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AirPods Max: An Audiophile Review (mariusmasalar.me)
317 points by drclau 72 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 384 comments



It is such a shame that nowadays even these high priced devices are contributing to the enormous e-waste we are all piling up.

It used to be like this: You spend A LOT of money for really nice headphones and use them (potentially) your lifetime. Or hand it down to your kids as your hearing gets worse. Sound doesn’t change much and the plug has been around for ages.

Nowadays it goes like this: You buy your expensive Apple headphones. And even though Apple is probably supporting these longer than your average earbuds, after a while the bluetooth version will be obsolete and eventually the battery will have reached its end or inflate and become a safety risk.

But because this was expensive and Apple supported it longer, it will have maybe lasted 10 years and one or two (pricey) battery replacements. This is still much worse than audiophile „analog“ headphones and I feel like this change is not adequately addressed.

I would really hope to see more approaches like Shure‘s „Aonic 215 True Wireless“ which is an arguably quite ugly attachment to the drivers that have been around for a long while and just adds the wireless capabilities and bluetooth. It can also be used for any other Shure driver afaik. This way you keep the good old sound producing piece while swapping out the stuff that will degrade over time.


> It used to be like this: You spend A LOT of money for really nice headphones and use them (potentially) your lifetime. Or hand it down to your kids as your hearing gets worse.

I think this is a fantasy. How many decades have there been high-quality headphones for this to be a thing that you think is supposedly the traditional way to do it? Did your parents hand you down their headphones? Surely your grandparents didn't hand down theirs? So it maybe happened once? For a few people?


For the past 19 years I have been using same pair of Beyerdynamic headphones. I use them most days from morning till late evening. When I worked at the office, I would spend most of my time in them, too.

Let's calculate -- about 320 days a year * 14 hours a day * 19 years = 85k hours.

I think this represents about correctly how much time I spent with these.

I change pads, I open it every couple of years to clean dust and hair and I have fixed broken cable twice (by shortening and giving it new plug).

Other than that they still work perfectly.


I've had a pair of HD650s since college. In that time, I've replaced the ear cups, the head cushion, and even the cable a few times. All the parts are available where the headphones are sold, and they pop right in without any effort (or even the need for instructions).

They say things aren't designed to last or to be repaired anymore, but some things are, and they're great!


...so, if Theseus wanted a pair of headphones, chances are he'd spring for HD650s?

In addition to Sennheisers, I've had good experience with AKG spare parts availability, too.


Also had a pair of headphones for 10 years, Sony MDR 7506. I've replaced the pads several times. I think a lot of good corded headphones will last forever as long as you don't crush them in a backpack.


MDR-V6 here, 20+ years, several pad replacements and several (mostly more expensive) headphones later, still my daily driver.

To be fair, I also have a pair of AirPods Pro (not Max), which I only use on-the-go and for (mostly work-related) phone calls.


I've used these for over a decade as well, still my favorite headphones.


If I was Theseus I would buy something that does not require separate amp (need to preserve batteries on yacht) and fares better in damp, salty conditions (I have delrin flute for that purpose, though everybody begs me to leave it at home).


Nah, that's like a ship where you only replace the sails and rope.


As an owner of sailing license (but no yacht) I can attest that there exist no ship where you only replace sails and rope. Ships of any kind even in best shape require stuff to be repaired, replaced or painted ALL the time. Especially if you want to enjoy it for a long time and not deteriorate after couple of years.


Er, that's his point. That unlike your sailing boats, good headphones don't really need replacement of critical parts (drivers), but auxiliary and easily-replaceable stuff like earcups and cables.


-Incidentally, my curiosity got the better of me today and I rang up the AKG distributor to inquire about a spare driver for my 1990s vintage K240 cans.

'Sure can do, but if you're willing to shell out another $11, we'll sell you a pair of drivers, wrapped in a headphone-shaped box - it even comes with a cable, ready to plug in!'

So, I guess AKG are like any other brand - after market is considered 'free money' and an invitation to fleece the customer...

(Though in fairness, for such a cheap-ish pair of headphones as the K240, the logistics of even keeping a spare inventory probably makes AKG lose money on selling me a new driver, even at the $70-ish price point I was quoted for a driver which goes into an $80 pair of headphones.)


I see it in a different way. $11 is a bargain to have support rep pick up the phone and bother to send you and individually prepared package. For phones that have been out of production for years.

Most companies don't bother keeping spare parts these days and if you, for some unknown reason, want to maintain your cheapish vintage cans, you should be AMAZED they still keep them in stock. Because they are definitely not making any money on it.


The price was 70 not 11.


The best spare part for AKGs are the pads from Bayerdynamics, which fit K240 just fine and make them much more comfortable.


Beyerdynamic headphones are not actually that good, so I'd hope he bought something new instead.

Beyer is the kind of thing nascent audiophiles liked about 15 years ago because they sounded very detailed, but people are better at measuring now, there are newer competitors like planar magnetics (eg Hifiman), and if you compare them now it's obvious that the detail is fake. It's an artifact called sibilance that just happens to sound good, like vacuum tube distortion.


My 19-year old Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO are currently powered with Topping D50 DAC and JDS Labs Atom for headphone amp.

I had some friends come in with newer headphones to compare (one with Audeze) and their amps and I was not impressed. It may be that I am just so used to my phones.

Now, I also own other phones. I currently own four pairs of Bose headphones. One (SoundSport) for running, and three QuietComfort which I bought as new generations were produced. These I used when I travel because DT 990s are 250 Ohm and require a bit of stationary hardware to work.

I also have one pair of Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO which I bought more recently and use when I need to isolate from environment for some reason.

None of these other headphones are as good as DT 990s IMO.


For reference I have a pair of DT-880 (sold as 250ohm but turned out to be 600) and Hifiman Sundara, both about the same price. DT-880 is certainly light and comfortable but it's kind of bright and I've heard the other models are less neutral than that.

It also sounds quite detailed in the treble range, but if you listen to something like Sundara you realize the detail doesn't actually exist and it's more like a sharpening filter. Sundara also has replaceable audio cables and of course it's easier to drive.


> None of these other headphones are as good as DT 990s IMO.

Not really surprised about this, I have never been particularly impressed by Bose except for their noise canceling.


Thats, like, your opinion, man.

My dt880's sound great - I bought them after auditioning a lot of different modern headphones.

I have some closed planars as well, but I don't enjoy the closed-in feeling that much.


I've had a pair of Sennheiser HD800 headphones for about a decade. It was about AUD 1300 when I got them.

The padding has failed, and been replaced, twice. That cost me just under AUD 100 each time.

The cable has failed, and been replaced, also twice. That cost me an eye-watering AUD 270 each time.

All up, these headphones have cost me approximately $240 on an annualised basis. In my opinion, the sound quality is more than worth this ongoing expense. I spend 10x more on coffee!

I got the AirPod 2 when it was released, almost exactly two years ago. They cost me about AUD 250. Annually this is AUD 125, which is half what the Sennheiser costs. I use the AirPods at work, often up to 8 hours a day.

For comparison, the wired Apple headphones have these "soft" cables that crack in well under a year, and cost $50 to replace. They're e-waste too!

People seem to have this knee-jerk reaction about Apple and e-waste, which to me is just nonsense. Especially Airpods, which are a fantastically well engineered product in my opinion.


Can't say I inherited any audio equipment from my parents. Appreciation skipped a generation.

But I've had my AKG K240's for years and they're tireless. Not suitable so much for running around town, but they've been made since the 70's nearly to the same spec. The cable is removable, so are the ear pads and both replaceable.

And they aren't even expensive, relatively speaking. Great for mixing and general listening. Can't say enough good about them, really. https://www.akg.com/Headphones/Professional%20Headphones/K24...

edit: My opinions are so very different from an article another user posted about the same (which strangely runs counter to the larger, repeated experience and sentiment). They've always been lauded for their very open, lively soundstage and even, clear response.


I spotted a pair of these 40 years ago at a yard sale for $2. The owner said they didn't work, but after a few minutes with a soldering iron, they were good as new. They were my headphones until recently, when I gave them to my son. I suppose some of the materials in the drivers have a finite lifespan, but I hope he enjoys them for a few decades.


My father had a pretty impressive hi-fi setup that he gave me years ago. It was mostly mid-late 80s-90s Panasonic equipment that he didn't have room for in the new house. I carried it around for a while, but moving it was a pain and in by the late 00s, hi-fi systems were passe, so I sold it for peanuts to my cousin.

The speakers were nice when new, but after 20 or so years, the rubber around the cones began to deteriorate and the cloth covers frayed and developed runs. Even these M-Audio studio monitors I picked up in around 2005 are starting to have issues with the plug jacks.

I imagine it's worth with headphones ear cushions are usually made from synthetic materials that tend not to wear well. Plus they get moved around a lot and are at risk of getting dropped or crushed. I can't say that I've owned a pair of headphones that received frequent use for more than 15 years.


Replacing the surrounds on a driver is a thing that an amateur can do with the aid of a YouTube video, on the order of replacing a dishwasher but not as heavy or dangerous. It involves glue and being careful.

Replacing ear cushions is even easier than that: you order replacements, pull off the old ones and tug the new ones into position. It takes slightly longer than changing the batteries in a remote control, but much less time.

I have a 60W stereo amplifier from the 1970s that works and sounds great. I have an FM tuner from the 1960s of excellent quality.

I no longer have cassette tape decks, but I have a reel-to-reel machine from 1962.

There are speakers from the 1960s and 70s that are worth owning and using; there are lots from the 80s and 90s that are not.


> There are speakers from the 1960s and 70s that are worth owning and using; there are lots from the 80s and 90s that are not.

There is so much to expand on there, too. Commoditization, while democratizing in some senses, loses the plot often.


On the other hand, we now live in a time where, if you know what you are doing, you can have better sound playback than 98% of the systems ever sold for under $200.

(Say, a Fiio X3duoo player ($75), a 128GB microSD card ($25), and one of N different Chinese IEMs depending on preference, all under $100 and most under $50. TRN V90 is about $40 and does a respectable job.)


If you have a nice set of speakers that are fine other than the foam, it's possible to get the foam repaired for pretty cheap or DIY if you're handy. I think I paid $100 / driver five years ago on some 80's JBLs and it was well worth it.


