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Choosing a set of Headphones

April 14, 2017
Headphones

Choosing a set of headphones is a very personal decision and an important way to keep the peace when living in a 300sq ft RV for an extended period.  There are a number of factors when deciding on what pair to choose.  The most important factor is choosing what you like and what you can afford.  But it is important to try them on and test them with your style of listening.

Some other factors to consider

Bluetooth or not:  I like bluetooth for sitting around on the sofa as the cord dragging on my shoulder bugs me and does create some noise.  Bluetooth has come a long way and you can now get good quality sound over Bluetooth.

Listening type: The type of headphones you choose can be great for one type of sound and bad for other types.  Some brands are very bass heavy and should be better for Rap music but because they are bass heavy they usually suffer in the higher ranges, so forget listening to Zamfir flute music on a bass heavy set of headphones.  Also watching vlogs or listening to ebooks will sound vastly different from listening to music, as well gaming has its own sound profile and a the requirement for a good microphone as well.

Style: There are three main types of headphones and comfort is probably the biggest factor when choosing.  Ear bud sit in ear and some people do not like the feel, but they are great for working out and are very small to carry.  On ear and over ear are similar but the primary difference is the actual size the headphone itself.  Generally over ear are more comfortable over longer time, but on ear can save a lot of money vs over ear and still get you a very good sound.

Price range:  This can be an important factor, but price can be deceiving, spending $300 is not a guarantee that you will get 3x better quality over a $100 pair.  My opinion is that you can divide all headphones into 3 main price ranges.  Sub $25 are typically your dollar store headphones, the ones that Wal-Mart sells or the ones that ship with your phone.  On the other end of the spectrum are the mid range and high-end multi hundred-dollar to thousand dollar headphones.  I cannot tell the difference in quality between them and a mid range pair.  The only difference I can see with them is the build quality, more wood finish, and metal parts vs plastic.  My opinion is you can get excellent quality in the mid range of $50 to $150 range.

Brands:  Brand name is the trickiest part of the decision as brand does not always equal quality or value.  If your highschool kids are asking for a particular brand, that does not mean it is the best choice.  Brands like Beats and Monster are popular and do make good quality headphones but you can get similar quality of other brands for 1/3 the cost.  Brands like JVC, Panasonic and Sony make good middle of the road all-purpose options, and are consistently middle of the road.  Brands like Klipsch, Harmon Kardon and Senheisser make some excellent high-end options.  The trick is to find good value for the price you are paying.

I have two go to pairs that I really like and use for them for different reasons.   I have a pair of Klipsch S4 ear buds, they are one of the best known names in ear buds.  I use them primarily when I am on the move listening on my phone.  They are small, compact, have a more natural ear canal shape and have great sound range and even some noise cancellation.  They are a great sub $100 option, in fact I got them on sale several years ago for $40 from a regular price of $70.  They were a huge upgrade from the ear buds that shipped with various high-end phones I have owned like an iPhone, several Blackberry and Android phones.  The second pair is a recent addition and they are probably the best pair I have owned.  They are the AKG Y50BT.  They are a sub brand of Harmon Kardon which is one of the best known names in Hi Fi equipment.  At $130 at Costco, they were an excellent choice and sounded as good as some +$500 cans I have tried.  To add to that, I got them on sale for $100, a steal for a high-end sounding set of cans at a mid range price by one of the best names in Hi Fi.  They are also Bluetooth to boot and the sound quality is excellent on Bluetooth as well.

I guess the real question is do you really need to spend all that money on a good set of headphones.  Well I have always been drawn to some of the old guitar rock of the 60’s and 70’s like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Carlos Santana and have been listening to them all my life.  However the first time I got a good pair of headphones I would notice things in songs that I have listened to hundreds of times: new notes, new instruments that I just have not noticed before or a subtle squeak of a string that would normally go unnoticed.  The range and the clarity of a good set of cans brings out parts of songs that you may not have ever noticed before just because the cheap iPhone headphones cannot pickup some of the sounds that have always been there but go unnoticed.

AKG y50BT

Klipsch S4

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