I bought some new headphones after Christmas. A pair of Sennheiser HD 518 headphones. They’re pretty nice. For the sake of this blog I just went to check on the price of them at Amazon and it’s gone up. At this moment they go for $130 but they were only $97 when I bought them in December. They must have been on sale. I also had about $70 worth of “Rewards Points” from my credit card that I applied to the headphones so they only cost me about $35 in cash when all was said and done. I’m not sure I would have bought them without those rewards points. After all I really didn’t need them.

Every few years I seem to get obsessed with getting new headphones. I’m not even sure why. I don’t always get a new pair but I shop around. When I used to commute into NYC on the bus I sure needed a pair. Listening to music, the Stern Show, or whatever else I had to listen to was a must. Everyone was reading or had headphones on during that ride. It’s the only way to survive it. I didn’t ever have very good ones for most of my commuting years. Sure they were always a step up from the ones that came with whatever Walkman or Discman that I happened to own at the time but it was before the days of high end noise canceling headphones and the like.

Whenever I bought a new music player I would also buy a solid pair of headphones for about $40-$50. Back in the 1990s I used to be able to get some good ones from Radio Shack. I hardly ever bought anything from the Shack except for a pair of headphones that would go on sale every now and again. They were the small kind that sat on the ears. Not earbuds or over the ear headphones but more like the old school Walkman with the foam ear pads type. Only much better quality than the ones that came with the any music player.

It was also in the 90s that I first got introduced to ear buds. They are not my favorite type of headphones but what they lack in sound quality they make up for in portability. There have been times in my life when portability trumped sound quality and vice versa. I can’t even remember how I used to research headphones in the years before the internet but I did. I know that because I can recall buying one specific set of Sony earbuds that I was on the hunt for. I remember them because they were good and because I bought them at Macy’s. I never buy anything at Macy’s and who goes there to buy headphones anyway? But they were the only place they had them. They were about $40 and I remember them as my favorite set of earbuds.

I think I probably have always had a fascination with headphones because I never had a really nice stereo set-up like so many of my contemporaries had. I usually had a good boom box but I never listened to music very loud. Except for occasionally on my headphones. Those were what I had for listening to loud music. They were even better for hearing music in general and not just for loudness. With headphones I always heard things I never noticed before in whatever music I was listening to. My boom boxes were too lo-fi and played at too low a volume to hear all the bells and whistles of a song. And forget stereo separation on a boom box. They’re not built for that. You need headphone to really hear all the stereo tricks put into certain songs.

I wonder if as many people these days have home stereo equipment like they used to? I listen to most of my music with my computer and a nice set of speakers. The speakers are really only of boom box quality but they do me well. I have a nice stereo set-up these days but that’s more of a home theatre thing. I listen to way more TV on it than music. I imagine most stereo systems these days are part of a home theatre system rather than a music system. With a lot of music being digital on iPhones, iPods, and mp3 players in general are the younger generation even listening to stereo systems? I have no idea.

The Sennheiser HD 518 headphones that I just got are pretty good. They’re the large over the ear variety that I’m partial to. I already have a pair of over the ear noise canceling headphones so I bought these ones because they are of the open variety. They don’t cancel noise and let sound in and out of the back of the ear pieces. There is more bass in a pair of headphones like this than in noise canceling ones. I couldn’t wear these ones on the bus though because they leak too much sound and I’d have to turn them up too loud to drown out the bus noise. The bus is still a job for my noise canceling ones. Though I’m not on the bus much these days.

I am by no means an audiophile. Those are the guys who are really serious about their equipment. I’m not even sure if they’re that serious about music but they want it to sound really good. I’ve done a lot of reading of headphone reviews over the years and some people insist that headphones don’t sound their best until they’ve been “Broken in”. Some people leave them on at full volume (not while wearing them) for a week or even more after they buy a new pair. Others insist this is nonsense. I have no idea which is true but I’ve always wanted to try it. It’s appealing to think that I could buy some headphones, play them continuously for a week, and then have even better headphones. How cool! Of course I’ve never tried this because how could I possibly tell the difference? It’s not exactly a side by side comparison.

This is the first set of headphones I’ve bought in at least a few years. The last pair I bought was a set of in the ear noise canceling ones that I hardly ever have used. I thought I’d use them more but haven’t. Without the commute into NYC quality usually wins out over portability these days. Most of my headphones usage comes from listening to music when I go for walks. Sometimes I go for walks just to listen to music. Finding time to exercise or listen to music isn’t easy as an adult so I combine the two.

So far I’ve really been enjoying these new headphones. I like the open design as sometimes the noise canceling of my other pair just isn’t needed and I want the deeper bass. They’re big, comfortable, sound good, and fit well over my winter hats. I’ve already used them more than my in the ear noise canceling pair. That’s a win.