So I recently got some new headphones. I’d been thinking about getting some can-style headphones for a while, but a) I’m cheap and b) I don’t have great hearing to begin with (especially in my right ear; in case you’ve noticed me turning my head at a weird angle to hear you in a noisy environment, now you know!). But then I figured, since I’m going to be writing in spaces other than my house, it’d be nice to have some at least decent headphones so I could listen to my own music instead of whatever music is being played at the coffeeshop or whatever.
I started looking at lists of budget headphones – I was really leaning toward these Panasonic RP-HTX7 because check out the design – but I didn’t want to buy something off the internet and then end up hating how they sound and then having to deal with internet returns. So one day while writing at the Treehouse, I decided to take a break and head to the bookstore and see if they had any decent/affordable headphones.
Guess what, they did! They even had a model I’d been looking at reviews for: Sennheiser HD-201! They’re not quite as sexy as the Panasonics I was looking at, but hey, they were right there, and they were $26 (!!), and the UCSD bookstore has a fairly forgiving return policy, and I had a lot of writing to do. So what the hell, I bought ’em, and off I went back to the Treehouse (where I took this picture because Matt was wondering how bulky they were).
So I was all excited, right? I fired up Spotify and started listening to music and I cannot even tell you how big of a difference it made. I mean I’d never owned circumaural headphones before – everything I’d previously had was earbuds (and not the ones that mash into your ear canal with jelly because ew I hate them a lot) and cheap earbuds at that. I don’t mean to be overdramatic here but it was like a vast new world of musical nuance suddenly yawned before my eager ears and drew me into its sonorous embrace and I fell in and I sunk and I drifted and I was undone and I finally understood what the hell it is that a producer does. And that was just with crappy-quality Spotify streaming; it got even better when I started listening to actual CDs, and I suddenly understood why all these people are all into lossless encoding and/or vinyl.
Let me provide a few examples of songs that are totally different and way more enjoyable with decent headphones. Forgive me for the okay quality of the youtube recordings – it’s the easiest way to share stuff. I’ll start off with my new gateway into dance music (I know, right?):
(The Spotify version is a little higher quality than the youtube version, so if you have Spotify, do yourself a favor and go listen to it there, and if you don’t have Spotify, then why the hell not, go get Spotify.) Skip in particular to about the 2:00 mark to hear the thing that absolutely floored me: the definition produced by the new headphones with this bass part was like mind-altering. And then the contrast with the chimey-bell-like sounds that you hear, e.g., around the 4:35 mark. After hearing this song I went on a bit of an EDM kick and listened to a bunch of Daft Punk and Swedish House Mafia and some weird maybe Norwegian DJ I can’t remember that I found on someone’s Spotify playlist (I’m kinda bummed that I can’t remember the name, and for some reason, it’s not in my Spotify history).
Okay, next song:
(The best part of this video is the stuffed dinosaur.) It turns out that I’ve been listening to this song for two or three years and I’ve never in fact heard it properly. Check out the bass in the right ear. I thought it was just the usual bass sound but it’s not – it almost sounds like a buzz saw. It’s a whole new song for me now.
One more song:
(This was my SOTD yesterday; it is perhaps better known as “the song from that Target commercial.”) The thing I finally noticed with this song is the layering (see also Radiohead’s Karma Police – I finally understand why Nigel Godrich is such a badass). People used to throw this word around all the time and I had no idea what they were talking about and I wrote them off as music snob hipsters. But no, it’s seriously a thing. Here, the vocals sit on top of the melody line, which sits on top of the bass, while the rhythm guitar is off doing its own thing underneath on the left side, and then the drums sit at the bottom of it all, holding it all together. Each layer has its own distinct texture and sound and you can tell them all apart. It’s like a delicious aural lasagna, or maybe a tiramisu.
Now all I need to do is learn the vocabulary to catch up with the things I’m finally hearing, so I can stop referring to stuff as “like a buzz saw” or “chimey-bell-like.” Aaaaand maybe someday soon I’ll invest in some even nicer headphones. If you have recommendations I’m happy to hear them.