Last Headphone Post for the Year

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I promise! 🙂

I know how incredibly subjective all of this nonsense is, and that I’m not an audiophile, so I don’t even know what to listen for, and probably couldn’t hear it if I knew. But, still, I can’t resist, since Lois found a bag of my old headphones today, so I broadened the test. 😉

Everything was tested with my iPod Nano, listening to the last minute of Hold It All At Bay by Girlyman from the Joyful Sign CD, ripped at 96kbps. Initial volume (and kept there unless otherwise noted) was at roughly 1/3 of the Nano’s maximum.

First up, the Grado SR80. Gorgeous sound, set the standard for the rest to live up to. While there was absolutely nothing to complain about, I was (mildly) surprised that it didn’t sound as loud as I expected it to, compared with my recollection of last week’s test of the iGrado.

Next was the ancient Sony noise canceling MDR-NC20. I have owned these for at least 10 years, probably one or two more than that. I popped in a fresh AAA battery. First, I listened without the NC turned on. This is a feature that I miss on the Bose Quiet Comfort 2, which requires the NC to be on in order to listen.

They sounded dramatically worse than the Grado. I then listened again with the NC turned on. This time, they sounded way better. Not as natural (in the least) compared to the Grado, which was still better, but the difference with NC on or off was night and day. I am sure that it was not that the background noise was ruining the non-NC listen, so I conjecture that the NC circuitry boosts the bass.

While the Sony’s sound good with NC on, it’s most definitely not a natural sound.

Next were a pair of street-style Creative headphones, which came with my ancient Creative Zen Jukebox MP3 player. They sounded reasonable, but a little thin, and a little light on the bass. All around though, for a theoretically cheap pair of headphones, they weren’t all that bad.

Next up, a low-end paid of street-style Koss headphones, that were included with some other CD or MP3 player. No model number that I could find on them. Thinner sound than even the Creative headphones, so while acceptable, not worth listening to if anything else is handy.

I then tried the iGrado again. Wow. The Nano appears to be able to drive the iGrado much more efficiently as the volume level was significantly louder than with any of the other headphones, including the SR80’s. The SR80’s were still warmer sounding (see, I can make it sound like I have a clue, which I really don’t!), but I was impressed with the sound the iGrado produced (not that I wasn’t before, but I imagined that the SR80’s would beat it badly).

I couldn’t resist, I pulled the Bose back out to check them out one last time. Turned on the NC, and listened. At the fixed volume, they were too thin. I cranked it a bit, and the sound was reasonably good. I’d rate the sound (at the higher volume) as better than the Sony, but nowhere near as good as either Grado. I will likely continue to travel (by air) with the Bose, since they completely surround the ear (unlike the Sony) and therefore are better suited for blocking out sound on the plane.

So, why bother doing this test? Aside from wanting to remember how I felt now, should I ever get the urge in the future, or buy a new set, it was a perfect excuse to listen to the last minute of Hold It All At Bay by Girlyman roughly 10 times in a row! 😉

Grado vs Bose Quiet Comfort 2

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I’ve written about my new Grados a few times already, so this might feel like piling on a bit.

I mentioned in a post about my new iPods that I own a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones, courtesy of my genius gift-giving friend Ed. I only use them when I travel on airplanes, and they work like a charm. I keep them in the apartment, since I typically leave for airports from the apartment.

I’m in the apartment now, so I figured I’d do a quick bake-off between the Bose and the iGrados (the SR80’s are up at the house at the moment). I assumed that the Bose might sound a drop better, given that they are noise-canceling, and, are Bose (not a bad brand).

I happened to be listening to Girlyman with the iGrados at the time I decided to check the Bose. I had the volume on the iPod Nano set to 1/4 and it was plenty loud and very rich sounding. I then played the same song on the Bose.

First, the minute I turned on the noise canceling switch (you have to, even just to passively listen to music, which is one of my complaints about the Bose!), I was impressed with the immediate difference even in our relatively quiet bedroom. We have two laptops going and regular city background noise. I wasn’t noticing it that badly, but the Bose made it melt away. Nice. In fact, Lois got on the phone half way through the song, and her voice was way in the background, since all of the bass was washed out of it.

But, the volume of the music was low and thin. I needed to crank the Nano up to 1/2 volume to get near the same richness of sound that I got from the iGrados at 1/4 the volume. That was counter-intuitive to me, given that the noise canceling should make it require less volume. Also, at 1/2 volume, the Bose didn’t sound as good, but they weren’t bad (like the ear buds).

Since the SR80’s are at least as good (perhaps a little better) than the iGrados, I can now say that for me, the Grados are wildly better than the Bose (unless you need active noise canceling). Since the iGrados cost $49, and the Grado SR80’s cost $95, while the Bose cost $299, it becomes even more ridiculous to compare them.

