Headphones On

As a designer it is important to create one or more situations in which you can properly flourish your train of thought. For me personally this is important, since my concentration- and attention span is on a nano-level. The best ways I can work is either in a very crowded coffee shop – ie. a steady flow of noise – or with certain kinds of music, mostly through headphones. In the past decade I have owned quite a few headphones, all for various reasons.

This post is therefore merely from experiencing my choices, therefore much of the mentioned headphones will have been owned by myself. The two main situations I identify are at the office and at home.

AKG K701 Headphones

Headphones at the office

Headphones at the office are of the utmost importance. Sure, one can listen to the same radio programme for a few days every week, but for optimal concentration and creativity, good quality closed headphones are the number one tool. First, they fend off unwanted noise, like people walking around, random chatter etc. Next to that, and quite obvious, they offer you the possibility to listen to your favourite music, not music that is selected for you by either a Radio DJ or your own personal music nazi. Third, they send a signal to your coworkers that they shouldn’t bother you unless it is absolutely vital.

As said before, you need a good quality closed headphones for this. Closed headphones tend to isolate you from some of the outside sound, and – more importantly – they keep your music in. This way you minimally influence your coworkers with your own music. Personally, I have a Beyerdynamic DT 231 PRO. They weigh nothing, can handle a beating and are very high value for price – at 35 euros. Sure they are not the prettiest bunch, but they serve their purpose well. (these babies also get used around TV and movie sets.) Currently, I would probably get the Shure SRH440 or the Audio-Technica ATH-M50, which I’ve both been able to enjoy for a short while. It will just depend on the budget I’ll be willing to stretch for it.

Headphones at home

At home is a different situation. You could be in the living room, in a study, or walking around a lot. Therefore, I will split up home-use into stationary and mobile.

There is just one thing important when stationary (ie. being seated at a desk), and that is quality. Noise and empathy are out of the equation, so a good full-size headphones should be your weapon of choice. I went for the AKG K701, and have never looked back. The world is just about non-existant when these babies are on. There are a few downsides, but they should not be a bother in the home situation. They do not isolate much, and they leak beyond reason. On a practical note, they do need quite some output from your machine. So an external FireWire sound card is not too big of a luxury. Also great, and way cheaper, are the Grado SR60 headphones. These are easily driven by any portable audio device and computer. They also look exceptionally fierce.

If you move around a bit, getting a pair of wireless headphones are great for when working. The lack of cable restraint is freeing, and having the same music on all around the house is especially stimulating for concentration. Most wireless headphones also drown out external sound. They do tend to throw in some white noise if you move too far away from the base station, which is nothing more than logical. I am not really up-to-date on wireless headphones, but I prefer Sennheiser in their wireless efforts. They have standardized their wireless link and their base stations look mighty fine.

What about mobile?

The mobile situation resembles the office situation quite well. From an empathy and noise point of view, when traveling with public transport, the variables of the office situation apply. A good pair of closed headphones are right in their place.

Taking part in traffic I would much rather advise on the use of a lightweight pair of open headphones, like the Grado SR60 mentioned earlier. Sure, this is not the optimal way of listening to your music, but you should not close yourself off from traffic with earphones. Standard ear buds would probably suffice too, although they are very prone to dropping or dislocating from their original position.

Why headphones?

Getting a quality pair of full-size headphones is also a smart idea from a budget perspective. The price is considerably less than you would pay for the same quality speakers, not even mentioning the amplifier you would need with that. And yes, there are some of you that do not feel like spending a lot of money on sound, which should also not be a problem when looking at the Sennheiser HD 201 and HD 202.