Sports Headphones – A Diamond in the Rough

My latest entry prompted several headphone recommendation requests, and the first was resolved with great success so I will share it here for anyone interested in the same market.

A friend was interested in activewear headphones for use while exercising at the gym. Bluetooth was a key feature as they wished to pair the cans wirelessly with their iPod Touch. Her budget was $200. She wanted an on-ear style as IEMs inevitably fall out of her smaller-than-average ears.

I related to her my experience with Sennheiser behind-the-neck style on ear headphones and did some research to see what was available in Bluetooth in that format.

Sport behind the neck on-ear wireless headphones with Bluetooth technology is an incredibly tiny, tiny niche market. As such there is very little in the way of articles or features showcasing the best models. Matters are further complicated by the fact that behind-the-neck Bluetooth cans are not listed among all the other headphones on Amazon but instead are tucked away quietly under cell phone accessories.

But exploring that small category quickly revealed that there are very, very few models available with the behind-the-neck on-ear build and that most of those which qualify have only a handful of customer reviews on Amazon. The average cell phone accessory headphones are IEMs and have only 1-300 reviews, which did not instill any degree of confidence as to their quality.

Surprisingly, there was one single product which is the diamond in the rough of this otherwise quiet market. The Kinivo BTH240 headphones have a 4-star average review from over 5,100 buyers who each sing its praises in great detail. The 240 series was apparently a significant improvement over the previous Kinivo model in several categories, including improved battery life, a sleeker new design, increased number of pairings, and an added micro USB charging port.

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The model is incredibly lightweight at only 73g, is foldable, and comes with a velveteen storage pouch. It works with the iPod Touch and a variety of other devices, and the battery is good for ten hours of active use. Users with smaller than average heads and ears expressed that they wear them with incredible comfort and that after 45 minutes of intense running the headphones hadn’t budged an inch. They are also incredibly resistant to sweat and are fantastically durable.

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And the price? The MSRP is $49.99 but Amazon offers the BTH240s in a variety of colors for only $24.99. My only gripe with these headphones was not the product itself but that, curiously, all colors were priced the same except for pink, (the color my friend was excited to find), which was not 24.99, nor the MSRP of $49.99, but THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS. eBay reflected the same price, and the only two sellers Google returned with a lower price were red-flagged by uBlock Origin as being less than trustworthy merchants. The fact that “lady tax” is still an issue in 2017 is appalling, but my friend will settle for the standard black model.

So if any of you are interested in a quality Bluetooth sport headphone, give these a try.

Published in: on January 7, 2017 at 2:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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2016: A Music Odyssey – DISCOVERY ONE: Explorations of the Innerspace Archives

I had a nice afternoon to myself today so I got comfortable in bed with great tunes on the Hi-Fi and started revisiting my copy of Simon Reynolds’ RETROMANIA: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past.
 
I was grabbed, yet again by a chapter on collector culture, addressing vinyl fetishism, and the impact of the internet on collectability. Reynolds explored the psyche of the collector. First, how collectors identify themselves as somehow more noble than common mall zombies in that they are discerning and well-informed consumers. Their collections serve not their own interest, but act as professional research material to enrich their understanding of music history.
 
Then comes the pivotal moment when the collector realizes his/her collection may have exceeded the actual capacity they have to consume it in their limited life time. “Those potential pleasures stacked on the shelf stop representing delight and start to feel like harbingers of death,” Reynolds writes.
 
He goes on to identify the collectors’ need for constant craving, and that the one elusive missing album is always the most important, (until it is inevitably replaced with the next of holy grails).  This sort of niche activity was a fringe interest for decades, but at the turn of the millennium advancements in distribution technology made budding collectors of us all.
 
Still, a burn-out was inevitable at this rapid pace, and it came with the iPod. The chapter addressed the digital hording that takes place for so many users who discover that they can have all the world’s music for free, and the failure of such a model to satisfy the psychological anxieties previously fulfilled by the physical incarnation of collector culture.
 
The little white box, Reynolds notes, is a remarkably anti-social device. No matter how much music you pack into it, there is no personal memory attached to newly-acquired recordings. And earbuds isolate your musical experience, shutting out a world of potential participants.
 
And with no investment attached, the music is stripped of any potential significance. Hundreds of thousands of tracks might sit dormant on a player, unlistened or deleted entirely, with little to no consequence to the consumer.
 
Perhaps that very burn-out – the inconsequence of the music I compile has led me to start investing in exceptional works, like the several limited edition deluxe box sets I’ve ordered in the past month. After throwing a hundred dollars at a special collection, you’re damn right I’m going to set aside some time and actually LISTEN to the thing.
 
By the chapter’s end, I found myself back in my office taking notes on large collections I’d compiled but never explored after the initial acquisition. Given my own hording tendencies and the looming mortality such a collection bears, I made a personal resolution  this afternoon to set aside dedicated listening sessions with a checklist of works to survey in the weeks ahead.
 
