Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Private Music

There are at least a couple of reasons to listen to music through headphones: 1) You’re in a particularly antisocial mood and would like to get away from it all. 2) You want to hear every nuance of the music and a good pair of headphones allows you to do that.

A possible third reason is that you’re one of those “considerate types” who want to listen at a decent volume without disturbing the rest of your family. (Although I wonder what’s more important, listening to Giant Steps at 98 dB or whatever it is that they’re doing?)

And, with the portable audio craze firmly entrenched in our society (Walkmen have replaced jewelry in some fashion circles), a solid pair of weatherproof headphones are also a must.

900 MHz Lets You Walk About

Heretofore, the biggest issue with headphones is the cord that restrains you. In the early days, people tried to come overcome this handicap by buying headphone extension cords that would elongate their three-foot cords to about nine feet. Although nine feet lets you at least get up from the chair to grab the album cover, you had to take the headphones all the way off to get another Coke or answer the phone. (Be honest, how many of you have listened to the headphones in one ear and the phone in the other?)

Wireless headphones have been out for over a decade, but it wasn’t until the FCC allocated the 900 MHz spectrum specifically for wireless consumer electronics, that wireless headphones afforded any kind of decent fidelity.

Prior to this ruling, which occurred about four years ago, wireless products, such as cordless phones, headphones and speakers, broadcasted signals via the same bandwidth used by CB radios, cellular phones, and all sorts of other products. This would translate into horrible interference and crosstalk.

The first alternate method used for wireless headphones was infrared technology. The same system as most remote controls, infrared requires exact line-of-site for it to receive information, which means that you cannot move around much without the music dropping out. This unwavering restraint made wireless headphones rather unpopular with the squirmy set.

With the advent of the 900 MHz ruling, consumer electronics products have their own frequency. So unless your next door neighbor has a phone utilizing your exact same channel (there are dozens of channels available and you can merely change channels if this is the case), your gadget’s output will be clear as a bell.

900 MHz technology has a terrific range: up to 150 feet! This means that you can plug the transmitter into your stereo system and the transmitter sends the signal through the air to an antenna discreetly hidden inside the headphones. You do have to make sure that the headphones batteries are constantly charged.

900 MHz wireless headphones let you listen to your CDs throughout the house, or while you work in the yard. I use a “double 900 MHz system” myself. I have a DirecTV Digital Satellite System, which has about 40 music-only channels including a straight ahead jazz channel and a smooth jazz channel.

The model I have is a Sony that utilizes a 900 MHz remote control so I don’t have to be in line-of-sight to change the channels. I plug in my 900 MHz wireless headphones, and bring my 900 MHz wireless remote out to the back yard. When I want to change stations, I just change the channel on my DSS remote from 150 feet away!

Most headphone manufacturers sport at least a few 900 MHz models in their lineup. Two noteworthy brands are Sennheiser and Advent.

Sennheiser is a German company and has been a premier manufacturer of audio microphones since 1945. They are most famous for their recording mikes, most auspiciously the Neumann, which is considered to be one of the classic mikes used in pop recording. They introduced infrared wireless headphones in 1976, and later wireless microphones and 900 MHz headphones.

Two high-performance Sennheiser headphones are the RS-4, which retails for around $150, and the RS-6 for around $200. The difference between the two models is frequency response: The more expensive model delivers deeper bass response.

Another manufacturer of wireless 900 MHz products is Advent. Even though Advent is a pretty well-known moniker in the audio business, Recoton Corporation, who recently purchased the Advent brand name, manufactures these products. They produce a couple of models of 900 MHz wireless headphones the AW720 and the AW770, which retail for around $100 and $150 respectively. Again, what you pay for is a bigger driver for deeper bass.

Noise Canceling Headphones

Have you ever paid $4.00 for those uncomfortable headphones on an airplane only to discover that you still can’t hear the movie above the hum of the jet engines? You can’t hear music either, whether you’re listening to the in-flight selection or your own CD. You crank up the volume as loud as it’ll go and all you hear is the hum of the plane. The same is true when you’re travelling by train/subway, or by bus/car.

Audio companies such as Bose and Sennheiser have developed systems that actually cancel the noise of the engines by producing “white noise” that uses the exact opposite polarity as the hum’s frequency. These very expensive systems have been sold to airlines specifically so the pilots can hear the tower and each other above the engines’ roar.

Now similar systems are available for the passenger as well. One such system is the Sony MDR-NC5 noise- canceling headphones. These headphones retail for around $100 and do an excellent job at canceling the noise on an airplane and other noisy transportation modes.

The really cool thing about these headphones is that you don’t have to listen to anything through them to get the noise canceling effect. That’s because once you turn them on, they emit an undetectable noise-canceling signal and over 10 dB is reduced at 300 Hz. Reading is much more enjoyable without that annoying engine whine too. The MDR-NC5 delivers an ample frequency response of 30-15,000 Hz, and they come complete with a two-prong adapter to plug directly into the plane’s in-flight music services. They require a single AAA battery to generate the noise-canceling signal.

Street Style Headphones

Sony, the ever trend-conscious marketer, has produced a Street Style line of headphones that you wear across the back of your neck rather than over the top of your head. This style was conceived by watching the hip-hop set wear normal headphones on a slant so that the band went across the back of the neck. This style is allegedly more comfortable than the standard style. But it also stays on your head better when participating in extreme sports such as skateboarding or break dancing (which I think is no longer the PC term, but I’m not sure). Also, it allows you to enjoy the fidelity of full-size phones while wearing a bike or in-line skate helmet. Sony now boasts two models: The MDR-G51 and MDR-G61, which sell for $29.99 and $34.99 respectively.

In-Ear Headphones

Another useful style of headphones that Sony has been successfully marketing is the in-ear style. Some models are windup, and others have a band that go over your head. The windup models-also called ear buds-fit comfortably in your ears sans headband for the least amount of drag and the most amount of subtlety. With a good pair of ear buds, you’ll forget that you are even listening to headphones and suddenly the world has its own soundtrack.

Another helpful tip is that ear buds are the best headphones to fall asleep with. Prices range from under $10 to the high-end Fontopia MDR-E888 which sells for around $80 per pair.

Another great invention from Sony is the MDR-A30G Sports™ headphones. These are the same bright yellow hue as the Sports Series™ portable stereos from Sony. This particular model is water-resistant, which does not mean that you can go deep sea diving with them, but you can take a jog in the rain without having to listen solely to the pitter patter of rain drops. They sell for around $20.

Originally Published