Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Tue, 14 Jun 2005

Grado SR-60 Headphones

I spend a lot of time listening to music at work. It helps block out the distracting noise and gives me some pleasure in the process. About 7 years ago I bought some fairly cheap JVC headphones to use in the office. They are lightweight portable headphones that I actually chose because they came with a fairly long cable that would reach the rear of my PC. They have actually been quite good, but now the foam is starting to wear out.

In my search for headphones for portable use I discovered Head-Fi. This is a meeting place for headphone obsessives, but contains lots of useful information. So far this has led me into buying my Sennheiser PX200 for use when travelling and to acquire my Koss KCS-55 for office use (but lost out due to comfort).

One of the most consistently rated headphones on Head-Fi is the SR-60 from Grado. This American company produces a range from the budget SR-60 up to some very expensive kit for the perfectionists. They seem to control the distribution channels to the extent that their products are a lot cheaper in the USA than everywhere else. The SR-60 retails at $69, but is more like £70 in the UK. I couldn't justify the higher price, but managed to find a supplier called The Sound Room who would ship them (free!) to a colleague in Miami. I was able to pick them up from him this month and have been giving them a good testing.

They look quite old-fashioned compared to the futuristic models from most manufacturers. They are more like something you would expect a WWII radio operator to wear. What I noticed at first was the very thick cable. This hints at quality. The cable ends in a gold-plated 1/8" mini-jack, but it comes with a gold-plated 1/4" adaptor. The headphones are easily adjusted to rest on the ears. The metal headband can be bent slightly, if necessary to adjust the pressure. The pads are a form known in the headphone community as 'comfies'. They are fairly soft and easily removed if replacements are needed.

Okay, I know you want to know how they sound. I'm not a great expert at describing audio sensations. All I know is that they sound great to me. The sound is extremely clear. You can hear every little nuance in the music. There is bass there, but it's not overblown and sounds very focused. These headphones are of the open type, which means that they will leak sound that others can hear at higher volumes and allow you to hear what's going on around you at lower volumes. That's okay for work as I need to hear my phone and when someone wants my attention.

I have found that they make my ears quite warm, but are otherwise quite comfortable. I may have to make them slightly less tight on my head.

So overall I'm very happy with them. Definitely a bargain at only £35 to me.

Incidentally, I had the opportunity to try some Shure E2C earbuds at the airport on the way home. These are a very different animal, designed for musicians on stage, but suitable for travellers who need to block noise. I tried them with the foam sleeves that act like earplugs, but they come with other types. In the short time I tried them they sounded good. Listening to a track with a driving kickdrum it seemed to be hitting right in the middle of my head. A strange sensation. I might consider something like this one day if I was doing more air travel. They sell for around $99/£60. I saw a few people on the planes with the Bose noise-cancelling headphones, but those are a lot more expensive at $299.

[21:32] | [] | Comments | G

Sat, 05 Mar 2005

Digital Dilema

Recently our Kodak digital camera went wrong. First the battery door fell off. I did a temporary fix on this, but then it kept saying the battery was low, even with new ones. It's only a couple of years old, so it's annoying if it's essentially junk. It's a basic, 2 megapixel model, but still cost around £200 at the time. That's the second camera that's died in the last four or five years. It's an expensive hobby.

So I'm on the search for a new camera. Obviously things have moved on and now 3 or 4 megapixels is the minimum to consider. I'd also prefer an optical zoom and some sort of movie capture with sound would be nice for capturing the kids when we don't have the video camera with us. I've standardised on SD memory as the Palm uses it too. I don't really want to pay over £200 all in in case it doesn't last. Extended warranties may be considered if not too expensive.

The problem is that the choice is enormous. There must be a hundred cameras in our price range. There's the Canon A400, which looks very good for the price. Today I looked at a nice Olympus that has actually been designed to resist dust and moisture (uses XD cards, but I could live with that).

I'll be buying in the next week or so when I get some vouchers from the credit card. I just need to decide what the money goes on.

[22:54] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 15 Jul 2004

More new headphones

As the Sennheisers are not suitable for use in the office I was looking for something else to replace the JVCs. Some of the Koss budget range get good reviews. They have various models for portable use that use the same drivers. The $50 Portapro is at the top end, but the KCS-50 (hangs on ears) and KCS-55 (neck band) are both sold in the US for $20. My friend Eli managed to find some 55s for me in Miami.

