Handy FAQs for ‘Overspending’ Nerds

A music lover listens to his music through headphones. An audiophile listens to his headphones through the music.

A music lover listens to his music through headphones. An audiophile listens to his headphones through the music.

The philosophical sounding quote above by a random Redditor kept me from buying a decent pair of headphones for months. But a few days ago, I finally decided to bite the bullet and got myself ATH-M50X. Let me just say this: They’re worth every penny spent!

However, there was a huge gap between the day I placed the order and the day I was able to unwrap those. First, I somehow forgot to opt in for one day delivery. Then, Amazon decided to screw up and delayed the delivery. So while I was waiting, I had to face a series of questions demanding explanation for this ‘outrageous’ expenditure. In retrospect, I think I have faced similar situations many times for many things. Be it a mechanical keyboard, a notebook riser, a good router or any other not-so-conventional purchase, I find myself answering the same questions over and over again. So, here’s the list of those frequently (literally) asked questions.

Whoa, how rich are you?

I’m not. But that beside the point. I just spend money on different things. Moreover, a good product is a long term investment. A good pair of headphones lasts years (or even decades) while a cheap one starts to fall apart after moderate usage of a few months. Same goes for keyboards, mice, routers, etc. Moreover, all these things make significant amount of difference in comfort level. If you plan to use something for long hours every day for years, invest some money in it. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

If you’re still not convinced, here’s a handy table my friend put together.

ParameterFancy Dress, Watch, etc.Keyboards, Headphones, etc.
Time spent usingThat awkward one hour at cousin’s wedding.Every day, all day.
Comfort levelAsk someone whose wedding Saree weighed 30kgs.Significantly comfortable. Give notebook raisers a try.
Maintenance costs“I can’t wear my wedding dress because the stonework scratched my wrist watch and the set is ruinedAlmost negligible. Even keyboard keys are replaceable.
Value over time“Oh God! There’s mold in my Shalu.” (Hey mom!)Almost constant.

Why are they so expensive? Are they big?

No. The earcups are about as big as circumaural cups should be. The headband is about as big as… a head. (Seriously, what were you expecting?) But they comfortable. Way more comfortable then any cheap pair could ever be.

Are they very loud?

What, headphones? No, not that loud! The cost is supposed to be (not saying is, just supposed to be) measure of quality. And quality has very little to do with loudness. If loudness increased proportionally with the cost, my head would have been blown off by now.

Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, are loud. Sometimes the noise they create is actually proportional to their cost. So, there’s that!

But didn’t you already have a pair of headphones?

Yup. Not just one. I have a bunch of those. But you probably had a wardrobe full of shirts (or more pairs of footwear then you care to admit or whatever else you’re into — I try not to judge) and that doesn’t stop you from buying more! What’s your point? Different pairs of headphones sound different. Different keyboards feel different. Some are substantially better than others.

At some point we tend to look beyond the primary function — which is to produce sound (and to cover up skin in case of clothes or to expose skin in case of some other clothes — clothes are complicated) — and start looking at how well it is performed. In case of clothing, it’s about look and feel. In case of headphones, it is sound signature, comfort and other heavy words audiophiles used to sound like a snob.

You could get a pair of Beats at that price. Why put money on some secondary brand?

I guess I could get Beats. I could also burn my money in a barbecue grill and in this case, it wouldn’t be much different! On a less snarky note, Audio Technica and Sennheiser are not secondary brands. Most definitely not secondary to Beats. Beats are bad. Real bad. I have made that mistake once. (Hey, I was young and was offered more money than my brain could handle. No judging, please!) If you’re still not convinced, Lifehacker has put up a nice rundown on how Beats perform against other models that are available at way lower price point.

By the way, similar answer goes for why I didn’t by an iPhone instead on HTC HD2. While iPhones do have real good hardware and software, the ecosystem is not something I personally enjoy.

Sony is good. You could get a pair at a way lower price point.

I could. I did. A few years ago. I still use it. Yes, it is good. Not as good as this one. I’m fairly certain that comparable pair from Sony costs as much as these do. But thanks for the advice. I think I’m going to stick to the advice from my other friend though. See, he is a professional sound engineer and has got an actual degree in acoustics.

Okay, but what do you actually hear different, if anything at all?

It is difficult to explain. I could probably say something about balance, levels and soundstage, but in all due honesty, those are just numbers. As another wise Redditor once said, it is more about feeling than hearing. It feels different. Feelings, by their nature, are tough to put into words. I’ll still give it a try though.

Let me be honest first. I have done some double blind tests with my sound engineer friends and I can not tell the difference between a decent pair and a really good pair 100 percent of the times. As long as music and headphones are sufficiently good, I’m fine. But then there are those times when I can hear a phone ringing… on vibrate mode… in another room… across the hall. On those occasions, the ‘good enough’ music gear leaves a lot to be desired. I start noticing all the quirks. Sometimes, it’s the muddled bass, sometimes it’s the rattling. It takes all the focus away from music as well as whatever I’m doing and I’m left with the kind of frustration that you get when your socks are twisted ever so slightly — just enough to annoy you, but not quite enough to make you take off the shoes and straighten them.

The M50x really shines in this case. First of all, it’s comfortable. The earpads actually go around the ears instead of sitting on top and pressing the earlobes down until it hurts. Secondly, the sound is awesome. It’s immersive. I’ve paired it with a FiiO E10K and only thing more immersive I’ve found so far is the reality. (Yes, nerds and geeks are aware of the world outside. Quite vaguely so, but aware nonetheless.) I’ve been continuously using these for last week and so far they haven’t failed me. No more twisted socks.

If you have made it so far, thank you! I hope I’ll simply be able to direct people to this post next time the situation arises. Feel free to reuse/adapt this list to your needs.

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