Creating a language immersion environment is almost inevitably going to require the use of headphones. In this post, I’d like to share with you the headphones that have pleasured my ears with Japanese and Chinese sounds, and invite you to share your own recommendations, advice and experiences.
To start, I was faithfully served by a pair of Sony MDR-G42 behind-the-head headphones for almost the entire duration of the hardcore phase of my Japanese.
After that, for a year and change I used a pair of Sony MDR-NC22 noise-cancelling earphones, the first earphones that had ever fit my ears — I often forgot I was wearing them! They’re pricier, and I only justified buying them because it was for “educational” reasons. They were great back when I was using trains a lot — you know how loud that can get.
Currently I use speakers quite a bit at home (since my living arrangements allow it), supplemented by some Pioneer SE-MJ5 headphones.
On the road, I use a pair of Phillips SHE-9500 earphones. Good sound, nice small size…The cable’s kinda short though, so I often need to use the extension they came with. One thing that’s really amazing about these headphones is that you can actually sleep in them comfortably, despite the fact that they’re not marketed for that as such. Plus they don’t look as ridiculous as the actual “sleep headphones” that are on the market right now. When I’m sleeping, I want to know that I look good.
[Update 2008/12/4: It turns out these were making my ears itch…earphones and I just don’t seem to get on — so I went back to basics, to neckband-style headphones: Philips SHS8200]
Headphones are a peculiar product. For one thing, above about $15-20, there seems to be virtually no correlation between quality and price; my less-than-$40 Pioneers (SE-MJ5) destroyed all the $100-$300+ pairs around it at the store I went to — so you can’t just spend a lot and be guaranteed a good unit. Nor is there always a strong correlation between make and quality. While all my headphone choices so far have skewed to industry leaders, all the industry leaders produce both gold and duds [I don’t mean go get a no-name brand: those will almost certainly suck. I mean that you still need to find a good pair within a good brand. It seems like brand definitely matters in headphones, but by itself it only offers the possibility of quality, not a guarantee]. Moreover, headphones need to be equal parts good-sounding and comfortable; neither condition takes precedence over the other. Speaking of sound, if you listen to hip-hop, make sure your headphones have a good frequency range, especially at the low end (they should at least be able to go down to 8Hz [or, as close to single digits as possible] if not lower).
So, the best advice I can give you is not a single product recommendation; it is this: TRY ’em. And if the shop won’t let you try them, make sure they accept returns in the event of suckage. Try the headphones. Bring your player and play the things you listen to. Real, live experimentation is the only way to really guarantee getting something that’s worth it. Given the amount of time you’re going to be listening to audio to produce an immersion environment, the trip to the store or wherever will be worth it.
All the headphones I’ve mentioned do start to hurt eventually, but only after several hours of use. So, yeah, rich sound (to me, at least…I’m not an audio buff) and comfortable wearing. Anyway, what matters most is you and the shape of your head/ears; I think I must have weird ears, since most headphones simply don’t fit me. Or maybe headphones are a metaphor for life and how we need to take control if we want to be happy.
The floor is open to your comments and suggestions 😀 .