I have inherited speakers before, but not headphones. Those don't last after years of sweat/travel, the internals can break down, and the quality of headphone design has gone up with things like planar magnetic technology.

It's worth getting old headphones if they were the real top of the line like Stax electrostatics, since you can't afford new ones, but those were especially poorly built back in the day.

As for open headphones like AKG, people praise them for critical listening but I've found they're not good in realistic situations where there's any background noise at all. I can't get a separate soundproofed listening room in my apartment, so if the fridge decides to turn on, I can't hear the bass in an open headphone anymore.


Shure SM58 / SM57 End of Thread.

There are SM58/57 mics being handed down to grandchildren.


No kidding. I have a 40+ year old 565 my uncle gave to me that he got from god knows where. I’ve taken it all over the place, hell and back and it’s just still great. It even records well.

https://www.gearslutz.com/gear/shure/565sd


I like to use mine as a hammer and then bring it inside to record guitars with. Dual purpose!


>> Can't say I inherited any audio equipment from my parents.

My parents old Marantz receiver goes for $800 on eBay these days. I think we pitched it somewhere around 1994 for a setup from one of those Best Buy Sunday flyers.


I'm on two years on my K240 mkII and the last pair I gifted it to a friend when moving, it was 5 years old. I just changed the pads which was like 7 bucks.


I received from my dad most of his stereo headphone gear he'd /made/ from kit or magazine instructions in the 70s, still working perfectly fine if a bit archaic. I used it alongside new production tube amplifiers with vintage speakers which still function perfectly fine and are actually superior to similar speakers of new production.

On the headphone side, the technology has gotten massively between in the last 30 years, so all my headphones are from the 1990s or later, but for speakers, tower/cabinet speakers from the 1970s are still functional and good.

My primary set of headphones were purchased new in 2007. It's been 13 years, and they still work perfectly fine. The amplifier they're plugged into was manufactured in 1976 and has had a set of NOS Sylvania Green Hornet tubes swapped in.


The best vintage stuff certainly holds up. Decades ago, I found some speakers at a garage sale... Dynaco A25 something. Looked a bit crude. Hooked them up and... holy crap these sound good. Only later found out they're considered classics. I don't use them any more because decades of standing later caused the woofers to develop a voice coil rub, but these'll get fixed up by the right person some day and probably still used a century after they were manufactured.

Almost everything else has gotten better, or at least a lot cheaper and less trouble for comparable quality. But speakers haven't.

Mind you a lot of that old stuff was crap too.


Speakers have gotten a lot better but at some point you’re fighting physics. If you want to move a lot of air, you need mass and volume. Most of our modern systems using a fairly similar formula to speakers from the 1960s, but we have better materials and amplifiers. For example, you can use a neodymium magnet but this isn’t really a revolution in speaker technology, it just means you can make a smaller/lighter speaker.

That said, speakers have gotten a lot better since the Dynaco A-25 came out. They cost $160 for a pair in 1969, or about $1,100 in 2020 by the CPI. You can buy a pretty damn good system for $1,100.


It's true and false. I had some Grado S60s handed down from my dad. While this would seem to support the original argument, he kept them in a box for about 20 years and I broke them after 6 months by tripping over the cord. As far as I can tell, most consumer goods just don't last that long (~10-ish years).


grados can be taken apart and each part replaced as needed though


I've worn out 2 pairs of Grado SR60's and one pair of Sennheisers since ~1992, and I'm currently using a 5yr old pair of SR80s.

Each one of them has wound up needing the plug replaced, and in the case of the Sennheisers, the connection of the wire to the ear cup just got intermittent, even with replacing and tweaking. One set of the SR60s also has an intermittent connection in one of the wires near the split. I was pondering pulling themm apart and grafting in another cable, but the ear cups don't seem to come apart.

So, yeah, they last a while, there are some replacement parts, but at some point they're still e-waste.

On the other hand, making the shift from crappy earbuds to good headphones probably saved my hearing, and I wish I'd done it sooner.


Grados seem to suffer around their strain relief in multiple places - not just the plug, but also the earpiece. I have a set of 325s where, after the cable has failed yet again, I am wondering if it is actually worth it to repair them or just bin them - and that is after binning SR80s and SR60s over the years. Sunk cost only goes so far.


I love my Grado SR60s which are just about 20 years old now. The left post that the headphone is connected to needs replacement (I'm using tape for now), and I sent them to Grado to replace the cable ~10 years ago. Otherwise they are well worn but working perfectly. They are the longest running piece of my daily driving kit. The silver embossing on the letters is almost completely worn off in places just due to use. I love them so much.

It warms my heart to see youtube reviewers who encounter them and are shocked at how good they sound for the price.


That's true of many high end analog headphones, even modern ones. My Sennheiser momentums have had cables and pads replaced.


I don’t want to dismiss your point, but I just inherited a pair of really high quality speakers from my dad’s days as a poor PhD student. He told me they were one of the nicest objects he owned, and it’s clear he is still proud of them.

The company that makes those speakers has long since gone out of business, but they still work and sound out of this world. I think this stands in sharp contrast to some of the practices we see today, e.g. Sonos intentionally bricking their old speakers.


The second bit of hifi I ever bought, a NAD 3225 amp, still sees daily use in my house for my daughter, and is almost 30 years old. It's been stolen, recovered by the police, and still runs fine.

Headphones are perhaps a little more fragile, but NAD isn't even particularly expensive.

The grandparent's complaint holds true for home theatre equipment as well, with constant standards churn driving flipping of high-priced and mostly sub-par components (much HT gear, even extremely expensive, big name gear, is very sub-par repro-wise: Arcam and Marantz will sell you HT processors that struggle to accurately reproduce a CD-quality stream; the most recent "8k" recievers from Yamaha, Denon, etc, don't even implement 8k correctly); most of that is driven by copy protection as much as anything else.


My dad’s Sennheisers from the 1980’s still work well. They have the huge plug, so we have the adapter on it, but otherwise works fine. Foam had to be replaced once or twice, but otherwise it has surprised me how long they’ve lasted.


>They have the huge plug

That's pretty standard even in newer Sennheisers. I think HD 650 and above you get the big plug. Some might come with two cables, one with a standard plug and one with the bigger.


I bought new Sennhrisers every few years for the last 10 years. They randomly stop working. This time I bought Sony, no much hope, though. I just got used that keyboards, mouses and headphones are to be replaced every few months or years if I’m lucky.


I've had Sony MDR-7506s for about 7 years now, two cup replacements but otherwise going strong. I've also had my Audio Technica ATH-M50 for a solid 12 years, one cup replacement, sound great and work perfectly.

I have basically worn one of those two pairs of headphones every single day at work since I bought them; I guess I've just had good luck.


Which Sennheisers? Their 25 Euro in ears broke on me as well (C25x?), but as a pupil I couldn't afford better and just burned through some of those. Time lapse to a decade later, and I got myself the HD650. They sound exceptionally while still being relatively affordable (not that this would still be an issue, but I'm not a maniac who spends all their money on audio equip) AND they can take some abuse. At least that's what long time owners report, and that's also my own limited experience after 4 years - I take care not to trip over the cable and throw them across the room, but that's about all the care they get from me. [edit: okay, and if I stuff them in a bag, I'll stuff them on top or put some clothes between them].


Sounds a lot like the problem is between the keyboard and chair considering the absolute number of shit that you burn through in a couple of years.


My Senns came with a 3.5mm plug threaded for the 1/4” plug adapter. I thought that was standard now.


Not really. I took a look at kind of a cable Sennheiser bundles with each headphone from the website:

HD 559: 6.3 mm plug.

HD 560 S: 6.3 mm plug.

HD 569: 6.3 mm plug + 3.5 mm plug.

HD 579: 6.3 mm plug.

HD 599: 6.3 mm plug + 3.5 mm plug.

HD 600: 6.3 mm plug.

HD 650: 6.3 mm plug.

HD 660 S: 6.3 mm plug + 4.4 mm balanced.

HD 800 S: 6.3 mm plug + 4.4 mm balanced.

HD 820: 6.3 mm plug.

So really the 3.5 mm cables are an exception that are also bundled with Sennheiser's audiophile-tier headphones and absolutely everything has a 6.3 mm plug out of the box.


That 6.3mm / 1/4" plug is 3.5mm + converter (you just pull it apart comes apart into two pieces), at least on 5xx and 6xx range. It's not even screwed on, just a tight friction fit. Unless, that is, Sennheiser decided to cheapen out in the last 10 years and redesigned them...

Never had original 8xx cables to check but I would be surprised if they weren't the same.



Which means that they have indeed cheapened out with a recent refresh - which is a shame. I have the cable I describe on the headphones I am quite literally wearing on my head at this very moment (HD 600) and identical ones were present in 59x and 650 from the era. Glad to know, TIL.

Edit: the 3.5mm male to headphone is Sennheiser 81435 [0] the 6.3mm male to 3.5mm female that fits over it is Sennheiser 562507 [1].

[0] https://en-us.sennheiser.com/cable-3-m-35-mm [1] https://en-us.sennheiser.com/accessories--adapter-jack-63s-j...


I bought the HD600 last year and it came with the 6.3mm to 3.5mm removable adaptor. This was in Europe maybe the cabling is different, or there are multiple packagings for different use cases (likely). The cables are removable so its easy for them to have different SKUs.


Other than ancient compatibility purposes, does the big plug actually offer any better listening experience?


>Other than ancient compatibility purposes...

That's actually not true. That plug is commonplace on a lot of music equipment, DJ mixers, etc. that are still manufactured and used commonly today.


Sorry, I wasn’t very clear. I simply meant the standard has been around forever, not that it was obsolete.

I figure there has to be some reason for it in an age when companies are constantly cutting costs.


6.35 mm jacks are quite a lot more robust than their smaller 3.5 mm brethren.


Which can be a problem when you plug them into the phone - you probably don't want your plug to be more robust than the socket.


you might if your headphones are worth more than your phone ;)

I doubt many people are trying to drive HD-650's with a phone anyway.


