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The Quest for the Perfect Headphones / Earphones / Ear Thumps!

Posted by Rene C Schutte on November 22, 2009 at 5:08 PM

So who of you out there does not own a set of headphones or six for your iPod shuffle, Nano, MP3 player or Music capable cell phone?

 Most of us tend to focus on the next glitzy music playing device. Should we go Apple and iTunes or Nokia Music store music.nokia.co.za (at least available in South Africa) but little consideration is given to the actual device delivering the audio waves to your ears. I am of course referring to headphones. Oh yes, we receive new pair with every iPod or phone, and relevant music gadget and we mostly accept what is packaged with the device. In this blog I will shed a bit more light on my experiences and findings in the “Quest for the perfect headphones”.

If you’ve travelled internationally lately you would no doubt have noticed fellow travelers adorned with bulky headphones that they spend quite a few Euros or Dollars on in order to enjoy the bulk of their journey in a noise-reduced high quality music world of their choosing. Others have less obtrusive headphones, but a large majority has a music player and a set of headphones of some sort somewhere on their person or close by in the carry-on luggage.

Aside from receiving a pair of headphones with your music player many of us end up in electronic stores such as Incredible Connection, Stax, Radio Shack, etc depending on our country, looking for another pair of headphones. Why? Well, the main reasons of course for getting a new pair of headphones would include having lost your headphones, they were broken/damaged, you want a spare set, they are uncomfortable and you want a better set, etc.

Let’s look at some of your options in getting a new set and what their advantages/disadvantages might be.

Some of the brands you may be looking at would include iPod, Nokia, Sony, Skull, Sennheiser, Griffin and No-name-brand "Made in China"-types to name but a few.

In all the headphones I have evaluated/used I have built up a list of features I feel are crucial to select a pair of headphones that will last and provide high quality music delivery.

 

1. EAR COVERING TYPE

a. Overhead headphones: These are the traditional decades old design of an "alice band" over the head attaching two cups covering your ears. The cups could be lined with sponge only or sponge covered in soft leather for the more expensive types.

 

Pros: Excellent music quality; Excellent noise-reduction; Excellent Bass

Cons: Bulky (even with folding types); Can cause ear sensitivity with prolonged use; Uncomfortable for sleeping on your side

 

 

b. Ear Thumps: Like me many of you out there might ask what on earth is an ear thump anyway? Well here’s a picture to explain.

 

Pros: Excellent music quality; Excellent noise-reduction; Very good bass; Highly unobtrusive; Excellent comfort even with prolonged use; Suitable for sleeping even lying on your side; Variety of thump sizes available.

Cons: None?

 

 c. Earphones: with sponges, similar to thumps in that the earphone is also snuggly fitted in the earphone and assisted to be secured at the ear canal entrance mainly by the nature of the sponge cover of the headphone.

 

Pros: Excellent music quality; Average noise-reduction; Very good bass; Highly unobtrusive; Excellent comfort even with prolonged use; Suitable for sleeping even lying on your side;

Cons: Sponges tend to "get lost" and are difficult (if not impossible) to replace in South Africa.

 

d. Wrap-around headphones: where a part of the headphone consists of a curved portion to be fitted around the ear and the headphone positioned at the end of the curved portion. This allows he headphone to sit against, but is not inserted into the ear canal.

 

Pros: Excellent music quality; Average noise-reduction; Excellent Bass

Cons: Can cause ear sensitivity with prolonged use; Uncomfortable for sleeping on your side

 

  

2. CABLE LENGTH & CABLE INSULATION MATERIAL

Each of the type of headphones/earphones mentioned above is available with a variety of cable lengths. The reason for adding this is especially relevant if you tend to require a longer cable length for wearing your music player in your bag, on your hip or in your pocket. I found that Phillips and Nokia pre-packaged headphones scored poorly here whereas Skull earphones scored very well in this regard with ample extra length cable to avoid the phones tugging your ears.

I found the no-name brand Chinese cheap ear thumps and even Phillips headphones to have poor insulation materials used causing the brittle thin wire inside the insulation to break causing music interruptions.

Sennheiser and Skull score great here with high quality insulation that remains flexible through hot and cold temperatures, and resulting in the thin wiring to last much longer.

 

3. CONNECTION JACK

Worth mentioning here that though Nokia is now producing most of their headphones with a standard 3.5mm jack but I would unfortunately still not pick them over other earphones or head phones as Nokia has continued in their previous design of making the one cable shorter than the other!

The no-name-brand Chinese and even Phillips brand have problems connecting to all devices properly, almost as if the jack is not the standard 3.5mm but instead 3.4-something mm. As such you will get frustrated using these in a variety of devices such as laptop earphone jacks vs, iPod, etc. On one device the earphones will play properly. On another device the jack will not fit properly and you will find the music not playing or playing intermittently which makes them essentially useless on those devices.

Skull, Sony and Sennheiser has high quality 3.5mm jacks that I have yet to find any problems with.

 

4. COST

The no-name-brand-Chinese and Phillips brand rank among the cheapest. Though in South Africa the Phillips earphones offer one of the better alternatives if you’re cash-strapped.

A good pair of Sony or Sennheiser would set you back more but you could have great enjoyment from them for years.

Skull headphones win outright in terms of cost vs. value for money, at the cost of the higher quality/higher priced brands it’s almost half the price, but with equal performance.

 

AND THE WINNER IS:

Skull

IMHO RULES!

In all aspects this is a set of earphones that you can live and sleep with in comfort, for years, enjoying high quality sound on all your electronic music devices. If you can get your hands on them (Available in Radio Shack, USA)

Categories: Techie Stuff, General Ramblings

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21 Comments

Reply pieto
5:25 PM on November 26, 2009 
I have problems with both ear thumps and earphones. Earphones just fall off. My ears are the wrong shape, I think. With ear thumps, I have the problem that I had some surgery on my right ear when I was 16. Scar tissue has made the canal too narrow to fit the thumper in. I find the wraparound earphones extremely uncomfortable under all conditions. I use Sony noise reduction on-ear headphones. They are comfortable for extended use (I can't sleep on my side in flight), but the noise reduction is just average. When my ship comes in I will get a pair of over-ear Sony or Bose headphones.
Reply Rene C Schutte
8:31 AM on December 8, 2009 
BLOG - FOLLOW UP - UPDATE

Another make of ear thumps are really catering for the points mentioned in my blog is available from Amazon (and other places inclusing South Africa). The make is JLabs (JBuds) so if you cannot get hold of Skull, then JBub is a great option as well.

What makes JBuds particularly cool as that they come in a variety of different shaped thumps which helps those of us with non-standard ear canals. Combining the different shapes of the JBuds together with the various thump sizes will give 99.999% of us out there with the ultimate fitting earphones. The sound quality and of the JLabs thumps are equally impressive.

See the CNET review here: http://reviews.cnet.com/headphones/jbuds-j2-premium-hi/4505-7877_
7-33444580.html
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Reply Rene C Schutte
5:20 PM on February 3, 2010 
Like a moth to a flame :-D

Thanks stacks for the post OC !!!

bandsxbands says...
My friend and I were recently talking about how we as human beings are so hooked onto electronics. Reading this post makes me think back to that discussion we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.


I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as the price of memory drops, the possibility of copying our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could experience in my lifetime.


(Posted on Nintendo DS running R4 DS NetServ)
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