Headphone Snobbery

I've talked about all the essential environmental things a programmer should have: a good chair, at least two monitors, and a great keyboard.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2005/12/headphone-snobbery.html

If your not willing to shell out $200 and still want audiophile sound look no further then the Grado SR-80’s. At under $70 they are extremely impressive headphones! They may not look sexy but they sound beautiful.


The Grado SR 60 model ($70) is listed in the HeadRoom top 10 as well:


I can personally attest to the Sennheiser 280 Pro’s on headphone.com’s top 10 list as well. They feel good and isolate sound really well. The only downside is that they look kinda campy. I had a great experience with Sennheiser’s customer support as well. Somehow one of the wires in my cans got snipped, so I sent them back and they shipped me a new pair.

I used to have the Grado SR-80’s. They sounded great, but not only did they look weird, they weren’t very comfortable on my head.

My two cents.

I’m a coder sharing an office with up to three other folks, and sometimes they seem constitutionally incapable of shutting the !#$@ up. My sweetie got me the Sennheiser PCX250s for my birthday, and it reduces the chatter to something I can more easily ignore. They proved a simple way to improve my work environment.

The difference between the Grados and Sennheisers is usually a matter of taste; I find Sennheiser’s supra-aureal (which covers yours ears, as opposed to Grado’s “sit-on-your-ear” design) much more comortable, and the SR-60/80’s sound is not at all comparable to the HD600 I use (the comparable model from Grado is, I believe, the SR-225 which I haven’t heard).

Also, be advised that most computer sound cards have very mediocre amplification (particularly the various on-board sound cards, even the relatively modern ones like the NVidia SoundStorm). I would readily advise shelling out several hundred dollars for headphones (you can get the 580s for amazingly low prices on eBay, and they’re almost as good as the 600s), but you should also spend on decent source equipment.

Finally, unless you really know how to take care of your equipment and don’t have to share it with anyone, I would seriously doubt the headphones will remain in pristene [sp?] condition for more than 5 years or so (mine have just developed cable issues for the 3rd time in 5 years, although I did share them with family for much of that time).

I find Sennheiser’s supra-aureal (which covers yours ears, as opposed to Grado’s “sit-on-your-ear” design) much more comortable

Totally agree. The Sennheiser PC150 is “sit-on-the-ear” and it’s uncomfortable.

I would seriously doubt the headphones will remain in pristine condition for more than 5 years or so

That’s true. I just had to replace the cable on my Sennheiser 580 HDs here at work and they’re about 2 years old. The left side simply stopped working.

But the replacement cable was only ~$17 from the Sennheiser store:


You can also replace the headband cushion and earpads as necessary:


But geez, $38 for freakin’ ear cushions? Ouch.

you can get the 580s for amazingly low prices on eBay, and they’re almost as good as the 600s

Here’s an eBay query for Sennheiser 580s:


What? No open vs. closed debate? :wink:

My old BeyerDynamic DT550s lasted for around 15 years. In fact, they still work great but the ear cushions disintegrated leaving black stuff on my ears every time I wore them. TBFM, I can’t find replacements and I’ve been trying to decide between Sennheiser 280 Pros or 580s.

This is what’s on my head the majority of the day :slight_smile: (ZM-RS6F - Zalman Real Surround Sound Headphones Theatre 6) http://www.zalman.co.kr/eng/pr/award_view.asp?idx=23page=2sKey=search=

Personally I prefer the Sennheiser HD590 but the difference is not very great.

But that’s for the PC, and as you said, PC soundcards have shitty amplifiers. For my real stereo system I use an AKG K240 Monitor. 600 ohms, baby!

I bought a couple a pair of Sennheiser eH 250 after my old HD 457 broke. I think they are pretty awesome, really filters out noise well and the sound is amazing. I use them everywhere I go, which probably means I have to get new ones in a year or so. They work very well with my iPod (with video of course ;o)).


I forgot to mention that they were so nice that I got a pair for my girlfriend as well. Great gift ;o)

It’s great that it’s easy to get replacements, but it’s not quite so easy outside the 'states. I’m very lucky in that Sennheiser switched their distributor here in Israel a few years ago; the old one sucked badly in terms of both service and prices (which I why I ordered my HD600 blind from an online shop - best deal I ever got, only around $200 and that’s almost five years ago!). The new distributor is actually very fair, but it’s still very annoying to have to replace the headphone cable every couple of years (although my headphones do have to handle ridiculous usage - often 10 hours a day and more).