I don't think it's about ancient compatibility but rather just the fact that audiophile stuff tends to have it and if you are marketing to audiophiles, might as well design it that way. I have a pretty modern stereo receiver (Onkyo A-9010) as my computer's headphone amplifier and it has the bigger socket only. Same with my home theatre receiver (also an Onkyo).

But I believe there's no difference in listening experience. The bigger plug is probably a lot sturdier though. I've had some 3.5 mm jacks bend on me. Can't imagine that on the good ol' 6.3. I have totally busted a 6.3 mm to 3.5 mm adaptor though.


As others have stated, it's usually more about compatability. Most (nonportable) headphone amps will have a 1/4" plug rather than the 3.5mm, and it makes more sense from the "female" amp side to convert the larger 1/4" --> 3.5mm than the other way around. Many home "audiophile" headphones I've used (Audeze or Beyerdynamic) actually have the smaller 3.5mm jack, but because they are so focused on home use (bulky, open backed, expensive, and not very shovable into a backpack), users rarely use them connected to a phone or laptop.


There is no signal or quality difference between different sizes of headphone jacks, except that bigger ones might last longer.

For very long cables or high RF you might want a kind of cable called "balanced", which comes in every size except 3.5mm. Some audiophiles think these make headphones sound better, but it's probably not true.


its standard in audio. all mixers, guitar amps etc support them. big plug means stable wide signal, and it does not break. never had one break ever. even the shitty cables. they are well shielded.


Oh, did the old ones already have replaceable cables? I got a shorter cable with a different plug for my HD650 from Aliexpress for ~24US$.

Incidentally, one of the reasons I got the HD650 was how my headphones/headsets broke every other year and all I could do was trash them and get new ones. That, and I enjoy listening to music and the usual stuff <100 Euro sounds like garbage. Now I've got something more "SO-friendly" than my "two towers" ;-)


Been using my wired Sennheisers for 10 years now. Still in basically new condition. Sounds amazing, very comfortable.

If I bought airpods today, they'd likely be useless within 5 years.


I've had my HD 598s since 2012 or 2013 I believe. There's small cracks near the headband adjustment (common issue I believe) but they're still great. Of course, I did have to change out the muffs once.

I imagine I won't be replacing them because they break, but rather because I want to get something better. However, the 598s sound pretty great to my ear so there's not really a huge incentive for me to get anything new.


I have the same ones, I changed the ear pads and the one on the top and they are as good as new. The sound is amazing and I doubt I'll buy any new ones until they break.


I'll second that! I have a nice pair of Sennheisers that's probably about 10-15 years old and is still the best pair of headphones in the house.

A few years back I replaced the foam ear pads and also swapped the cable out with one that has a lightning connector on the end so that my wife can plug it into her new "courage" iPhone.

In contrast, my bluetooth earbuds died after about 3 years of use. (Although, to JLab's credit, they replaced them with a new, better pair.)


>If I bought airpods today, they'd likely be useless within 5 years.

Giving too much credit to Apple. The battery will die in 3 years even with very limited usage. If you use it daily it only barely last longer than a year. Replacing Battery cost $49 each.

The AirPod is one of the worst purchase I had from Apple.


It’s fashionable to diss at the AirPods these days. They serve a specific purpose - on the go inconspicuous listening. I have a pair of Bose headphones (wireless) for about 5 years now. My old model with a family member is about 10 years old now. I swear by the Bose. All I had to change are the cups. But i use my AirPods Pro more often because I don’t want to wear a giant pair of headphones when I’m walking my dog. When I’m at my desk I wear my Bose.

Technology can be made to serve our needs.


"How many decades have there been high-quality headphones "

I have a quarter of century old Beyerdynamic cans that still sound fantastic. I am not seeing their end-of-life any time soon, except the pads are probably going to need a change.


> quarter of century old

'Quarter of a century' sounds dramatic... but it's just two and a half decades and less than a third of one lifetime... not passing down generations.


Just to remind you, quarter of century ago most people even if heard about the Internet they haven't had a chance to use it yet.

From Wikipedia:

January 3 – Motorola introduces the Motorola StarTAC Wearable Cellular Telephone, the first clamshell mobile phone.

September 26 – Nintendo introduces in American market the new game console with the name Nintendo 64.


A quarter of a century ago is... 1996. Not the 80s or whatever you're thinking.

But what's that got to do with headphones?


> A quarter of a century ago is... 1996. Not the 80s or whatever you're thinking.

Yes, that is Wikipedia page for 1996, not for "80s or whatever".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1996


I don't get your point then? People knew about the internet in 1996! AOL had been mass-market by half a decade at that point. I don't know what you think the mid-90s were like but people were using the internet.

But what have the internet and clamshell telephones got to do with headphones?


I see you are deeply confused about either timeline or logic or both.

"In 1996, just 20 million American adults had access to the Internet," (https://slate.com/technology/2009/02/the-unrecognizable-inte...)

So... again... which of my statements is inaccurate?

I wrote: "quarter of century ago most people even if heard about the Internet they haven't had a chance to use it yet".

How does that conflict with AOL or the quoted above that at that time only 20 million, less than 10%, of Americans had access to the Internet (and access isn't the same as using it)?

Also, this is for USA. The rest of the world did not have anywhere near that much access to the Internet.


Many Americans had heard of the Internet by 1996--for example, it was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1994--but most people who were online were probably just using AOL, Compuserve, etc. and, as you say, not the Internet.


> I see you are deeply confused about either timeline or logic or both.

Not sure why you've now decided to go for snark and being snide?

> 20 million American adults had access to the Internet

That seems like a lot of people to me?

But what has any of this got to do with headphones?! Why are you telling me about when models of telephone came out or when people had access to the internet? The thread is about how long headphones last.


> > 20 million American adults had access to the Internet

> That seems like a lot of people to me?

Yes, that's true. 20 million Americans is a lot of people.

But in 1996 the population of US was about 265 million, so I was completely right to say that "quarter of century ago most people even if heard about the Internet they haven't had a chance to use it yet".

> Not sure why you've now decided to go for snark and being snide?

Not sure why you have decided to oppose what is clearly true and accurate statements with illogical sentences. You could have just ignored it or even downvoted if you decided it worsens overall quality of HN content.

But you decided to write false, illogical responses and you should by now know how it ends on HN.


Sorry I still don't get what you mean - what has the internet and mobile phones got to do with headphones? I don't get why you brought it up in the first place or why you think it's relevant? Seems like unrelated trivia?


Not the OP but I think their point is that while you might not think a quarter of a century is that long of a period, relative to most products in tech, it is a stupendously long time for a product to be still in use. It would be like using a phone from 1996 today.


Estimating their life expectancy using Lindy effect they will soon reach the age at which it becomes likely they will outlast me.

Are headphones Lindy-estimatable? That I don't know.


The big problem is the materials used won't last, even presuming you will replace the earpads and maybe parts of headband.

Closest we've come to this is old pairs of Sennheiser HD580. Very high quality plastics, still get scraped and loose over time. Full steel or aluminum construction holds up much better.


I have ones that are 19 years old (Beyerdynamic).

The materials for the main part of headphones would last probably indefinitely if kept in dark, dry place, undisturbed.

On the other hand the foam that is part of the pads lasts months to maybe couple of years depending on use.

If you bought ones with leather it will last for many decades IF you know how to take care of leather.

If you avoid throwing, dropping or otherwise banging headphones on things, don't come outside in them and don't stretch the headband more than is absolutely necessary to put on your head I estimate they can be maintained practically forever (definitely more than user's lifetime).

Maintanence:

- keep them clean with dry cloth,

- use something to clean/protect leather from drying out,

- replace pads maybe every year or two,

- replace pads on headband maybe once every 10 years,

- disassemble completely to remove hair and other detritus, probably every 5 years

- fix the cable that tends to break after prolonged use, I am gentle so maybe once in 7 years.

This is history of maintenance of my headphones which I use every day, entire day.


To be honest I've not done any maintenance on my 25y oldish Beyerdynamics beyond jury rigging a fix to the support of the left earpiece which lost a critical small piece of plastic in a minor impact. Yes - the pads could use a replacement but it's not critical. Yes, they are a bit grimy. But work well :)


I still have a pair of these (in need of that exact new padding)


A quarter of a century is certainly long enough to buy something, use it for a good long time and then pass it along to your now adult children. Maybe it was time for an upgrade, or they just don't use them any more? And in another 25 years maybe they will do the same.

A generation is roughly 20-30 years - people don't tend to have kids at the end of their lives.


A lifetime is maybe a fantasy but both my shure se215 and dt770 are 6 or 7 years old and I expect them to last a while given they're in perfect working order after daily use for so long.

I highly doubt these new headphones with non user replaceable batteries would survive 2 years of daily usage, that would be 2+ full cycles per day for the airpods, seeing how tiny the batteries are I don't think they'd perform very good after even a year


I bought my Sennheiser HD650 about 10 years ago, and was pleasantly surprised that I could order new ear cushions and new cord to continue using it after the audio started disappearing from the other channel and the cushions were a bit mushed.

I like the headphones because they don't wear me down on long continuous usage and the sound is great to my not-golden-ears.

They cost about 350 euros back then and now perhaps paid 50 euros to get them back into shape, so pretty good for a music lover. I have even used them in office space, even though they are semi-open. Luckily the sound isn't leak too noisily on my usual listening levels.


The new AirPods headphones are rated at 20 hours play time with noise cancellation enabled, how do you figure 2+ cycles per day? Or are you talking about the earbuds AirPods?

I get that earbuds' 5-hour listening time is borderline annoying and if it drops to 3 or 4 hours you've got a real usefulness problem, but 20 hours has quite a lot of headroom for battery degradation unless you don't sleep.


Are you s(h)ure that you wrote correct model? 215s are in-ears and while excellent sound-wise, their cables break quite easily with frequent use. I'm on my 3rd pair and I'll most likely still buy new ones after the inevitable destruction of the pair I'm currently using.


Similarly I love my 215's and even though the cable is a bit chunkier than some other brands they don't seem to survive my daily use for more than 1-2 years.

That said being able to just buy a new cable and whip the old one off is far nicer than having to buy a whole new pair of headphones.


