I Secretly Hate Answering Headphone Questions
I shouldn’t be the arbiter of your personal tastes.
Recently, I started replying to comments on Medium only on Fridays, instead of the same day I received them.
It’s done wonders for my online health…to the point where I’ve sometimes considered not replying to comments at all.
Why’s that you ask? Isn’t Medium a wonderful place to discuss things online in a long-form article format. Yes! Yes it is!
But I don’t often get those sorts of replies.
Instead, I get questions from people who are shopping for headphones via random Google searches and land on one of my reviews.
And then they sign up for a Medium account solely to ask me if one headphone is better than a different other random headphone, rather than to post lengthy enjoyable discourse about the events of the current year.
That’s not the most outlandish thing in the world right?
Except it’s often a nightmare question to answer, and I’m not the first headphone reviewer person to express this frustration.
And sometimes I haven’t even tried the headphones I’m asked about.
I was hoping that the slight hurdle of having to sign up for an account on this wonderful service would cut down the amount of “WHICH ONE IS BETTER” posts that got thrown my way, and to some degree it has.
I only get a few a week, usually.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I were one of the top popular reviewers and found myself constantly inundated with such requests at every waking hour.
1) THERE ARE TOO MANY HEADPHONES
The ironic part is that, as a headphone consumer myself who doesn’t take review units, I get it.
I totally understand the frustration of the people asking me these questions. Even standing in a regular big box store, you’re presented with about a million different headphones and gaming headsets, many of which have nigh-identical combinations of features at nigh-identical price points.
But here’s the thing: I don’t know which one you should get any better than you do.
Sure, I’ve tried a lot of headphones.
But that’s because I’m weird and I’m obsessed with little details. I like to see all the minuscule differences that separate these various audio products, and then write about them on the internet.
But none of that makes me an expert for what you should do with your money or time.
Beyond what I write in the review, I often don’t have much more to say about a headphone.
I have a weird brain. Thanks to a lifetime of video gaming, and too many years of school that taught me to be overcritical of every aspect of the things I love, I can’t help but form a whole series of opinions about every headphone I try.
That’s what I like about headphones. I like to check out new models and see what they’ve done in the desperate bid to differentiate their product from everything else on the market. That’s what makes it fun for me. And my reviews are just a way for me to get that information out of my head and into the world, so that those thoughts matter in some way.
The thing is, what you personally like or need in a pair of headphones is probably very different than what I like or need.
And that’s great and part of the joy of being a person! But just because I think something is better, it might often be for reasons that don’t even appeal to you.
Every single aspect of headphone “quality” is subjective.
Now, headphones can screw up audio, changing it drastically from how it was originally recorded or produced. But some people might still like that.
The original version of the Beats Solo headphones had waaaay too much bass for my personal tastes, but they sold millions of units and changed personal audio forever.
For years, very smart people have researched “compensation curves,” audio signatures that are designed to make headphones play back audio in as neutral a way as possible. There are several major standards and they’re being refined all the time…and they’re complicated by the fact that everyone’s ears and head are shaped a little differently.
So is there a way to mathematically represent the exact original source audio? Yes! Can you play that back perfectly on very expensive speakers in a perfectly-designed room? Yes! But not without a lot of money and work. Can headphones mimic this sound? Yes they can…but not everyone is going to want that. And in fact, most people want something very different from that if the sales are any indication.
Comfort is the same fickle beast.
For example, I think the Audio-Technica M50X’s are very comfy with the stock pads, an opinion that’s shared by almost no one else. Again, everyone’s head size, shape, and ear shape are all very different. And your opinions on what’s comfy aren’t going to match mine.
Build quality is tough to evaluate in a review because I’m not intentionally trying to break them, and beyond a certain price point most things don’t feel cheap. And again, what I think feels cheap might not feel cheap to you. I recently criticized the Takstar Pro 82 for having an overbuilt case compared to underbuilt headphones, and someone on head-fi criticized me because they liked the case. Well, I like the case too…I just wish they had used those materials/the money for those materials in the headphones instead.
These are all of the factors that people want me to consider when they ask me which headphone is the best, and there’s not really much of an established rubric for evaluating a lot of it.
I have no way of jumping inside your head.
My reviews are meant to be accurate representations of my own personal experience at that point in time. I only draw comparisons between models when the occasion calls for it, or when I found some differences that I find interesting enough to warrant a goofy showdown article.
But my trying to pick what’s better is only possible for me, and my particular set of tastes. Too many people want me to figure out what they would like.
That’s like asking me to pick you the most delicious type of cereal after I’ve only just met you.
3) HAVE SOME CONFIDENCE!
Reviews don’t exist to validate purchasing decisions. They exist to help you expand your perspective so you can *make* those decisions, or simply learn more about the thing being discussed. They exist to challenge your brain’s status quo so that you are better informed.
That makes me sound like an old man, doesn’t it?
It seems like, as time goes on, fan communities tend to gather around reviews solely for the purpose of validation.
The audio community is no different. Every time a new headphone review comes out, other owners gather around and judge it for its worthiness and whether it matches their own opinions.
I would be okay with that if people didn’t so intrinsically tie this evaluation into their own self worth and the worth of their decisions.
It literally doesn’t matter if I don’t like a pair of headphones you like, or if I love a pair of headphones you hate.
This is among the most insignificant things in the entire world.
4) THE OUTLIERS
Sometimes I have a really great conversation with someone on Medium, and that’s what keeps me going as far as looking at comments.
Usually my favorite replies are ones where a reader shares their own personal headphone journey with me, along with their own frustrations and triumphs. They don’t show up to ask me which one is better. They don’t attack my personal opinions. They don’t accuse me of being paid for my self-funded reviews.
So if you’ve been reading this whole thing thinking that we once had a fun conversation in the comments, then this isn’t pointed at you.
I’m 99 percent certain that no one who shows up solely to ask me which thing is better ever comes back again, because I’ve done my job as their free servant and I’m now useless again.
I hoped that starting my Reply Fridays series would slowly push the shorter “IS THIS BEST” questions to twitter, and so far that’s sort of happened?
Twitter is great for answering those sorts of questions, because I can get right to the point and not worry about filling Medium’s epic canvas.
I know some of you are probably thinking, “well, just stop reading the comments then!” But that seems like too easy and cynical of an answer. I love the idea of communities surrounding different fandoms/games/audio/whatever…
But I think we also all need to remember that the group should help inform our perspectives, not dictate them.
Especially when it comes to things that are supposed to be fun.
Enjoying headphones is fun. I like to figure out which things I like the best, and which details manufacturers think are important this year. That’s fun for me. I can’t live inside your head. I shouldn’t be the arbiter of your taste.
And I don’t really want to be.