Tuesday, September 4, 2007

headphones galore

Recently I decided to get a new pair of headphones, which turned into 2 new pair. I wanted something cheap for the office that would be an open design, ie. something that I could hear through if someone came up behind me and and started talking. But still sound good.

The Pursuit
After many hours of scouring the net for info on anything that may fit the bill, I decided on the Koss KSC-75. I have had good luck with Koss in the past, and they clip on the ears without a headband which seemed like a good unobtrusive invention. Of course they may not have invented it, but whatever.

The next pair was to be an ear canal-type, as I have been curious about them for a few years. It wouldn't be the $300 or $4oo ones, but I didn't want the absolute bottom of the line either. But how much money could it cost to make these things anyway, they are so small! I figured the bass should be decent no matter what considering how close to the ear canal they are. Searching in parallel with the work 'phone effort, I stumbled across the v-moda bass fréq earbuds. The Skullcandy Smokin Buds were a close second in this guessathon. How do you interpret all these random reviews, do these people know what good sounds like? Do they leave the EQ flat or twist it all up and put on the xtra bass and fake 3-d surround sound too?

Then it came down to how to buy these things. Good old Amazon had the best prices on average, and selection. And free shipping over $25, but only if you buy the items they stock, not those 3rd party sellers, who may have cheaper prices. I saved $6 by buying both from Amazon at the same time, over the price including shipping that I would have paid for the 2 items had I bought the cheapest available, because they would have shipped from 2 seperate vendors. And I got a cooler colour for my v-moda's

How do they sound?
So, a few days later the phones arrive. Funny that they were sent separately according to the emails I received, but they arrived on the same day. Some optimization could be done there. Actually I think they came from separate warehouses so strike that. The KSC-75's were first. I stuck in my current fav, a cd reissue of Brian Eno and David Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. I was disappointed. No bass! They are very light on the ears but that's no excuse really. Well, they will serve their purpose at work but I couldn't recommend 'em. Not to say all Koss products are bad, quite the contrary. I have had a pair of their PortaPro's for over a decade and they are the best all-around headphones I've ever had. Actually 2 pair, I took Koss up on their Lifetime free replacement warranty about 5 years ago. And I have a pair of their beefy rugged TD-series which have served me well for a lot of DJ and studio use.

Next up
... is the v-moda bass fréq's. Buying headphones without trying them is a real crapshoot, and I guess I did OK at 1 for 2 considering how cheap these things are. They stacked up well against the PortaPro's, although it takes a minute to get used to having music piped directly into your brain, I mean earcanal like they do. I sure would like to try a pair of the $400 Shure's to see what I missing out on, but I'm pretty sure stores don't have demo units, it would be a hygenics issue with everyone getting their earwax all over their nice expensive canal cleaners. The bass fréqs came with 3 different sized silicon fittings so you can find the right fit to your ear. Medium were good for me, they pretty effectively shut out the rest of the world and put a well balanced representation of the music in my head. You can forget about hearing the phone ring thru these things, and don't mess with the bass boost if you've got 'em up loud, talk about proximity effect! I would recommend them for an entry-level earphone.

Comparing to what
The Koss PortaPro's are the gold standard for me in headphones, mostly due to their sound (read neutral plus nice deep bass) but also their convenient size. I don't like to have to put some humongous cans on my head to hear good sound and I think they prove you don't have to. Too bad they're so ugly!

I also have a pair of now discontinued Sennheiser HD-535's, which were a step below the venerable HD-600's. I actually liked them better than the 600's, they seemed to handle the dynamics of modern music, ie. rap, reggae, etc. better. I think the 600s were designed for classical music. And I didn't mind that they were more affordable too.

Vancouver. The last pair of headphones worth mentioning are my dbi Pro-705's. I got these a while ago because I was always blown away by the sound of the listening booths at A&B Sound, downtown. Lucky for me they were made in Canada, as no store carried them, so I ordered them directly. Not cheap, and I didn't seem to get the sound, especially the thunderous deep bass that I was expecting. Maybe there was more to those listening booths that a straight wire from amp to headphone.... Or maybe they just need "broken in", ie. abused like the store ones were, to get them loosed up. Well, the dbi's in the store well eventually destroyed by the public and replaced by cheap things. My pair weren't bad, too much high mids and not the bass I was expecting, but great for the studio for singers/rappers on the mic because they are completely closed and clamp on to your ears like two limpets, so no leakage to the mic.

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