This is the tale of one girl and her most recent plethora of headphones, and it’s probably not too dissimilar to some of yours, that is if you can’t walk around in public without your iPod blaring at any point of the day. What? I’m shy.
Everyone’s biggest gripe with headphones and earbuds seems to be that where style is concerned, practicality tends to lose out. Brands such as Skullcandy and Beats are terribly notorious for having short lifespans, sometimes breaking before the half-way point of their warranty. Still, these products find themselves plonked in the category of ‘irreplaceable’ or ‘irreparable’ because, of course, companies hold up their hands and throw a “whoa there, kiddo, it’s not our fault” curveball for the sake of saving a few quid. A fair amount of the time your stupidly-expensive equipment suddenly conking out will all come down to ‘wear and tear’ as opposed to shoddy – some would argue deliberately shoddy – construction. Is there a workaround? Perhaps, sometimes. Otherwise it’s probably better to do some thorough research before throwing your money all over the first tech store you find.
Just a few days ago, the button on my £70 Skullcandy Navigators stopped working less than six months into their run. The deliciously crisp audio began to crackle if the cable moved even slightly, and now it’s a waiting game for them to tap out entirely. Admittedly, I’d never heard good things about Skullcandy, but one assumes that a hefty price tag (on a student loan) immediately guarantees a decent amount of usage on top of quality sound and aesthetics. Nope.
Beforehand, I’d purchased a pair of Urbanears Plattan – shocking pink over-ear headphones which blocked out any and all external noise, lovingly submerging you so deep into your music that it was almost as if you could feel every single instrument ripple through your body rather than simply hear them. Of course, taking them to the gym a few times a week likely had a hand in their overall demise and weird smell emanating from the fabric headband, but they’d outlasted any other pair of headphones or buds I’d ever owned. Honestly – I was a little angry – not because they’d finally given up, but because I’d never owned a pair of headphones like them.
So why, for the love of all things technological, did I not buy another pair straight away? Navigators and Plattans are very similar in terms of price, so it wasn’t as though affordability was a problem. Perhaps I just couldn’t go without my playlist of hardcore punk any longer – waiting for a delivery was too much. I had to have something then and there, so off to HMV I tootled.
Skullcandy Navigators cost around double the price of the Urbanears Humlan
Around the same time I’d begun upping my gym sessions, and after the returns period for my current pair of headphones had passed, I looked for another, cheaper pair of headphones out of fear of breaking the newest pair; catching the cable during a run is a sure-fire way to bugger up internal connections. None that I found, even specifically for sports use, had particularly glowing reviews. In fact most had 3/5 star ratings or less.
One final attempt took me back to the Urbanears website. Certain I wouldn’t find anything over-ear in my price range of £30-£40, it was a pleasant surprise to stumble across a new range on the site dubbed Humlan.
A few hours of pondering later and every box was gradually being ticked – given my past experience with the Plattans, these were looking to be my best bet. Reviews suggested quality audio for the £39 price tag, boasting their trademark hardy fabric cable and better yet, replaceable, interchangeable, washable parts. This led to one final thought that pushed me to grab a pair; I hadn’t seen a single review discussing whether or not the Humlan headphones could withstand the moisture, jolts and harshness of persistent gym use. It was an opportunity for a very unscientific experiment. With that, I opted for a smoother coral pink this time around, and patiently waited for the postman to show.
The inside of Humlan’s cushions lend a cheery reminder that B.O.-scented headphones are a thing of the past
Upon opening the box the all-too enticing scent of ‘new technology’ exploded from its pink innards. It’s sort of like the ‘new car smell’, but nerdier and more papery because of all the documents and stickers and cable ties the manufacturer packs in. Gentler on the wallet, too.
Obviously, the box contained the rather naked Humlan headphones – a little lighter in colour than the website suggested – and a pair of sealed cushions which snapped easily onto the over-ear speakers with a net wash bag for when the time came that they too got a little whiffy. Getting my all-important priorities in check, I immediately stuck the heart-shaped novelty sticker on the front of some storage drawers in my room, connected my new-technology-smelling headphones to the iPod’s 3.5mm jack and prepared to hit the gym.
Blaring traffic noise is usually the downfall of some cheaper over-ear headphones. Wearing the Humlans on my bus journey at a relatively low level allowed for noticeable engine sound interfering with music. Upping the volume only a little helped to minimise this, however, whilst keeping me comfortable in the knowledge that I still had some use of all senses when crossing roads and such. Indoors, the deal is pretty similar. Over countless Bad Religion tracks came the familiar beat of 80s, 90s and modern pop classics through the multitude of speakers that dotted the walls of the gym. The strange-feeling fabric cushions, angularly positioned to reduce outside noise forsaking noise-cancelling pads, did as good a job as they could.
At maximum volume the Humlans let up for nothing. Running a 10k with a pair of over-ear headphones can get a little uncomfortable, yet not a muted whisper of my pounding feet on the treadmill nor the demanding shouts of class instructors reached my ears. The band didn’t slip a centimetre, either, though by the end of the run its fabric cover and cushions were completely soaked through. So far so good – the fact that I sweat enough in half an hour to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool has yet to impact the inner workings of the Humlans, even with thinner cushions covering the speakers than the Plattans.
In comparison to the Urbanears Plattan range, Humlan’s audio quality and level felt much less imposing and resultantly kinder on the inner ears, but still with plentiful adrenaline-inducing whump whump, meeer and neeeowm when I switched to a playlist comprised of Pendulum; if you enjoy going for distance sprints, you’ll know exactly how necessary quality, undisturbed audio is. As with most over-ear headphones – specifically ones that are designed to, y’know, actually stay on your head – the pressure became an annoyance after an hour and a half of overall wear.
After a few more sweaty encounters (get your minds out of the gutter) there came the same whiff reminiscent of the good ol’ pair of Plattans. Clearly, the Humlans had picked up the smell a sight faster, but that’s where innovation on part of the Urbanears team comes into play. Off clicked the fabric components, and into the washing machine they were chucked. First time over and I’d forgotten to put them in the provided washbag, but was relieved to find no damage to the machine nor the fabric parts. That would’ve sucked. After a second wash – and this could be my eyes playing tricks – it seemed as though the colour had begun to drain a little from the ear cushions whilst the band cover stayed as crisp a coral as ever.
Not to worry, though. Should this happen on a more visible scale, the Urbanears online store sells separate Humlan components in various colours; and what seems to have been overlooked is that here lies an opportunity for customisation; it’s possible to mix-and-match components to create vibrant and interesting styles which could arguably encourage repurchase of the product once its time is up.
Whilst this may not be the most technical review in the world (nor was it supposed to be, though you can view all techy details right here if you’re interested), hopefully I’ve helped to shed some light on figuring out what would suit your needs when it comes to buying the right headphones. The moral of this story; put your trust in the trustworthy, and if there’s no trust to be found, do your research. Weigh up necessities against wants and be willing to compromise. It’s unlikely that there’s a perfect pair of headphones or earbuds out there to suit everyone, but some will suit you more than others, and some are worth avoiding if you value what possibly-little cash you have to piddle away this month.
So what exactly is the price we pay for practicality? If you know where to look, ‘peanuts’ is the answer. Needless to say I’ll be keeping the Humlan for as long as they work and will never be going near Skullcandy technology ever again, even if they decide to pretty their designs with unicorn farts and the promise of a cheeky grope of James Hetfield’s bum.
Well… that the second one might be a lie. At least he can still serenade me on the way to the gym.