is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
A few years ago I accidentally bought a pair of earbud-style headphones with what I later came to learn was a “J-cord” design — one side was longer than the other, so that you could wrap the longer side around the back of your neck and let the earbuds hang off your shoulders when they weren’t in your ears. They were a little awkward to manage at first, but when I eventually mastered them I also became a huge fan of the asymmetrical design. It’s incredibly convenient if you pop your earbuds in and out regularly.
Apparently, J-cords have fallen out of fashion now, as it’s become almost impossible to find a manufacturer that still makes them. Several weeks ago I asked Twitter for recommendations on finding new models, but got back almost nothing — there were plenty of suggestions for good earbud headphones, but almost all of them were the more traditional, symmetrical Y-cord style.
I did get one useful suggestion though: @joranovski recommended RHA’s MA450i earbuds, which sound excellent and are reasonably priced. They have a traditional Y-cord style design, but the cord is long enough that you can wrap it around the back of your neck before splitting the two cables, giving you much of the benefit of a J-cord. It’s not quite as elegant because I find myself sometimes losing track of which way I’ve wound the cord, and unwrapping it can be somewhat comical. The cording is also made of a braided fabric material which is quite pleasing to the touch, though it will pick up ambient sound on a blustery day, echoing a bit like a faint, howling wind. On a busy New York street, though, it’s hardly noticeable.
Anyway, there’s no big moral to this story other than J-cords are great. Someone should bring them back. In the meantime, though, the RHA MA450i’s are a decent substitute.+