The Singaporean Audiophile Experience
Singapore is unique in the world – perhaps bar Japan – for how accessible demo units and portable audio products in general are. What advantages and disadvantages does that bring to the Euphoria?
I think the first advantage is that people are able to compare. “Am I visiting a retail store or a retail showroom? Am I getting the entire brand experience?” Actually, I have a story to share about this. It involves a customer of Vision Ears.
I don’t know why this is, but whenever I communicate with a customer about a certain brand, I’ll think about the partner I’m working with. For example, if I’m pitching you Vision Ears, I often think about Amin. Amin’s such a funny guy. So, when I shared little, funny stories about Amin with this customer, he could feel the brand’s personality. He found that Vision Ears was very fun and outgoing, whether it be the brand or the management itself. We also shared with him deeper aspects like why Vision Ears are so stringent with ear impressions. So, these are the things that set us apart from other stores, and the consumer can directly compare.
The disadvantage is price comparing. It’s a rampant habit in Singapore. “Hey, that place quoted me $5, you should give me $4.” Then he goes to another place. “Hey, that place quoted me $4, you should give me $3.” You know? Those sorts of things. Another disadvantage is that other stores are more accessible compared to ours. But, that may change soon.
How has that ubiquity of demos shaped the audiophile culture here?
I think it’s been for good and for bad. When everything’s accessible – and Singapore is such a small country anyway – people are able to test everything. They’re able to come to their own conclusions, so their reliance on reviews should be lower. But in actuality, this isn’t the case. Our community… our culture tends to put a lot of importance in reviews, as well as their peers. So rather than going to listen, they’ll first ask the opinions of others. And then, they go into the listening session with prejudice. It’s like the stories you told me where people ask you questions on Head-Fi and you look at their location and it says, “Singapore.” (laughs) So yeah, that happens.
And again, Singapore is a small country; everybody knows everybody. The audiophile community is really tight-knit, so all it takes is for someone to try something and trash it for a product to disappear completely. This is why when we release anything in Singapore – flagships, especially – we have to tread very carefully. Have one pair of ears – trained or not – say it sucks, and suddenly all his friends think it sucks too. Even if the product is actually great, your release has already been botched.
Would you say it’s introduced the hobby to a much younger audience as well?
Yes, definitely… well, retail stores – they’re the ones that introduce the hobby to a younger audience. But, showrooms like ours don’t, because of accessibility. When you go into a shopping mall as a kid with your parents, you start looking around at what interests you, and there are a lot of electronic stores here that carry earphones. So, they’ll start looking at them and ask, “What makes this earphone so special? Why does this earphone cost $2000?” That’s when the hobbies typically begin.
If not the younger crowds, what kinds of audiences do you attract?
The audience we attract is definitely not the common demographic. We attract executives, hi-fi people and – surprisingly – lots of women as well. I don’t know why, but that tends to be the case. We also attract the seasoned audiophile crowd. We also have people who are veterans in the industry, like one of our good customers is from RAZER. He’s always been interested in IEMs. He also recently attended our How to Build IEMs workshop with Jomo.
Wow, RAZER custom IEMs; coming soon. (laughs)
(laughs) Maybe. So, we attract a lot of like-minded individuals, and most of them come in with an open mind, rather than with their own perceptions. They tend to be more receptive to suggestions or feedback, and they tend to come in wanting to learn as well, and that’s very refreshing. In many ways, this actually provides new, unique perspectives for us. They have a way of looking at audio that your everyday audiophile does not, and that has inspired some of the directions we’re taking Euphoria in. Again, I’m not sure why this is, but we’re very happy to welcome them.
Having gone to dozens of shows across the globe, what makes Singaporean shows unique?
Singaporean shows are mainly geared to be sales-oriented. People come for the show discounts. They treat it like a Singaporean Black Friday. International shows are really different because they don’t typically have a place to try (gear), so they plan out their time properly. “I only have 10 minutes to spend at your booth. I still have so many things to try. I gotta listen now!” And, they are genuinely interested in learning about your brand. Singaporeans are a very unique bunch. They come to your booth. “So, what’s the show special? What’s the discount on this?”
(laughs) ‘Because they’ve already tried everything!
Does the predominantly younger crowd also make for a different atmosphere?
It does, actually, because they tend to be more vocal. You can glean quite a bit of insight from their conversations as well.
Do you find that vocal-ness translates to more honesty? Perhaps critique, even?
Yes. With younger crowds, you get a more instant response to whatever it is they’re listening to. They don’t tend to mince their words very much. With international shows, where we typically cater to slightly more mature audiences, they’ll usually process their thoughts further and give them to you diplomatically. So, you can’t quite glean as much information.
