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 Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair 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. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
The best deal I’ve gotten lately is this pair of DJ-style headphones from the unassumingly fantastic technical retailer Monoprice.com, best known for selling incredibly cheap cables of all sorts. I’ve been a customer for years (and if you have any kind of cabling needs, you should be too), but I was surprised to realize lately that they are trying to branch out into more general consumer product categories.
Monoprice is tackling headphones and computer models — and soon high-end audio equipment, car audio, and home automation hardware — with the same pricing strategy that they brought to cables: they “try to make sure that we’re about fifty percent below what a retailer would be selling that product for.” In many cases, they easily clear this bar. The company’s earbud-style headphones, for instance, start at less than US$3 each. The headphones I bought cost just US$21. (Warning, each customer is allowed to buy just ten pairs. Sorry.)
Adding More to Cheap
You can get cheap headphones in just about any dollar store, of course, but Monoprice’s have been widely reviewed as being comparable to headphones in the US$100 and up range. They also sound excellent, as most reviews attest to. In short, they are a ridiculous bargain, but even better, they include an incredibly smart design feature that I haven’t seen before in these DJ-style headphones (admittedly, I’m no audiophile and know very little about the category beyond having owned a few pairs of Sony MDR-V6s): the wire from the headphones is not fixed.
There is a standard, 3.5 mm audio jack at the bottom of the left headphone into which you can plug any standard male-to-male audio cable (including either of the two that ship in the box). This means that should the cable fail — and in these kinds of headphones, it’s the cables that almost always go first — you don’t need to toss them into the trash, open up the earpieces to solder in a new wire, or even pay someone to repair them for you. All you need to do is buy a US$3 replacement cable. Like I said, incredibly smart, and a huge bonus that I would have paid well over US$21 for. Making something for cheap is one thing, but adding great design to it too turns it into an amazing product.+