Today we’re going to delve further into the world of portable, high-end audio gear. But before getting into my experience thus far with specific headphone, earphone and source gear, I wanted to share a few brief reflections on the headphone experience itself for those of you who haven’t ventured into that corner of the hi-fi world.
The Headphone Experience Is… Different
Coming as I do from the world of home stereo (something typically involving loudspeakers intended for in-room use, along with amps, preamps, and a variety of analogue and digital source components) I’d come to think of headphones as something you resorted to as a poor, second-rate choice when loudspeakers weren’t available. Perhaps you were out and about and wanted to take your music along. Or maybe it’s late at night and you can’t disturb the other people you live with (or your neighbors) by cranking up your tunes. So in those cases you “settle for headphones.”
Having now spent many, many hours listening to my Digital Audio Player through a number of different In-Ear Monitors, I’ve come to understand that the personal, portable audio experience is a different way of enjoying one’s music, rather than a second-tier or inferior way of doing so. Personally, I find that I bring a different sort of attention to the headphone/ear phone experience. I listen differently, as it were. Here are some things I’ve noticed:
INTIMACY: For lack of a better term, headphone listening can be a more intimate experience than listening over loudspeakers. You are (literally and figuratively) closer to the music. To put it another way, headphone/earphone listening is kinesthetically a different mind/body experience than loudspeaker listening.
DETAILS AND SUBTLETIES: As is well documented elsewhere in this blog, I am very, very enamored of my Spatial Hologram M4 loudspeakers. In fact, about 8 months into ownership, I’m still regularly surprised and delighted by how great my rig sounds these days. That said, I’ve found that headphone listening can be utterly delightful in its own way. In particular, subtleties and details in the mix of your favorite music will be brought into relief via headphones or earphones in a manner that gives you a new perspective on those tracks. You may notice, for example, how the recording engineer distributed background vocals between the left and right channels. Or you may hear a little percussive element that escaped your notice up until now.
ATTENTION SPAN: Headphone/earphone listening gives you interesting options that enable you to attend to your music in different ways. When it comes to my stereo rig, I find that I prefer to (or am in the habit of) just sitting and listening and doing nothing else. In other words, listening to music in front of the stereo is an activity in and of itself. Indeed, depending on my mood before hunkering down for a listen, sitting in front of my stereo sometimes brings out the nit-picky audiophile in me, perhaps because I’ve put so much time and energy into tweaking it. But with my DAP (Digital Audio Player) and IEM’s (In Ear Monitors) I can listen differently. For example, I’ve rediscovered the power that music has to boost my energy (or lift my mood) while I’m doing tasks that I don’t especially enjoy. (Nothing gets me through tidying up a kitchen mess after dinner quite like Buena Vista Social Club…) I’ve also rediscovered the pleasure of falling asleep to music – it’s just lovely!
VARIETY: Finally, I’ve been noticing that I have more patience to listen to unfamiliar music, or music outside my “heavy rotation favorites” (I’m looking at you, Donald Fagen) via my portable rig. So, as local retail shops have been blowing out their CD inventory at bargain bin prices, I’ve been casually buying more CD’s lately, ripping them to lossless FLAC files and loading them onto my DAP for more casual listening. Then, if something really grabs my ear, I’ll make a mental note to listen to it later on the “big stereo.” (I’ve been especially snapping up “Greatest Hits” type collections by artists whose music I’ve enjoyed on the radio over the years but have never been sufficiently “serious” about to collect their full album releases, such as:
So much for the preamble!
I don’t usually post previews of what I’m planning to cover, but for those of you who have stuck with me thus far in this series, I thought I’d spill the beans on the next two upcoming posts:
Entering The Parallel Audiophile Universe: Part IV – Listening and usage impressions of the iBasso DX80 DAP!
Entering The Parallel Audiophile Universe: Part V – Listening and usage impressions of the Final Audio Design Heaven VII in ear monitors!
The next post should be up in a couple of weeks at the most, so stay tuned.
Until then, be kind to others and enjoy your music!