Earbuds and speakers for an iPod

Monsoon speakers and Etymotic earbuds are very nice ways to listen to an iPod

There's no need for me to reiterate here all the reasons that Apple's third-generation iPods are cool. Yes, they're a little pricey but they more than make up for it in cool. I have a 15G model and it's about two-thirds full with 234 albums. (Every bit of it legal in case you were wondering.) There's no need for me to guess what I should load into it to listen to when I'm out since my entire music collection fits in my shirt pocket.

I should admit right now that I'm no audiophile. I think that I have the ability to distinguish good sound from bad, but someone else might have a different opinion. Can I distinguish an MP3-compressed recording from the CD it was ripped from? I don't know, I've never been motivated to find out. MP3s (and Apple's AAC format) sound just fine to me as long as they're recorded at reasonably high bit-rates.

Not surprisingly, the iPod is very nice for airplane travel. But there's the problem of the noise from the plane's engines. Turning the volume up isn't a solution that will do your hearing any long-term good. I first tried a Sennheiser HDC 451 active-noise-cancelling headset. It took a bite out of the noise, but didn't accomplish all that much. I also found that after a couple of hours, even the quite light pressure of the Sennheiser became uncomfortable. That's probably an unusual reaction to have; perhaps it come from years of wearing Davy Clark headsets which can be used to hold boards together while glue dries.

On the advice of the Penny-Arcade guest columnist Storm Shadow, I got a pair of Etymotic ER-4P earplug-style earbuds. They're rather expensive and when you open the package, you're not greeted with Apple-like evidence of attention to detail. The packaging is nothing short of ugly, some of the documentation is obscure, and compressible-foam earplug parts appear to have been added to the package as an afterthought when they found that some people (like me) have ear canals big enough that their standard barbed-rubber earplugs don't seal properly. But once I got the compressible-foam cylinders on the things and tried them, the results were remarkable. The sound is fabulous and the noise-reduction is enormous. On an airplane, I hardly need to raise my iPod's volume at all. Listening to my iPod with them, I can just make out that an announcement is being made and can pull one of the earplugs to listen to it. Yes, the ER-4Ps are pretty expensive, but I'd prefer them and an iPod in a coach seat to a business-class seat without them on anything shorter than a trip across the Pacific.

I also thought to get a set of speakers to use with my iPod. I thought it would be nice to listen to it when I'm in my office and use my stereo only when I'm in my living room (the next room over). So I asked a guy I know slightly from a mailing list (he rides the same kind of motorcycle that I do) who sells absurdly high-end audio equipment what he suggested that wasn't absurdly expensive. He suggested Monsoon or Klipsch speakers. I went with the Monsoon MM-700 flat-panel speakers and I think they're remarkably good. Alas, the company no longer makes speakers for anything but car companies. As of this writing, it seems that a fair number of Monsoon flat-panel systems are available pretty cheaply on eBay. You could do a lot worse for US$75-100 (it looks like they tend to go for around US$50 but shipping that subwoofer isn't going to be cheap). Mine are enough better than the unremarkable old Bose bookshelf speakers that my stereo plays through that I don't use it. My iPod playing though the Monsoons from the next room sounds better.

Update: September 2, 2004
Dan over at Dan's Data has a review of Etymotic's ER-4Ses which are nearly identical to their ER-4Ps.

I continue to be inordinately pleased with my ER-4Ps every time I get on an airplane. A while ago, I mentioned some noisy people that they rendered blessedly inaudible. On one flight recently, they defeated an entire Little League team that I was seated among and, on another, I didn't have to listen to a two-year-old, a three-year-old, and a four-year-old seated behind me. (The ER-4Ps didn't stop them from kicking the back of my seat, but that would be a bit much to expect.) In my opinion, nothing is going to make sitting in a cramped airplane for hours actually pleasant, but an iPod, ER-4Ps, and a few scotches will make it a lot better.

Posted: Fri - November 21, 2003 at 10:20   Main   Category: