Recently, I was sent a pair of headphones for review by LSTN, a relative newcomer on the scene. LSTN offers earbuds and headphones made of wood reclaimed from the scraps of the furniture industry. So far, so good. They also donate a portion of their sales to programs that help deaf children. So much the better. I can dig it.
When they first contacted me, they offered a pair of earbuds, what they call their Bowery model. I replied that while I liked what they were about, as an avid vinyl/analog enthusiast, earbuds were essentially useless to me, and I could hardly give them an objective critique. They decided to send me a pair of Troubadors, which retail for $150. I anticipated their arrival excitedly. As a music lover with an extensive vinyl collection who usually gets home well past everyone's bedtime, getting a good set of phones has been on my "to do" list for some time. Getting a pair made of wood was un-heard-of.
When they arrived in the mail, I sure did think they were pretty. Cherry wood cans, with separate left and right inputs tipped in cherry. Only trouble was, they had a 3.5 mm jack on the end, and the big old analog record player takes, of course, 1/4 inch RCA jack. So, I listened to them on the phone, and on the laptop. And they sound, I guess, better than other phones on the phone or the laptop. But really, what audiophile considers the phone or the laptop any kind of reasonable facsimile of actual music. On the LSTN website, there's a lot of talk about how they use wood for the same reason pianos and violins are wood; resonant acoustic qualities. So I decide to wait until I had an adapter and could put these to the test via vinyl before I formed an opinion.
So I get the hook up, and I'm all excited, and I plug it in and.....sounds like crap. Disappointment to the bone. Then I notice this dang thing:
There's this little pause switch thing on the left side of the cable. See how its wrapped in scotch tape? That's because these things only work with the Marantz amp/Pro-Ject turntable set up if the dang pause thingy is depressed, so I gotta tape it down to make it work. I gave them a hard test: "Blessing in Disguise" by the Sonny Rollins Trio on East Broadway Rundown; "The Wanton Song" by Led Zeppelin, on Physical Graffiti: and "Il Porno Star" by Shellac, on At Action Park; all on vinyl.
The phones were simply not up to the task. All the reviews I read of them before were nothing short of glowing, praising the deep bass and lack of any "clipping". But I guess none of these people listened to anything analog, or the least bit physical. That's fine, I guess, and in fairness I do suppose these phones were made for more modern, albeit perhaps inferior, modes of recording /listening. And in fairness, I am an old fuddy duddy at best. But I must say, these left me flat.
Today, about ten days hence receiving the previous pair, I walk into a thrift shop to find this box sitting on the front desk. Of course, I nabbed it immediately. No word on the maker. Googling Game Industries only brings up a lot of video game crap. Ironic.
I bet you can already tell where this is going.....
grade school hearing test 1984 style....
Do I even have to say it?
abundant power...sound output...practical use...exceeding power.
That's my kind of language.
I have long been of the opinion that the technology of recording and sound reproduction reached its pinnacle in the late 1970s. I stick by that belief. Without having any of the science or terminology to support my argument, I can only speak from how I feel, as both a musician and lover of music. So I gave these the same three song test as the others. With the first pair, I could barely be bothered to listen all the way through. With these, I got a chill down my back, and wanted to stay up all night listening to everything: Led Zeppelin, Sergio Mendes, Motorhead, Eric Dolphy, Brahms, you name it. Direct and bone felt deliver of the human glory that is music.
$150 for the LSTN pair, regardless of the charitable component, would have left me cold. $4.99 at the thrift store, charitable component a plus, leaves me happy in a way that can be hard to describe to those who love neither analog nor thrift shopping.
Sorry, but analog has duende, and digital simply does not. Never will, it ain't human.