Saturday, January 21, 2006

Headphone rant

Why do headphones have such lousy design?

I have gone through about a half-dozen pairs of headphones in the past 8 years. They have to be replaced by equivalently lousy headphones. I'm not going to drop $200 for headphones because I know that it is just a waste of money and I don't need perfect sound.

Here's how it goes: Purchase headphones. They work fine for about a year or two. Then strange things happen. The right earpiece flickers momentarily one day. Then the left earpiece. Then it starts alternating constantly. Then one earpiece goes out permanently.

Or if there is an attached microphone, it flakes out. Or it loses its grip on the position I like it at and it drops...so I use a rubber band to hold it in place.

The "adjustable" height for headband-based headphones is always off by half-a-notch. And accidentally smacking the cord tends to throw the headband completely out of whack - taking the next 10 minutes trying to fix it up. Also, most headbands are hard plastic with minimal flex capabilities. Headbands also have the tendency to mess up hair-do's.

The earpiece is NEVER comfortable. I've managed to force myself to adjust to it, but it is obvious when I've been using headphones: My ears turn a bright red.

The connectors sometimes wear down or get junk in them or be slightly too small. This can weaken connections and create all sorts of intermittent problems that drive me nuts (pops, clicks, breaks).

I've thought about wireless headphones, but then they have to either be recharged (and rechargable battery replacements are expensive when they die) or use regular batteries (again, expensive). And I'd have to remember to turn the unit off or recharge it when I'm not using it. I've also heard wireless reduces sound quality such that most people notice.

The problems are: Weak wire design (the wires inside are fragile), poor earpiece design, lousy headband and microphone design, and connector design is weak. Wireless is out of the question. Paying $200 is out of the question.

So, what is the perfect set of headphones?

First, the wires and connectors need to be fixed. Connectors need to be a snug fit even after removing and inserting the plug a zillion times. Connectors should not be L-shaped. The wires inside need to be able to not snap even if the cord gets stepped on, tugged, and bent. Tugging is inevitable and is usually accidental and typically close to the main unit. It would be nice if someone could figure out a way to have a sharp tug disconnect the wires right at the main unit so that no damage is done to the wires or the unit.

The perfect set of headphones involves a move from just hard plastic for the headband. Actually, the headband won't exist as such. Instead, it will wrap around the back of the neck. The earpieces will have two attachments: One for those who wear glasses, the other for those who don't. These attachments and the headband could still be made of plastic, but coated with a gel-like plastic designed to "stick". However, such a design also needs to allow airflow to avoid the accumulation of sweat. The two attachments either go over the side bars on glasses or hook over the ear like a set of glasses would. Since each ear is different, the latter would have to be adjustable. The idea here is to have a "headband" that pushes the unit against/over the ear but let the base of the ear handle the issue of gravity. The gel-like plastic keeps everything in place and comfortable. Those with "hair-do's" don't have to worry - the headphones don't touch any of it.

3 comments:

  1. I totally agree!

    I have some decent headphones, and actually a wireless pair I have are the best, they only cost $80 australian.

    I also believe ipod headphones should be detriment to what ipod you have, videos get big good quality ones, nanos get medium range, and shuffles get the current pair, the shit ones.

    Video owners like myself care about sound quality, and it would be smart of apple to include a pair of appropriate headphones.

    as of yet no pair of headphones is perfect.

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  2. Wow. Been a while since I posted this. My current set of headphones is shaped "funny" such that I have to put the plastic band forward to make the earpieces comfortable. However, this presses the set against my skull and gives me a migraine if I wear them for too long.

    Then I have to take an Aleve and then take a nap to eliminate the migraine. In the end, the makers of Aleve win...not the consumer.

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  3. I should clarify. The earpieces are never comfortable according to the blog entry and yet according to my comment I figured out how to make them comfortable.

    That is not entirely true. It is less uncomfortable. If I wear the headphones for more than two hours, when I remove the headphones, my ears hurt. You know - pain. The pain is caused by blood suddenly rushing in because the headphones cut off most of the circulation due to my glasses. So, no, it isn't super comfortable. It is just less uncomfortable or mostly bearable.

    I invite any headphone manufacturer out there to send engineers to my place of residence to design the ultimate headphone set. Or you can fly me out to your location. Whichever.

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