I’ve had many headphones, but for a long time I really settled on the JBL Reference 220 headset. The ones I had were actually rejects from the factory that were fixed by the acoustic engineer at the time (he’s great, you can check out some of his stuff at www.ifitmakesnoise.com)
They are intra-concha (in-ear for the luddites) style headphones which I prefer over other types for many reasons. (I’ll post on that later)
They are not flat, tuned more for an American ear, with some bass extension. They sounded good for rock music, and pretty decent for electronic and other styles.
The one thing I hated was the cloth cord. It made TONS of noise when you walked, or moved – which was really a terrible idea. It feels nice which is probably why they chose it, but bad idea. Made them almost useless at the gym even though they were light and comfortable.
But, on a recent flight to Virginia on business I managed to leave them in the back pocket of the plane when I disembarked. *sigh* well they did last about 6 years. I guess that’s not bad.
Unfortunately they were also with a set of unique prototypes that I can’t replace. That really was a bummer.
So I bought some new ones.
Scosche IEM856md Headset
I found these on Amazon for $60, and they got pretty good reviews, so I thought I’d try it out. Each headphone is a dual driver design with coaxial balanced armature in front of a typical driver. They claim they’re individually matches to maintain the response. I’m not quite clear on how widely the balanced armatures vary in efficiency, maybe they have to do this. I dunno.
I got these first, and have been using them on the train for 2 weeks now. Overall I like them a lot. They sound amazing. Great accuracy of mids and highs which you’d expect from a balanced armature, with improved bass response from the dynamic driver I assume. The microphone is really sensitive, and plays havoc with my phone, but my laptop deals with it fairly well, maybe because I have more control over the audio card there. Even on the laptop though it seems oddly sensitive, adding a hiss in the monitor channel whenever I use it, or forget to turn the mic down.
For those who haven’t had a headphone with balanced armature technology before, this is a good introduction. I started out with a set from Shure which were really eye opening. The Shure’s had a really flat response, which was great for some types of music, but overall was a little dry for me. These Scosche’s on the other hand have a rich and clear response that I really like. Their hybrid design really gets the job done.
The cable is a flat design which I haven’t seen before. It seems kinky which I don’t really like, it always seems to look messy, but it’s pretty long which is good and bad, depending on the situation.
The headphones themselves fit my ears pretty well, but are kind of heavy, so I need to adjust them periodically to maintain a seal. As some of you may know, seal is everything when working with this style of headphone.
LH Labs Verb Headset
I’ve always been interested in audio. I would never ever speak of myself as a audiophile though – out of horror rather than ignorance. I know a bit about audio. I’ve spent years working on professional audio products, repair, design and even mixing sound a little for live music. Mixed with my engineering background I’ve learned a lot over the years, and one of them is that audiophilia sounds like something you should go get a prescription for from the doctor. In my humble opinion it is. Because of this I was a little apprehensive about LH Labs, who kind of falls into the zealous audiophile side of things by the way they talk about things.
They do seem to make a decent D to A converter, and I know the
LH Labs has hosted a series of Kickstarters for their high end D to A converters and amplifiers. I noticed they had a deal for their headset, so I bought in. Upon opening the box I immediately liked the design better than the Scosche.
These are pretty good. Decent bass reproduction, okay highs. One, the cord is round, and doesn’t look kinked. It just looked better coming out of the box. Second they’re lighter and I don’t think they’ll fall out of my ears as easily as the others. They aren’t as sensitive, and the sound is more rounded than the Scosche.
The strain relief on the connector and the Y strain relief match and look kinda cool. The headphone itself is unremarkable, plastic but good build quality, standard dynamic driver type. They fit me good and as I mentioned don’t seem to want to fall out.
Overall I really like these too, although they’re not as good as the Scosche.
They’re both pretty good headsets. I think I will enjoy them both depending on the situation – The Verb is more of an every day unit. It isn’t as sensitive as the Scosche, and doesn’t have ability to reproduce sound either. The Scosche is REALLY accurate and sensitive in comparison. It has clarity on the low end that the Verb just doesn’t provide. Clarity across the band the sets it apart from the Verb.
If you’re sitting down and listening to your FLAC recording of some favorite album and want to hear every nuance of the mix – The Scosche is your unit. Don’t try and answer calls on it, don’t take it on your walk up the hill with you. You’ll fight with it, and it will make your ears itch. Just sit there and enjoy the richness and intricacy of sound a good recording has to offer. The balanced armature technology is really that much better. Paired with the dynamic driver it really seems to get the best of both worlds.
That said – the Verb is a more comfortable unit. I almost feel like I have to pay attention more to the music with the Scosche headset. With the verb I can play stuff in the background while I code, or think about stuff as I sit on my porch.
I think that the Verb is the clear choice if I’m going to the gym, or hiking around, or need to keep something in my bag to yank out if I need to listen to stuff. It’s light, sounds pretty good (not amazing, but good) and the microphone isn’t setup to pick up an ant’s conversation across the street. It just works like you’d expect.
If you want a really good set of headphones for less than $100 – Get the Scosche. For the money, it will keep up or surpass headphones costing 2-3 times as much. The Verbs are a little less expensive and are well worth the money as well. There’s just a lot out there that does just as well.
I still miss my JBL 220’s.