the headphonist (part 1)

My listening habits have changed in recent weeks. I use headphones almost exclusively, and it’s a fascinating change, though one I’m still trying to put into words.

Last night, I listened to most of the Dylan, a McCoy Tyner solo recording from a year or so back and Henry Threadgill with Cassandra Wilson, recently reissued on Black Saint/Soul Note. I heard things in the Dylan and Tyner I would miss on speaker and gave up none of the authority; the Threadgill/Wilson seemed flatter to my ear, which is not to say bad. It’s just that it didn’t jump out at me the way the others did. However, I was able to focus better on the shape of Threadgill’s solos and on Wilson’s lowest notes, two great pleasures.

Headphone listening started with a purely utilitarian aspect, that you can listen and not bother others. But there is now a large cult of headphone fanatics out there – what you get, in practical terms, is really good sound much, much cheaper than you do with speakers. What you give is ‘normal’ listening. Headphones are just a different experience.

Here’s the hobbyist part for me: HP listening is compact, and makes lots of different combinations possible – last night I listened with a pair of AKG 702s, connected through an iBasso amp/dac, which was wired to the optical output of an Oppo universal player, all of it set up on the kitchen table and then packed away at the end of the night. It was a really fun combination, and made me want to keep digging out cds, even though I was exhausted.

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