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Chronicle Tech Talk: the Buzz on Headphones

By Ryan Sexton, Assistant Entertainment Editor

On Hofstra ‘s campus, vibrant colored ear buds can be seen jammed into the ear canals of joe and jane student- cranking the latest in Gaga or Jay-Z. The brand of headphones, Skull Candy, is carried in the student center and they retail for about $20.  While these kids are going deaf listening to power pop and crap rap, they don't realize that a trip to the mall and a little extra cash can provide a superior listening experience.

Depending on how astute your ears are and how deep your wallet goes, the difference between good and bad headphones is akin to the difference between Beta-Max and Blue Ray. Yet, many people, ignorant of the discrepancy, go along listening to crap phones. It's not necessary to be deprived of hi-fi heaven.

One of the first good options for phones is Sony. They make a better product than Skull Candy, but they also have a wide range of quality- you can get Sony's that sound like Bose- or Sony's that sound only slightly better than bargain bin. Either way, even their entry-level phones sound better than the throw-aways packaged with your iPod. Bose is a higher priced option. They make excellent over-ear products, but if it's in ear headphones you desire, they've done well with that too (though for $99- it might not be worth it- many have said it's not Bose's best effort). If you're really ready to pour on the heat, two brands that audiophiles drool over are Etymotic and Klipsch. Etymotic's cheapest , the Mc5, is at $79, and Klipsch sells the Image S4 for $79.99.  But Klipsch goes up to $350 for their most advanced in-ear phones- but all the dough provides for a torrid, blistering performance.

Sonically, several differences will strike you if you were to compare the stock iPod ear buds and Etymotic's product. The iPod ear buds might distort on some songs that are bass heavy or have a lot going on- doubtful with the Etymotics (better save up Gaga disciples). The Etymotics would also have more bass, more pronounced mids, and good treble. With rock music, distorted guitars would be compressed hotcakes of sound, drums would punch tightly and vocals would soar- everything would be present. The sound would punch your ear harder and with more authority when cranked- turning up stock IPod ear buds, conversely, would just make mudfest. However, the difference might not even be apparent unless you have a reference point. Just like prior to the advent of HDTV no one thought anything was wrong with regular T.V., you will have an epiphany once you hear the sonic glory of a nice pair of headphones. You'll never go back. As for the finance issue- do you really need that knew Coach bag or long board?

Etymotic's Hf5 Headphones ( Etymotic Corporation)

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