> their cables break quite easily with frequent use

I replaced them with cheap knockoff cables and they're lasting much longer. I haven't replaced them for years now


Newer Shure models have replaceable cables. They'll also replace the cable for something like $18 which is way less than the cost of the earphones.


I have been using my DT-770s every single day for hours and hours for about 5 years now and they are still in perfect condition. I expect them to last an extremely long time.

Meanwhile, I'm on my third replacement airpods (thankfully all covered by warranty, but not much longer!)


I worked as a techie at a radio station for some years. We maintained (repaired on site) around ~20 pairs of professional headphones for studio usage, used by many hundreds of members of the station. Some of these headphones lifetime definitely exceeded a decade even with heavy use, requiring minor repairs e.g. cables and jacks.

Personally, I used one pair of ath-m50x's for about ten years. I just replaced it with some Beyerdynamic's, which I expect to also last at least ten years.

All of the Bluetooth headphones and speakers I've bought have lasted less than a few years. Half the time the batteries fail (and often aren't user-replaceable), the other half it's some component I'm unable to diagnose myself.


The headphones my parents purchased in the 1970s still work perfectly fine, actually. They haven't handed them down, though, as they still have them. This was extremely common in the past. There are plenty of people's grandparents now who bought nice cans in the 1970s or 1980s, many of which still work fine.


This is a pretty narrow view of things. How many people do you think are part of the economic strata that have the money to buy heirloom headphones?

The real problem is: For every pair of even $100 headphones, how many $10 headphones do you think are sold? The waste isn't coming from AirPods, it's coming from the $10 set that wasn't designed to last longer than an airline flight

(and yes I'm sure someone will link some cult favorite cheap headphone that's a drop in the bucket compared to how many at the price point are practically disposable)


The waste is coming from disposable products, which is what Apple specializes in producing these days. Pre-2015, Apple had a reputation for creating long-lasting products that can be maintenance by the layperson easily. Even if their software was a bit long in the tooth and the pricing seemed a little insulting, Apple at least had the consumer-friendly card in their hands. This is no longer the case. I see people literally throwing out 16 inch MBPs when they break, simply because the price to repair them is far higher than the price of simply buying another laptop.

And sure, maybe Apple does make their devices easier to recycle, but there are still 2 R's that are more important: reusing and reducing. If you can reduce the amount of times someone needs to replace their product, you are having a much greater environmental impact than slightly more recyclable aluminum. That's why my Thinkpad x201 is still a more eco-friendly choice than the M1: it's carbon footprint is inherently lower.

---

Also, a quick bit on the economic strata comment: I come from a relatively lower-income family, but we still did cherish the few nice things we had. My dad passed me down his pair of AKG open-backs with a new DAC for my 13th birthday, and I never really thought of it as that weird. I think your optics are a little out of tune.


When I was a kid in the 80's I had at least one pair of headphones from the 40's. I'm pretty sure they're still somewhere at my parents' house.

My dad still has the headphones he bought in the 70's. He's replaced the pads and the cable.

Good audio equipment is built to be repaired and can last indefinitely when maintained.


Honestly a $90 set of Sony MDR-7506 will last you 25 years if you replace the earpads every now and then. Probably the best sound out there for the price, and a decent portion of your music collection may have even been mixed and mastered with these cans so they are a great choice. Hear what the producer heard when they were laying the tracks.

Audio fidelity hit its stride decades ago. 40-50 year old stereos are still sought after, not because they look nice and are classic like a vintage car, but mostly because the sound quality is still excellent today.


MDR-7506 are more or less indestructible (and their naked structure means they are very easy to repair). That's why they were used in sound studios, mainly as sound monitors for artists.

They behave a bit like Yamaha NS10 monitors in that anything that sounds good in them, will sound good anywhere.


> Sony MDR-7506

But how do you connect them to your phone. I wish this wasn’t a thing.


You mean the phone I can't connect to the computer out of the box?


Never mind the computer, how do you get power into it?


pretty ironic I can only charge android phones with the charger that came with my macbook


Sennheiser's HD 25 are pretty iconic for DJs, and they were initially released in 1988.

They're also known as being pretty easy to fix, because you can find a replacement for virtually every part of them, and they're sold brand new to this day. Plenty of people that own this specific model have had them for more than a decade.

Anyway, my parents didn't pass me down a pair of HD 25s, but my pair (whose initial release is older than I am) is definitely going to be usable for my kids. Whether they'll want to use them or not remains to be seen.


Like most tech, I don't think the thing to think about is the lifetime of the device. Really nice headphones that are "vintage"(?) exist, as evidenced by the comments here. Leaving aside the fact that HN is notorious for having a strong segment of nearly any *-phile group...

The question is rarely the lifetime of the device. It's usually the lifetime of the interface. Or in this case, a headphone jack. 1/8", 1/4", etc... This is what normally gets obsoleted rather than the device itself. For headphones, the big switch is from wired to wireless. And I think that's where you'll see the shift. Yes, you can get a bluetooth adapter for traditional headphones, but they aren't great, and if you have audiophile wired headphones, you won't be happy with the sound. And so, the device won't be obsoleted because they fail, but rather the preferred interface changes to something that's incompatible. Maybe audio was lucky that there were adapters available for the first shift from 1/4" to 1/8"...

In this regard, I think the audio world is just catching up to their other brethren in the tech world.


I'm not sure what my kid will inherit, but I've replaced the ear pads on AGK 240s and Sony 7506s and they'll work for many years to come. Whereas the Beat Studio Pro I got for free when I bought a Mac are quite nice, when the battery final goes they'll be useless as despite having a cable, they only work when turned on (idiotic!).


Not to mention reliability. I had a $350 pair from Beyerdynamic that was really nice, but after 3 years of extremely gentle use (I only used them to listen to music in bed) the cable developed intermittent noise issues. Could I get them fixed? Sure, there’s probably a high-end audio store that would fix them for some large portion of the purchase price. But that’s probably true for most expensive wireless headphones as well. Instead, they just sat unused in my nightstand for a few more years and then got thrown away when I moved last year.


my Beyerdynamics comes with ability to switch cables and they also sell components for repair. So designed to be fixed


Mine was a fixed cable with a standard 3.5mm TRS stereo connector. Those are "designed to be fixed" in the sense that you can solder on a new connector.


Not headphones but our home sound system is a Marantz system from 1983 which we inherited from a grandparent. The speakers would probably be massively outclassed by modern floor speakers (sound quality wise) but they are perfectly adequate for our needs. It even has an aux input so we can play music off our phones.

AFAIK the turntable and cassette player have had some minor repairs but nothing else has needed maintenance since purchase.

I'm also currently listening to music through a pair of HD202s I bought in 2007 which have copped endless abuse.


My home sound system is the same, except the speakers aren't producing nearly as much treble as they used to. This is apparently a common issue, and now I need to work out how to get the speaker cases open.


My main (wired) headphones are 15 years old now, with zero degradation. My headphone amp, turntable, and CD player are roughly the same age or older. I have no plans to get rid of them anytime soon. My parents haven't passed any down to me, mostly because they're still alive and using their own stuff, but my dad listens to music on speakers he bought in the early 70s. (I don't think my grandparents were ever serious about HiFi equipment, so nothing really to pass down. Half of them are also still alive.)


Got my headphones from my dad in the late 90s, h probably bought them in the 80s. Recently stopped using them, not because they didn't work but because I wanted a wireless pair.


I got Bose QC25 almost 5 years ago, they're still working. I've changed the cable and the pads twice but the headphones they've just get on ticking.

I've also got the Meze Classic 99 and they're even more solid. At 3 years old, I've not had to change the cable nor the pads, infact I've also got a backup cable that cable with them. I could easily see them lasting decades if looked after carefully.


I used to have a pair of really nice headphones my audio engineer dad left me. I'd still have them sitting on my desk if not for Hurricane Katrina.


Maybe it's a fantasy on headphone (as for most electronic). But I think the idea is more global : buy expensive stuff to keep them longer. On headphone, the switch to Bluetooth-only with addition of batteries don't help on this scale. But we should probably compare similar products (bluetooth headphone vs bluetooth headphone).


I bought my headphones (Audio Technica ATH-AD700s) when I was in school. I still use them now and they sound just as good as anything else you could buy.

Not quite generational inheritance but I can't think of anything else I bought back then that I still use. It's pretty satisfying when I think about it.


I have a pair audio-technica headphones, using them regularly for about 12 years...

I have pair of Monsoon Speakers bought since College (2000), so that's over 20 years. They still work great, just an headjack input, volume/bass control. Simple and they are connected to my PS4.

I have a dell monitor, bought in 2006, still working great with my mac. I bought an LG 4k one last year, and the Thubderbolt port just failed. Right now it is staying as a dead weight, and I am deciding if it is even worth fixing (or it can be fixed).

Some accessories do last decades. Apple accessories are made to last for 2-3 years and discarded after as they are not easily serviceable.


I think this is a fantasy. How many decades have there been high-quality headphones for this to be a thing that you think is supposedly the traditional way to do it?

I still have the Koss headphones I bought in the early 1990's. They still work, though they need a 50¢ phono adapter to plug into current gear. Also, I had to send them back to Milwaukee twice to be repaired. But Koss did it for free both times under the "lifetime warranty" program.

Did your parents hand you down their headphones?

Yes.

Surely your grandparents didn't hand down theirs?

No, they didn't. Mostly because headphones weren't invented yet.


> I think this is a fantasy. How many decades have there been high-quality headphones for this to be a thing that you think is supposedly the traditional way to do it?

My sennheiser HD600 was released 17 years ago. I've tried many other headphones over the years but it's the best I've heard from my very subjective ears. I've also changed almost every part from it due to wear and tear and it's amazing the amount of after market part you can find both from sennheiser and other vendors directly on ebay


I still have a pair of Sennheiser HD 280 Pro's I bought 20 years ago. That seemed like a lot of money for headphones back then. They have followed me to multiple continents, been on lots of flights and have had their pads replaced and still work great.

I recently moved to Bose NC700s because ya, wireless sure is nice, but I'd be surprised if they last 10 years, much less 20. Still have the HD's though and use them now and then.


