True Story

In my day job I am a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service. I am also a parent. As a parent I tried to teach my children how to be safe in this world. I used every opportunity to dispense my words of wisdom as my children grew. We’ve all said things to our children like “Put that down, you’ll put your eye out” or “Don’t go in the street, you’ll get run over.” We say these things without realizing how our children might be interpreting what we said. I recently had an encounter that brought that home to me.

I was delivering mail to an apartment complex. This apartment was about one block away from a busy main street. You know the type, two lanes each direction and one center turn lane. Across the street was a bakery outlet store. My mail truck was parked directly behind me.

The apartment had a bank of mailboxes located in the parking lot. I had a bank of mailboxes open and was putting mail in when I saw this little girl approaching me. She was maybe 3 and a half or four years old. She walked up to me and punched me in the leg. When I looked down she pointed her little finger up at me and said, “Mommy and me are walking to the bread store. Don’t run us over.” I broke out laughing and promised her that I wouldn’t.

And no, she wasn’t wearing headphones.

This is the Proper Way to Insert Earbuds

Earbuds, those small in-ear style of headphones, have made great inroads in the area of audio reproduction.  They are everywhere and everyone (it seems) is wearing them.  But how many people know the proper way to insert these ubiquitous sound generating devices?  That is what this article is for.

Earbuds have basically three styles of earpieces; hard plastic (included with most portable MP3 players), soft plastic and foam.  Since the insertion techniques are similar for both hard and soft plastic earpieces, they will both be presented here.

First, determine the left and right earpiece, if applicable.  Hold the right earpiece in your right hand.  With your left hand, reach over the top of your head and grab the top of your right ear and pull up slightly.  With the wire from the earpiece pointed towards the front (parallel to the ground), insert the earpiece into the ear canal opening and rotate the earpiece  ¼  turn so the wire is hanging straight down.  Repeat the procedure for the left earpiece.  A good seal is critical to experience the full stereophonic effect.  Some people moisten the earpieces a bit to ensure a tight seal.  Additionally, opening your mouth while inserting your earbuds may help.

Earbuds with foam earpieces are a little easier to insert properly.  Squeeze and roll the earpiece between the thumb and forefinger, compressing the foam.  Place the earpiece into the ear opening and hold it there until the foam expands to fill the ear canal.  Repeat for the other earpiece.

There you have it, the proper way to insert earbuds.  Just remember, a good seal is your main objective. And don’t be surprised if one ear opening is slightly larger than the other.  Now go jam with the best of them, because music always sounds better with headphones.

What’s the Best Audio Format?

In our digital world, media files need to be formatted into files that can moved, stored and, of course, played.  Video files and audio files each have their own compression methods for accomplishing this.  For audio, there are many types of compression formats available.  The two that are most prevalent are MP3 and FLAC.  MP3’s are the default standard for the majority of digital audio files.  Buy a song from iTunes?  It’s an MP3.  Download an album from Amazon?  It’s an MP3.  Even most portable digital audio players are referred to as “MP3 players”.  So what is an MP3?

MP3, or MPEG-2 Audio Layer III, is a data compression algorithm that uses a ”lossy” format.  This means that those parts of a song outside the realm of normal human hearing are stripped, or lost, thus the lossy moniker.  This causes the MP3 file to be smaller than the original file.  An MP3 file recorded at 192k/bits from a CD will be approximately 10% the size of the original file format.

FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, as the name implies, is a “lossless” compression format.  Every nuance we can’t hear, but is present, is faithfully reproduced,  preserving the integrity of the original audio file, and is most often used to back-up personal CD and album libraries.  The FLAC file will be about 60% the size of the original file.  As any dedicated “deadhead” will tell you, Grateful Dead shows are sonically more sophisticated than their album work.  Many of their live shows from over the years are available online in FLAC format, faithfully reproducing everything the sound engineers incorporated into the show.  Many MP3 players can play FLAC files, too.

FLAC or MP3; which one you use is a personal preference.  But why choose?  Personally, I have both MP3 and FLAC libraries on my computer, with some of the same music recorded in both.  The MP3’s are for my various digital audio players (like potato chips, you can’t have just one).  The FLAC’s are for my high end office stereo.  I have the best of both, and that is a lot better than having to choose.  Either way, they both sound better with headphones.


Headphones or Earbuds?

Which is better, headphones or ear buds?  I hear this question all the time.  The simple answer is, headphones are better.  Their wider frequency response, larger drivers, or speakers, and over the ear molded padding make for a more comfortable and realistic listening experience.  But actually, the question itself is too generic.  When determining which is better, we need to ask what the application is.

For example, which is better for surfing, headphones or ear buds?  Ear buds are smaller, lighter in weight, and do not block peripheral vision.  Some earbuds are advertised as waterproof.  It is difficult to say the same things about headphones.  Also, headphones are more susceptible to damage during wipe-outs, due to their larger mass.  Of course, either style is useless without a waterproof audio source, such as an MP3 player.

So, which is better for listening to classical music?  Again, this question is a bit too generic.  Are you at home, sitting in a comfortable chair with a glass of wine in your hand (headphones), or are you listening between periods at a hockey game, with a cold Molson’s in your hand (ear buds)?  OK then, which one is better for driving?  Trick question!  Neither is better.  Most states have traffic laws restricting any type of headphone use while operating a motor vehicle.

Which is better, headphones or ear buds?  It all comes down to personal preference and intended use.  Either choice will give you hours of listening enjoyment.  The choice is yours.