Headphone Notes
January 17, 2020 5:28 PM   Subscribe

How Headphones are Changing Music. “'Listening to music on headphones is very different to speakers where there is a temporal and spatial difference between you and the music,' says Charlie Harding, one of the hosts of the podcast Switched On Pop and co-author of a new book on music theory in popular music. Harding partially credits the success of podcasting to headphones: listening that way creates a feeling of closeness between the hosts and listener."
posted by storybored (36 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
music sure has changed a lot since people started using headphones in *squints at note scrawled on palm* uh, 1979
posted by phooky at 6:31 PM on January 17 [18 favorites]

I'm just happy to have been prompted to find out that the same model I was sticking in my left ear in 1968 is still made.
posted by flabdablet at 6:37 PM on January 17 [7 favorites]

Yes, but this theory makes too much sense to ignore.

I ve always wondered what the difference was between an Apple branded radio show and a regular radio show--it s the headphones.

We ve had many different names for acoustic performances over the years, largely shaped by venue ("concerts" vs "shows" vs "parties", etc), so I think this is part of a larger history of musical composition following trends in venues.
posted by eustatic at 6:37 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

music sure has changed a lot since people started using headphones in *squints at note scrawled on palm* uh, 1979

Yes but it's now their children who've grown up listening to music inside their heads at all times creating a newer aesthetic.

This article made me think about Ways of Hearing, a 6 episode podcast from Radiotopia that's about how digital sound is changing the way we live. The host theorizes that the reason a lot of us don't enjoy talking for a long time on cell phones is that digital compression removes breathing noises that analog phones would transmit thus sending audio into some sort of uncanny valley.
posted by Uncle at 6:54 PM on January 17 [16 favorites]

The idea behind this is fascinating. I remember discussion somewhere a few years ago of why Phil Spector-style "wall of sound" songs were so popular in the sixties: so much of the time they were being played over AM radio on crappy car speakers.
posted by lhauser at 7:07 PM on January 17 [8 favorites]

Headphones have changed mixing since the ubiquity of the Sony Walkman and similar products in the 80s. The real revolution today, as touched on in the article, isn't headphones. It's people mixing for phone speakers, which only sort of has precedent for people mixing in mono for transistor radios, though the technology has moved so far since then that it's not really applicable other than in general terms.
posted by tclark at 7:09 PM on January 17 [9 favorites]

I would have liked to have read more about how sound waves from two or more speakers in a room can interact and create harmonics which don't exist in the actual recording (or something like that), and the fact that this can't happen with headphones makes for a very different listening experience.

Also, why don't Airpods count as headphones in trade data?
posted by theory at 7:30 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]

this can't happen with headphones

Sure it can.
posted by flabdablet at 7:43 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]

Isn't that different though? That seems like it's an illusion of a sound, but sound waves played through speakers will actually interact with each other, and also with the room itself I suppose.
posted by theory at 8:01 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]

music sure has changed a lot since people started using headphones in *squints at note scrawled on palm* uh, 1979

ah, ye ole metafilter strawman to kick off the discussion
posted by Ahmad Khani at 8:11 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]

“Their style of singing is almost like a whisper, as if they are right in your head,”

This just seems like a modern echo of much earlier transformations in style of delivery made possible by technology — for example the advent of the crooner:
This dominant popular vocal style coincided with the advent of radio broadcasting and electrical recording. Before the advent of the microphone, popular singers like Al Jolson had to project to the rear seats of a theater, as did opera singers, which made for a very loud vocal style. The microphone made possible the more personal style. [Wikipedia]
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 8:28 PM on January 17 [5 favorites]

sound waves played through speakers will actually interact with each other, and also with the room itself I suppose.

So I have a tiny little soundbox of a living room. Maybe 10x14, 12x14? I have a 5.1 system in it, wired speakers old-school stereo speakers up on top of bookcases for the front speakers, small but powerful satellite speakers hung near the ceiling for the rear speakers, and the not-interesting central speaker and non-powered subwoofer that came with the 5.1 decoding amplifier unit. I feed a digital signal into it through optical cables, or else use fake surround which is actually pretty good at this point in time.

And man, I have this space where I can wander around within music. I have a lot of albums in actual 5.1 surround on DVD. I have a lot of pirated old Quad albums from Q8 which are 4 discrete tracks, no middle speaker or bass track, still thrilling. And even with the fake surround, it's good enough, the instruments are located in space. I can walk from one corner of the room to another in 4-5 steps but enter an entire other perspective on the music I'm listening to. I have a Sweet Spot in the room where it all balances out perfectly. But I love being able to walk around within the music.

