You’re at home watching a blu-ray so you can finally understand what The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, (spoiler: she regrets the tattoo when she’s older.) Things are going well, new James Bond is in some sort of trouble, that girl is definitely up to something, no one is walking in on you watching this movie. But the second grandma enters the room, boom, anal rape scene. If there is a brutal moment in a song, movie, or movie based on the novel Push by Sapphire, that will be the only 10 seconds people witness you watching. That’s why God invented headphones. Headphones give us the freedom to take our music anywhere on the planet, while protecting us from people thinking we’re into some weird shit. But like grandmas, not all headphones are created equal.
Since puberty, I’ve been searching for the perfect pair. Robust, perky, not too showy, and I like that volume control thingy on the cord. From cracked plastic earbuds to those raggedy sweat-soaked germ muffins we clamp onto our heads, I’ve stopped at nothing in search of the perfect headphones. Here’s what I’ve learned.
The first thing you should look for in a headphone is the price. How long are you realistically going to have these things? If you’re like me and leave a wake of possessions all over the city like an expensive bread crumb trail of tech, maybe the $1,500 Sennheiser HD800 Circum-Aurals can wait. And if you’re still leaving your mittens on the bus, chances are you’re not at the level where you need to be monitoring music so closely. You’re not Rick Ruben. Rick Ruben doesn’t eat Sbarro’s pizza at the library.
If it’s fashion you’re after, you can get a pair just as big with some tough looking skull decals for 30 bucks. Cheryl Crow sounds just as sweet on those. Trust me. And if you are a music producer, well you can just retrieve your lost headphones from the Hummer limo on your way back from the champagne party.
If you decide to go the over-ear headphone route, you have a ton of options. Noise cancelation, sound pressure levels. You have some serious comfort headband decisions to make. But one factor that is tragically overlooked is cord length. Even the most comfortable headband won’t protect you from having your headphones yanked off your head when the 8 foot cord gets caught in your fixie spokes.
Another thing to think about with noise cancellation is the extra weight. Since they’re made with high density foam to block outside noise, you’re going to be walking around with 5 pounds of hot rubber on your head. That sounds fun under the right circumstances, but there’s a time and place for hot head-rubber, and the post-office ain’t it.
There’s also the fancier noise canceling headphones that create their own opposite-frequency sound waves to cancel out the ambient sound. And you know what all that science talk means… Batteries. And lots of them. Sure, it’s surreal to hear your favorite band like you’re right there in the studio, but that’s one more thing that’s gonna burn through batteries. And since I can never figure out where to properly dispose of dead batteries, these headphones will be making loads of extra work for the folks at the local water treatment facility.
But if your ears sweat like mine do (lots!) you’ll want to stay away from wearing ear-muffs year round and go with some breezy earbuds or canal earphones. In my experience, earbuds are all pretty much the same. Especially once they’re permanently locked in a fist-sized ball of fraying wire and Halls wrappers in your pocket.They’re cheap, they never fit well, and you’ll forget that bands sometimes have bass players, but you’ll still be able to sleep at night when they fall in the toilet.
Canal earphones are the mushy silicon beans you jam into your ear canal. They essentially work like ear plugs, blocking out all ambient sound. This is a fantastic, affordable way to immerse yourself in whatever you’re listening to. But for the love of God, don’t go out in public lest you want to get run over by a car. Don’t forget, you’re wearing ear-plugs, the anti-awareness device. Another warning, don’t let canal earphones get inside your purse because they’ll pick up every atom of loose tobacco, nature valley crumb, and fingernail clipping. And then you’ll be depositing all that shit just inches from your brain. I didn’t mean for this to sound so anti canal earphone, but just-- be careful, I worry about you.
At bedtime, I listen to soft soothing voices either describing how something works, or articulating a thought-provoking idea in 4 acts. I really don’t understand how anyone sleeps without music or spoken word. How do you drown out the voices reminding you that you might never wake up?! My preferred listening device for bed is the filthy white iPod earbuds. Ironically, these tinny pieces of shit are the perfect buds to sleep with because they’re so shitty. They’re too poorly designed to stay in your ears for more than 45 seconds at a time, which is ideal if you don’t want to wake up unsettled in the middle of a story about the Brazilian economy circa 1990. And if you’re one of those cyclone sleepers who can’t stay put, just get some wireless headphones. Sleeping is scary enough without the threat of sleep strangulation.
All our devices nowadays output an insanely high quality signal, and it’s ultimately up to the headphones to deliver. So why settle for sub-par headphones? It’s like eating a gourmet soup served out of a frisbee. But until we all get tiny speakers implanted into our cochleas, remember to play your music as loud as possible so everyone around you can enjoy it too. With any luck, you’ll be deaf soon.