The problem with earbuds…..



This isn’t exactly “high tech”…. but earbuds are one of the ways we “interface” with high tech devices… A couple weeks ago I had the annoyance of my long time pair of earbuds failing to work. At first I thought my right ear was stopped up from allergies, but in swapping ears (well… buds) I discovered that one of the buds was failing and it sounded like a loose wire connection. Unfortunately, they’re too small to try to repair, so I thought I’ll have to get a new pair. I didn’t realize it would be quite the quest it turned out to be.

So, the next day I found the little spool case that came with them and started looking for a brand name. They weren’t branded, no brand on the little buds or plug either. Well, it seems as though I got them at a drug store a few years back. I’ll look when I have a chance. So, I was out for appointments and wound up with about thirty minutes to “idle”, so i thought I’d look. I stopped at a drugstore and looked, nothing really promising there or the grocery next to it, so I went up the road to another drugstore (a cvs)…. found a $7 pair of earbuds there and thought, “they’re not exactly what I had but they should be ok – they’re made by Phillips”…. I tried them. The sound quality was fine, in fact pretty good, but there was no padding and after about 10 minutes of listening the outer part of my ear was hurting.

Back to the drawing board….. a few days later we were visiting a dollar store and I found a pair of earbuds WITH padding that looked quite similar to the good pair I’d carried for so long…. (except they didn’t have a spool case.) I got them back and tried them. Quite a bit more comfortable to wear (not great but certainly more tolerable…) The sound was horrible though. It sounded like they used wet cardboard for the speaker material. So, once again, back to the drawing board….

A few days later I have another bit of idle time and stop by radio shack. I have a choice between a $19 pair, an $8 pair and some cheaper earbuds, but I choose the $8 pair. They are in a spool case (which makes it hard to see if there’s any padding.) They DON’T have padding. Once again the sound is pretty good, but they literally hurt the outer part of the ear (although they’re not as bad as the first replacement pair…)

Finally this weekend I had enough I was going to give one more try before the “scouring of the internet” for any more comfortable solution… I stopped by Kerr drug which I thought might have been where I found the comfortable pair some years back. Lo and behold they had 1 package and it WAS identical. They’re labelled as made by Zenith (ZE050 is the product number)… the packaging says “portable earbuds with carry case”. This time I’m saving the packaging (and noting the product name/number here.) I may go ahead and order a few more because this seemed like such a wild goose chase. Oh, the price? $3.99…. So, all told…. I’ve spent $20 to finally rediscover one of the few sets of earbuds I can actually tolerate wearing…

The sound quality on these is pretty nice as well. If anything there might be a little less “sparkle” from the highs, but they’re really very good overall. I know over the holidays there were all sorts of stories about how earbuds are going to ruin peoples hearing. I meant to speculate a bit on the topic when I had a chance. I’ve noticed with earbuds they have a tendency to let in a good deal of “ambiant” sound compared to old fashioned cover the ear headphones (“cans” is the nickname for a good reason I think…). This “outside noise” can be a good thing in some situations. Most of the time if you’re wearing earbuds out in the world it would be good to be able to hear at least a bit of the outside world in case something needs your attention. However, with that outside noise, comes the tendency to turn up the volume to adjust for the higher “noise floor”. I think that’s probably where the main danger comes in to hearing with earbuds….

If you don’t want outside noise leaking in, get REAL headphones or noise cancelling headset or something designed to mask outside noise. For instance when I mow now I’m using the Peltor HRX52A-01347-BD-GV Racetunes AM/FM Radio Headset and Hearing Protector with Audio Jack and Scanner Patch Cord… which do a GREAT job of noise reduction for my purposes. If I’m around the house and need to keep an “ear out” for things, earbuds work fine, but if I want to seal out the world, than traditional headphones do the trick. So figure out what kind of audio listening your wanting to do… maybe earbuds AREN’T the best idea if you want it to mask out every sound outside.

Also, I had to roll my eyes when news reports on the earbud studies said to never put the volume at more than 50%…. Here’s why. With headphones on one audio device I have to leave the volume at about 2% because it’s a pretty strong signal, earbuds depending on the content louder and if I plug into a different pair of headphones I’ve had to push it higher. It usually depends on what you plug into…. The best rule of thumb is to keep the volume low and then adjust up as needed and cut it down if you’re changing headphones so you don’t fry your ears….

Anyway – like I said, not exactly high-tech but…. oh, and by the way…. although there’s no picture – I’m pretty sure these are the earbuds from an online seller. I think I’m going to buy about 5 pair…..

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