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The Road Less Taken: Open-Back Headphones

Discussion in 'Microphones, Speakers & Audio Processing' started by K4EI, Jan 11, 2019.

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  1. K4EI

    K4EI XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    The plaintive, warbling signal is there, fragile and tenuous after traveling halfway around the planet. Glancing at the radio my eyes sweep across its face, like a pilot on approach... Noise Reduction 1 lit, Antenna Tuner engaged, 100 watts, Processor Out on 45. My fingers go to the Hi/Lo Shift knob and narrow the passband by 100 Hz on each end.

    The voice floats there, delicate, indistinct, right at the noise floor. QSB first raising the veil, then slowly lowering it back down.

    Pausing at Rx EQ, debating for a moment, then lifting the mid-highs six dB's. And like a rising Brown, there it is, coming back. Coming to me out of the ether. The line suddenly tight.

    In radio, hearing is everything. We each end up squaring that circle in our own unique way. In my case, save running VHF mobile while driving the truck, that means headphones. For me, a good set of earphones provide these not-so-young-anymore ears the discrimination and isolation necessary to make it all work.

    Probably like many here, I've enjoyed lots of different "cans." Heil Pro 7's on the big Kenwood. The Heil Proset on the KX3. Yamaha CM500 on the bench for the Elecraft. Bose noise-canceling QC15's.

    But in a roundabout way, the PR40 mic I began using last summer led me to an epiphany. You use a studio mic like that and suddenly that mic on the little boom arm on your headset doesn't sound nearly so good. For months I continued to use the Pro 7's in "receive only" mode, with the boom mic arm ratcheted up and away. Good as the Pro 7's are, though - they're big and they're heavy.

    And that led me to pondering smaller, lighter headphones that don't try and do double duty. Cans that only hear.

    A few days ago I plugged in a set of Grado SR80i's. Headphones that wouldn't look out of place in a hamshack from the 1920's. Yes, they're audiophile cans. No, you don't need anything that hears nearly that well.

    Counterintuitively, their open-back design - ambient sound can get in, and whatever you're listening to can get out - provides a spatial component to what you're hearing that normal closed-back cans don't. Audiophiles call it the soundstage. With closed-back cans it's coming from inside your head. With open-back headphones it's coming from all around you.

    And then when you wind up and bend toward the mic, there's the second epiphany... you hear your speaking voice just like you do when talking to someone sitting next to you. The volume, the pitch, the resonance... all those cues we learned as babies, uttering our first words, are there in full measure. There's a naturalness to speaking that Transmit Monitor on our rig can never fully replace.

    I like it.
    KB3FEI and K9CPO like this.
  2. K2XT

    K2XT Subscriber QRZ Page

    I think you are really on to something here.
    The Grado phones are quirky looking but appear to really offer something interesting (the open back) and are well regarded as high fidelity phones to boot. I may just have to give them a try.
  3. N3DT

    N3DT Ham Member QRZ Page

    I got a pair of the Grado SR80's and I have to say music etc. sounds much crisper with them You can hear stuff other 'phones won't, it's what I call 'presence', they're very sharp. Must have an extremely fast rise time response. But not sure it's worth the price when you can get a pair of sony mdr-z100's for a few bucks on ebay. But I can hear the difference, but for the price? What I don't like are the cheap grado foam pads, the sony pads are much nicer, but too small to fit on the grado. I almost prefer the Grado's without the pads.
  4. KC8RLU

    KC8RLU Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'll stick to my Sony MDR-XD200, thankyouverymuch. Although, I have been eyeballing the AKG K240S Studio headphones as of lately, so those may soon be the next pair I get. And they run less than $70.
  5. K2XT

    K2XT Subscriber QRZ Page

    I looked up the Sony model but looks like they are out of production.
    The AKGs are regular over-the-ear style. You aren't going with the open back configuration that the OP promotes?

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