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The quest for getting the most from your earphones begins well before you ever buy them. You might be swayed by the fact that such-and-such musician has their name on a certain pair of headphones, or that these particular earphones looks really cute, or dashing, or whatever. Those things just aren’t important and won’t enhance your music listening pleasure.
This is all about the sounds and how they move you. It’s about what happens inside your head when you close your eyes and all there is, is the music. Trent Reznor was right when he called it the perfect drug. The greatest music is a head trip. In fact, the journey begins inside your head, by thinking about your needs and budget, then it travels out to the ears. If you aren’t being nice to your ears, then you may lose the ability to fully enjoy your music.
From there we start to look at the actual headphones themselves – specifications, style, care and use. If you can do most of these things, you can achieve a level of music enjoyment that you might not have thought possible, for as long as possible.
Take Care Of Your Ears
If you aren’t taking care of your ears, it doesn’t matter how much you spend on earphones, you’ll never have the sound quality you could have. You might have hearing damage and not even realize it. Taking care of your ears means proper cleaning and protecting them from sound and physical hazards. You might be surprised how many people don’t know about basic ear hygiene and protection. It takes only an hour of the loudness of a gas lawn mower or electric hair dryer to cause permanent hearing damage. The problem with sound hazards is that they seldom ever cause physical pain. We rely too much on pain as an indicator of damage being done.
If you’re listening to music on an mp3 player with just the earphones that came with the unit, as loud as you can, you’ll be doing permanent damage in just 15 minutes. Louder is not always better. Yes, I am over 40, but I felt this way when I was a teenager too.
So if you’re mowing the lawn, put ear defenders on. Sure you might think you look silly, but you’ll be the silly one who can hear whispers across the room. Turn down the music while you’re at it, silly.
Cleaning your ears with Q-tips is also not a good idea. The act of pushing the swab into the ear canal can push the ear wax further in and cause it to become more embedded. Imagine a plug of wax in your ear. Not cool. The best way to clean your ears is to just wipe out the ear with your towel after bathing or showering. Avoid ear candling like the plague – it’s quack science and is even banned in some places. If holding melting wax and fire over your ear drum seems like a good idea, think again.
Now we’ve dealt with the parental information portion of the article, let’s get on to the music!
Choose Your Weapon
Getting the right headphones is a significant consideration. Do you wear them while working out? At work? At home? In a noisy environment? What is comfortable for you? There are a lot of questions to be asked and answered. The fact is, you’ll probably want a few pairs of headphones for different situations.
Generally speaking, I do not recommend the ear-bud style headphones for the same reason that jamming a Q-tip in your ear is a bad idea. That, and proximity to the ear drum increases the likelihood of damage.
For myself, I prefer over the ear headphones for most situations other than working out. They get knocked off way too easily. So for working out, you may prefer headphones that have a hook that goes over the ear and the earphone itself rests gently on or inside your ear, while the headband goes just underneath the base of your skull. I find these to have the best combination of comfort, sound, and stability for exercising.
For most other situations, you will most likely find that the larger over-the-ear DJ style headphones provide the best sound and comfort. There are SO many makes and types of headphones out there it’s hard to choose! If budget is no consideration, then get whatever you like. However, if you’re like the other 99% of the world and money matters, you need to know how to get the best boom for your buck.
That being said, it’s usually true that better made headphones cost more, but they’ll last you longer. Some audiophiles are still using headphones they bought decades ago. Mind you there are some really good headphones around the $50 mark, if you’re willing to look for them.
What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
Frequency Response Range is arguably the most important thing in determining the sound quality you can expect from your headphones. Remember, quality over quantity – frequency over decibels. Decibels make you deaf, frequency is the real thing. The larger the range the better.
That means that the headphones will more accurately re-create the sound of the music giving you those deep drum lows and clarion highs without distorting the sound into noise. If you can afford headphones that range from 10 Hz to 25,000 Hz those are the ones to consider.
If you have the chance to test the headphones, bring along some of your own music choices and try to choose music that has a wide range from deep bass to high treble. Try to use music that you’ve either heard live or heard on a high quality stereo – that way you have a point of comparison. Classical music works great, but if you’re allergic to it, try something like Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody or fun’s Some Nights (I know, there’s a similarity there.)
To Noise Cancel Or Not To Noise Cancel?
Unless you love listening to opera while marshaling aircraft, you probably won’t need noise cancelling headphones. Any of the headphones that have noise cancelling worth getting are fairly expensive. Also worth considering is whether the noise you’re cancelling needs to be heard or not. If you’re driving, or riding a bike, you shouldn’t be wearing headphones anyway. But if you are, and they cancel out the noise of a horn or siren, you’re going to have a very bad day. If you’re babysitting, you might not hear the kid’s cries for help or worse yet, the smoke detector. Worse still, the parents phoning you.
How Long Is Long Enough?
I’m going to assume that you opted for headphones with cables, simply because a wired connection is always better, all other things being equal. A good rule of thumb for the cable length is the shorter the better. The wire itself adds resistance to the flow of electricity (your music) the longer the wire is. The smaller the diameter of the wire the greater the resistance as well. Think in terms of garden hoses versus fire hoses and you be able to picture what I’m saying.
The shorter cable also means less opportunities for the cable to get caught on things or to get tangled up. If ever there was a case for entropy, long cables are it. If you have a fairly long cable but don’t need the full length you either break out the soldering iron, or just wind up the slack and twist-tie or Velcro tie it in place.
I Got’Em! Now What?
Now that you’ve got your awe-inducing headphones, take good care of them. If you are a total music addict, realize that these things are going to be on your body almost as often and as long as your underwear. They need to be cleaned. To clean your headphones, use a very mild surface cleaner sprayed onto a microfiber cloth. Just a light mist will do. Then wipe down the exterior of your headphones. If there is gunk in the mesh over the speaker part, you might be able to clean it out with a small toothpick or compressed air. Just be gentle and make sure not to touch the speaker cone. A hole in your speaker cone really messes the sound up.
When you are disconnecting the phones from whatever music player you use, do it by pulling on the actual plug – not the cable. Keep pulling on the cable and the cable will separate itself from the plug. Dead headphones.
Take care to wind the cable by looping it, not winding it tight around your hand. These cables are made of very small wires. By flexing them harder, more often, and tighter than necessary they will break. As the threads of the cable break, the resistance increases again detracting from the sound quality. Eventually they won’t work at all.
The kind of looping I’m talking about is the kind that you might see cowboys do with their ropes. Here’s a video of an audio-video type guy really detailing the best way to coil a cable.
If you faithfully do this with your cables, you can extend their life many times over.
When you’re not using your headphones, it’s a good idea to put them away safely. This does two things – protects them from theft and protects them from accidental damage. That includes gathering dust or having liquids spilled on them.
There’s even more to making sure you get the most from your earphones, however I think you’ll agree that this is a really good start.
If you’re an audio professional or just an enthusiastic audiophile, we’d all appreciate it if you shared some of your earphone tips and tricks in the comments. If you’ve found this information helpful in any way, I’d appreciate hearing about it in the comments as well. Peace and beats!