The past week or two I’ve been revisiting Koss, the legendary makers of headphones. Koss invented stereo headphones (they called the “Stereophones”) in 1958. They’ve mostly be known for headphones, although they have made a few communications headsets over the years.
Koss GMR-540 Series Gaming Headphones
It had been a while since I reviewed a headset suitable for use by interpreters using ZipDX multilingual. Then I stumbled upon the Koss GMR-540 Series. Introduces in the summer of 2017, these are relatively inexpensive headphones targeting gamers. As such, they have a microphone.
More interestingly, the microphone is part of the cable, which can be completely removed from the headphones. The maker provides each headset with two cables;
A short (4 foot) cable with an inline microphone, suitable for use with a mobile phone, tablet or laptop.
A long (8 foot) cable with a boom-mounted microphone, suitable for use with a desktop computer or gaming console.
Depending upon which model you choose, the long cable will terminate in dual 3.5mm mini-plugs for mic & headphones, or a USB connector.
A set of Etymotic HF5 in-ear-monitors have graced my computer bag for the past few years. They are positively my favorite noise reducing headphones. The reasons are very simple; they reliably achieve a good seal in the ear canal, delivering relief from noisy surrounds. Further, they sound amazing.
Etymotic headsets are based on a balanced armature design. Coming from an audiological background, this design is characterized by accurate reproduction. They’re notable for fast, crystalline mid- and high-frequency response.
I am told that some people may find the bass response lacking. Although, to my ears they sound awesome. The fact that they seal reliably ensures that the bass is fast and tight. There’s no sloppy boom-boom-boom here.
I’ve not been a fan of Beats by Dr. Dre. I’ve purchased a couple of their lesser headsets and found them wanting. So it was that the purchase of the company by Apple didn’t really rock my world view, although the sum involved brought with it a bright spotlight. Lacking for other information there was a lot of speculation as to the underlying logic. It was certainly a curiosity.
Digital connections, whether USB or other, make a lot of sense. Such connections remove the variability of the hosts on-board audio interface. In the case of a computer, being at arms length from the internals of the device reduces the likelihood of noise induced into the analog stages of the electronics.
Back in June we made a week-long trip to Canada on short notice. While en route I realized that I didn’t have a headset in my bag. I usually travel with a pair of Etymotic ER6i noise reducing headphones. These I use for listening to both music and podcasts. In truth, while travelling I listen to podcasts more than music.
While making a connection between flights in Toronto I say a Best Buy vending machine in the airport. I’ve seen such machines before but never felt the urge to make a purchase there. With a little time to kill I wandered over to see if they had affordable headphones that I might purchase.
The machine had a few headphones offered. Most were of no interest, but I thought that the cheapest ones offered, Skull Candy Ink’d 2, would surely be suitable for listening to podcasts for just the week. They were $16.95, so not a big investment in any case.
The Skull Candy Ink’d 2 that I purchased is technically a headset, meaning that it has an inline microphone, making it useful with a cell phone as well as an iPod. There’s a variant without the microphone for a couple dollars less.
As I expected the Ink’d headset was perfectly adequate for listening to my backlog of VUC sessions or Escape Pod stories. Not than I managed to do much of that on this particular trip.
More recently I’ve tried them for listening to music, which is where the product fails miserably. The headset simply sounds out of balance, with far too much emphasis on the bass. I suspect that’s by design, or at least in alignment with the companies marketing imagery.
I find that I prefer the headset that was included with my Nexus 4. It’s not wonderful either, but it doesn’t sound so very out of balance.
The single best thing I could say about the Ink’d headset is that it was cheap. To my ears it simply sounds bad. On the other hand, if big thumpy bass is your thing they might be ideal.
The Etymotic ER6i model that I seem to have mislaid isn’t available any longer. If you’re interested in them check out the newer Etymotic Research HF2 model. They come with a nice Android application that allows you to vary the level of background noise suppression, making them safer for use while engaged in outdoor activities.
When I was in school in the mid-1980’s I was studying music recording and broadcasting. I spent a lot of time in and around various recording studios around Toronto. The single most common headset that I saw at that time was the AKG K240 Studio monitors. These were the reference grade dynamic headphones used in many facilities at that time.
The K240s are genuinely, big-ole, cans. A circumaural headphone with a semi-open design they sound great, even today. They can be cleanly driven to excessive volumes if required. Fairly efficient, they can even be powered by a cell phone or iPod.