people like Chu Moy laid the foundation for online communities of enthusiasts. These communities, in turn, have thrived and supported countless DIY to commercial operations, and brought people together from around the world. It can seem like a small thing, if you look at it in a certain way, or insignificant in the grand scheme, but these small, weird communities reflect, in some ways, the better parts of our online humanity. RIP Chu Moy.

Journeyman's picture

:-( Next time I build a Cmoy I'll remember him...My sincere and heartfelt condolences.
Hope his family knows how important he was to the community.
Descansa em paz amigo... :-(

echineko's picture

I started dabbling with the hobby when headfi was already established for several years, so all this information was new to me. It has no bearing on me directly, but I appreciate the efforts of those early online pioneers who gave audiophiles (and audio-curious newbies) a place to gather and discuss their hobby.

RIP, Mr. C. Moy, thanks for your work. Btw, I find it sad I couldn't even Google one picture of him, surely someone could find and put up an image of the man?

yage's picture

... as a junior / senior in college right around the turn of the millennium. I also remember the schism between Head-Fi and HeadWize in the early days. Back then I scraped together enough dough to purchase my first 'real' pair of headphones - Alessandro MS-1's. (Luckily they were on sale when they were first introduced!) I still have them to this day. And if it weren't for HeadWize, I wouldn't have met Tyll in person during his traveling world of headphones tour - http://www.soundstage.com/traveler/traveler200201.htm

Thanks for all the great memories and experiences Chu Moy! May you find the perfect headphone in the afterlife...

kongmw's picture

It was indeed a C.Moy amp that I DIY'd that brought me into this hobby.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
...how many people your comment would apply to. Thousands probably.
Reticuli's picture

The one and only original.

guerillaw's picture

AKG 701 from a CMOY. Never forget that "aha" moment which has lead to so much enjoyment.

Condolences and love to his family.

Beagle's picture

HeadWize was where it all began for me. RIP Chu Moy. You did us all a great service.

IIRC, Jude began Head-Fi as a temporary fill-in when HeadWize was down, in order to keep us all communicating on our fave hobby. I don't think he was trying to put HeadWize "out of business" so to speak.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
...as I recall, Jude and I talked and were mostly focussed on being sure folks could keep talking. But we both knew, again, as I recall, that the sustainable model included commercial entities. We could certainly argue that that balance has still not been struck perfectly yet(meaning there is too much commerce), but it does take the whole village.

Doesn't matter that Chu didn't quite see it that way, he put the lines on the map. We all followed adding bits here and there, but his work remains nicely centered and proper.

ultrabike's picture

I'm very sorry to read this.

I never had the pleasure to met Chu Moy. But have read a lot about him and would have loved to have a conversation with him.

I really respect what he did (HeadWize). To me it seem clear that he wanted to avoid a conflict of interests.

Should he had taken money from audio manufacturers to run the site? I don't think so. There are however, other means by which to fund a site.

Did Head-Fi tried to put HeadWize "out of business"? I don't think so. Because HeadWize was no business. I think Head-Fi capitalized from HeadWize though. I also think Head-Fi is a business. And as such Head-Fi has more chances of survival, perhaps at the expense of some integrity. There are other somewhat known headphone related enthusiast websites: Head-Case & SBAF(Changstar). They are not perfect either. But IMO they don't have to be. And such is life. And life is good.

What Chu Moy did was unique. I met him through his work. He will be missed.

cspirou's picture

I was wondering why headwize.com disappeared. Perhaps he was ill for awhile and just couldn't devote anymore time to it.

Anyway, I really love headwize and it's how I discovered a bunch of DIY amps including the dynalo and the Van Waarde 6080 amp. I am wondering if I should use the wayback machine and save all the schematics from the articles. The CMoy amp is revolutionary in this hobby and is a great first time project not only for audiophiles but for anyone that is involved in the DIY movement.

I never met him but I can say that he has had an impact on me in this hobby and he will be missed.

n_maher's picture
Tyll, Thanks for the great article. I had heard this news and much like others (I suspect) Chu and Headwize were exactly what got me into headphones and more importantly, DIY. Truly I can't imagine what my life would be like (and how less rich it would be) if it were not for his efforts.
funch's picture

I too have my first proto board cmoy on my shelf that I built from
Tangent's tutorial. I will never part with it.

Chu Moy, some could say, was the founder of our hobby. All else comes from his vision and passion to share something that, at the time, wasn't even a speck on the map in the audio world. It is now, arguably, the
leader. I boggles my mind when I think how much has changed in our hobby
since I first got involved back in '02.

Thanks, Tyll, for a great tribute to 'The Man'.

Jessica's picture

Now I know what present I want for this Christmas:)

It is so hard to find good headphones. Many companies claim that their product is the best, but I was being disappointed too many times:(

Headphones are very important for me! I work for Homework Help Online and spend a lot of time at the computer. While working, I listen to the music, and I really cannot start writing unless my headphones are on.

jssnow1's picture

I was saddened to hear about Chu's passing. I attended high school with Chu and just googled his name to see what he was up to and came across this sad news. As there does not appear to be much info about Chu, I can share a little bit. Chu grew up in Chinatown, NYC and attended Poly Prep CDS before going to Yale for undergrad. He was a very nice person. He was reserved, mostly kept to himself, very studious and hard-working. I will attempt to post a picture of Chu from high school (class of '79). Best

Christine S.'s picture

Hello, I saw your post regarding how you knew Poy Chu Moy during High School. We are a forensic genealogy firm, (Von Langen, LLC), I am working with the Washoe County, NV Public Administrators office to locate his family. Do you have any memory of his family? (mother, father or sister, Yuet Wah Moy). If not, would you know of any one who might have some information on his family? Ultimately, I am trying locate the heirs of Pow Chu Moy. Thank you in advance. Christine Salazar, Christine@missingheir.com

jssnow1's picture

Unsure how to add pic. Sorry

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