Gear: Cans, Man (Headphones)

Ah, gear and gadgets. Possibly my favorite topic. Combine that with music…mmm.

I spend a lot of time with some form-factor of headphones on/in my ears. I like music and being “close” enough to hear as many details as my untrained ear can pick up.

Stan Kenton: A Time for Love

[Side-note] By way of genetics, I should be much more musically talented: my aunt, Lisa Hittle, took a hiatus from her undergrad days at Kansas State University to tour with the Stan Kenton orchestra on his final tour in 1978. You can hear her on sax on Kenton’s live album: A Time for Love.

I also travel a lot, work in public places and need to converse with others over mobile phone/GTalk/Skype. All situations that benefit form good headphones. As someone that likes to listen to music as I work, headphones are great at blocking distractions and helping me focus – a constant challenge.

But headphones are one of those areas where folks have strong personal preferences and opinions. Style, tone, form-factor, feature sets. There’s a lot to consider – especially when reading reviews from hardcore audiophiles! (The ones who will spend thousands on their cans.) Reading online reviews can actually make the choice harder!

My advice: attempt to determine each reviewer’s perspective (e.g. novice, casual user, music industry professional) and give the most weight to those aligned with your intended use of the gear. I’m also happy to share my opinion, just get in touch!

Large audio-only cans (no inline mic/controls)

Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Studio Monitor Headphones - Buy at amazonDue to a recent birthday I became the owner of a pair of cans I’ve wanted for a quite awhile now: Audio-Technica’s ATH-M50 Studio Monitor Headphones. I read a lot of reviews and tried out many different pairs in this headphone category and these seemed a good fit for me. Just got them today and am rocking them as I write. I love ’em so far, but like most any gadget what really matters is how far you get down the road with them. And apparently you’re supposed to burn-in your cans for a few hundred hours before judging their true sound. I’ll be sure to update you. Shouldn’t take me long to get there – they’re amazingly comfortable on my jug. Oh, and I dig the coiled cord. You have an option of coiled or straight with the ATH-M50’s. Just make sure you know which cord you are ordering. The model number is the same for both.

Here are the other headphones that I sport on a regular basis:

In-ear with mic

Scosche Noise Isolation Earbuds with tapLINE II Remote & Mic - Buy from amazon

Scosche Noise Isolation Earbuds with tapLINE II Remote & Mic

These don’t have amazing sound quality but they block out alot of sound, have a long cord and feedback a bit of your voice back into the headphones like a standard telephone so you don’t scream at the person on the other end. (A feature missing from most noise isolating headphone/mics its seems.) I also appreciate inline volume control when the iPhone is in a pocket. Plus, I got ’em free with another pair of cans I used to own.

Medium cans with mic

UrbanEars Plattan Headphones – Mocca

I’ll admit that my love for these might be more aesthetic than function, but they sound good, block lots of noise and have a mic + call/track controls in-line (no volume, unfortunately). You can also share your beat because they have an 1/8″ jack under the right can for a buddy to plug into. Nice. I call these types of headphones “medium cans” because they are not as large as studio monitors (e.g. Audio Technica’s ATH-M50’s above) so they are easier to carry with you, but they are not as small as ear buds. They are available in an array of sweet colors. I initially wanted standard black, but the Austin-favorite Waterloo Records didn’t have any in-stock. Since I’m impatient and didn’t want to wait, I chose Mocca (dark brown) and ended up glad that I had to go for something other than boring electronic black. My only complaints: no volume controls and after a few hours they start to hurt my ears because they fit very snug. Granted, my ears stick out further than most…

Wireless multi-source (unified communications headset)

Plantronics B230-M Voyager Pro UC V2 - Buy from amazon
Plantronics B230-M Voyager Pro UC V2

There needs to be a standard/better name for this category because the concept is fantastic: you want to listen to audio and make VoIP calls (Google talk, Skype, etc.) without being tied to your computer but also need to take calls from your bluetooth mobile phone. Normally answering a mobile phone call requires you to remove your computer headset and put on a separate bluetooth headset which has been paired to your mobile. This category of gear attempts to “unify” those various sources into one wireless device. No headset juggling required.

This Plantronics model seems awesome and is on order, but is currently backordered across all online vendors I found. (Let me know if you know of a source.)

I’m excited to try the Plantronics headset out and will, of course, post a review as soon as I have it in hand (on ear?). Heads up: beware that most of the product listings online do a poor job of distinguishing between version 1 and version 2.

[Side-note] Plantronics has long made excellent headsets for office phones. Eventually they ventured into bluetooth headsets. On the other end of the manufacturing spectrum the traditional audio vendors like Bose and Sennheiser are now producing mic-equipped headsets. Its interesting to watch vendors move beyond their expertise and work on converged technology.

Hope you’re having a rockin’ good weekend.

About Kye Hittle

I’m tall, enjoy traveling, running and the company of good friends. Lover of [square brackets]. (OK, parenthesis too, which I overuse, and {curly braces}!) Professionally I am the Director of IT for a nonprofit and do freelance higher-ed, small biz and other nonprofit tech gigs. I heart technology used for personal and societal good.
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