Posted by: slartibartifast | May 11, 2008


Cans is a slang expression for headphones. So, anybody thinking that this may be about breasts can stop reading about…now.

I’m a sucker for three things in life- headphones, flashlights, and knives. I can’t remember when this mania started nor predict if it will ever cease. There are few scenarios where I can just pass by any of those three items wherever I see them, in a store, at a garage sale, at somebody’s house, etc. They’re wonderful.

Over the last 37 years I have used practically every kind and price range of headphone for both personal use and for my work in audio/video production. I’ve attempted to use some that only seemed designed to irritate with vague thuds and buzzes all the way up to preposterously expensive STAX “ear speakers” that sold for something around the price of a compact car.

My first regular encounter with headphones, after an underwhelming experience with language lab headphones in 9th grade French class (thanks Miss Threlkeld…for everything),  was a pair of Radio Shack Pro Something Or Others. They weren’t bad, considering I bought them for about 22 bucks in 1971. They sounded twice as good as the twice as expensive Radio Shack bookshelf stereo that I plugged them into. You could ignore the real world for the 15-22 minutes of a side of an LP record before re-entering society. I completely wore the grooves smooth on copies of Disraeli Gears by Cream, On the Threshold of a Dream by The Moody Blues, Winds of Change by The Animals, and Grand Funk by Grand Funk Railroad wearing these headphones.

During the time period mentioned I’ve lost track of how many “cans” I’ve owned, much less tried. Maybe 30 of all types.

Notable ones: Pioneer SE-505, purchased in 1978- these things are, no foolin’, like a padded headband holding two Volkswagen Bugs against your ears. If you stand up too quickly with ’em on you can be toppled and then pinned to the floor by them. Got ’em to replace the Rat Shack ones mentioned above. They were worse once I got ’em home and compared. They have exactly one purpose: isolating you from the world BOTH ways to listen to TV broadcasts. Still have them for this purpose.

Sennheiser HD-424 and 414 open ear design- I went through a phase of loving the sound of these cans until an endless cycle of rotting yellow foam ear pads, and sore ears, drove me to something more practical.

SONY MDR-V600- comfortable and great sound until you realize they hear EVERYTHING, good or bad. Otherwise tiny hums or clicks will make you crazy when brought into obnoxious focus by these. Again, the rotting ear pads, especially at the laughably high SONY replacement costs, drove me to try others.

About seven years ago I had the good fortune to discover Grado headphones. They’re perfect. I bought a pair of SR-60s to listen to my, then, new iPod. It’s the perfect match for any iPod. They have a ruler flat response that doesn’t color the music. You know, highs that are high and actual bass instead of bass distortion. Most listeners these days don’t know the difference. You hear what the recording engineers and artists intended you to hear.

A little over a year ago I upped the ante and tried a more expensive pair of Grado SR-225s. More accurate sound and better sound imaging than the 60s. One review I read before buying the 225s was “the SR-60s sound like you’re sitting in the audience at a classical concert, while the 225s sound like you’re sitting in the orchestra.” They were right.

One secret to the 225s- lose the original ear pads that come with them and buy the replacement ear pads for the SR-60s. The original ear pads are brutal on your ears, at least on mine. Carefully cut around the outside of a quarter held down tightly on the center of the SR-60 ear pads to let through a better sound image. Works great.

Grado headphones are only for people who want to hear music, not for trendy posers out to be seen in the right gear. The cost of admission for the SR series headphones are their looks. They look for all the world like the earphones a World War II radio operator would be wearing while screaming “Come in Rangoon!” into his handset mic. But, oh, the sound.

Current lineup of headphones:

     #1- Grado SR-60s for iPod every other day while smoking a cigar out on my deck. Smooth sound, comfortable on head, not excessively hot on ears, even after 7 years of constant use I marvel at how great they sound and how comfortable they wear.

     #2- Beyer Dynamic DT 770 Pro (the 80 ohm version) for most listening on computer and home stereo. They isolate wonderfully without getting hot or uncomfortable, even after more than 4 hours of wear. Flat, uncolored sound at all frequencies with a smoothness that forgives small flaws in the music (see SONY MDR-V600s above) without masking any of the sound.

     #3- Grado SR-225 for instrumental accuracy while working with home MIDI studio work. They do get a little uncomfortable (even with the above ear pad modification) after more than 2-3 hours of wear, but worth it for the beautiful sound.

     #4- Ultimate Ears SuperFi 3 in-the-ear buds for total isolation from everything around you, like during mowing and leaf blowing outside. Sound pretty good, but not hi-fi. Caution: you can’t hear shit around you with these things, not from the Yellow Jacket about to sting you while you’re staining decks to the back-up siren on a garbage truck…personal experience.

#5- Whatever Jensen is selling that month for 20 bucks at Target/K-Mart/etc. for behind the head use. When listening to AM/FM Walkman radio who cares?

OK, in future blogs I’ll bore you with drivel on the other two addictions I have- flashlights, and knives. Hey, at least it’s not crystal Meth!

Happy personal listening.

Added on 7/4/08: This article may be useful to you as well.



  1. Does anyone out there remember the Bone-Phone? Does anyone out there still have one?

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