It would be like “the old days” when I’d saved up $16 for a CD and played that one disc a hundred times until I knew every note by heart.
 
I’m reclaiming my music.
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Published in: on March 13, 2016 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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So I sandboxed, poked and prodded at iTunes for the first time… and ended up with a manifesto.

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You know what’s coming, but if you delight in watching me writhe and convulse in the corner, read on.  I’d never once connected to itunes.apple.com as I knew in advance that it had nothing to offer.

But a 17 year old kid assured me that they provide various masters of each recording for the listener to sample to help them identify which they should purchase.

This was, of course, completely false.  By “various masters” he meant that Dark Side of the Moon was available in TWO formats –

 The 2011 CD remaster
ooooooor….
The 2011 CD remaster (with bonus tracks).

So there you are.

But I was already deep in the filth so I said, “what the hell” and started throwing artists at its ‘search’ box.

I figured I’d start out with the easiest of pitches – the 2010 EMI Beatles Box Set.

iTunes ONLY offers the stereo edition and doesn’t even HINT that the Mono Box even exists!

Beginning to sweat, I looked up their page for Captain Beefheart…

NO MENTION OF TROUT MASK REPLICA.  But that’s okay, it’s only one of the most important and critically acclaimed records of its decade.

The 49 awesome albums recorded by Ash Ra Tempel and Manuel Gottsching?  Not today, sorry.

Pete Namlooks’ monumental Fax +49-69450464 record label – not a single word of any one of the 238 legendary albums.

So I tried another approach – searching for Deutsche Grammophon classical releases.

Lo and behold – iTunes offers NO MEANS of searching by record label!

Want to peruse the Ninja Tune catalog?  Forget about it if you’re on iTunes.

Warp Records?  Ohr?  Brain?  Mute?  Mo-Fi?  Too bad.

And the 94 albums produced and recorded by LTJ Bukem on Good Looking Records and its various sub-labels?  You’re going to have to search for them one at a time. (Psst – don’t bother… they aren’t there anyway.)

Salvador Dali’s notorious opera, Être Dieu?  Not so much as an artist entry for the man.

Dig Nurse With Wound?  Only the 26 CD releases of their ~100 disc catalog are available for purchase.

The same applies to Tangerine Dream.  Beside an all-too-small sampling of their most popular early albums, iTunes is overrun with 80s-2000s compilations and soundtracks.  The pink years were easily their best work, but they never happened according to this marketplace.

Independent artists?  Not a single one I searched for produced any results.

Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity – arguably his best free jazz work – doesn’t exist.

The original German master of Stockhausen’s Kontakte?  Forget about it.

Wordless Music Orchestra’s historical live recording of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops?  Never happened.

Spacemind’s 62 hours of psybient works?  Not a one.

Raymond Scott’s Manhattan Research Inc. collection?  Issued in the Netherlands, but nowhere on iTunes.

The Electronic Music series produced by Turnabout records throughout the mid-60s?  Nope.

The popular Franklin Mint 100-disc Classical Collection?  Nadda.

NASA’s majestic Symphonies Of The Planets series?  The cat’s eaten it.

What It Is: Funky Soul & Rare Grooves Box Set?  Not a scrap.

(This one killed me) Kraftwerk’s three critical early albums – Kraftwerk I, Kraftwerk II, and Ralf und Florian?  No, no, and no.

Max & Dima’s 131 releases?  0 on iTunes.

Alban Berg?  Not even an artist page.

Anton Webern?  Zilch.  (However Shoenberg gets some unfair attention.)

Throbbing Gristle has 137 albums and singles.  Six of them are on iTunes.

The hundred-odd crazy moog/bachelor pad/and early synth records which defined the age of futurama in the 50s and 60s?  If not for iTunes’ lonely copy of Perrey & Kingsley’s The In Sound From Way Out, you’d never know they happened.

The mash up craze popularized by 2ManyDJs “As Heard on Radio Soulwax” series?  You’ll have to settle for Girl Talk.

Well done, iTunes.  At least we can say you’re consistent.

 ·                  ·                  ·

The world’s most popular public tracker currently offers over 6.2 million torrents, ranging from single albums to massive discographic archives.  And the top 168 active private trackers host an additional 1.6 billion torrents collectively.  Suddenly, iTunes’ measly 37 million individual songs seems rather inconsequential.

The audiophile community has built a tremendous archive of analog-only issued recordings which cannot be purchased digitally anywhere on the web.  This community remains the simplest and most informative resource for discovering rare music.  It inspires an average of $1200 in vinyl purchases annually for this user, alone… and there are many more like me.

I will not publicly endorse file sharing, but it clearly demonstrates the dire need for a change in the fundamental operation of the music market today.

#anythingbutitunes