I'm at 10 years with my Ultrasone Signature Pros and they look and function just like new. Of course they're not wireless and don't have a DAC built in so there's very little to go wrong, but despite being a person that upgrades my phone and laptop frequently - I don't see myself replacing them for another 10 years - they're pretty much perfect audio quality and comfort wise.


That's a $1k headphone though.


$650USD on sale but point taken.


My dad handed down his Sennheisers from the '90s to me, and after $8 for replacing the foam inserts they're still working perfectly in 2021.


A family friend is a bit of an audiophile and has been using his Stax SR electrostatic headphones since 1985. His sony amp is also from around the same time. My gran is still using household appliances from 30+ years ago, so it could be a generational thing or it could be because expensive items were better made. Bit of both perhaps


My dad handed me down a pair of AKG cans he had been using since he was 20 (almost 25 years old now). My main headphones (AT-M40x) have lasted almost 8 years so far, and I've only needed to replace the earpads. The next to go is the cable, but I don't really need to worry since it comes with an extra cable in the box.


maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but it rings (mostly) true to me. my dad has a pair of grado rs-1's he's been using for as long as I can remember. he also has a very nice pair of b&o speakers that I'm pretty sure predate my existence altogether. only reason they haven't been handed down is because my dad is still alive and enjoying them. I'm sitting here wearing a pair of sennheiser hd-555's that I bought in 2008. they're plugged into a DAC I bought in 2010.

I don't know that there's some grand tradition of handing down audio gear over generations, but the point is good audio equipment lasts a long time if the properly cared for. if it sounded good new, it probably sounds good years later too (except tubes, these are consumables). there's no reason why headphones should follow the obsolescence cycle of computers.


Hand me down Dynaco A-25’s and A-35’s here.


I used to use very old AKG K240s, and the cheap chinese IEMs I use right now have replaceable cables, filters that can be cleaned, and can be opened to replace connectors and even drivers (which are standardized parts). I've been using them for three years and I don't see why I would stop.


I have two pairs of headphones AKG K550(4 years for personal) and Sennheiser HD380(2.5 years, work). I use them daily, they should last a few more years for sure.

Companies should be rewarded when producing something that last. Externalities and disposal should be included in tax rate.


My headphones are over 17 years old. I’ve replaced called, cushions, bands etc. over the years. I recently bought a new cake with integrated microphone, so I can use it for conferencing


I had a pair of sennheiser hd25 for over twenty years before I lost them.


It's not fantasy, I think that's far too rhetorically strong.

In many other contexts 25 years would be referred to a "generation" or a "lifetime", I think this is more pedantic than it is a generous interpretation of GPs point, which was that It's an enormous increase in e-waste.


Check out your sister's comment's comments for some examples.


I still have headphones I bough as a kid in the 90s


Ok... but that's not a lifetime let alone two is it?


Handing it down maybe once is way better than not.


Nowadays it goes like this: You buy your expensive Apple headphones. And even though Apple is probably supporting these longer than your average earbuds, after a while the bluetooth version will be obsolete and eventually the battery will have reached its end or inflate and become a safety risk.

I agree, they really are consumables. I had two pairs of regular AirPods. All of them barely last through a meeting now. It's not like I have used them intensively, some meetings every week, and for listening to podcasts when I am cycling.

Not only can a good wired headphone last you for many years, if you are not an audiophile, you can buy a reasonable Sennheiser for a fraction of the cost of the AirPods Max or even AirPods Pro.

The AirPods and AirPods Pro are great if you need something for on the go, but you have to factor in that you have to replace them every two years or so.

(I love the Pro's transparency mode for cycling. However, they are unusable for me when walking due to the 'thumping' sound that many others also suffer from.)


The ‘thumping‘ sound on the Pro model is a reason for a warranty replacement. Apple has acknowledged the mass occurring defect and ships a replacement after contacting the support (you have to send the faulty item back).


Maybe AirPods Max's battery lasts better than AirPods because its space and weight isn't limited like that so Apple can configure looser max/min battery use level to lasts more.


Um, how many lifetimes have audiophile headphones been available?

If there have been people passing headphones down to their kids, I bet that would be a lot smaller group than you are suggesting. A pastoral fantasy.


My Sony MDR-V6s were purchased by a relative in the 1980s for use with a vinyl deck and are connected to a Mac today, having worked with cassettes, minidiscs, CDs and iPods along the way. With nothing more than replacement earpads they still sound great.

Will my children use them? Possibly not. Is it still better than a reasonable anticipated lifespan for AirPods Max? Yes.


The real question needs to be how long good wireless headphones have ever lasted.

Airpods Max don't compete with any of these "um, see?" headphones people are listing. Very few people these days are settling for wired headphones. I know I got the hell out of that tech as soon as I could.


For some applications, people don't settle for wireless either. Probably mostly for latency or battery issues. I use wireless for listening to podcasts, and wired for playing (performing not recorded) music.


Wireless has theoretical advantages for all kinds of playback if you don't care about latency.

- independent of quality of your player's DAC

- amp is designed to match the headphone

- sound can't be transmitted through the cable (microphonic effects, etc)

- you can walk around without keeping the player in your pocket

It'd help if the audio codecs used were lossless of course.


A big con of course is you now have another device to routinely charge and a battery to replace.


The solution is to sell the transmitter and/or battery separately, with the earphones using a standardized connector, such as MMCX.

Earphones stay, receiver may get replaced.


That sounds clunky


"...so let's burn some more of the world."


I would understand the sentiment if there weren't significantly bigger fish to fry. Disposable electronics make up an infinitesimal percentage of non-biodegradable waste that leaves my house. Maybe we should first tackle the literal pounds of plastic waste from food packaging the average person tosses every week before we start shaming people for buying a < 1oz pair of earbuds that only last a couple years.


Most environmentalists are in it for the religion.

For example, wind turbine blades are composite components that are too expensive to recycle and wear our much faster than most people realize, so there are vast garbage dumps filled with buried giant wind turbine blades made of petrochemicals.

Most electric vehicles are charged with electricity made from burning carbon (coal & natural gas).

Reusable plastic bags need to be used like 28 times before they have less of an impact than disposable ones. Cotton bags need to be used over 7000 times before they are better than disposable.


The question is: which is worse for the environment? A leaking battery or plastic?

Genuine question. Are there any studies on this? And I’m asking about any kind of battery. People toss out used AA and AAAs all the time.


I have MDR-V6s too from long ago. Love those (even the springy cord). I've had to replace the ear pads, which fall apart after 8 years or so, but other than that no problems, they sound fantastic.

(I noticed their pro "cousin" headphones on the heads of many recording engineers so perhaps one of the reasons they sound great is the mix might have been made on them..).


My MDR-7506, a close relative to the V6, didn't last ten years before the high tones got so harsh they hurt to listen to. Never did open them up to see if a cone failed or something, but did listen to them about ten hours a day.


Um, since at least 1970 with arrival of the Koss 4As.[1] And these were followed up by similar classics such as the AKG K240s from the early 1980s as well as the Grado SR80Es or Sony MDR7506s from the early 90s.[2][3][4]. However there are many more.

There is quite an active market for these and they are highly sought after because of their audiophile and build quality. Anyone who was fortunate enough to have inherited them likely for those reasons.

[1] https://www.koss.com/history

[2] https://overearmania.com/2019/01/19/akg-k240-monitor/

[3] https://www.headfonia.com/grado-sr80e-evolution/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_MDR-V6


Given their construction, anyone claiming to have set of plastic-fantastic Grados (SR60, SR80) they have actually used since that period and that never needed a repair or replacement of significant portions of the phone would be straining credulity - they have similar issues as Apple cables where insufficient or completely lacking strain relief eventually causes the non-removable cable to break, requiring rewiring - and that is if the pins holding the headphone to headband don't break first. Higher models fix the latter problem, but not the former one.

In that way they are great comparison with AirPods Max as in practice they will end up in a landfill rather than being lovingly handed down...


My dad had a pair of Sennheisers he'd bought when he was younger, and I used those as a kid likely 30 years later.

https://www.cnet.com/news/does-sennheisers-iconic-1968-headp...


Yup, my HD600 are 20 years old too :)


That just makes me feel much older :)


My parents passed their sennheisers down to me, and my mother got hers originally from her mother.

So that’s 3 generations of sennheisers. Some of those now being decades old, with only cables and leather pads being replaced every 5-10 years.


Another thing here is -- I'm not sure how many people here have had to sort through their parents' and older relatives' stuff after they're gone, but I'm sure it's more than a few.

How many kids will want Dad's headphones from the 70s? Probably a few, but I would wager that for a lot of us, sifting through our parents' old hardware probably means a lot of figuring out what has sentimental value, what has actual use (e.g. even if I wanted to keep my folks' nice old record player, none of my music is on records and I'm not about to start buying physical media just because the player's there), and what's headed off to Goodwill.

It's nice to imagine a world where your re-padded headphones are still in use in 2070 when you're long in the cold ground, but that seems like a nostalgic fantasy more than reality for the vast majority of people and hardware.


I think there's a big difference in items that are nice/durable/long-lived enough that you'll donate them to Goodwill and they can be loved and used by someone else for years more... compared to that pair of bluetooth headphones your kids will find in the closet of a member of our generation when they pass away in 50 years, that are immediately tossed out into the trash because they don't turn on and they're impossible to fix.


>Um, how many lifetimes have audiophile headphones been available?

Isn't it more of a question of how many lifetimes does it take for a pair of AirPods and their battery case to return to the dirt?


The Stax SR-1 was released in 1960. They are still amazing. I inherited a SR-Lambda (made since 1979) from by dad.


> It used to be like this: You spend A LOT of money for really nice headphones and use them (potentially) your lifetime. Or hand it down to your kids as your hearing gets worse.

I have never, ever, ever known this to have happened. I’ve never once seen a 20+ year old set of headphones, let alone one that has been handed down through generations. That just silly talk.

Not to mention the fact that even if this had happened in a handful of times, the headphones would have outlived multiple cabinet sized sets of audio equipment, and several hundred pounds worth of record, 8 track, tape, and CD players - all of which wound up in a landfill somewhere. So you’ve reused the smallest component of all of that for what?


Look through the other comments for examples.