The Genesis 5.1 mixes are particularly interesting, with most of the lead vocals coming from only the center speaker so if I decide to turn that one all the way down, I get instrumentals, or vice versa -- isolated vocal.

Anyway, I'm a fan of wandering around within my music. I wish I liked headphones more, but I find it frustrating when I don't get audio cues from the world around me so I don't use them often. They ARE great for radio dramas like the NPR Star Wars trilogy or the BBC's Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. There are paragraphs of description contained within 2-3 seconds of stereo headphone audio in those series.
posted by hippybear at 8:31 PM on January 17 [12 favorites]

This is definitely a real thing if you read music production forums (also anecdotally I grew up using headphones exclusively for my "own" music listening) but I'd say the obvious manifestations are things like people finding it worthwhile to put sub-bass in stereo, which only really "works" when you've got strict isolation of the stereo sides and are not playing through a mono sub channel. I think most of the stuff about optimizing for small speakers has to do more with phone/small-device speakers, as someone said - I'd wager the bass response of an average set of headphones or earbuds is much stronger than it was 15 years ago.
posted by atoxyl at 8:47 PM on January 17

I'm a fan of wandering around within my music. I wish I liked headphones more

Seems to me that it wouldn't take more processing power than the average cell phone has got to make it possible to strap one to your head, have its accelerometer work out exactly where you are and which way you're facing within a virtual sound stage of pretty much any size, and deliver that experience to you through earbuds. Or even a set of proper headphones, with a clip on the headband for the phone.

App developers: get on this.
posted by flabdablet at 9:00 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

sound waves played through speakers will actually interact with each other, and also with the room itself I suppose.

Yup. This gets particularly interesting when you're trying to build a recording and/or monitoring environment. It's also part of why mixing music entirely on headphones often results in music that can have weird phase or filtering issues on anything else - outside an anechoic chamber, every sound you hear that isn't being played mere inches from your eardrums is interacting with both the room and other sounds. 'Ringing out' a room will often catch weird reflections or frequency traps, but there are tons of fascinating reasons and techniques for measuring this stuff.

I only use headphones for isolation and don't find them particularly enjoyable for recreational listening, although I feel like I'd listen to more podcasts this way if all my hobbies weren't auditory or I worked out at the gym instead of my basement.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:00 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]

I find recordings like this recording of Arvo Part's Kanon Pokajanen or even from the original Chess album, Endgame, (esp the choral opening) which have a sense of space unto themselves even apparent across YouTube let alone from CD... I find them breathtaking...

I sang in a choir in college that went on tour and there were certain places where we performed where the feeling was electric just from the acoustics of the space. That Chess piece, it's giving me goosebumps even while I type this. And in my soundbox living room, or yes through headphones... you can FEEL like you're in a room the size of which they recorded it, even if you're just in your car.
posted by hippybear at 9:16 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]

It's not just rooms, either; it's ears, specifically the flappy complicated shapes of our outer ears.

There's been a lot of interesting work done on recording stuff through an actual dummy head with carefully simulated external ears and microphones down the ear canals. I've listened to some of that stuff through earbuds and the sense of space and place is pretty bloody amazing. I'm sure some of it would be available online given more spoons than I have for searching right this minute.
posted by flabdablet at 9:22 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Pearl Jam did a song on their album Binaural using a head shaped microphone with two ears for the inputs.
posted by hippybear at 9:25 PM on January 17

Lou Reed was a rather vocal Binaural sound enthusiast for his interesting late 1970s recordings..

Binaural sound is kinda funny. There's a psychoacoustic phenomenon where for some listeners the sound seems really uncanny, but not everyone responds quite the same way. I think that when binaural sound is blended with studio sound it is pretty wierd (I think Shriekback did this?)
posted by ovvl at 10:34 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]

Dear god imagine being locked in a pair of headphones with Metal Machine Music.
posted by Grangousier at 3:42 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

This is interesting to consider. I rarely use earphones (pretty much only for audiobooks in bed); my music listening is almost always either in the car, which gives a very clear sense of being in the middle of the sound, or at home streaming over a simple bluetooth speaker, which does not give that sense of space at all.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:13 AM on January 18

Living room big speakers, with he sound filling the house, is my favorite way to listen. For certain types of music or moods, nice Bose headphones are also great, though I have tinnitus at this age. Earbuds .... only when forced. Off a YouTube video on a laptop ... hell no. Why bother?
posted by freecellwizard at 5:51 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

I'd say the obvious manifestations are things like people finding it worthwhile to put sub-bass in stereo, which only really "works" when you've got strict isolation of the stereo sides and are not playing through a mono sub channel.