Community Involvement, Feedback and Mutual Appreciation
One of Euphoria Audio’s promises is Interactive Events. Could you please briefly describe what that means?
As you’ve probably seen on our social media, we regularly host events like giveaways, cable-building workshops, IEM-building workshops and product launches. It’s our way of giving back to the community, as well as allowing them to interact directly with our brands’ manufacturers.
You’ve also held public prototype beta tests, giving the manufacturer the opportunity to incorporate community feedback into their upcoming product’s tuning.
During the beta tests, the participants obviously don’t know what are in the prototypes, whether it be cables or IEMs. Do you think that layer of secrecy is important? Especially to minimise bias and maximise honesty?
Very important. Because, people tend to have preconceptions about a company’s house sound. “What kind of tuning does this company usually churn out?” For example, if you were to like a brand a lot – so much – that you become a fan, if you knew the prototype was coming from them, you’d be more inclined to love it. And, the opposite is true as well. So, we want to remove both the positive and negative preconceptions.
Sometimes, it can be about testing people’s individual tastes as well. For example, if they say they want a big bass, how ’bout we give them something that has no bass? Then they’d say, “Oh wow! I love the bass! So tight and controlled!” Even though, it’s really no bass. So, it’s about that as well.
Reading between the lines.
Apart from sound, has anyone from these events given you feedback with regards to pricing?
Yes. Once they’ve heard the prototype, we typically just slip in in the middle of a normal conversation, “Hey, how much do you think this’ll cost?” So, we can start to gauge. There have been cases where people actually valued the item vastly more than what we intended or expected.
Have there been any cases of the opposite?
Yes. (laughs) For example, we’ve had the… [REDACTED]
Considering your beta tests have relatively small sample sizes geographically-speaking, have you ever considered the dangers of steering a product to cater towards a very specific crowd?
We have, and I think the key to avoiding that is really considering how much of that feedback you apply to your product. To be honest, if I were to give a percentage of how much crowd-testing factored into Effect Audio’s products, I’d say perhaps 5%. It’s because the feedback we receive sometimes are so opposite. One’s too much bass is another’s no bass. So instead, what we do is gather as much feedback as possible, and look for trends. It’s important for us to use this collected information as a rule-of-thumb. But aside from that, it also helps that we tend to exclusively beta test our products at CanJam’s, to broaden the demographic as much as possible.
As a follow-up to that, do you think there’s a favored Singaporean house sound?
I don’t think so. Tastes around here tend to be quite diverse, which is unlike say a Japanese crowd who tend to like it quite bright. They tend to believe it sounds appealing with the music they listen to. Maybe, it has to do with a more diverse taste in music in Singapore as well. I definitely wouldn’t say there’s a house sound here.
You also recently held an event with Jomo Audio showcasing the ins-and-outs of IEM design. How much does educating the audiophile community mean to you?
Back in the day, when audio first started becoming a hobby in Singapore, it was much more passionate and community-driven than it is now. I remember the old days at Jaben where I’d see consumers and retailers just talk about audio, talk about music, because they loved it. Over time, I think audio in Singapore has become more of a commodity; a trading item; a cold outlet for retailers to make money and grow margins. I think that first love had mostly disappeared. With events like the one we had with Jomo, or Tune It Singapore!, or cable-building, etcetera, we wanted to bring the consumers and the manufacturers together, and hopefully rekindle and foster that passion that was once the driving force of the audiophile community in Singapore.
With these behind-the-scenes sort of events, do you think there’s a risk in so-called killing some of the mystery or magic behind IEMs, cables, etcetera?
I don’t think it’s killed the magic at all. In fact, I think it’s added more value to it. To tell you the truth, throughout the event, everyone fumbled. No one could finish an IEM without Jomo’s help. Even then, so many drivers by the end of the day got killed to the point where Joseph was like, “Please stop. I’ve run out.” (laughs)
I think for many of them, it was an extremely valuable realisation of how difficult it is to build an IEM. When they were installing parts and realising how difficult it was, they stopped seeing it as just stuffing drivers in a shell. They developed an understanding for lead time. “Oh, so that’s why it takes that long to build an IEM.” They also didn’t know how much calculation goes into developing an IEM. You know? Joseph even prepared lecture notes detailing why it’s better to use this capacitor or that resistor because of phase. And, this was the first time many of them had even heard of what phase was. So really, it was a very valuable lesson that made people appreciate the meticulous work that goes on behind the scenes.