Opinion » Cybernaut




I've got my headphones on from the minute I'm up to the minute I go to bed

I've got my headphones on every day of my life, I'm going to wear until I'm dead.

Headphones, The Mounties

I've been thinking a lot about headphones and recently spent $99 on a pair that, while nice sounding, are next to useless. Here's why:

Non-conformist that I am, I invested in a Windows 8 Phone, the Nokia Lumia 920. While it's a great phone I can't seem to find any accessories for it at a reasonable price.

For example after eight months I still don't have a screen protector or case because they aren't available anywhere and I don't want to buy something online and wind up with a chunky case I don't like.

The phone also came with a pair of somewhat cheap earbuds I can't use. For some physiological reason no brand of earbuds I've tried fit my ears very well — they're uncomfortable when they're in and fall out pretty easily. I see people jog with theirs, but I can't even seem to sit still in an airplane seat without losing my buds every five minutes.

Sound quality is also a big deal to me, and headphones generally have better audio quality than buds.

I also prefer on-ear headphones so I can shift them around and leave one ear uncovered. I like to listen to music, but also want to know what's happening around me and it's more comfortable sometimes to wear them that way.

The problem is that almost nobody is making headphones specifically for the Windows 8 Phone yet, and the headphones that are available are ridiculously expensive — $199 or more.

So I took a chance on a pair of $99 Logitech UE 4000 headphones that were supposed to be compatible with all smartphones — and judging by my interactions with Logitech since then it's obvious they actually did think they would work with Windows Phone 8. But apparently most headphones are built to Apple's very proprietary specs and these headphones won't work properly with Android, Windows 8 Phone or other devices.

The audio works fine, but you can't use the controls on the cord to adjust the volume, or the mic to make phone calls, issue voice commands or dictate texts. That was a hugely important feature for me.

I generally research the hell out of things, and I'm honestly surprised that a Logitech product — Logitech being the king of all things third-party — made a product that is less than universal. The headphones have a detachable cord, and I wondered if maybe I could swap that out for a Windows 8 version and keep the headset — but according to someone more knowledgeable than myself it likely won't work unless you replace the control module in the earphone as well.

All this work finding headphones has taught me a lot about these things.

For instance, did you know that larger headphones can require 10 times more power just to double the volume?

I always assumed that headphone power was more or less a fixed quantity, and the increase in bass, volume and sound quality was the result of using larger and better membranes to move air, but larger headphones also have larger magnets and other built-in hardware that require more power to run.

The amount of output from your gadget is limited by the master volume, but the same output that sounds loud with a pair of earbuds might seem too quiet with headphones, forcing you to turn up the sound to compensate. That's why the focus for headphone makers is on efficiency and raising impedence, producing a higer range of frequencies with minimal power. That level technology and design doesn't come cheap.

Bluetooth headphones, while extremely expensive, do solve a lot of the compatibility issues, and usually have their own power supply as well to boost volume.

Another neat, and expensive, technology is noise cancelling, which means your headphones also have a built-in microphone that listens to the outside world, picking up external soundwaves and adjusting the soundwaves coming through your headphones to compensate. Obviously it's more complicated than that, but the result, with a good pair, is that 70 per cent of external sounds are effectively blocked.

Headphones can increase air pressure by vibrating the membrane, which can become uncomfortable and damage your ears — another reason I go with on-ear headphones I can adjust rather than buds or over-ear headphones, although some high-end models have valves that release air as well. If you have sensitive ears sometimes you can feel the pressure building.

Keeping your earphones/earbuds clean is also a priority, I've learned — wearing your headphones for an hour can increase in-ear bacteria by a factor of 700 times, so keep some alcohol and wipes around to periodically cleanse your buds and earphones.

Because every set of headphones works and sounds differently it's better to listen to a lot of different pairs before making a purchase — and always bring your player along to test their overall compatibility. I only wish I had that opportunity.