Modern mastering engineers (good ones anyway) still emphasize the importance of phase correlation. Poor correlation can make some people feel seasick when listening in headphones, and people do sometimes listen on mono Bluetooth speakers etc.

That said, if you're careful you can move bass or sub-bass around in the stereo field, you just have to be careful how you do it.

I had ignored phase correlation issues entirely myself until this was pointed out to me. I find I can get sometimes wider-sounding headphone mixes if I keep the bass/sub ranges tightly centered.

(And of course if you care about releasing on vinyl, you absolutely have to be in mono down in the bass range.)
posted by Foosnark at 6:25 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

Once I got a set of very nice over the ear headphones with a good DAC, I realized where the audiophile craziness comes from. Comparing that to stock earbuds, and it's like discovering you've only been listening to the middle third of your music this whole time. You hit your diminishing returns pretty quickly, but those first few steps are amazing.

I have to admit that the idea of optimizing for the worst part of the whole pipe, stock cellphone speakers or earbuds... I guess makes sense? I can sort of see the argument? But man, that's saddening.
posted by mhoye at 6:58 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]

Eh . . . in a lot of ways I feel like this piece doesn't really come up with strong arguments to justify its headline/conclusion - lots of the individual parts are correct (or at least plausible), but the author seems to be unaware of a lot of music and music technology history (or is at least missing some perspective of same), and furthermore is kinda ignoring non-headphone explanations for some of the "evidence" that headphones are changing music.

For example: "former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne posits that music composition and production are almost entirely dependent on technological context. For example, he explains that medieval European music was often harmonically simple because playing lots of notes at once sounded terrible in cathedrals, and that trumpets were common in early jazz because the instrument’s high frequency could be heard over a talkative audience. "

Sure, OK, I haven't read the book so I don't know how well this is supported by evidence, but it seems plausible enough.

Then: "Today, keyboards have become the central instrument in music composition because it translates well to MIDI, the interface for digitizing music."

Just . . . no. MIDI is not the interface for digitizing music, it's a method for already digitized instruments & other pieces of tech to communicate control information to each other. And MIDI's been around for 36 years at this point, so it's not a "new" technological influence that would track with the rise in headphone use cited. The creation and development of sampling technology has a lot more to do with the (unsubstantiated) assertion that keys are the central instrument in music composition. And furthermore, even if this is true, it's not exactly new - an untold number of classical music pieces were composed on the piano from orchestral symphonies to string quartets - all the notes are right there in front of you in an easily understandable layout. Keyboards as a compositional tool are literally centuries old.

"Harding partially credits the success of podcasting to headphones: listening that way creates a feeling of closeness between the hosts and listener."

That "partially" is doing a lot of work here, possibly more than Harding ever intended. Sure, maybe this is true, but there are a ton of other social/cultural factors involved in the rise of podcasts that the author never mentions, and frankly from a technology standpoint cause and effect are probably the other way around - increasingly simple and cheap technology to create and distribute podcasts means that more podcasts are created, for people to listen to however they want. Which, at least anecdotally, often seems to be in cars on commutes or other long drives - no headphones here.

"“I think there is a way that people are thinking about how they are [recording] their vocals—it may be intentional or subconscious—but it really does feel as though its made to experience one on one in an intimate setting as opposed to in a giant theater,” Harding says.

Sure. Can this be attributed to a rise in headphone usage? The Quartz author certainly never makes a case for this, and there are, again, a ton of social/cultural reasons why vocal styles rise and fall.

"Another way headphones are changing music is in the production of bass-heavy music."

OK, this one seems plausible.

Harding explains that on small speakers, like headphones or those in a laptop, low frequencies are harder to hear than when blasted from the big speakers you might encounter at a concert venue or club. "


In order for the bass to be heard well on headphones, music producers have to boost bass frequencies in the higher range, the part of the sound spectrum that small speakers handle well.

Sure, I'll give 'em this one to some extent - especially having just done some mixing work on my band's own material.

