Truth be told, I’ve never been a big headphone guy. For my music it’s always been speakers. I don’t even dabble in headphones. Sure I have a couple pairs that I bring on flights and on walks, but that’s always been my ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ time. When I get back home or to my car, everything sounds right again.
Then the COVID restrictions started. Most notably, my partner started working from home. ‘Home’ in this case is a small loft condo. The open floor plan means the only doors are to the outside world and to the inside of the bathrooms. Her office is shouting distance (even whispering distance) from every other space in the place. If she’s on a call, I’m on that call, too. So I get to hear one side of the droning of bureaucracy for a few hours every day. That is a few hours more than I care to participate. Now is the time to figure out headphones.
Where do I even start with this headphone rabbit hole? Well, I asked around and found a friend who lent me his ‘guest desk’ gear as a starter pack. It included a set of Sennheiser HD 595* open-back headphones, an FSA Fubar IV+ DAC/Amp and an FSA Supplier power supply.
The first thing I noticed about the new setup was all of the cables. I had gotten used to how convenient wireless headphones are. The new system has a cable running from each component to the next. At a time when I’m feeling more confined than ever, the last thing I need is to be tethered to something else. That said, the Sennheisers do have a generous three-meter (10 ft.) cord, so things could be worse.
Once I put the phones on, I noticed right away how comfortable they were. As a man whose ears could be mistaken for condor wings, I’ve never worn headphones that go all the way around my ears like these do. Most flatten my outer ear whether they mean to or not. I could wear these for hours comfortably.
You definitely want to know about the sound quality, though, right? It’s superb. The expansive, open sound field is refreshing. The frequencies were balanced, if a little lacking in bass impact. The rest of the range sounds great for everything from Hannibal Buress to Cannibal Corpse and Radiohead to Radiolab.
The issue with open-back headphones in my current situation is they let too much sound in and out. Part of the reason they sound so good is also part of their downfall. That big, open sound comes at the price of sharing your music with your neighbors and them sharing theirs (or that meeting about cost effectiveness) with you. Also, after the first day I had them, my partner said she feared for my ears. I was listening at a reasonable volume, but due to their open-back nature and what she’s used to, she thought I just had them cranked. Did I mention I have a dehumidifier that I’m trying to drown out, too? It’s not working, fam. Time to move on.
This process has convinced me that headphones are a viable alternative to good speakers. The sound quality can be as good as I need it to be. My next steps will be to find some or all of the following: in-ear monitors, wireless closed-back cans and a Bluetooth DAC. When I do, you’ll hear about it here (as well as on our Insta and TikTok). Got any suggestions? Hit me up. Until then I’ll try not to accidentally eavesdrop into measure development training sessions or whatever else my lady is doing.
*The HD 595s are discontinued, but the Sennheiser HD 599s are even better and widely available.