Friday, February 1, 2008

Cans: A Personal History

Excuse me while I ramble ignorantly on the subject of headphones.
Just today I ordered a paired of these and hope they won't be too terrible. They were $20 so I won't be too annoyed if they sound terrible. And why am I getting these?

I've been doing a lot of walking lately and really enjoying listening to a ton of music on the ipod (60G of constantly updated music) and finding that despite the greatness of the music that is playing, the sound is just not satisfactory. Now I really don't expect these cans to solve the problem, but here is what I have been up against:

With the iPod I inevitably got the standard issue crap white ear buds. My ears are just not designed to accommodate buds. Yes, I'm a mutant. I had a pair of Roxio ear buds from a few years ago that I thought were crap at the time but they actually sounded pretty good with the iPod. They were bigger and the foam covers stayed on (as they would not on the Apple buds) so i could wedge them into my shell-likes and actually hear some bass. So I lost the Roxio buds, whether misplaced at home or permanently. I had a pair of Sony in-ears - the ones with the head band that I dug out from some box or other which surprised me by actually sounding better than the aforementioned two bud phones.

Wouldn't you know it, the repeated taking out and putting back in to pocket resulted in the left phone on the Sonys to die? Wire breaks. Back to the Apple buds. Horrible!

A couple of attempts to find a quick fix in LOCAL SHOPS resulted in NOTHING. In slight desperation I went to Radio Shack and confident in the knowledge that their ear buds had to be crap, I bought a pair for $10 just in case I would be proven wrong. I do not mind getting things wrong if the final outcome is a positive. They practically jumped out of my ears before I could even get to hear how bad they were. Weirdly shaped, small and very slick, there was no way for them to adhere to the walls of my earholes. A total waste of time, but now they serve as You Tube or similar incidental 'hearing what some asshole politician has to say about something on the computer at the office. Not a really a total waste then, but a reshuffle of resources, or something.

So I went internet shopping. And, will I feel silly with a pair of cans on walking through the streets? People used to look insane a few years ago talking on cellphones, so...who cares? if the music sounds better.

Now on to the personal headphone history. I must admit that I started recording music totally clueless and in some respects took longer than I should have to nail down some basics. Even still I skirt some of the high and mighty 'expert' advice on basic stuff. For example, I still do not have a pair of proper monitor speakers. But what I do have in this apartment living home recording studio environment is a pair of proper cans that I trust, not because they are so wonderful, but because I know them. I've had the same pair of Sony MDR V6 for 13 or 14 years.

In fact, most of the music I hear is through these old reliable friends. They are well worn. The ear pads are denuded of the plastic coating (making them less sweaty in a NY summer) and less puffy (less squashed into the ear, better for my ears in the long run) and at high volume one of the drivers distorts a little - but I don't push them like I used to when I was younger and admittedly stoopider. Probably still stoopid but a little less so nowadays.

But to embellish the history and add a little relevance to this post. Immediately preceding the Sony MDR V6 I got a pair of AKG something or others something like these (pictured). On whose advise, I cannot remember, and this was before internet information / disinformation (or shall I call it 'indisinfo'?) but I do remember that the thrust of the recommendation was that the headphones would give a 'flat response' so I could really hear what I was recording and not be fooled by headphones that accentuated certain frequencies to produce a false aural image of what was actually on tape. Well bollocks to that. I hated those things so much. They were DEAD. I think I tried them for a short time and in frustration tore them apart and threw them in the rubbish. balls to the 'flat response' mafia. Thing is, almost nobody listens to any music on a 'flat response' system - so why restrict yourself to a dead sound while you are engaged in the recording process? I got the Sony MDR V6 headphones and for recording purposes all I want is a brand new identical pair - that is how much I trust them. I have recorded things I would in hindsight like to change but I would never blame the cans. My mistakes.

So what is the point of this ramble? I'll see what the Yamahas have to offer - but recording and listening are two very different experiences with entirely distinct requirements from cans. If the Yamahas are crap for listening on the iPod or are too much of a drain (I can always get a Boostaroo for volume if they suck too much and are too quiet) I may need to rethink. But I really need a cost effective (extremely low budget) solution to making ipod listening a pleasure not an academic exercise: 'that sounds like a really good track, I wonder what it is supposed to sound like...' sort of thing.

I'll have a second pair of cans for a vocalist or other musician at least, for cheap.

Maybe I'll update with a review of the cheapo Yamaha cans...
Any by the way, I buy a few things here and there but mostly from for no other reason than that they are usually cheaper and they have a somewhat useful review system. But the reviews very often are by complete illiterates who have no idea what they are talking about. It can be amusing, frustrating or both. But then again, in the REAL WORLD of human interaction whoever it was that swore by the AKGs was just plain wrong...for me...
All opinion all the time!

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