Wednesday, March 10, 2004
The Perfect Travel Headphones Choice?
In my case, it's mostly a case of being on the road travelling and wanting to watch DVDs on my laptop. In the case of others, it may be about listening to MP3s (or your open source format of choice such as Ogg Vorbis). In either case, you need headphones of some variety. Well, I did some research last year, made a purchase, and bought something that I'm finding just about ideal.
First of all my criteria. I wanted something that blocked outside sound pretty effectively. After all, I'd be using these in airports and on planes. Worse, I'd be watching movies so being able to clearly hear the words was important. This first requirement led me down the path of looking at noise cancelling headphones. But what I saw didn't excite. First of all we were talking about yet another gadget that needed batteries. What's more, the noise cancellation in these devices is find for background rumble and hum; it's much less effective for high-pitched noises--like the baby in the seat behind.
That led me to consider various closed-type surround-the-ear headphone designs. (Closed headphones isolate better than the more common open type--with typically some loss in sound quality all things being equal.) Fine for the office. But my regular open-style Sennheisers actually work pretty well for that already. In any case, a full-size pair of headphones just wasn't a realistic option to add to my already over-stuffed travel bag.
Enter the Etymotic ER6 earphones. At first glance, you might think they're one of those $5 earbug things that get included with cheap portable electronics because they feel they have to include something. They're not. They're very high quality "ear canal headphones." By default, they have soft silicon eartips--they also come with an expanding foam tip--and you insert them into your ear. The sound is great and the isolation is quite good (15-20 dB). To be sure, they cost quite a bit more too--about $100. This may seem like a lot of money for such a small pair of headphones, but it's a fair value if you place a premium on small size while not being willing to give up isolation or quality.
I bought mine over the Internet from Headroom in Montana. They also sell its more expensive ER4 brothers as well as various portable battery-powered amplifiers. The latter do boost volume a bit and let you ease up on cranking the output all the way up on your player. But overall, at least in my circumstances, it didn't seem really worth carrying the extra box.