They are not much to look at. Very lightweight with a 4' cable ending in a gold plated, right-angled mini-plug. I've not used this sort of behind the head style before. They are certainly very secure there, but I'm not sure about long-term comfort. They press quite hard on my head, just above my ears. There's also the band, which you feel every time you move your head back. Maybe I'll get used to them. First I need an extension so that they can plug into the back of the PC.

I've tested them so far with the Palm and a laptop. The sound is pretty good. It's very clear and there's enough bass for my tastes. My reference tracks are Pagan Poetry by Björk for it's mix of quiet and loud voices and All in a Day's Work by Eels for it's driving bass drum. That drum was really kicking me in the ears, but was perfectly defined. I can also still hear what's going on around me, including the phone ringing. They can be heard from across the room when turned up.

I'm reserving my final judgement for now until I see if they get more comfortable. I did try them upside down. This removes the pressure whilst staying in place, but I'm not totally convinced. I'd say that, for the price, they are very good value, but maybe you should try them on first. My colleagues are free to try mine out.

[13:33] | [] | Comments | G

Thu, 01 Jul 2004

Sennheiser PX200 Headphones and some history

Over the years I've owned many sets of headphones. Some of these came with various gadgets, i.e. 'walkman', radio, portable CD players. I expect that none of these would be rated as any good. The manufacturers are not likely to allocate much of the budget to them.

I have some Sony closed headphones that I bought years ago for general home use. They were picked as being affordable at the time (about £20). I've never been that impressed by them, but they get occasional use on the computer or guitar.

About three years ago I bought a Napa CD player that did MP3. That came with some ear buds with the delightful brand of laPhony. I used that player for music and audiobooks. I kept using the headphones with my Palm as they were so portable. They sound okay, but let in a lot of outside noise which is not a great thing on planes and trains.

At work I listen to a lot of music from my large MP3 collection (almost all from my CDs) on the PC. FOr that I bought some lightweight JVC headphones that have 'Super Bass'. Not too sure about that feature, but I chose them for the relatively long cable that reaches to the back of the PC. I think they sound okay and do the job. They let in enough outside sound for me to be aware of what is going on in the office, but don't disturb others too much.

I decided I was going to get some decent headphones for travelling. The site Head-Fi is a very good source of opinion, even if a lot of people there aim for the higher end kit. Grado get good reviews. I tried and failed to find get some in the US as they are half the price there. I'm not sure they would be so good for travel as they leak a lot of sound and are bulky, but I'd like to try some to see how good they are. The SR60 model is only about $70.

I eventually settled on the Sennheiser PX200. They don't get the best audio rating, but they block at least some outside noise and fold up nicely. I bought mine from Unbeatable as they had about the best UK price.

First impressions are very good. They do block quite a bit of outside noise if you position them right and others can barely hear them, even at fairly high volume. On the Palm they are much louder than the laPhony, which is a benefit given the low output power. The sound is very clear with adequate bass. I've not had much chance to road-test them yet apart from one trip on the train where they did quite well. The underground trains can be very loud so nothing short of canal-phones will block it all. I did try them in the office, but they were so effective that I couldn't hear my telephone and managed to miss a couple of calls, so it's back to the JVCs for now. The folding mechanism is very neat. It only takes a few seconds to get them in or out of the case and they are well protected in there. Build quality seems good and they come with a two year warranty in case something does go wrong. So I'm happy so far. We'll see how they perform on my next flight, whenever that may be.

On the Palm I am using Aeroplayer. It supports MP3 and OGG formats and has a few nice features such as a volume boost that manages to get a bit more output as the expense of a little distortion. The distortion is more apparent with the Sennheisers, but can be useful with spoken material. I can listen to music whilst reading ebooks or doing other tasks on the Palm. The player could do better at remembering what playlist and track location I was listening to when I turn it back on, but maybe the next version will fix that. I use the Marshmallow skin from here as it allows fingertip control with it's large controls. I know a dedicated MP3 player would do more, but with my 256MB SD card I can carry enough music for most trips and not need yet another gadget.

[09:59] | [] | Comments | G

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