I’ve had quite a few earphones in my time, most of which have come with Walkmans or phones or iPods. I’m not a big user of earphones because I dislike jamming things into my ears. I also have weird ears so that very few of these things tend to sit firmly in them (especially the left one), slipping out without too much provocation. I’m also horrified by the obscene prices that some of these things command.

I bought a pair of Sony XBA-10s many years ago, the first pair of earphones that I bought voluntarily, but I never used them that much partly because this was in the days when I had comparatively little music, and partly because I was, as I said above, never keen on sticking them in my ears. They are what is called balanced armature, which is when a reed is placed between two magnets, which allows for decent sound production in a very small space (overall, the earphones are 25mm long [including the rubber bit on the end] and about 8mm wide).

My Sony Walkman NW-A25HN came with a pair of earphones, which resemble Sony’s MDR-750s, although they may be a lower-spec version.

As I was listening to Pierre de la Rue’s Missa Nuncqua fue pena mayor & Missa Inviolata off my laptop through my E17K, I switched between the XBA-10s and the 750s. I’ve been listening to music through the latter quite a bit recently and have felt that the sound quality was much better than I predicted it’d be. Out of curiosity, I thought I’d put them up against the XBA-10s, and the result is, er… The older earphones weren’t the most expensive, and breadth of sound is a little narrow, but the overall quality is decent enough albeit is a little treble. The 750s sound more headphone-like, producing more breadth and a greater richness of sound.

When I listened to Afro Celt Sound System Vol. 3, the quality of the sound from these earphones remains apparent.

I then tried the MDR-1aDAC headphones (just to keep everything Sony), and as I expected, the sound was broader again, but it didn’t have me thinking what lesser devices either pair of earphones was. It seems that I underrated the XBA-10s somewhat. Since I’m looking for some way of judging MP3s against CD-quality against 24-bit SQ music, these earphones with their better noise cancelling may be just the ticket; or they may confirm what I already know.

I tried both pairs with different quality versions of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. The 750s had it over the XBA-10s, but it did seem to be more to do with the breadth of sound in the way it seemed to fill my head. The same is true of Guerrero’s Congratulamini mihi (The Cardinall’s Musick; Hyperion; 24 bit). Of course, nothing beats a pair of decent speakers.

I tried listening to some Afro Celt Sound System Vol. 3 with the 750s plugged directly into the iPod Touch, the sound is not so great, but when the Touch is connected to the PHA-1a, the sound quality improves noticeably. The XBAs didn’t mind being plugged directly into the Touch.

I went out to an electronics shop called Sundan (顺电) in a mall called Coastal City (海岸城), which is way out close-ish to Taihu, which had a range of headphones and earphones, and bought myself a pair of Sennheiser Momentum in-ears (black chrome) because I thought it was about time I had something nice in this department. I put them up against my Momentum headphones and would say that the sound quality is similar, but with the earphones more intimate and with the headphones more spacious.

Life and whatever in the imperium sericum.

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