Consumer Electronics Advice, No Charge

Of course I'm a big dork, particularly when the topic turns to fidgety, gadgety devices that do nonessential things.

(I can't debug your home security system; I don't know why your refrigerator burnt out; if the TV gets nothing but QVC I'll do little besides shrug. But if you're shopping for speakers or trying to dim your living room lamps remotely, I'm all over it.)

So with the holidays approaching, and iPods being so popular and all (plus there's that new Zune thing out now, which somehow also shares music with other people nearby, though I'm not yet sure how), I figure a good gift for somebody on your list is a set of headphones.

They're cheap, they're small, and they're compatible with nearly everybody. Especially anyone you know who works out a lot, or commutes via mass transit, or works in one of those offices where people listen to music at their desks. (All computers have headphone outputs, as far as I know. And if your loved one has sucky taste in music, your gift of headphones will also be a much appreciated and kindly gesture toward his or her coworkers as well.)

Also, while people's affection for music varies widely -- my mom almost never listens to anything besides the traffic report as far as I know, while I'm streaming something into my ears more or less nonstop -- pretty much everyone has at least a few songs that make life seem full of possibility, or meaning, or both, and there is no more direct route to experiencing your music fully than by strapping tiny speakers to the sides of your head.

Good headphones are so cheap, comparatively speaking, that it's almost a crime not to at least upgrade the ones that came with your radio. (Those are really, really cheap, like, less than a dollar to manufacture, I'm guessing -- they do give them out on airplanes, remember -- and listening to your favorite song on those things is like kissing your wife through a dishrag. Better than nothing, but just barely.)

If you're at all intrigued and now thinking what I was hoping to get you thinking, which is "Man. This Colin guy really has a point. I think I will take advantage of his complimentary dorkiness and purchase some headphones for myself or a loved one this holiday season", I recommend you go to www.headphone.com and scroll down to their selection guide at the bottom.

They know headphones better than anybody else I've run across (much like www.crutchfield.com and car audio. They rule too.) and they'll shoot you straight. They even point out that some of the manufacturers' models -- ones they, www.headphone.com, carry, mind you -- suck and should not be bought.

I personally own the Koss KSC 75s, which do not suck at all. They cost scarcely more than a new cd, and still sound great after three or four years now. That's, like, a penny per hour of listening enjoyment.

I also now have the AKG K 26 Ps, and I like those too. They sound better than the Kosses, cost about twice as much, and block out outside noises, which is both good and bad. In doing so they clamp a little too firmly on my noggin for my tastes, but it's not a problem for short listening sessions. And when I want to zone out and get some writing done in (relative) privacy, or there's a song I really want to hear, sounding really good, and loud, right now, the K 26s are what I pull out of the desk drawer.

Moving up from there you can buy the Grado SR60s, at seventy bucks or so, and those are reputed to sound mighty fine plugged into your iPod, or computer, or whatever. Remember that, due to their smaller size and reduced complexity, good headphones will sound way better than speakers of equal cost -- I'd say buying $100 headphones is like buying, oh, probably $700 speakers. Except these would be $700 speakers you can take with you anywhere.

After that the prices spiral up into the $200-$300 range for a nice pair of Sennheisers, or Etymotics if you don't mind "in-ear" headphones, and on up to the thousand-dollar electrostatic models nobody actually ever buys. Since I'm mainly talking gift-giving here, though, I figure you'll be more interested in the sub-$100 category. There those three choices I mentioned are good starting points.

Anyway, go to that site I told you about and you should be just fine. Just remember a couple of other things I forgot to mention:

• Bose stuff is not the end all, be all of audio quality. Compared to non-Bose stuff, it tends to be pretty pricey for what you get, and those Etymotics I mentioned will kick the crap out of the noise-cancelling models Bose tries to sell you in the airline magazines. Putting speakers in your ear canals, for now at least, works a lot better than the "active noise cancellation" technology.

• Wireless headphones are pretty convenient, yeah, but sound quality isn't there yet. Slightly better than talking on the phone, I'd say. In fact, every wireless headphone I've seen uses the same sound-transmission technology as cordless telephones, or those Bluetooth headsets you see folks strolling around chatting on.

• Don't make yourself deaf. Most headphones, even the ones that may have come with your iPod, will play loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage if you really push them. Even though the actual speakers in there are no bigger than your fingernail, they are of course Right In Your Ear, and the longer you listen to them cranked all the way up the more risk you run of hearing ringing afterward, and hearing ringing afterward means you just damaged your hearing -- you'll never again hear quite as well as you used to. I love AC/DC too, but it's not worth making your grandchildren shout to be heard, agreed?

Happy shopping, and listening.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

Koss KSC 75's. Gotcha. Right in my price-range. There is one thing you didn't touch on, and that is the best headphones to use if you need to fit them under something, like a helmet, cranial, or hearing protection while mowing, although the dound-deadening ones would be great mowing, save spending all that money just to have them get dirty or worse - chopped up after they fall off.