Ode to In-Ear Headphones


I spent a ridiculous amount of money last week on some Shure E3c in-ear headphones, and I have to say they've been worth every penny. Everyone seems to be raving about these types of headphones lately, and I just want to say how much I agree.

Actually, before I bought the Shure headphones, I spent what I considered an obscene amount of money on Apple's in-ear headphones first. I had heard that these types of headphones block out outside sounds really well and sound better, so I decided to take the plunge. They were $40, which I thought was insane for headphones (since you get them free with just about every piece of electronics device out there), but at this point I'm trained to pay out the nose for Apple products, so I just went with it. Result: They work when they work, but in general they suck. Read the reviews on Apple's on site to see how people feel: they just don't fit well and fall out constantly. If you're motionless at your desk, they can work okay, and really show the benefits of this type of headphone. But if you actually, you know, want to move your head at all, forget it. In fact, just eating gum will dislodge them from my ears, they're that bad fitting. Don't buy them. I linked to the site just so you know which headphones never to buy.

But even though Apple's headphones suck, I was sold on the idea. In-ear headphones rule.

In-ear headphones are basically "ear-plugs with speakers" really. What this means is that instead of having to crank the music in order to drown out the noise around you, say if you're in an office environment, you can have the music at a reasonable, even soft volume, and still not hear anything else. I've used electronic "noise cancellation" headphones before, and those work okay for airplane or air-conditioner hum, but may in fact make all the rest of the noise around you even clearer. In-ear headphones on the other hand block out *all* the outside noise so the music or audio be heard super-clearly. I keep my music playing at a really low volume now, just loud enough to enjoy if I want to, and ignore if I need to concentrate (I'm listening to music right now). In-ear headphones let you do this, even with tons of outside noise. On the flight out, I used them the entire time (almost 10 hours) and it was the quietest flight I've had.

With regular Big wraparound headphones, it might block some of the outside noise, but at the price of heavy, hot, non-portable ear-muffs. With regular headphones, you need to crank the music so loud that you might as well just make an appointment for the ear doctor now. With in-ear headphones, I don't hear *anything* around me, even in the silence between songs, and then my music can be at a very reasonable volume that I enjoy. It's surprising how much noise you're not hearing, many times when I take the headphones out, I can't believe the difference. This happened a few times on the plane, I was like "WOW, it's noisy out here!"

Soooo, back to the Shure's: they're awesome. Once I was convinced in-ear were the best types of headphones, I decided to just suck it up and spend the $180 for these "semi-pro" headphones down at Fry's. They have several different models, so I got the middle one (no I'm *not* spending $400 on the top of the line ones) and I have to say I am super happy with the purchase - they fit and sound great. Now, let me say that $180 is a fucking obscene amount of money to spend on headphones. I mean, ridiculously, ludicrously, and completely decadently expensive. I'm not a professional musician, so it seems insane to spend that type of cash on headphones.

However that said, I *am* a professional office worker, and I'll tell you right now, these are *the* headphones to have in that sort of environment where there's any sort of constant noise and interuptions. I pop them in, and bam, I'm in a cone of silence, perfect for concentrating and thinking (which is what knowledge workers are supposed to do, right?). I guess maybe if you're not a Ritalin child you may not need these as much as I do, but wow, what a difference they make to me. Three people can literally be having a loud conversation in front of you, and you hear nothing except your Vivaldi played at a comfortable low volume. It's like having a virtual office that you can take with you anywhere: Put the headphones on, and bam, perfect silence and privacy. (This can be a problem, actually, as most people haven't realized how good these types of earphones are yet, and assume you can hear them if they start talking to. You end up having to give people The Hold On Finger quite a bit...)

Now, Shure has its critics. I guess the headphones are very, very fragile - Matt Mullenwieg just wrote about how he's sworn off these headphones and won't recommend them to anyone any more after his second pair broke. So be very careful with your $200 investment... the quality and durability is questionable. I'm happy right now, but caveat emptor.

Also, I wonder how good these things are for my ears? I bet it'd be pretty easy to get an ear-infection of some sort since there's no air circulating in there. And sometimes if I try to take them out too quickly, I get a nice suction pop because they're so well sealed in my ear. That's why they work so well, but also I'm sure might also be an area of concern. I'm much more careful taking them out now after a few sharp snaps on my eardrum. But what about bacteria build-up and all that?

Anyways, London's office is open plan, with no cubes so it reminded me how much I love these new headphones. If you can afford them, definitely pick up a pair. Anyone know of other brands that may be just as good, but a lot less expensive?


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