The catch, though, is that headphone and earphones often have really good bass reproduction, compared to home entertainment bookshelf speakers and computer speakers and (especially) laptop speakers. Headphones + your ears is basically a closed system, there's a lot of "audio coupling" going on (How Do Headphones Produce Bass Frequencies?). You're worried about the "bass frequencies in the higher range" because people are listening to your music on small speakers, not headphones.

"Producers are increasingly mixing music for smaller speakers and the relatively low sound quality that comes from streaming music. Jeff Ellis, producer of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, makes a point of testing how songs sound on smartphone speakers and headphones because he knows this is how most people listen to music now."

"Increasingly" compared to before the widespread use of mp3's? Sure, I guess. But again, this is 20-year-old tech - folks have been checking how their music translates to crappy file formats for decades now.

And mixing music for smaller speakers was standard practice for decades before that. The Yamaha NS10 was an industry standard for something like 30 years, in the 80's, 90's and into the 2000's.

"While listeners might be worried about playing emotional or overtly erotic music on speakers others can hear, they might not worry as much when they are listening via headphones. It is hard to measure this, but the music of Drake, Post Malone and the late Juice WRLD features lots of confessional inner dialogues. Of course, soul-bearing themes appear in music across the generations, but the rise of headphones may have encouraged more of this genre in the modern day."

OK, this is just handwavium.

On top of all that, I took another look at that chart in the article and what the fuck are "enclosed speakers" and "unenclosed speakers"? The only definition I know of for "unenclosed speakers" are, y'know, raw speaker components not in a speaker cabinet, and nobody fucking listens to just a raw speaker bouncing around on your living room floor. Wherever the hell they got that chart from it sure seems like it's comparing apples to elephants.

TL:DR - Are headphones changing how people listen to music? Absolutely. Are headphones changing how music is created, in both technical and sylistic terms? Maaaaaayyyyybe, when considered over the last 50 years or so, along with other factors. Are headphones changing how music is created over the last decade? Nah, dude, you're gonna have to come up with way better than this for me to buy it.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:59 AM on January 18 [6 favorites]

Can't find it now, but I could have sworn there was an earlier post/discussion here on MetaFilter speculating about how the current popularity of certain genres of music (like more "chill" and less big loud music?) might be attributable to more people listening on headphones instead of big speakers.
posted by straight at 7:00 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

I thought this dynamic was well known and accepted- when I was in college radio twenty years ago people talked about “headphone music”, a lot of it self produced, indie, introspective, close sung. I owned a set of binaural microphones because it was hip. Maybe the change is that it’s mainstream? *Goes back to listening to old Microphones albums on ancient Grados*
posted by q*ben at 8:20 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

I wish that I could download music that was mixed for different speakers. I mean, I listen to my music on big speakers, small speakers, car speakers, good headphones, crappy headphones - but never though my phone speaker, I just can't take it. For some of these settings I make special playlists so I can just skip the songs that don't sound good.

With digital transfer and storage so cheap now, I wonder how feasible it would be to have different files mixed for different settings? I guess most consumers would either not care or would be baffled by the options, and software's not really designed to help you manage/play the right ones...

But I kind of wish it was real....
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:53 AM on January 18

Modern mastering engineers (good ones anyway) still emphasize the importance of phase correlation.

Traditionally the argument is that stereo positioning isn't even perceptible in a real-world environment for frequencies below, I dunno, 80 Hz? And low end phase cancellation effects can be really prominent. So sub being a mono channel just makes everyone's life easier, and mixing sub in (mostly) mono is the safest choice. What I've seen is that "the kids" who grew up listening on headphones (on which decorrelated subbass is perceptible and kind of trippy and can be done to an extreme without worrying about phase cancellation) seem more likely not to get all this.
posted by atoxyl at 10:20 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

In my long history as a cubicle slave I was a headphones devotee. I have ADHD so concentration is a battle and I work better with music on. Now that I am semi-retired and working from home, I usually listen to either my office computer>DAC>small stereo system. But now and then I move my laptop into the living room where the big system is. I'd call it entry level audiophile - I suppose to replicate it now would cost me around $5-6K. And once you get used to that, in an open room, you just can't beat it. Even at a low volume (my wife and I have very distinct tastes in music) it sounds wonderful.

