An Earful of Bliss

etymotic.jpgI’m just about to head out on a vacation to Europe, which of course entails a long plane trip from San Francisco and extended bouts of iPod surfing. If you fly a lot, you really owe it to yourself to buy some better headphones than those that come with the iPod. In my humble opinion, the iPod stock headphones are pretty poor, and in my ears are quite uncomfortable. Like most bud headphones they also let in a lot of ambient sound, which on a plane flight means two things: no bass, and you have to crank up the volume to potentially ear-damaging levels to be able to hear very well. On a long flight, this isn’t pleasant or good for you.

Noise-cancelling headphones such as from Bose have been one solution to this. While these can be quite effective, personally I find them too bulky/heavy, and dislike relying on more batteries.

An alternative is noise-isolating earphones. These get inserted in your ear canal and seal it off against ambient sound. They typically have about a 25db cut in external noise, which is enough to make it difficult to hear people talking to you (good or bad, depending on your circumstance), and it also makes airplane drone largely disappear. Putting them in and wearing them can take some getting used to (and I suppose some people will never like them), but the benefits are well worth it. You can listen to your iPod at virtually normal level on an airplane, and the earphones have sound isolating qualities even when not actually listening to music, which helps you get to sleep as well.

My personal favorites are made by a small company named Etymotic, which started life in the hearing aid businesses. I use the model ER6i (pictured), which is designed specifically for the iPod. They make some more expensive models, one of which I tried as well, and the sound quality was truly phenomenal, but the price was higher than I was OK paying. Give me a pair of ER6i’s, an Eagle Creek inflatable lumbar support, an eye cover, and I’m all set. 11 hour flight? Bring it on.

Shure also makes a number of models which are quite popular, though personally the narrower, longer shape of the earbuds on the Etymotics suits my ears better (the Shures are wider and stubbier). I also had some problems with the jack connection on both sets of my Shures (one replaced the other under warranty, but then developed the same problem after the same 6 month period), but many other people like them.

I bought my Etymotics from Headroom as I like their attitude, their service, and their prices, but you can buy them from quite a few places.