For what it's worth, the wireless headphones mentioned by the review as the best previous set (the Bang & Olufsen / Beoplay H9i) do come with a user-removable battery and do allow listening via USB-C as well. Somehow these never get mentioned in mainstream reviews, only Bose and Sony, even though they have superior fit & finish and, according to this review, sound as well.


I'm of the impression that Apple implements a recycling program for their devices to address the e-waste concern. Provided their recycling program is credible, this seems like a reasonable solution--better even than analog headphones that will still go bad eventually with the user on the hook for locating a credible electronics recycling program (and more likely, throwing them in the dump).


>I'm of the impression that Apple implements a recycling program for their devices to address the e-waste concern.

In the PR sense, yes. But it's disingenuous - they recycle (shred) reusable products.

2017 - Apple Forces Recyclers to Shred All iPhones and MacBooks

https://www.vice.com/en/article/yp73jw/apple-recycling-iphon...

2020 - Apple says it never ‘recycles’ old devices if they can still be used. Its lawsuit against a Canadian recycler suggests otherwise.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/10/07/apple-g...


The use cases for many people have changed dramatically as well. I think if I was an audiophile, and used headphones primarily to lie on the bed smoking hash and listening to Steely Dan, I would share your concerns.

But I use headphones for two things: talking on the phone/listening to music when I walk my dogs or to pick up my kid, and for meetings at work (I'm long-term remote). Having cordless technology is nice for the former, where it replaced cheap wired earbuds that are always tangled in my pocket and never last for more than a year or so. It's critical for the second, so that I am not chained to my desk for the 1-2.5 hour meetings that I have multiple times a week. And I have to talk with my use cases, not just listen.

The heirloom-quality audiophile headphones are simply not workable for my use case, and I am sure that I am not alone here. And my father, who I am pretty sure did spend lots of time lying on the bed smoking hash and listening to Steely Dan, did not ever pass his headphones down to me.


I've had to replace my airpods 2 times in 3 years. Once because they slid out of my pocket (the find my airpods app is useless) and again because the battery and speaker degraded after less then 15 months of use.

Have others had similar experiences with the airpods?


If you use your Airpods enough (ie. all day at work, on phone calls, etc) - you can easily wear out the battery in that amount of time. 2-3 charges per day in 15 months gets to about the 1000 charge area where the battery begins to drop quickly.

The Pros also had a design defect that led to a crackle. I had both my Pro earpieces replaced a few months back - independently, for that issue.

In any case, Airpods are meant to be disposable. Apple does not replace the batteries on them for battery service issues, you just get new ones.

The Maxes are different, the battery can be serviced, and it will last considerably longer - at about 5x the life per charge, you will likely exhaust the shelf life of the battery before it dies from usage.


The battery life in mine has dropped somewhat, but I use only one at a time since I'm not keen on having them transmitting signal through my brain. (I know there isn't science that says it is bad for you, but AFAIK there hasn't been testing of this type of transmission quite so close to the brain.)

One upside of this is that I am charging one AirPod at all times, which basically means I never run out of battery.


Bluetooth audio profile has gone unchanged for 20 years.

I still have non-A2DP headsets (the early 2000s ones you see in movies) that pair perfectly with a modern laptop, and Bluetooth 1.x PDAs (~2003ish) that pairs correctly with a modern BT headset (in HSP profile, so audio quality is crap, but then again it's the best the PDA could do).

Battery is the much bigger problem.


> Bluetooth audio profile has gone unchanged for 20 years.

Thankfully this isn't true, they've gotten a lot better! But I guess you mean it's still backwards compatible.


> Battery is the much bigger problem.

It's a big worry on the smaller AirPods, since those are almost 100% battery and glued together (and I'm not sure how you could build a product like that in a way that's both small and has a replaceable battery). For the big cans, you can pay $80USD to get the batteries replaced if the headphones are out of warranty (and, presumably, the warranty will cover the full cost of a battery replacement).


AppleCare+ does cover the full cost of battery replacement, but only for 2 years. I don't know what threshold they set for replacement, but IIRC it's 80% of max capacity for their laptops.

I don't know how these new headphones perform, but I would doubt that many people would get below 80% in two years (even with increased usage due to COVID).

It might still be worth it to get the warranty though, since it covers accidental damage (with a deductible), and the cost for the warranty is the same as the cost for battery replacement ($80).


> Bluetooth audio profile has gone unchanged for 20 years.

And yet I can't sync my phone with my car, or my headphones with my laptop.


This is not by design, something in your chain is not fully compliant with the bluetooth spec.


The typical person generates many tons of waste per year. A pair of headphones would not even qualify as a drop in the bucket


It was sillier when people were complaining about the wastefulness of the original AirPods. The real crime there was the fact that you spent $150 on something that only lasts a few years. As far as waste goes, I think two 20 oz soda bottles contribute more to waste than a pair of tiny wireless earbuds, and those only get used for an hour before being discarded.


Two large plastic bottles are easily recycled, or even washed and refilled (e.g. in Germany).

The earbuds don't even have a replaceable battery. They are deliberately designed to fuck the environment. (Or maximise profit, if you'd like the corporate phrasing.)


We try hard to buy things that are not wrapped in plastic and yet we still throw away at least a 10l bag of unrecyclable thin plastic every two weeks. Even a new pair of AirPods once a year would pale in comparison to all my other environmental waste.


How are you measuring the impact of waste.


Looking at it's volume, and whether or not it is biodegradable.

People have already pointed out that plastic bottles are recyclable, to which I respond: so are AirPods. They're both made of plastic and other materials that can technically be recycled. The problem is, in both cases, it is cheaper for companies to source new materials than to try and recycle the stuff that ends up in our blue bins. So they all end up in landfills eventually, often overseas in countries willing to take our "recyclables" off our hands in exchange for money.

I switched from buying beverages in 2L plastic bottles to buying cans, and I think the positive impact there greatly outweighs the negative impact of tossing my earbuds in a couple of years. The aluminum is infinitely (and easily) recyclable, unlike most plastics. The cardboard the cans come packaged in is renewable and biodegradable.


Not to mention even with the original comparison, AirPods + the case are 1/5 the material of a good pair of cans. Hell, even just the thick cord of nice headphones is the same amount of material as one set of airpods. Don’t like that you toss them every other year? Abstain from a bottle or two of beer and boom you’ve come out ahead in waste generation.


A pair of headphones and all the waste generated by the supply lines needed to generate a continuous renewal of pairs of headphones


Fair point, though I'm not sure there are enough people who are wealthy enough to pay $550 for headphones to meaningfully contribute to e-waste.

Regular AirPods, which are not repairable AFAIK, are more affordable and widely used. But they are also very small, so even if people replaced them every 2-3 years, the amount of waste would be minuscule compared to their waste from takeout containers, food waste, and other refuse. I suppose you could also factor in the energy spent producing and shipping the units, but it's not as if repairable headphones (all of which are much larger than regular AirPods) don't also incur these costs when they are produced and repaired.

So while I agree that it would be great if we could have more repairable things, I'm not sure that this is an especially good example of a product that will meaningfully contribute to e-waste.


> contributing to the enormous e-waste we are all piling up

Sincerely asking here, but what do you see are the most significant negative externalities here? We're not exactly running out of landfill space anytime soon, and most landfills in the US are very careful to ensure waste doesn't pollute the surrounding environment.

Is it the greenhouse gas emissions? I'm curious how the total emissions on buying a pair of headphones every 2-5 years compares to other everyday activities like shipping my weekly usage of broccoli to the grocery store for me to eat.

Is it the concern of labor going to waste? Something else?


I bought my cans when I was fresh out of uni and entering the workforce. They were only £125 which in the grand scheme of things isn't that expensive but I wanted at least 5 years but ideally a lot longer out of them.

My Bose QC1s barely lasted 15 months (thank god for Amazon's godtier returns policies at the time).

Swore off Bose and got some Beyerdynamics. I think I did have some problems actually but I returned those and my current cans are ~6 years old IIRC

I like the Bose sports earbuds, seems like no one else has worked out that IEMs are a terrible idea for sports sigh though now I just use bone conduction


I’ve had my q15’s 7 years now. They use aaa batteries and I use rechargeable batteries. I used a set of two for 4 years, now on the second set. Replaced the cups for 50usd, but now the head band is going... I hope to replace them.


> It used to be like this: You spend A LOT of money for really nice headphones and use them (potentially) your lifetime. Or hand it down to your kids as your hearing gets worse. Sound doesn’t change much and the plug has been around for ages.

That's a pretty tiny market. It was also "you spend ten dollars at the grocery store for cheap Sony headphones or earbuds and then they break and then you do it again. Sound quality is terrible."

They did have fewer batteries, though, at least, in terms of the disposability problem.


There actually exist bluetooth adapters for wired headphones. Unfortunately, they haven’t tracked as much hype and attention as wireless headphones. But we all know that irrational customer behavior is the foundation of modern consumerist economy.

So, Buy It For Life (and Hand It Down To Your Kids) strategy is elitist in the same way having the basic understanding of thermodynamics is - only a very small amount of people have and appreciate those ideas.


Walking around with wired headphones plugged into a bluetooth dongle kind of defeats the purpose, no? People buy wireless headphones because they don't want to be encumbered by wires while walking around.

An adapter like that is yet another thing I need to put in my bag, and lacks at least some of the convenience that comes with having headphones that just wirelessly connect to my phone natively.


Plenty of Bluetooth adapters are designed for a specific headphone model and sit flush against the cup without additional wires. When they're attached, it's easy to forget that they're not built in. See https://thebtunes.com/ for example.

A huge caveat is that if the headphones have ANC, you now have two sets of batteries and two power switches to worry about, so they're a lot less seamless.


If you have a good pair of wired headphones it's actually quite a nice compromise, because it lets you use them at home without being stuck in your chair. I'm using a Bluetooth headphone amp right now, it's very light and fits in my pocket, which is more than I can say about my laptop.


Simple machines vs complex ones I guess.

A bicycle could be passed down the generations but not an electric car. Lithium wears down, software stops being updated, parts stop being produced, etc.

That's the price you pay for feaures. Clunky wired 1970s headphones don't fit my use case which requires headphones to be compact and wireless. The same way my electric car outperforms a super-serviceable Model T.


