Tue 05 Apr
Okay, I’m getting a little concerned about iPod theft on New York City’s subways, which are up 24 percent over the same period last year, according to recent police reports. It’s been a long time since I really thought that anything I carried about my person was in danger of being stolen — or would make me a candidate for a mugging — in New York, but something about the ubiquity and attractiveness of iPods make that scenario seem not quite so far fetched now. I could just stop using my iPod on subways, but a less counter-intuitive and more agreeable solution would be to replace those telltale white earbuds with something a little more discreet. As a side benefit, it will prevent me from appearing, as a commenter suggested in a previous post I wrote about iPods in New York, to be a “tool of Apple.”
But when I searched for “earbuds,” I realized I had no idea which ones I should buy. So I scratched out a few quick requirements:
I’m not a huge audiophile, but I do appreciate decently delivered sound — to my ears, the earbuds that ship with an iPod qualify as decent. I’d like to replace them with a pair that’s just as good or better, preferably in the US$50 range, but I have no idea where to begin. I hear some good things about Sony’s Fontopia headphones, but i’m loathe to buy them, because everything I’ve ever owned from that company has broken down irretrievably and disappointingly within eighteen months of purchase.
Also, I’m pretty certain I don’t need — nor is it safe for me to purchase — earbuds with noise-canceling technology. I walk to work, and being isolated from environmental noise strikes me as potentially very dangerous; I need to be able to hear that big UPS truck hurling down the street as I step off the sidewalk.
I have this idea, perhaps outlandish, that whatever earbuds I buy will finally, after over fifteen years of dealing with earbuds and headphones of all kinds, offer some unique and usable cord management. At this year’s South by Southwest, the folks at the Playlist booth were giving away free earbuds integrated with a retractable coil device. It was the right idea, if not marvelously executed; the cords rolled up discreetly if somewhat clumsily. The quality of the sound output was pretty much what you’d expect from conference swag, but if I could find a pair of quality headphones in a similar form factor, it’d be an easy sale.
Actually, my favorite subway theft deterrent at the moment is a bit simpler and cheaper. There’s been a lot of anecdotal and empirical evidence that, lately, the subway system has been plagued with service delays, especially on the West side of Manhattan, but nearly everywhere and unpredictably. I think the city’s underground transit system, for all its shortcomings, is a thing of beauty and an immutable part of New York’s character. But for the time being, I’d rather avoid it altogether and, if possible, walk wherever I’m going, plugged into my iPod.