I have friends who have gone to expensive headphones with headphone amps. They tell me the experience is sublime. Someday I may give it a try when the true retirement funds kick in. Or I'll just rebuild the living room system.
posted by Ber at 11:04 AM on January 18

My life is a pattern played out on a series of headphones, ranging from the old-fashioned one-ear monophonic earplugs that came with the Craig portable reel-to-reel tape recorder I found at a yard sale when I was nine to the gorgeously large and clear AKG K240 Sextettes that my father bought in 1978 for the stereo system that was literally built into the core of our music-loving household, through countless portables, a pair of heavy wonderful AKG K340s, and now, just in this particular moment, the pair of Grado SR80e 'phones plugged into my computer on a lazy Saturday morning while I’m sitting down to reflect and write.

The Sextettes are still with me, handed down by my father when his business picked up and he could afford a pair of high-strung Stax electrostatics to wallow in the fine detail of his beloved preposterous syrupy Russian epics and the absurd, but occasionally genius, Beatles cover album that he regarded as worthy of ten thousand careful listens despite an awful lot of Leo Sayer.

My father’s headphones were also infected with dancing, and I’d often round the corner from the kitchen to find him dancing in his Sears Surplus yolk-style boxers with Frankie Goes To Hollywood blaring tinnily from the back of the AKGs. He’d do a little twist and find his scowling, mulleted new-wave offspring standing there with arms folded in a haughty state of rooster-haired judgment, then pause and pull one side of the headphones back to inquire as to the nature of my disdain.


“Still in rapture of your disco music, Dad?”

“I am indeed.”

“Yuck. That stuff is all body—so visceral,” I said in an uptight tone of voice that Wodehouse would have described with metaphoric glee.

“You could do with some visceral, kid. Humans need to unclench now and then.”

“You’ll be a hit in the gay bars,” I added, in a withering quip that would be particularly ironic just a few years later.

He pulled the earcup forward, shrugged, and went back to Hollywood in his Sears Surplus yolk-style boxers.

My headphones became my away place, like a little cabin in the woods I could carry with me.

I used to tape music off the radio, or records, by holding the old Craig up to the speakers, and then I’d listen to the same recordings over and over, taking in the detail that headphones are best at delivering, even with poor source material. I’d listen to my favorite records over and over, memorizing every little click and pop on records that I didn’t handle quite carefully enough as rendered by my old woodgrain plastic Soundesign turntable. Even better, I had the good fortune to grow up in a broadcast market where there were six days of radio drama on my local public radio station every week, in a late night mix of old time and modern radio drama that filled the gap left by my parents’ shocking refusal to allow 24/7 access to television in our home. With the fancy Teac V-35 tape deck that I got for Christmas in 1980, I meticulously transcribed every delicious episode of the original two serials of the tour de force comic radio epic created by Douglas Adams and the magical BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and I listened until the tapes ran clear, transfixed by what only sound could do.

My first wage job was in a pizza joint, and I took my very first pay envelope, containing $73.37 in cash, to the local hi-fi store and bought a Toshiba KT-VS1 in metallic blue with the help of a few extra bucks contributed by my grandmother, and I more or less didn’t hear a thing anyone said for the next two years, while consuming enough raw materials in AA form to strip a few overseas landscapes. I listened to mixtapes, radio drama, books on tape, and eventually, I picked up my father’s habit of dancing in my drawers at the end of those endless days when all I needed was to just plug in, tune out, and let the music lift me, viscerally, into heaven.

In my worst stretches, headphones made me unreachable, and kept me out of the world, which was good when the world was bad for me and bad when I was avoiding human interaction to the point of making things worse. I soundtracked my way through family vacations and being out in the woods, basking in the curious way that headphones both silenced my congenital tinnitus and had some curious effect of overriding the part of my brain that rendered visual input as a navigational aid rather than a churning, granular wonderland of color, texture, perspective, and neverending geometries of material objects in juxtaposition on the visual field. In adulthood, I remain vigilant to ensure that I employ my headphones in ways that balance with the rest of the world, and I’ve come to relish treating ambient sounds around me with the same focus as I previous did while listening through the layers of Cluster albums with the miraculous detail that even mediocre headphones provide.

In a rough patch, I named the sensation of awayness that headphones allowed me, calling the place I went the Blue Star Lounge, the finest interdimensional nightclub one could access with little more than the right tune, the perfect dance moves, an empty apartment, and the ruffling of the fine hairs signaling the electrical discharge of an imaginary gateway opening. Sometimes, I’d visit the Blue Star Lounge to dance, and sometimes I’d just sit in my oversized green armchair in a calm, dark room, and take flight in unlikely realms.

