August 8, 2012

Headphones & IEMs

I was going to continue writing about pens, but that might get boring for my loyal reader (hi Mom). Rather than write about one topic at a time, I've decided to introduce other ridiculous things that interest me and/or things that I've spent too much time and money on, such as headphones. Headphone acquisition disorder hit me early and hard, but I got it out of my system awhile ago. Or so I thought. I was feeling pretty good with my rig at the office, my two sets of headphones, and my one set of IEMs (in-ear monitors) until a couple of weeks ago when I convinced myself that I NEEDED another set of IEMs for use at the gym. Of course, analysis paralysis immediately set in, and I spent more than a few hours reading online reviews and recommendations for something ideal. I ultimately decided on the MEElectronics M21 you see in this picture. This isn't intended to be a review of the M21. Besides, I haven't listened to them enough because I'm still in the process of burning them in (headphone geeks will know what that means). Instead, I'll use this as an opportunity to explain the headphone thing.

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.

PS - I have a pro tip for anyone who is sick of tangled earphone cables. After you are done listening, wrap them up in a figure eight pattern (see picture to the right) before stashing them in their case, your pocket, your bra, or wherever. When you whip them out again, the cable will self-deploy quickly and easily without getting tangled or caught on itself. Try it.


  1. I just tried that Figure 8 trick with a pair of iPod phones that I had in my bag, and it works! Much better than just winding them around my fingers, as I usually do....

  2. Here's another pro tip for you, Karlsobb: throw away those iPod earbuds and buy something that actually works. Say, thanks for making comment number one here!

  3. Good summary. Your cable-wrapping tip reminded me of this graphic:

  4. Is it considered bad form to post comments to yourself? Whatever. I'm here to add that these MEElectronic M21 earphones are pretty good, especially taking into account how inexpensive they are.