audiophilia; or, in which i explicitly recommend a product, something i’ve never done before

It’s impossible for me to unravel my physical and psychological development from my introduction and education to music. Between the interstices of my life’s more memorable moments are equally memorable first-listens, new musical discoveries, soundscapes of broad imagining. Much of this is due to my father’s record collection and the stereo we used, my brother and I, to learn The Beatles frontwards and, dare I say, backwards. And sometimes, on rare and therefore special occasions, I would listen to dad’s records with his awesome, head-squeezing, ear-flattening headphones.

These things were straight from the 70s: big, brown, complexly designed and with a curlicued wire. They were more-or-less the exact opposite of today’s headphones: small, white, simple and straightforward. But they were also much, much better. The first time I heard I buried Paul(1) in ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was whilst wearing these Geigerian monstrosities. I’d heard the song a bunch of times before, but this time dad had handed me the ‘phones and said, “Here. Have a listen with these.” The experience was encapsulating and marvelous. And terrifying. I never knew so much could happen in a song, that so much could go on inside of a sound.

A few months ago I purchased a set of Bose OE2i headphones. Yes yes, they’re a little on the pricey side, I know. But rarely have I purchased something I felt was so entirely worth it.

Let’s get the basic stuff out of the way. The headphones are light and comfortable. They don’t make my head feel like a big zit like my dad’s 70s ‘phones did. They don’t squish my ears. They don’t hurt the top of my head. I don’t look like an alien. Or, at least not any more than usual.

This particular model is meant to play very nicely with various iDevices, and it does. The wire includes a microphone unit that works exactly like the one on the standard iPhone/iPod headphones.(2) I can press-and-hold and use Siri to read texts, send texts, pull up songs…all the stuff you’d use Siri for. When people call I answer and can hear them just fine. They can hear me just fine. So the OE2i’s do what they’re meant to do in the iDepartment.

One of the reasons I chose these over the noise-cancelling QuietComfort 15s is that the OE2i’s are collapsable. The cable detaches and the whole thing tucks into a smallish case that’s included with the headphones. This is big for me because I walk around town a lot and work on a college campus, so I tend to have my backpack with me all the time. This little case means I can toss these pricey headphones into my backpack without worrying about them snapping apart because I set my bag down wrong.

So there’s that. All the physical stuff is great. Works with iDevices. Tucks safely away. Now: How do they sound?

In a word: awesome.

And let me just say that I mean that word literally. Sometimes I have to stop and just listen in awe at whatever it is I’m hearing. The entire audio range, low-to-high, is available to my overeager ears. The full stereo spectrum is my bitch. I’m back to feeling like a kid again, discovering new wonders in songs I’ve heard a bazillion times.

Did you know that if you listen to “A Day in the Life” all the way to the end – all the way until the big chord at the end is barely audible, until you can hardly take in any more sound – if you listen that long you can hear the fan of the studio’s HVAC system, presumably as the engineer turned the gain way way up to make that chord last forever? And if you hang in there just past that point, just a bit longer, you can hear someone shift on a piano seat. It’s there. I swear it.

I have a set of Bach cello suites during which I can hear a) the cellist breathing whilst playing, and b) the sound of the bow hitting the strings. I can hear vocalists shifting their weight on the floor. I can hear fingernails hitting piano keys.

So now if I can hear all of that – and I’ll admit that since I’m anosmic and pretty much blind maybe my hearing has Daredeviled-it-up out of compassion – but if I can hear all of that, imagine how great the music sounds?

What’s even better, though, is listening to movies and television. My iPad has become my favorite device to watch flicks on simply because I can use the headphones. Most televisions these days don’t have the speakers capable of the deep bass sounds many movies employ. Many of them aren’t capable of even the soundscapes of Lost, which, by the way, are as intriguing as the show itself. When it came to music I had a belief that I wasn’t hearing everything that was available to hear, but when it came to movies and shows I had no idea. These headphones are worth the money even if you just watch something as you ride the train to work everyday.

The last thing I want to talk about is recording. I record my own songs using GarageBand (both for Mac and iPad) and the OE2i’s have completely changed my approach to recording. It’s not just that I can hear what I’m recording better. It’s that I can hear what other engineers and producers have done and learn from them. It’s like reading a book, then reading a study guide, and then reading the book again.

The Bose OE2i headphones aren’t technically classified as noise-cancelling headphones, but you won’t notice. When you put them on, everything else is drowned out even if no music is playing. Once you start-up your favorite tunes though, it won’t matter. What you hear will be so completely amazing that you won’t pay attention to anything else anyway.

So there you go. That’s how I feel about the headphones: unadulterated audiophilic love.(3)

  1. Or cranberry sauce, depending on which source you believe.
  2. Why don’t iPads include headphones? Does anyone have an answer to this?
  3. Should probably point out that neither Bose nor anyone else paid me for this. I just think these headphones are awesome and wanted to tell my seven readers about them.

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