Headphones Broken and Repaired Once More

Yesterday, tragedy struck in the form of an excited kitty hunting for a sky raisin (known as “flies” to non-cat owners). Little Geralt was so excitedly jumping from floor to comfy chair to window that he slighly missed the windowsill and in his frantic scramling he discovered my headphones where not the lifeline he was looking for. As a result, they got dashed to the floor like a 16th century ship to a rocky shore and cleft in twain. I am bereft of headphones. I’d replaced the pads, the cables, and even the drivers on this little ship of Theseus, but this time it’s one of the plastic mechanical components. Audio-Technica is not in the habit of providing many replacement components, and the process of even getting to a request form for what they do offer is troublesome.

Fortunately, the break point was not a pressure point as I initially suspected it was. Most headphones clamp slightly on your head to stay on properly, and I had assumed that the breakpoint, being so near the hinge, would experience some forces from that. Fortunately, some liberal application of a glue gun had the section set quite nicely, and I’m now using the headphones once more!

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Headphones Repaired!

A while back, I posted about intending to repair my headphones. Well, today, the new drivers came in that I needed to repair my headphones, and I went ahead and got it done right away. It was so simple and swift, that it didn’t really even make sense to document it in pictures. It was a simple driver from AliExpress that just needed two wires soldered to it, and that was it. For 1/10th of the price of a new pair of headphones and about five minutes of work, I’ve now repaired my ATH-M50x’s, in the hopes of having many more years of use out of these.

Headphone Repair Incoming?

Quite some time back, my pair of ATH-M50x’s broke down, and I had resigned myself to buying a new pair of headphones. That’s been an agonizing struggle, since this pair has lasted me for quite a few years; so, naturally, I’m assuming (demanding?) that the next pair I buy should last me another decade or so. So, for weeks now, I’ve been going back and forth over several types, and causing Tracy quite some grief as I want to talk out the minutiae of things she has absolutely no interest in.

This morning, I had the spontaneous idea to open the headphones up and have a peek inside. After all, they were already broken – what could it really hurt? So, I carefully start opening it up, and taking my multimeter to it. I deduce that the cable is actually fine and so are the wires inside the headset. In fact, the only fault I can find is in the right speaker. A foolish idea dawns on me. Could I just repair this headset on my own? A quick browse on Aliexpress shows me that I could get a replacement audio driver for about €16. Sure, it won’t be the Audio-Technica brand driver but it’s 45mm with 35Ohm impedance (well, that’s what it’s advertised as – this is Aliexpress we’re talking about), which is exactly what the headset uses.

We’re talking a difference between €16 and ~€200 here; even if I can’t manage to fix the headset, the cost/benefit of giving it a try is absolutely worth it. Particularly if I can get another couple of years out of the thing. So, perhaps in a month or so (that’s when the package should be arriving), I might be writing about a successful repair. Or at least an interesting failure.

Quest for new headphones

So, a while back my old headphones, a decent pair of ATH-M50X broke. They’ve served me well for over seven or eight years or so, though they did need some work. I ended up replacing the earpads with some velour ones, as the regular ones ended up making my ears really uncomfortable. I also ran into the standard problem with ATH-M50Xs, which is the broken hinge for which I had to insert a paperclip to keep it going. And, as they all tend to do in the end, the headband started flaking off, so I had to replace that with a cover. So, now that these have broken, I have been looking around for a new pair.

One thing that’s rather important for me in headphones is easy of replacing each part. I used to buy Sennheiser headphones before I had my ATH-M50X, and invariably the cable would break, rendering the otherwise fine headphones useless. With the ATH-M50X, however, I could replace the cables twice over its lifespan, and it still worked fine, up until the actual right speaker died on me. So, my first requirement is for parts of the headphones to be replaceable, and most importantly the cable. Secondary to that would be having non-proprietary parts; one downside to the ATH-M50X is that the cable has a proprietary hinge, meaning that you heavily limit the cables you can buy.

Back when I bought my other headphones, they were pretty top-of-the-line as far as budget headphones went. Now, of course, we’re almost a decade further on, and the market has apparently moved on quite a bit as well. I’m very tempted by the AKG K702, a set of open headphones that get rather good reviews (which, incidentally, is much cheaper in the Netherlands). The advantage of open headphones, apparently, is that they have a much larger soundstage than closed headphones, resulting in much more authentic sound. The downside of this is sound bleed: because the headphones are open, you will hear more outside noises, and the outside will hear what you’re listening to as well. So, these are generally recommended for indoor use.

Before, I used headphones quite a lot while out and about, because I had a four-hour commute daily. Now that I have moved, my travel time to work is reduced to only a couple of minutes. The main use for headphones while traveling now would be for airplanes, for which open headphones are decidedly unsuitable. During COVID-19, this isn’t so much of a concern, but once this apocalypse is over, Tracy and I would like to visit her family in America again on a regular basis, so it’s a serious consideration to make.

It looks like the AKG K371s are a decent compromise to make, or possibly a pair of AKG K271 for a similar form factor to the K702 (which I do appreciate quite a lot). I’m struggling with the question whether I should sacrifice the audio quality of an open-back set of headphones for a situation which, frankly, probably isn’t happening often anymore. Before COVID-19, I would likely travel by plane two or three times per year which, added to the several hours of commute per day, did necessitate the closed-back headphones. Now, though, I may just settle for a really good pair of headphones for around the apartment, and perhaps a much cheaper set for once we start traveling again.

Incidentally, right now, I’m using a set of Bose QuietComfort 35 II and they are just awful headphones. They are not comfortable to wear for longer periods at all, and the sound quality is surprisingly low. It’s overly bassy, and sounds quite boxy, with an extremely narrow soundstage (then again, what else to expect from Bluetooth headphones?). When Tracy tried them on, she described the experience as claustrophobic. The one thing that these headphones do much better than any other set I have ever used is active noise cancelling – without a doubt they are the king in that respect. If they weren’t so expensive, I would buy a pair of these just for plane travel.