I have a new pair of headphones. The Audio Technica ATH-M50x. If that just sounds like a bunch of letters and numbers to you, you’d be correct. Then again, most sentences are. What those words resemble in this case is Baby’s First Monitor Headphones. I’ve owned many pairs of headphones and bought replacement copies of these headphones too many times. This time though? I’ve doubled down and sprung for a more expensive, higher quality (I hope) pair that will last. In my rose tinted eyes, this was the right call. I have yet to be proven wrong. These are some serious shit, plus the tagline says that they’re “professional” headphones and a tagline would never lie to me. They were a present from myself to myself for putting up with a pair of throwaway Skullcandy earphones since August. So far they’ve brought large quantities of “happy” into my life. I’m excited to listen to the same 97GB of music all over again with fresh new ears. It’s gonna sound like a con or a platitude I’m telling myself to justify the purchase, but they’re actually making a huge difference.
Let’s get this out of the way; I’m no audiophile. Yes, I used to be a production engineer. I used to compose radio commercials/imaging and edit audio. It was more composition based on what sounded good, rather than any technical know how. I’ve never played an instrument, because I repeatedly tell myself it’s too late to learn. Why don’t I start now? Well I’m almost 29. Clearly it’s too late to learn.
With that out of the way, even in my layman state I’m picking out parts of tracks that I’ve never heard before. Most of my files are 320kbps, which is no FLAC, but still high enough quality to discover a ton of new sounds. It could be a harmony that I previously couldn’t separate in my head. It might be panning suddenly sticking out, that I’d previously just heard as part of the general mix. It might be a type of electronic click, hearing the delay tacked onto a note that previously was naught but atmosphere. Bass exists as a substantive presence and is now a physical sensation instead of just audible. I’m not gonna veer so trite as to say that it’s like hearing these songs for the first time. A better comparison would be seeing these songs performed live for the first time. By forging a visual connection between the sounds and the instrument creating them, it brings out something special in those same tracks you’ve heard to death. Listening on my new headphones, I’m actually able to pick apart the mix in a way I never could. For someone with no actual music education, it’s a remarkable difference.
Moments I’ve experienced so far:
- At the beginning of Animal Collective’s Summertime Clothes there are a bunch of pitch shifted vocals I could never discern. I’ve always enjoyed Animal Collective, but with shiny new cans there’s a depth of musicianship I couldn’t fully appreciate.
- LCD Soundsystem’s Dance Yrself Clean has always had a massive shift when the beat kicks in over the laconic opening. For the first time I think I felt my soul shudder with pleasure.
- The urge to dance to Rustie’s Glass Swords is irresistible when the sound seems to come from your heart. A crowded bus is no obstacle for fidgety feet.
- The National Fake Empire has one of my favourite intros around. The cohesive tension seems to fit so much better when you’re aware of the space between the two competing musical keys.
I still haven’t heard James Blake, The Beatles, Bowie or Venetian Snares. I almost wish my morning commute was longer if only to give me more time. I’ve been waiting years for headphones like these. Please let them last longer than my other pairs have.