Angry Robot

The Myth of the Perfect Headphones

Of late I have used the Grado SR-80s and the aforementioned Shures. I hoped the Grados would be the holy grail of sound quality, which they pretty much are – at least until I join the yacht-owning set and am willing to spend $500+ on headphones. However, the Grados are impractical for anything but home use. They let a ton of sound both in and out; to drown out the sounds of your environs, you must play these cats loud enough that anyone downwind of you can hear the swear-ridden lyrics of the filth you call music. It almost cost me my job as a baby photographer.™

The type of headphone you are willing to tolerate is the single most important aspect of choosing a model. Earbuds tend to lack bass; headphones, unless enormous and therefore unwieldy and uncomfortable, have the Grados’ tragic flaw; in-ear headphones like the Shure E2Cs are fussy, gross and to many, uncomfortable. I can put up with their downsides since I need something that will drown out ambient sound, both on my foot-based commute and in the “open-concept office,” a.k.a. trying to write a paper in the middle of a steel-cage royal rumble.

Of the in-ear models, the ones worth considering seem to be the Sennheiser CX300-s, the Ultimate Ears 3 and 5, the Etymotic Isolators, and the Shures. The low-end model, the CX300, go for around $70, the 5s are $200, and the others from $80-150. If money is an object, I’d suggest you follow my lead and get the Shures, despite my complaints about the build quality, since you’re unlikely to get better quality from any of the other models.

Also, treating the included case as mandatory and not just a thoughtful suggestion will cut down on your wear and tear. Oh yeah – and don’t walk around outside, in Canada, during the winter for hours at a time. Apparently that’s just not wise.