Now, if I could only somehow magically fast-forward four weeks to where the iGrados won’t be as horribly uncomfortable after an hour or so, I’ll be much happier. I think I’ll be sticking with the SR80’s for anything but exercising, but unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring them in with me this time around. 🙁

Experimenting with Bit Rates in Ripping CDs

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In this post, I discussed my new Grado headphones. In that post, as well as this one, I mentioned that I am most definitely not an audiophile.

The new Grados were so far superior to the crappy ear buds included with the iPods that I started to question my choice of ripping all of my CDs at 96kbps. It’s a relatively low bit rate, but, it all sounded reasonably good to me, and it saved a ton on disk space (both on the laptop and the iPod). Still, I was hearing things so much more richly with the Grados, that I wondered if the sound would improve dramatically (for me) if I ripped the CDs with a higher bit rate and used the Grados.

So, it was time to experiment. What better album is there to experiment with than Joyful Sign by Girlyman? None! 😉

I already had it ripped at 96kbps, and I (obvious to anyone who’s ever read anything by me) love it. I re-ripped the CD four more times (yes, a little overkill, I know). I encoded it at 192kbps MP3, 320kbps MP3, Apple Lossless (900-1000kbps), and for good measure, WAV as well (1411kbps, which is the native CD format, I think).

I then created three playlists, one of Hold It All At Bay (all five ripped versions), one of Joyful Sign and one of Through To Sunrise (again, all five versions of each song).

I then listened a number of times to each version in a row. Eventually, I narrowed down the richest parts of each song, and just played those snippets over and over between the versions. For example, I played the last one minute of Hold It All At Bay too many times to count.

To begin with, all of the above was done just with my higher-end Grados, the SR80’s. I really wanted to hear a difference, even a dramatic one, though I would have been in a real quandary about the extra disk space. But, the truth is that I can’t say that I really distinguish any difference whatsoever, even between the 96kpbs version and the WAV version (or the Apple Lossless). For a second, I think that perhaps, the lossless versions sound a teeny tiny bit brighter, but, after another note or two, or switching back quickly to the 96kpbs version, the difference is gone.

So, while I am absolutely sure that audiophiles are snickering at me (probably rightfully so), I’m personally satisfied that 96kpbs is definitely the right setting for my tastes, and, more importantly, for my sonic capabilities!

For yucks, I listened to all of the versions (but only for one song) on both the Sony ear buds and the included iPod ear buds. Hahahahaha. While I praised the Sony’s vs the iPod buds in the Grado post, the truth is that they are barely any better (I just remembered them as being better), and the Grados are so far superior to both, that listening to ear buds (at least the ones I currently own) will continue to disappoint, though there are a number of occasions where I know I’ll use them…

To be clear, there was no difference between the 96kbps and lossless versions on the buds either!

That said, once you get past the tinniness of the buds, and start concentrating on the fact that you’re listening to Girlyman, it all sounds amazing again, since the songs just unfold and explode in your head correctly, regardless of the fidelity that you happen to be listening to them in. 😉

New Grado Headphones

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I was in the market for new headphones, and after doing some research on the web, landed on Grado. I decided that the best value was the Grado SR80. Most of the reviews that I read were on After placing an order with one site, I ended up canceling the order when they wanted me to jump through hoops to have it delivered to Zope Corporation, which wasn’t listed on my credit card as a verified address.

I ended up ordering them from HCM Audio for the same price, plus HCM threw in a 12′ extension cord (which I don’t need, but hey, it’s still a nice touch). During the shopping process, I discovered the iGrado model as well, a street-style headset meant for iPod listening. So, I snagged one of those as well.

They both showed up yesterday. Wow, the reviews were very accurate. Great sound, but not really comfortable to begin with. Everyone says that they eventually stretch just the right amount, and you end up loving the fit. It’s been one day, and I can already believe that, but man, it’s definitely uncomfortable at the moment…

What’s funny is that for the past two weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the new iPods with the included ear buds. They are wildly comfortable, but what a joke they are from a fidelity standpoint (a surprise given Apple’s usual attention to detail). I’m no audiophile, so I wasn’t all that unhappy with them, until I put on the Grados. What a difference. That said, even my ancient Sony ear buds (low end model!) kick the iPod buds’ behind. They really are a complete joke.

Now, here’s a real first for me! I wrote a post on this topic that reached 790 words and was barely 1/3 of the way toward making the points I intended to make. Highly uncharacteristic of my style, I just tossed it all and wrote this short version instead. Good for you, but bad for my normal intention of using this blog to capture my thoughts (including tons of silly details) for my own posterity when I can’t recall the details like I can now. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into a trend! 😉

(not including this paragraph, but including the silly disclaimer above, this post is 373 words. What a difference!)