More a cri de coeur. Whatever that is.
I have spent a lot of money on headphones these last few years. A little bit on bluetooth speakers too. But mostly on headphones. My sturdy old noise cancellers, the Bose QC Something Or Other that I bought a decade ago had degraded to the point where they weren’t cancelling much any more. I passed them on to Anna, who promptly lost the charger and one of the proprietary battery packs sitting in it.
OK. Not my problem. I’d already bought a new pair of QC 15s. Not the best headset on the market. Not the cheapest (or most expensive). Not even the most popular. That’d be some Beats piece of crap, I imagine. I got them because the previous QCs had served me well over ten years and the model was reduced because of an imminent refresh.
So, long story short, I don’t really have those cans anymore. Due to a complicated arrangement that would do a derivatives trader proud, they appear to have passed into Anna’s control about a decade before I had planned.
That’s all right. It left me with an excuse to blow some more money on headphones. I’ll cut to the spoilers. I just bought the Bose in-ear noise cancellers; the QC 20i. Again, not the best, or cheapest or most expensive. And not even my preferred choice. I’ll take a pair of big honking over-ear cans any day. Especially if they’re made with soft, comfy cushions to protect my tired old cauliflower ears. But I got these for travelling, for the noise cancelling, and one thing a decade of flying with the earlier on-ear model taught me – dragging around a pair of big honking over-ear cans is a pain in the arse. I really wanted something that would cut out engine noise, screaming toddlers, and life saving emergency announcements while still fitting into a pocket.
So. The QC 20i’s it was.
Yes they work as advertised. No they’re not as comfy as my old ones. But I can always buy another pair for home or office use.
Which brings me to my moment of clarity. After spending months researching headphones, I have concluded that like Jon Snow, I know nothing. In a way, this is not such a bad thing. There is a jihad out there, being fought between true believers, and many are the dead. I thought, when Marco Arment published his exhaustive review of mid-priced head phones I could follow that. But then The WireCutter published theirs.
I’m not going to get too far into it, but it seems there is no peace in headphone heaven. No agreement on what even constitutes heaven. As best I can tell the contending Sects divide into two main camps. Call them bass and treble, just to piss them off. Because this seems to be the main dividing line. People who like deep thumpy hot bass. And people who like cold, clear austere treble.
Arment described the difference best, I thought:
Many people prefer a warm, “laid-back” tone that lacks some midrange presence, most upper treble response, and the fine detail that good treble response brings. This avoids the harshness that unrefined midrange and treble can bring on inexpensive headphones, so the sound is less fatiguing after long periods. But it’s like adding milk to coffee: the lost vocal strength and treble detail also make good recordings more dull and forgettable.
The other end of the preference spectrum is detail, clarity, and an “airy” feel that great treble can bring, and more energy in vocals that a strong midrange can bring. Great treble is my preferred style, and it’s what makes people say, “Wow! That’s so clear!” The downside is that it’s hard to get that right without sounding harsh or tinny.
I feel that I should prefer the second style of audio. It seems the more truthful, but the fact is, I’m not really an audiophile. I just spend stupid amounts of money on fucking headphones. I’d like something other than the in-ear 20i pair I have for sitting in my library watching movies or TV on my iPad, or even for listening to music. I’d like something that sits comfortably over my ears. A friend of mine works for B&O and tried to steer me towards their H6 model, but although it was very comfy and obviously well engineered, I did find the sound cold and impersonal. I guess that makes me a bit naff.
I already know how this will end.
A second pair of bloody QC 15s. That Thomas will probably claim.
Or maybe I'll try the Cutter's pick. The PSB's.
I'll toss the links in below so I can at least give myself a backhander for buying them through the Burger.