January 06, 2016

This weekend something amazing happened at a home in Gurgaon. Shreyas Muralidharan, Akshay Sehgal, Abhinit Prakash, Vaibhav Pisal and Aniel Grover decided that they were going to spend the afternoon at Shreyas’ home in Gurgaon. Now, while this may sound like 5 guys just hanging out on a Sunday afternoon, what was different was that they were accompanied by their headphones, amplifiers, audio players and their extensive music libraries, and the only agenda that afternoon was to listen to music on their headphones, exchange gear, and share their thoughts on what they hear. I like to refer to them as hobbyist music listeners. The world labels them with a far more glorious badge - "audiophiles".

Until now, India’s audiophile community had a disenchanted indifference with which they existed. Individuals sitting in their homes listening to expensive headphones they occasionally liked to show off to admiring friends, and gadget enthusiasts and gamers who as an extension to their interest in consumer technology would review a few Headphones and DACs. Head-Fi.org, amongst the worlds largest websites catering to the audiophile community was the first forum that really got Indians engaging with each other, albeit across hundreds of kilometres in cyberspace. But, this was where aliases such as ShreyasMax, WrathZombie and GetClickingAs started talking to each other from their homes and offices discussing their music listening habits and sharing reviews of new products they heard, without ever really knowing each other at all.

I’ve known Shreyas, Akshay, Abhinit, Vaibhav and Aniel Ji for a few months now. Since I launched Headphone Zone’s webstore 12 months ago, we quickly realised that getting India’s vast music listening population to discover, listen to, and use headphones would need us to build a community of passionate hobbyist music listeners, audiophiles and enthusiasts. This gave birth to Headphone Connect, a community event Headphone Zone organises with increasing regularity.

We reached out to anyone we knew who owns expensive headphones, and asked them to bring their friends along. Head-Fi.org is amongst the worlds largest websites catering to the audiophile community, and we made sure every Indian on the forum knew about Headphone Connect. While Aniel Ji was a customer of ours, the others probably came to know of me for the first time from one of the many Head-Fi posts announcing the event.

New Delhi was amongst the first cities we decided to host Headphone Connect. We booked out some space at a South Delhi Beer pub, and I packed my bags with Headphones and headed out from Mumbai taking along with me about 30-40 Headphones I thought everyone may like to listen to. It didn’t take very long before we realised that while India had a very very small audiophile community. But what they lacked in numbers, they more than made up for in enthusiasm. It came as an absolute surprise to see the number of guys who showed up for what was a completely untested idea - a coming together of headphone enthusiasts and audiophiles for an evening of discovering, sharing and listening to high-end audio gear. This was where I first met these guys.

Shreyas is a veteran from Head-Fi who has been amongst the most active members from India. The fact that he uses a FiiO X3 (1st Generation) along with an E12 Amplifier simply reflects that he was an early adopter. A Philips Fidelio X2 completes his setup today. Vaibhav, another Head-Fier is easily amongst the most resourceful and knowledgeable folks in Delhi. His review of the Sennheiser HD 700 is amongst the most popular posts on Headphone Zone and his new Tube Amplifier - Garage 1217 Project Solstice is the highlight of his setup. Abhineet’s the guy with the Beyerdynamic T1 - a monster of a headphone that’s a flagship from the German manufacturer, and who I describe as amongst the nicest people I’ve ever met. Akshay I probably know better than most since he makes it a point to drop by and visits Headphone Zone every time he’s passing through Mumbai. He’s built his set up very carefully using a FiiO X3 (2nd Gen) with an E12 amplifier and an Audio-Technica ATH-M50x which I suspect will very quickly make way for a high-end Open back can. Aniel Grover, or Aniel Ji as he’s known to most us is simply referred to as the Collector at Headphone Zone. With a V-MODA Crossfade M-100, an XS, a FiiO X5, and an endless list of other gear that he owns today, it says a lot about his collection!

This Sunday all of their gear and more shared the table with some coffee and snacks and needless to say, I was sitting in Mumbai reading this on social media with delight and pleasure. How this is different, was the fact that this wasn’t a Headphone Connect event, nor was it a casual friends group that pulled out a few headphones from the drawer.

The initiative to come together was their own. Audio was the foremost motivator. The hobby came first, and their friendships followed. And suddenly audiophiles from all over India were interested in knowing what happened that afternoon. The curiosity and interest on forums in the Headphones that were used, the amps they were combined with, the music that was listened to was just reinforcement that the focal point of the community was in a Gurgaon home that day. Each of them resolved to meet up regularly, almost reminding me of a cricket team promising to practice together more often.

If I was a gambling man, I’d bet that this is the start of something great. Already there are talks of a similar meet up to be organised by a few guys in Mumbai and Bangalore. I imagine several such coffee conversations taking off from where they were left off at a Headphone Connect event somewhere. Smaller groups of audiophiles in cities small and far across India and posting pictures and insights of their experiences. Maybe someday someone will travel to another city and remember an Audiophile buddy to call and let them know they’re in town. It won’t be long before people are booking group tickets to visit a CanJam event somewhere, or community members organising workshops to induct newbies to a new found hobby - that of music listening.

It's probably then that someone will sit back and wonder how a country like India, almost infamous for its apathy for high-end audio, has an active, critical and highly informed audiophile community that shares its love for music with one and all. And just maybe, the answer could be traced back to 5 guys spending a Sunday afternoon together in Gurgaon.

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