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soundtracking with Robert Szkolnicki: stick it in your ear – headphones and songs to play in them

May 11, 2012

Feist at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, 2005. Photo by Robert Szkolnicki. All rights reserved.

Spring time means shedding layers of warm clothing in favour of just the basics.

And judging by what I see around me in downtown Winnipeg, one of the essentials is the headphone. In-ear is the most popular, however I see more larger ear pads and sealed ear cans all the time.

In-ear? Ear pad? Sealed? What? Not only are there different styles of headphone, there are many choices in each style. I would love to do in depth reviews of headphones, however it’s much easier to see what the internet has to say.

Personally I use Sennheiser ear buds mostly because they are cheap and light. Cheap is good because I tend to wear them out after a couple of years of exposing them to a Winnipeg climate.

Maybe I need to insulate them. And as a reviewer in my Sennheiser link says …

“Personally I don’t think MP3 sound quality is good enough to warrant spending over $100 on a set of headphones.”

That’s a good point. So go cheap. And make sure they are comfortable.

Listening to music on headphones is not new. Before the Apple iPod appeared, there was the Sony Walkman. Just these two devices have raised generations of music fans that likely do not even own speakers.

Is a headphone culture something that can be marketed to? For sellers of headphones – you bet. There’s a pair named after Earth, Wind and Fire for goodness sakes. For musicians – I think they recognize that many people will be listening to their music while wearing headphones.

The 2011 Wilco album The Whole Love was produced to sound good on headphones. Tim Hoover suggests (correctly) that his 2011 album More Napkins will reward listeners with headphones.

When I first heard Feist’s Metals, I was struck by how flat it sounded on speakers. With headphones, the music comes alive.

Having discussed the positives of headphone culture, the lawyers have urged for the following disclaimer … “Never stick anything in your ear smaller than your elbow.” Seriously now. Keep the volume down.

Seriously again. A recent study has shown that walking while wearing headphones could be deadly. Death by distraction. And don’t forget that wearing headphones in public is also a visual billboard to thieves.

Is your day to day playlist a tired sequel in need of a reboot? Headphone Commute has a nice collection of hour-long sound specific podcasts. Secret Thirteen also features well crafted sound mixes – I recommend #14 – Dale Lloyd.

For a more traditional musical mix, from Seattle is KEXPMusic that Matters weekly podcast.

If that is too west coast for you then try out A Good Day For Airplay and The Line of Best Fit.

There is always the reliable All Songs Considered podcast to fill your ears.

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