by Doug Schneider (SoundStage!)
Note that in the title I said too. Although some people use headphones exclusively, I’m addressing this to those people who, like me, have a full home system. Why? Because a supplementary headphone system can add enjoyment to the music-listening experience and take you places your home system won’t allow.
Now first let me get something straight: My home headphone system is nothing grand. We’re simply talking about a Denon DCP- 70 portable CD player (can’t handle any bump and grinds whatsoever, but it is one of the rare players that sports a digital output) and some Grado SR-60 headphones. That’s it, that’s all, and for now that’s just what I need. But it’s now a valuable part of my life, and here are some of the reasons why.
- First and foremost, we all don’t keep the same hours. I’m not talking about you and me. I’m talking about the person sleeping in the next room at this very moment. And no, this isn’t some sick fantasy about a neighbor-it’s her, the person sharing my rent, food, and life! Although I rise (and am expected to rise) when my unofficial spousal unit does, late-night hours reading and browsing the ‘net, as well as writing stuff such as this usually mean I’m awake much later than she is (or most other people are). My neighbors don’t care if I play my stereo after 10, but SHE certainly does. Without my ‘phones, I’d be screwed. I’d never get to listen to half the discs I have. Well, “up yours,” I say! With ‘phones you’ve got your own hours and can at least reclaim and live out a valuable part of your life.
- Apartments, or other such small dwellings, usually equal a cramped life. My listening room also serves duty as a living room, TV room, computer room, beer room, hanging-out room, etc. I can certainly see the purpose of a 15-room mansion since single-room multi-tasking just isn’t all that practical. So when someone else calls room dibs and is watching the tube, reading, drinking, sleeping, or whatever, music is usually out for the Douger…until…now yer gettin’ the picture.
- Movies sound better through your headphones than through crappy TV speakers. You guys with home theaters can ignore this, but for others like me-well, this discovery happened quite by accident when Doug’s Other pulled the usual “call it quits early” again. It looked as though I just wasn’t going to be able to watch Leaving Las Vegas with any appreciable volume. But I plugged the Grados into my VCR’s headphone jack and presto, wayyyy better full-stereo sound than the Sony box can crank out on its own.
- Long-distance traveling becomes a breeze. Endless hours jiggling in a car or airplane seat and being forced to listen to someone else’s choice of tunes becomes a thing of the past. Just stock up on batteries and get ahold of Headroom so you can get yourself a full-fledged, full-function traveling pack to haul your portable music center around the world with the least frustration possible.
- Sometimes you just need your own space. Nothing can piss off avid audiophiles more than someone talking to them while they’re trying to enjoy some music. Headphones give you an excuse to ignore such people. They don’t know whether you can hear them or not, and they can’t tell. If you can hear, who cares? Just pretend you don’t and smile whenever they talk. After a bit, they’ll get the subtlety of your hints and you’ll have all the time you need.
- A headphone system doesn’t cost that much. I did it for less than $250 bucks. It could even be a lot cheaper, or certainly a lot more. I say start cheap but keep expansion in mind. I can’t think of better reasonably priced ‘phones than the Grado SR- 60s. Other people dig some of the low-price Shack models. Your expansion will come through your player-if you need one. Heck, if you have a headphone jack on some of the gear, you’re off to the races (although the portability factor is gone). But remember, in time you may want to add an external headphone amp like those from Headroom. If you don’t know why you would want one, just give one a listen to and you’ll understand. Almost all Headroom models absolutely kill a portable player’s headphone output, or even the jack on your CD player or preamp. And if you’re lucky to have a digital output, you can add an Audio Alchemy DAC-MAN or something similar to improve your player’s sound significantly. Ahhh, separates for headphone listening….
- And finally, headphones can sound darn good. That’s right, sometimes music is better served through headphones. And you need something on hand just in case music like that comes along.
If you do go ahead and do something along the headphone route, don’t forget to drop me a line to tell me how you made out.
c. 1998, Doug Schneider.
From SoundStage!. (Republished with permission.)