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Jaben: The Audiophile Haven

I’m not an audiophile. I have neither the means nor the time to devote to searching for and owning a $10,000 pair of cans – headphones for the pedestrian – but even I’ve got standards when it comes to the enjoyment of music. It’s why I look over in disdain at people who insist on sharing their tunes via terrible, terrible handphone loudspeakers. (No.)

For the rest of the population with an understanding that noise pollution does not equal music, earphones become our go-to listening devices. The pair that came together with whatever mp3 player you own is likely adequate at delivering what you have on your playlist, but for those with deeper pockets and an appetite for the subtler tones of music composition artistes have so painstakingly put together, you might want to pay a visit to the following place (take your music player along!):

JABEN AUDIO
1 Coleman Street
#04-11 The Adelphi
Singapore 179803
Tel. (+65) 6337.0809

This little shop, tucked away in a building housing scarier (by which I mean wholly unaffordable) audio product stores, is a trove for audiophiles and amateurs putting out their feelers for audio-related goodies. It was also where I got my first headphone, the DENON AH-D1100.

If that jumble of letters and numbers didn’t mean anything to you, that’s okay. It meant nothing to me the first time as well, when I tentatively entered the place. Truth is, Jaben is nothing to look at from the outside. I’ll go as far as say I was dubious of the shop itself. There was no way to look into it, with its floor-to-ceiling display obscured entirely by boxes upon boxes of audio merchandise. There was only one narrow entrance – which doubled as the exit – but I desperately wanted to get headphones, so in I went…

Someone might as well have pinned a sign saying, ‘Beware, here be audiophile haven’ at the entrance. Jaben was no audio retailer. It was someone’s private collection.

Not considering myself an audiophile, I was immediately intimidated by the variety of products on display on every available surface. For a shop the size of a large kitchen, it was unexpectedly crowded – a good sign, then. “I hope they’re not the hard selling type,” I thought to myself. I had very little knowledge of headphones, so I stood next to the cash register, big-eyed and lost.

Presently, I was directed to an empty spot at a long table. This was the ‘listening booth’. Nothing fancy here, there was simply no space (think of a canteen sitting plan with a total of three tables forming a U). No silly music playing in the background either – how on earth are you going to tell if the headphones are any good otherwise?

I took my iPod Touch out, ready to give a headset, any headset, a shot.

“Any sound in mind? What genres do you listen to?” asked one of the sales people.
“Um, I don’t know. Any kind – I listen to most genres.” Someone hand me the Eloquence Award.
“Okay, I’ll find something, hold on…”

My eyes followed where he went, and then – whoa, is that an entire rack of headphones to be individually tested? Because there on my left was a rack of them, with what must be fifty sets, all out of their packaging, just waiting for hands-on use.

I knew I’d come to the right place. Retail shops in malls never ever let you get up close and personal with more than eight pairs. And what audiophile brands too. These were no low-end Skullcandys, no well-marketed Beats, or even neutral Sonys and Panasonics. Hanging nonchalantly were AKGs, Grados, Denons, and BeyerDynamics, amongst the few I could identify from prior Internet research.

I proceeded to try the pair chosen for me, and it soon became a cycle of rejection, with each pair closer to what I was looking for in a headphone. The sales team were more than patient with me, noting what I liked and disliked in audiophile terms. They were sales people the way opticians were sales people – accurate enough to understand my layman descriptions, and dedicated enough not to sell me anything less than what I wanted.

At last, after a whole hour later of listening, I settled on my pair of understated Denons that fell within my budget of SGD250 (review to come). I should probably mention that there are much cheaper sets that perform better than the default mp3 earbuds (around SGD100), but you’d be incredibly spoilt for choice there, and you’d likely want to leave with something slightly above budget. The thing about headphones is you do pay for what you get, so be ready to splurge on even a slight quality improvement between models. Jaben also seems to offer discounts on a whim, but don’t take my word for it – I could just have gotten lucky that day. Still, the place offered excellent service within a humble storeroom environment, and there was never a point where I felt hurried to make a purchase. Bottom line? They knew their stuff.

I also had the good fortune to visit the store while the boss was about, and he very proudly allowed me to use his SGD2,000 amplifier along with my new Denon, well knowing it was completely out of my budget. This is, of course, showmanship of the highest order, a blatant audiophile exhibiting his toys!

Although…I have to say, the sound that came out of it? Sick.

—–

Here’s what to tell them to get your hands on a suitable set of headphones:
– Music preference (specify genre)
– Budget
Closed or open back headphones
– Do you care enough for the quality of the music to want an amplifier to go with it, or do you prefer a set that works just fine on its own?
– How portable you want your set to be
– Any specific brand in mind?
– A specific design, perhaps (single/double/removable cords, wooden backs, etc.)?

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