Forget old fashioned headphones like these; get yourself a pair of sound isolating ear-plugs, like the Shure E2Cs.

It’s all about the top 10 list:


There are some in-ear models in there, if that’s your bag. Personally, I don’t like the idea of wedging something all the way into my ear canal. The exhortations to “achiev[e] the all-important tight seal” make me more than a little nervous.

You’re barking up the wrong tree! Forget old fashioned headphones like these; get yourself a pair of sound isolating ear-plugs, like the Shure E2Cs. They sound great and COMPLETELY cut out all foreign noise.

They take some time to put in, but once you have them on and music playing, you hear nothing but your music. The effect is incredible, especially when you try them for the first time.

I work in an open office layout that is VERY noise. There will be 3-4 conversations going on around me, and many people on the phone. The sound-isolaters completely cut out all that noise, and let me listen to my music in total piece.

The best part is that you don’t have to crank-it-up to here. I use these in the NYC subway with my iPod set at 20% of max volume. With any kind of regular head phones, I need to keep the volume at 80% just to hear as I walk down the street, and when a bus or subway goes by, I have to crank it up to 100% just to hear over-driven static.

I prefer earbuds myself. It feels like the music is in your brain if you get the right ones. I really love my Etymotic ER-6s:

a href="http://www.bbrown.infowritings/html/etymoticer6.cfm"http://www.bbrown.info/writings/html/etymoticer6.cfm/a

(That URL should be bbrown dot info, but the comment wouldn’t be accepted with any sort of dot info URL. You know, Jeff, sometimes the .com isn’t available.)

I use Sennheiser HD 212Pro. They cost about $100 2-3 years ago. Great sound, great look, and most important great feel. I can wear these headphones for many hours at a time. I think you can get these for around $60 now.

I still have my old Sennheiser HD540 Reference Gold set (a href="http://static.flickr.com/4/7193167_4566b0d2e5_o.jpg)"http://static.flickr.com/4/7193167_4566b0d2e5_o.jpg)/a from the 80’s in the original rosewood box (sentimental sigh). No good for noise-blocking as they are featherweight and open design (ideal for around the house or in bed, no fatigue or sore ears, and I can still hear the phone ring or a knock at the door).

However, this is one option I don’t take for several reasons:

  1. Listening to music all day, even at moderate levels, slowly damages your hearing (and I enjoy music too much to do that).

  2. Listening to music at a level sufficient to drown out background noise quickly damages your hearing. Some of my workmates have been noticed to be talking more loudly and saying “pardon?” a lot since they got into the habit of wearing headphones at work.

  3. When my workplace is that unpleasant, I don’t like to create a mental association between my music (which I use to relax at home) and work.

  4. My coding productivity drops by about 50% when listening to music (I have little or no filtering mechanism, which makes noisy workspaces unbearable hell - up to 90 interruptions an hour in my previous workplace).

These are what I use a href="http://www.etymotic.com/ephp/er20.aspx"http://www.etymotic.com/ephp/er20.aspx/a
and they work well. You can still hear the people talking to you, but not anyone outside your immediate cubicle area (at least not at a disturbing level unless they are abnormally loud).

Best programming tool I have ever bought for the workplace at the price.

The headphone version is expensive, but hopefully a bit safer on the ears (as it blocks outside sound and can be run more quietly).

It should be pointed out that the Peopleware book you link to (via the other post) does mention the subject of headphones at work. They say that the music occupies your right brain, thus preventing you from making any intuitive leaps of understanding. I don’t know if there’s anything to this claim or not.

Personally I listen to music a lot less at work these days, but only if low ambient noise levels allow.

Also mild disagreement with the claim that headphones last forever. My current work pair are Sennheisser HD435s from the late 90s. They still sound OK but the earpads are disintegrating and the detachable cables are self-detaching with increasing regularity. Prior to that I had a pair of Grado SR-60s which also suffered disintegrating earpad syndrome.

My point being that nothing lasts forever.

Scoble recommends the Ulimate Ears UE-10. But at about $1000 a pop, it might be a bit much (WAY outa my range).

Here is Scobles post on it: http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/2005/05/20.html#a10153

For myself, I am going to try the PC150’s. I need the boom mike for Rosetta Stone.