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Embracing the niche


Super-short version:  Student with Sony Walkman & Dad’s Stereo > iPod Early Adopter > Forum Member > Headphone Meet Organizer > Ultimate Ears Ambassador > Massdrop Custom Products Senior Product Manager > NITSCH Founder

Christian Tanimoto, III, (“CEE TEE” to his friends) grew up in the Bay Area, where he prized audio in every form he could get it, from his Sony Walkman to his father’s turntable system. But it wasn’t until adulthood, during a trip to Japan, that he spotted someone wearing a really nice-looking pair of metal headphones and thought, “Why don’t I have nice headphones?”

He soon discovered the forum Head-fi, and his research there led him to buying his first $100 pair of headphones--the most he’d ever spent on a pair. (They were the Grado Alessandro MS-1, if you’re wondering.) The day they arrived, he spent six straight holy-crap-what-am-I-hearing hours listening to music. He was hooked. Then he wondered: What else am I missing?

He became a frequent visitor of and other forums, where he gained knowledge and began friendships. But friends and hi-fi audio equipment, he felt, are two things that are better enjoyed in person, and in 2011 he began organizing headphone meet-ups in the Bay Area. The very first one attracted around a hundred guests, including the “Mount Rushmore of Audio Dudes”: founders of Schiit, Bottlehead, HiFiMAN, and Ultimate Ears. He felt he was onto something.

His ongoing participation in the community led to him becoming a brand ambassador for Ultimate Ears and to providing feedback to Massdrop for an early prototype of one of their headphones. Soon he was in talks with Massdrop to become a full-time product manager for the audiophile category.

His first day at Massdrop felt like he had been dropped inside the company’s website. Drones flew overhead. RC cars whizzed by. His coworkers traveled to the bathroom via motor scooter. This wasn’t anything like his previous jobs working on medical devices. The keyboards were noisy, the headphones were huge, and Christian was thrilled. He didn’t want to let anyone down.

As the Audiophile Senior Product Manager at Massdrop, Christian produced more than thirty products, including best-sellers like the Massdrop x THX AAA 789 Amplifier and the Massdrop x Sennheiser HD 58X Headphones. A community member to his core, he cared deeply about the response to these products: he read every review. If his friends on the forums were happy, he was happy, too.

He continued attending headphone meet-ups, where he kept confronting an odd fact about the audio world: some of the best gear he heard was being made by hobbyist engineers, rather than big companies. Their failure to reach a wide audience had nothing to do with talent but infrastructure, access, and supply.

Although the hook that pulled Christian into audiophilia was a shiny pair of metal headphones, he fell in love with the community and the gear they created. He wanted to honor and elevate the brilliant designs beloved by the community, so he worked from 2016 to 2019 at Massdrop and in 2021 he founded NITSCH, a new company centered on small-batch and rare gear. The Piety would come to be his first launch.

In the audio world, an “endgame rig” describes your perfect audio setup (usually exorbitantly expensive, top-of-the-line gear). In Christian’s experience, a lot of endgame gear is actually created in somebody’s garage, or it’s sitting on a card table at a meet-up or collecting dust on someone’s shelf. It’s small-batch and odd and interesting. He can’t wait for you to hear it.