Well, it's no surprise that a product with a battery is less resilient than a product without one. But those products don't compete with each other.

Also, cheaply available, standardized batteries don't address your e-waste concern either. So your post doesn't seem much different than someone being indignant or even sanctimonious about the wireless preference of others.


> Well, it's no surprise that a product with a battery is less resilient than a product without one. But those products don't compete with each other.

But they _are_. By now I have seen many review videos that compare them with the typical audiophile/sound production headphones. E.g. Marques compared them with the Sennheiser HD800S [1].

> Also, cheaply available, standardized batteries don't address your e-waste concern either. So your post doesn't seem much different than someone being indignant or even sanctimonious about the wireless preference of others.

Does it not? If I can reuse the housing, the drivers, earpads, headband and just need to replace the battery when its dead, does this not reduce e-waste? Also I do not condemn wireless headphones in general, I said it is a shame that products which could be used for many decades in the past become e-waste rather quickly in today's world. And that I would prefer the approach Shure is taking to reduce waste and only replace the highly degrading components (at least with their monitors).

[1]: https://youtu.be/UdfSrJvqY_E?t=609


In my experience, it used to be like this:

Use the crappy headphones that came bundled with the portable cassette player, which before too long broke or wore out, and buy another crappy pair because that's what you can afford. Or buy a new cassette player or portable CD player to replace what you had.

Waste from consumer products didn't start with blue tooth headphones.


A lot has changed. For better or worse, a lot of headphones are chosen for how they look, not how they work. How many fashion items do you use for your lifetime and pass them down to your kids? People do that with expensive watches but I'm having a hard time thinking of other fashion items that are durable across generations.


Check out the Aiaiai TMA-2 for a modular headphone system.

https://aiaiai.audio/headphones/tma-2

Or the Print Plus 3D printable headphones.

https://www.print.plus/


I like the Fiio BTA10, which is a bluetooth (aptX-compatible) add-on for Audio-Technica MSR7 & M50X (two different versions of the add-on).

Battery life is not great (a few hours), but it is a small addon which fits nicely into the headphones, and can be easily replaced when it breaks or dies.


They appear to have more clever solutions to make a wired device (such as a headphone or TV) wireless (with a myriad of codecs and Bluetooth 5.x).


Now that sounds very interesting. Thank you for this!


The batteries are going to be a consumable if users continue to demand a wireless experience, which most of them seem to prefer, regardless of whether that’s delivered as a dongle or integrated into the headset. It would be nice if we didn’t demand so many things with batteries in them, but that isn’t IMO an Apple problem, that’s a demand pattern. Encasing them in the product might even keep batteries out of landfill. An old AA or laptop battery is easy to pitch, a $550 headset is much more likely to be repaired by someone in a position to recycle the battery.

Bluetooth and the integrated form factor is a risk, but I think that’s not a ten year concern. It would be nice if they had a physical port for the eventuality though.


Or hand it down to your kids as your hearing gets worse

Maybe a few people hand down usable audio equipment, but the only stereo equipment I got from my parents was an 8-track tape collection and a console stereo.

For you youngsters that don't know what that is, it's a stereo system (usually tuner + turntable + speakers, some of the more modern ones had a cassette player too) built into a piece of furniture the size of a dresser. My parents, being the audio connoisseurs they were, had an 8-track player that sat on top.

https://www.google.com/search?q=console+stereo&tbm=isch


Apple's battery replacement fee for AirPods Max is $79. (available at https://support.apple.com/airpods/repair/service)


Do you think they'll still be selling them in 15 years?


Apple stops selling parts for old products 7 years after they are discontinued.


Batteries are pretty simple, you can still get replacements for old iPods.


They were simple back in the days before Apple thought of brilliant ideas like glueing the battery to the laptop topcase. The old iPod is like a crude raspberry PI casemod in comparison, workable for anyone with nimble hands and good eyes.


I'm guessing the aftermarket may help with this.


It's 'just' a battery. From an engineering standpoint it's just a component that Apple also doesn't produce themselves.

If apple no longer sells the battery, it will be trivial to find a suitable replacement. As long as there is demand, there will be loads of shops able to replace the battery for you.

The real question is: will people who buy $500 branded headphones really have their 5+ year old headphones repaired, or will they but the latest-and-greates shiny new thing?


It's a battery of a popular but specific chemistry in a specific shape. Given this is Apple, those may be popular chemistry/shape, but if not, then in 10-15 years it's not going to be easy to find if Apple doesn't produce them. I'd say Apple keeps the supply chain around for maybe 5-10 years.


Apple still does battery service on iPods, as early as the 2009 iPod classic.


> If apple no longer sells the battery, it will be trivial to find a suitable replacement. As long as there is demand, there will be loads of shops able to replace the battery for you.

Its a niche product. You will bot find replacement batteries for it. Heck it is even hard to find replacement batteries for 10 year old MacBooks.

> The real question is: will people who buy $500 branded headphones really have their 5+ year old headphones repaired, or will they but the latest-and-greates shiny new thing?

That’s my whole point. These things are not build (and bought) to last anymore but to be consumed. You used to retain some value when buying into expensive headphones.


Not sure if you're trying spread FUD, but NewerTech (owned by OWC) batteries are readily available for older Macbooks/Pros. Just checked their site and they have replacements for the 2008 Macbook.


I'm not sure how to reconcile your two "wants" here. A battery and a current bluetooth chip are required for any pair of headphones to function wirelessly, no matter what. Bluetooth has been pretty good about keeping backwards compatibility, so I wouldn't worry about these becoming unusable when a new version of the BT spec comes out.

If you don't actually "want" a pair of wireless headphones, then the AirPods Max aren't targeting you at all. Absolutely nobody should buy these if they don't intend to use them in wireless mode, there are better wired headphones available for less money.


I’m not sure you “want” to understand me. I treat them as __headphones__ and simply stated that it was a shame that (esp. expensive) headphones which used to hold up for a long time are now worthless after a few years. That’s it.


> It is such a shame that nowadays even these high priced devices are contributing to the enormous e-waste we are all piling up.

That's an excellent point. No tech product can be a "BIFL" (Buy It For Life) product, but it'd be nice if all companies were as good as Apple at making their products recyclable, and making recycling easy.

[1] https://www.apple.com/environment/ [2] https://www.apple.com/shop/trade-in


The AirPods are notorious for being absolutely shitty to recycle though. They're tiny, held on with glue and have batteries inside that you have to get out in order to recycle the rest of them.


These are wireless problems, not specific to Apple head/earphones. The attached wireless module like the Shure's one (and there's plenty of others, for example FiiO) do not address the environmental impact at all. Because what breaks is the battery and that's the environmentally unfriendly stuff - the drivers are nothing in comparison.


My Sennheiser HD580s from 1999 are still in use!


Something made of 380 grams of material that takes up maybe half of a cubic foot of space, that you use every day for 2-4 years really isn't that big of deal in terms of waste. Single-use plastics like takeout containers and other food packaging, and plastic/foam packaging in shipping boxes seem orders of magnitude worse. And we're not running out of landfill space anyway.

The only way forward I see is to make significant cuts to some of this really low-hanging fruit of single-use plastics (which also have other harms like environmental micro-plastics and inherently requiring fossil fuel use), maybe come up with better ways to recycle the aluminum and stainless steel in a product like these headphones, but most of all to move away from fossil fuels in the manufacturing chain and in the operation of landfills.

The cat is already out of the bag, people enjoy getting new toys like these and the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world have the disposable income to afford to buy products like this if they want to is amazing. I don't think talking up the good old days when disposable income was a lot more scarce and consumer goods were relatively much much more expensive is going to make much of a difference.


> It used to be like this...

It still is. Good quality wired headphones are easily available and more affordable than ever.


While Bluetooth may eventually drop backward compatibility, my daily driver headphones are four c.2007 Dell BH200 A2DP sets. Highly adequate. All are on their second battery, a commodity 500mAh LiPo from eBay. To hell with this overpriced Apple trash.


It used to be like this: Every 2 years I bought new Sennheiser cx300II's (until I somehow got a pair that seemed to lack bass) because the cable broke. Now my 16$ qcy's (BT) are 3 years old and still fine.


If you’re having kids to hand things down to then the added environmental cost of the headphones you buy is a microscopic rounding error.


The pollution coming from China and India can’t even begin to hold a candle to what’s wasted domestically in the USA.


the phones are even more of an environmental disaster.

planned obsolescence that leads to phones being upgraded every year or two, and barely working after 5 years, is so so wasteful.


It's a detailed, well-written review, but like most mainstream headphone reviews it makes me cringe a little. Though masked somewhat by self-deprecating remarks, there's audiophile "woo" peaking out from behind the corner (e.g. the comment about lossless compression). More importantly, it's missing the most important part of a headphone review: a measurement of the frequency response curve!

It's fairly well known that above the ~$100 price level, headphone sound quality differences mostly disappear once equalized properly [0]. The real test is not stock AirPods versus H9i (as done in the review), it's AirPods versus H9i once they're both equalized to a common frequency target. Otherwise you're testing the manufacturer's tuning as much as the actual quality of the hardware.

Certainly, there's something to be said for the manufacturer getting it right in the first place so you don't have to bother with EQ when listening on a mobile device, etc. But I think the following two points are likely true:

1) People will score the AirPods highly in subjective listening tests;

2) The performance in those listening tests has more to do with the frequency tuning of the AirPods than anything about its hardware, and you could get a virtually identical listening experience with a $100 to $200 pair of Sennheisers and an EQ app.

[0] See e.g. http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2017/02/twirt-337-predicting-h.... Sean Olive has a bunch of papers on this.


These headphones have a DSP that continually reconfigures the response, I'm not sure that any synthetically generated frequency response curve would actually mean anything.


This is true, and so do a lot of high end headphones that are not studio monitors. Pretty much any of them over $300 have a DSP in them configured to a curve.


So it's intentionally distorting sound? Even so, it could be measured and compared, with more complex sound patterns (as opposed to sine waves or whatever is normally used for frequency response).


That is what the OP says: they sound great but you will not be able to reproduce that kind of sound with other headphones because it is dynamically modified (it is what OP calls "fake").

Not criticizing, just stating OPs argument.


