Don’t tell anyone this, but I’m a bit of a singer. I’ve actually been on stage and in studio as a background singer for Barry Manilow, blues singer Gloria Hardiman, and contemporary Christian artists, David Meece, Michael W. Smith, Javeeta Steele, and a few others. I’m not a professional by any means, but I enjoy singing and I can “hold my own.”
Well for better or worse, I’ve been spoiled when it comes to sound quality. I’ve spent a lot of time in some very nice sound studios and I’ve learned the difference between good and “excellent” sound reproduction. So when I decided to add an iPod to my travel bag (the best thing to happen to my travel bag in years), I knew the stock Apple “ear buds” would have to go. Deciding what headphones to buy instead, grew into a bit of an Odyssey.
The first thing you have to ask yourself is, “What am I listening to?” If the only thing you listen to is an FM sports radio, or you’ve only burned CDs from the early 80s to your iPod, then there’s not enough quality coming out of the source to make it worth your while to invest in some high quality headphones. However, if you’ve paid extra for the Gold edition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture (with the digitized cannon fire, it’s awesome), well… you’ve got something worth listening to.
The difference between a good set of headphones and an extraordinary set of headphones is quite spectacular, actually. I can hear the finger-pads of the horn players as they release and patter through their valves. I can hear Sonny Boy Terry inhale quickly as he cheats through the upper register of his blues harmonica (only on the high quality digitally re-mastered CD, of course).
The first set of headphones I tried were the Bose “white noise reduction” headphones. In short, I didn’t like them. First of all, they’re powered; so there’s ANOTHER set of batteries to keep up with. Second, they’re HUGE! They have a nice case, but when my headphone case takes more space in my laptop bag than my laptop does, they’d better sound pure and they didn’t. The white noise reduction is impressive, but the sound reproduction coming through was lacking, in my opinion. They’re better than stock “ear buds” or whatever, but certainly not worth the $250 or so that Bose wants for them. I give them a 6/10.
Next, I tried several sets from the Shure audio company. My sound man, Pete, swears by them. They sell five different models, each a bit better than its predecessor. The model 530s also have white noise reduction technology, but since all of the Shure phones are “in ear” types, I have found that the elimination of ambient noise (Shure boasts 90% elimination) to be quite sufficient. With the Shure 420s in my ear, all I can hear are my own lungs taking in air and my heartbeat. It’s a bit weird, actually. Their fit-kit ensures that even the weirdest ears will accommodate a nice comfy fit and the sound reproduction is simply unbelievable. You have to try them to believe what you hear. Fortunately, my sound man got me a substantial discount or I couldn’t have afforded the 420s. All of their models product far better quality that anything else I tried though.
EXTRA: If you have questions for Ken regarding business travel, hotels, airplanes, etc, please send an email! Your questions will be recorded and Ken will answer the best ones in his Ask the Expert podcast show.