August 8, 2012
Headphones & IEMs
What: Headphones and related audio gear.
When: I've had junk headphones since I was a kid, and I've had all of the junk headphones and earbuds that come with music players (yes, I'm old enough to remember Sony Walkman cassette players and the junk audio transducers that came with them). As a grown-up, I've had some better-than-junk headphones, but none of that garbage really counts. I believe my headphone journey started about five or six years ago, and it hasn't stopped.
Why: This is easy. Music enjoyment. I love listening to music, I love the sonic experience, and I love hearing as much detail as possible. I don't consider myself an audiophile, nor am I an audio equipment snob. I simply wanted a "good" set of IEMs to replace the stock ones that came with my portable music player. Eventually, I set up a decent audio rig at my desk and wanted a good set of headphones for the office (I listen to music almost constantly while working). Why all of this hassle? To maximize enjoyment and to hear as much detail as possible.
How: I am pretty sure that Head-Fi was around way back when. I don't know how I found that site, but I spent countless hours reading about headphones and IEMs, making a wish list, and scanning through the different review and comment threads about the different products on my list (this may have been the onset of analysis paralysis; I ought to be more spontaneous and just make impulsive buys). After reading a 200+ page thread about them, I finally decided to buy the Atrio earphones by Future Sonics. One thing led to another, I discovered some headphone-specific retail sites, learned about headphone amps, DACs, and digital music technologies, and I was off and running.
After acquiring the Atrios, which I still have and use all the time, the headphone upgrade-buy-sell path went kinda like this: Grado SR-80 headphones; Grado SR-225 headphones; Etymotic MC5 earphones; Beyerdynamic DT-880 (600 Ohm version); Sony MDR-ZX700 headphones; Sennheiser HD650 headphones; and last but not least, the MEElectronics M21 earphones shown in the picture. I eventually sold the two Grados, but I really miss the SR-225 set. I returned the Ety MC5 earphones immediately because I didn't like their sound profile. I sold the DT-880 headphones, too. I kept the MDR-ZX700 headphones for use at home because they are closed headphones, which is nice to help muffle the screaming kids, video games, and annoying neighbors. The HD650 headphones are featured in my office rig, and I have no immediate plans to move them just yet.
Holy crap I have a problem. That said, I haven't gone down the path of super-expensive headphones (e.g., Sennheiser HD800, Beyerdynamic Tesla T1, or Audeze LCD-3) because I do have my limits and a realistic budget. This is a key consideration . . . you can get extremely good sound these days without breaking the bank, and the super high end headphones typically require super high end source equipment to make them shine, which only adds to the monetary pain. Note that the MEElectronics M21 earphones were less than $20.00, and by all reports they are well worth the cost.