> they sound great

... and you cant measure it is at the heart of all audiophoolery. Either it reproduces source material as close to 1:1, or it distorts it tricking your psychoacoustic system to perceive a positive difference, for example by making the sound louder (wins every single blind test).


Exactly. That is what OP says is “fake”.


> it's missing the most important part of a headphone review: a measurement of the frequency response curve!

Why is it the most important part? As you said this is a main-stream headphone review.

From my experience, most consumers don't enjoy listening to music w/ a flat curve - if that is where you're going with this. I've sunk several thousand dollars into high-end gear, and even I don't want a flat curve. A flat curve is most useful if you are an audio engineer working in a studio. I'd much rather use different headphones for different kinds of music, than compromise and use a flat-curve which sounds incredibly boring (to me).


Considering he's linking to Sean Olive's (the main guy behind Harman's research into headphones and Harman curve) blog, he's likely very much aware that flat frequency response doesn't sound good.


A frequency response curve should be included because it provides useful information to (some) consumers, not because a "flat" curve is necessarily desirable. While the entire experiance cannot be discerned from a curve alone, and users can eq the signal, it provides a good idea of what the headphones will actually sound like, and a set of priorities and tradeoffs made in designing the headphones.


> it provides a good idea of what the headphones will actually sound like, and a set of priorities and tradeoffs made in designing the headphones.

OK, I'll bite. Two headphones with the same response curve can still sound very different (as you also alluded to), so what useful information are you hoping to convey to a consumer? I'm all for objective measurements provided they actually tell the buyer something useful that can influence their decision. If we have to fall back to subjective impressions of imaging, detail, sound-stage, etc, etc, then it becomes moot, and we're back to square one.


yes, but the curve is actual numbers, while I haven't seen an effective (or standardized) objective measure of soundstage or detail. Even though the frequency response curve isn't _everything_ that matters, because it's both relevant to the sound, and can be measured fairly objectively, I think it's an important detail in a headphone review. While subjective impressions could say that "bass is anemic" or "no mids", I may not know (or disagree with) what they consider "normal". A measured response curve, combined with subjective impressions, can demonstrate the reviewer's preferences within a better context. Reviewers who don't show a response curve could instead communicate their impressions of other popular headphones, but market fragmentation (and the cost of nice headphones) makes this less useful imo.

Largely, I agree with your sentiment, in that reviews of headphones/audio are less useful than reviews of other products. In the absence of objective measurements of every important variable, I find myself resorting to buying brands I've had good experiences with, rather than spec chasing. I wish I had more numbers to use, but in the meantime, I try to buy headphones less frequently.


A frequency graph doesn't describe headphones that well because there's many other objective variables. I think impedance, sound isolation and THD are more important since you can't calibrate those out even if you wanted to.

Even a good objective review like rtings is just another review, since headphone performance depends on your player, the shape of your head and ears, and the noise level of your environment. It's probably best to read multiple reviews and take them all as samples.


you're right, there are more important numbers when considering headphones, and I forgot or neglected to mention them.


It says in the title that this is an Audiophile review.

I would expect a frequency response graph and sound signature e.g. U, V, Harman etc.


The comment I was responding to accepted that this was a mainstream review, but then complained about the lack of a frequency response graph - the importance of which I personally think is way way overblown even as an audio nut myself.


Why not a flat curve + EQ?


Yes, logically that makes sense. I have tried to EQ my old K701s but they can't really match my JVC HA-SZ2000s for pure bass. Years ago, I was seduced by the flat curve thinking it would give me the best sound rendering - the way the mixing engineer intended it. Since then, I have found that I actually enjoy having a colored response, and that there is some value in that as well. Don't get me wrong, I like & use flat sound signature headphones sometimes - for classical and jazz music. But that is not my usual jam.


Also "Flat curve" isn't really flat. It seems that it's considered that Harman Curve is neutral but I don't know it's reasonable.


https://www.headphones.com/blogs/news/apple-airpods-max-revi... look for the paragraph : "Frequency Response & Tonality", the issue is these headphones change their tuning on the fly.


> It's fairly well known that above the ~$100 price level, headphone sound quality differences mostly disappear once equalized properly [0].

This depends on your definition of "mostly disappear". If you mean, ignoring, soundstage, imaging, distortion, and other parameters that affect sound, then yes, but even a non-audiophile could easily discern the difference between an open-back vs. a closed-back headphone with identical magnitude response (by your definition, the differences between these two headphones should have mostly disappeared).

From linear signal analysis, magnitude adjustments do not provide enough degrees of freedom (and thus are not sufficient) to transform any response into another response. And this is true for practical sound signals not just theoretical concoctions.

Take a look at any headphone review at rtings.com where they try to capture other parameters in addition to magnitude response. They test for phase response (related to imaging), PRTF (pinna-related transfer function --- related to soundstage), and harmonic distortion. These would not automatically match between headphones that were modified by gain adjustments to have identical magnitude response.


> the difference between an open-back vs. a closed-back headphone with identical magnitude response (by your definition, the differences between these two headphones should have mostly disappeared).

What an uncharitable reading! They said the quality differences mostly disappear.


Imaging and distortion directly affect quality.


Yes, they do. I don't think that conflicts with anything they or I said?

Their claim is that most differences are either quality or eq. Imaging and distortion are more or less just subsets of quality. Open vs. closed is one of those differences that largely falls outside those two buckets. Their suggested comparison of H9i vs. AirPods Max is two models of over-the-ear closed-back headphones.


> Otherwise you're testing the manufacturer's tuning as much as the actual quality of the hardware.

Shouldn't you test the how Apple tuned the Airpods max, since you can't change it's EQ?


You can modify EQ of the source. If you're playing from a computer or mp3 player, there are many apps that do this.


You can actually measure your hearing and change the EQ to fit it for all AirPods inside iOS's accessibility settings.

The Music app also has an EQ but it's very primitive and hasn't changed since early iTunes.


Yes, when I saw "I threw my most demanding tracks at them" I stifled a yawn but could not help but roll my eyes.


I don't see the problem with that? A combination of specific sounds and practice picking them out will make certain tracks far more demanding than others. For example, loud clear bass sounds of various types are a great test that many speakers will fail.


I had made a similar comment before reading yours. I am really glad I am not alone, here. I was absolutely taken aback by the lack of Frequency Response curve graph in a so-called audiophile review, and as a pro audio engineer on the side I am consistently driven nuts by this.

There is so, so much subjectivity in headphone reviews, and so little science these days - if I had any interest in doing so whatsoever I would certainly start up my own review site, refuse to review headphones that were given to me by the companies themselves to assure a lack of bias, and - you know - actually do some science.

I, for one - would be interested in doing my own sets of frequency response data and comparing them to what these companies should be providing to start, and so often do not.

Ugh. Hybrid consumer/pro audio gear is the worst. >.<


This is a headphone for listening to music, not for audio mixing. I wish you success with your review site idea, but it would not be one I would personally seek out (saying this as an audio nut myself). There are a few websites that measure more than just the sound signature though - e.g. https://www.rtings.com/headphones/reviews/sony/wh-1000xm4-wi...

As an aside, applying scientific principles doesn't automatically make the review any better. Science works by proposing a hypothesis/model and collecting data to see if the data matches the model. If your hypothesis/model is just average, and not world-class, then the most carefully collected data doesn't hold much weight/value.

For e.g. Minor changes in the sound signature/frequency response are only audible when you listen to the same music across multiple headphones, and that too when you're carefully listening. Also the sound signature can vary when the fit of the headphone changes as per the individual head shape/ear shape/etc. All this is assuming there is enough manufacturing tolerance to produce headphones with identical sound signatures, etc, etc.

Ultimately you'll have to come up with a hypothesis/model that is better than the current one. Which is not to say it can't be done, but its a tall order, but I hope you give it a shot at-least. If nothing else you'll have a cool blog post :)


The problem is all these review sites are pseudo experts writing copy of how it fits into a hipster/techster/trending life with just substance to pass off as an educated conclusion.

But don't worry, there is a place for FFT graphs. rtings.com is excellent for reviews on audio and visual gear.

Here's their review on the airpod max: https://www.rtings.com/headphones/reviews/apple/airpods-max-...


Here, frequency curves in repeatable environment:

https://www.rtings.com/headphones/reviews/apple/airpods-max-...


This is fascinating, thank you.

As a counterpoint to your #2, what proportion people using $100-$200 headphones equalize them properly?

This strikes me as similar to displays. Most people don't do any calibration, and reviewers tend to review both the monitor calibrated from factory and after their own custom calibration.


"The correlation between price and sound quality is close to zero and, slightly negative: r = -.16"

This seems absurd on its face and should really cause the researchers to re-evaluate their model. Just because their research shows people prefer a certain EQ doesn't mean there aren't any other benefits to better designed products, like soundstage, detail, clarity etc.


Fascinating.

Do you have links to Sean's papers? There doesn't seem to be anything on his blog.


Unfortunately I think they're locked behind the paywalls of various journals, or internal Harman research. You can piece a lot of together from his blog posts, but it's rather labor-intensive.

Google scholar will pick them up you type in "Sean Olive." For example: https://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=16486

If anyone reading this finds a free way to access the original papers, please comment.


My first thought was "Is this audiophile as in 'believes in magic stones and digital cables that improve the warmth'"?

The term "audiophile" has been permanently tarnished in my mind and sits in a corner of my brain next to homeopathy and EM sensitivity.


Or how a felt tip pen applied to the edge of a CD can stop the laser from spilling out, and make the sound much more focused.

Here's a recent review I encountered while looking for something tangentially related: "These QED audio cables promote a wide-open soundstage, both vertically and horizontally. They help vocals sound full-bodied and weighty, but with lots of breathing space above them, too. Put simply, if you covet space and detail with sure but nimble footwork and heaps of insight, consider your search for an RCA audio cable complete."


I was certain you had to have made that comment up, but I googled it[0] and indeed it comes from a serious audiophile publication.

https://www.whathifi.com/au/best-buys/accessories/best-audio...


That sounds great, but I'm happy with my hand-bent coat hanger


I happen to have a link to that classic post handy: https://forums.audioholics.com/forums/threads/speakers-when-...


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