It’s hard to say how much headphones change music, though I know first-hand that they change your perception, bring it in closer, and In more detail, with more color and texture that doesn’t get aerated by diffusion into a room in the way that speakers will do. I’ve got audiophile-grade speakers and a high-end amp in my stereo room, and the difference in experience one has whilst listening to Éliane Radigue’s Trilogie De La Mort is astounding. Neither is better, per se, so much as they accord different angles of experience, but if you’re inclined for an journey of microscopic detail, headphones will suit you best, whereas if you’re listening with Eno’s ear for the ambient, flavor-of-the-space sound, removing the physical boundary of headphones is useful.

Modern pop music is often mixed for headphones, car speakers, and the tweedly horror of phone speakers, and that’s okay, too. My father’s point about Frankie Goes To Hollywood would likely have been that not everything needs to be profound and intellectual to take us places, and the existence of music produced for that sort of experience does not erase or negate the existence of a hundred and some years of recorded sound, which was mixed for a variety of reproduction from brass horns on spring-driven Victrolas to room-filling Martin-Logan electrostatic speakers to tiny phone speakers and good-enough-for-most-purposes AirPods.

Lately, there is an AirPod case in my watch pocket at all times and I spend a lot of time listening to audiobooks, podcasts, and the tens of thousands of hours of amazing radio drama available thanks to lapsed copyright, and we’re increasingly told that that, too, is a step towards the inevitable degeneracy of human existence in a supposedly post-literate world despite the fact that, for the vast majority of human history, stories were conveyed through sound and voices and the paper book is a newfangled invention of the last couple centuries, at least on a mass scale, and is itself and isolating, anti-social experience.

“Joe-B! Joe-B!”

The kid is right up on me, holding up her paper and a pen and asking me how to spell “rainy.” I pull back my headphones, momentarily leaving the headspace of the latest Caravan Palace album, where I’d been hiding out while doing a bit of writing, sound it out with her, and watch her carefully write the letters. Her other dad steps in, with a hand on her shoulder.

“Baby, Joe-B is at the Blue Star Lounge right now,” he says, but it’s fine. Knowing how to spell “rainy” is important, too. I remove my Grados, neatly coil the cord into a loose circle to ensure that it lasts, and point out where there should probably not be an E. There is time for music and stories later, and many paths back to those places.
posted by sonascope at 11:07 AM on January 18 [13 favorites]

The gorgeously large and clear AKG K240 Sextettes that my father bought in 1978

Man I wonder how these compare to the modern K240.
posted by atoxyl at 5:36 PM on January 18 [1 favorite]

Yo, Borg, headphones - just another way to avoid thinking.
posted by Mesaverdian at 11:34 AM on January 19

nice Bose headphones
Heh. Contradiction in terms, if you ask me. :)
posted by uberchet at 9:53 AM on January 20 [2 favorites]

My best way to listen to music is sitting on my couch listening to my stereo. But I can only really do that when no one else is around because either they won't want to listen to my music or they will have something else for me to do. When I'm on the go then I'm either listening on over-ear headphones plugged into a bluetooth adapter/amp or in the car. If I'm in the basement or garage then I'm just listening on the speakers of my phone. It makes sense to me that headphones would be the target to optimize because for most people that or the car is probably the likely way they'll be able to get their best listening experience.

I remember reading that for Trent Reznor the best way to listen to his music is on vinyl using headphones. Maybe the headphones are so that you don't disturb anyone else but I know that I prefer to listen to his output on my stereo.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:47 PM on January 20

a pair of high-strung Stax electrostatics

I had a pair of those. Didn't like them much.

All I wanted to do when they were on my head was keep fiddling with the way they were positioned because no matter what I did with them, nothing I heard through them ever ever sounded complete; there was always a sense that something vital was missing, and exactly what that was depended sensitively on exactly how the phones were positioned with respect to my ears.

Any decent pair of wired earbuds driven by a nice headphone amp has always struck me as a much better use of funds and saner engineering besides. If the aim is to make a transducer introduce as little of its own colouration into the sound as possible, then making it small and restricting the air coupling to the eardrum to a small closed volume, so as to allow the minimum possible transducer excursion for any given sound level, just strikes me as a good place to start the design.
posted by flabdablet at 9:23 PM on January 20

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