Long Form

The Great Headphone (or is it Earphone?) Conundrum

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I was hanging out at HMV last weekend, and boy was I tempted to get my hands on Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues record. However, I was most fascinated by the store’s extensive headphone section. I started going through all the different brands that were available at the store, ranging from JVC and Skullcandy to Marshall’s, Nixon, and Shure, while trying out some headphones in the process.

Sure, the seemingly overpriced albeit stylish-looking Beats by Dr. Dre Pro or Studio headphones (the price of a pair of those cans equate a few VIP tickets for that Bananarama, The Human League, and Brandi Carlisle Retrolicious gig at Fort Canning) are a popular choice for the non-financially challenged, but headphones that cost more than my iPod Touch, the machine that actually plays all the music in the first place? Now I’ve seen everything.

Stratospheric prices aside, you would naturally want the best possible sounding headphones within your budget to rock out with Azmyl Yunor, Yuna, Lykke Li, Two Door Cinema Club or whoever is tickling your musical fancy at that point in time. But in a saturated headphone market with countless alternatives, how do you choose?

Before we start on our quest, I’ll start with my current predicament. When my pair of Sennheiser earphones started emitting static rather uncomfortably, I stumbled upon an American brand called Meelectronics. The company specialises in budget earphones, and for a little under RM100 including shipping, I managed to procure a pair with decent if weak noise isolating capabilities and a mic with music playback controls to boot. A year of countless and utterly unbearable plane, train, and bus rides later, I decided, for the sake of not having to instead shell out on legal bills when I inadvertently punch someone who barks at his or her mobile phone, to splash my first ever paycheck on a good pair of noise isolating headphones.

Following visits to various Apple Store variants (they all somehow look the same don’t they, Epicentres and the like), I was most impressed by the Klipsch S4i earphones. After being utterly disappointed a pair of extravagantly expensive Souls by Ludacris headphones I tried, I wasn’t expecting anything earth-shattering from something that cost three quarters cheaper. I was mistaken, and my socks were for all intents and purposes knocked off completely. Remarkably, the Klipsch S4i sounded mind-blowingly good, with the added bonus of my being unable to hear aunties a few feet away fawning over the iPad.  Arina Ephipania’s sweet vocals on Mocca’s ode to everlasting love “The Best Thing” never sounded this rich and crisp on my current buds, and I may as well have been back in the 70’s dancing gleefully to live swing music.

In the sub-RM300 category, the Klispchs are pretty hard to beat though I’d still like to try out some other options, such as those highly-rated budget Ultimate Ears and Etymotic buds. Truth be told, I would have preferred full-fledged headphones (granted, the Koss PortaPro was an interesting and affordable proposition), but with sound leaking an unfortunate feature of most budget headphones and portability an issue, I may have to reset my priorities.

Ultimately, I’m just another tone-deaf consumer overwhelmed with the different products in a marketplace boasting the likes of Lady Gaga, Seal, and Justin Bieber as brand ambassadors. I am no audiophile, but I simply adore my music, and I’ll be damned if I can’t enjoy my music in absolute silence.

Fellow music lovers/Wknd-ers, what’s your poison, pray tell?

By Wong Boon Ken