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Throw Out Those Smartphone Earbuds and Buy a Pair of Proper Headphones
  - A Primer on Audio Systems (4)
  - Sony/Shure/Audio Technica/Sennheiser/Yamaha | GEAR & BUSINESS #004
2021/07/12 #004

Throw Out Those Smartphone Earbuds and Buy a Pair of Proper Headphones
- A Primer on Audio Systems (4)
- Sony/Shure/Audio Technica/Sennheiser/Yamaha

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Planner / Editor / Event Organizer



Modern lifestyles entail a lot of listening to music while in transit—in Tokyo’s case, on the train.

For listening to music, speakers are traditionally the best, but today I’d like to give my picks to put together a portable sound system for the person on the go.

My recommendation? Stop listening to MP3-quality music files on your smartphone using the earbuds that were included. Instead, get a portable audio player that plays back CD-quality (44.1 kHz / 16-bit) or high-resolution (96 kHz / 24-bit) audio, and use quality headphones.

2.Portable Equipment Picks

To get the best possible sound, one way to go is to use a headphone amplifier with your portable audio player, but as we are talking about a basic system for when you are on the move, those without experience will not need to go so far.

Regarding a portable audio player, I recommend something from the Sony Walkman series, which you can purchase at any consumer electronics retailer.

As for headphones, I recommend something for professional use. For durability I recommend Shure products, and for all-around excellence I recommend Audio-Technica. For listening to a variety of genres of music, Sennheiser products give you well-rounded sound.

Portable Audio Player and Headphone Picks

3.Listening to CDs

If you are going to be listening to music, get rid of the MP3s and downloads, and at the very least, listen to music on CDs. (Or even better, vinyl records, SACDs, or high-resolution audio.) In Japan, you can get your hands on CDs for very little at rental shops. If you want to buy, you can get used CDs for really cheap on online stores. So for people serious about listening to music, make CDs your baseline.

CD sound quality in the 20th century was not as good as vinyl record sound quality. But the CDs you can buy today—or in cases where a 20th century recording has been remastered—you can get sound quality around the same level as vinyl records.

The audio setup I want to recommend today involves connecting a high-end consumer audio CD player to professional-use powered speakers (speakers that have a built-in amplifier, which professionals use in the studio to do soundchecks).

Connect RCA cables to the output of the CD player, and connect phone plugs into the input of the powered speakers.

For cables, opt for professional audio cables (which have sturdy plugs and balanced sound) instead of the kind of high-end consumer audio cables (the kind they sell at big consumer electronics stores).

As for speakers, the sound will change drastically depending on how you set them up. Try using speaker pedestals and experimenting with different positions.

Another thing to consider is power. Using a basic professional-use power strip will give you stable sound.

To understand what well-balanced sound is, I recommend connecting a pair of Sony studio monitors headphones—an industry standard here in Japan, where it is called the “red line”. Purchase the Sony MDR-CD900ST.

As for powered speakers, both the Yamaha HS5 and the MSP5 STUDIO are known as excellent studio monitors, and both live up to their reputations. Choose one based on the size of your room or your budget; choose the one with the look you like. The HS5 takes after the Yamaha NS-10, which was a world-class near-field studio monitor speaker.

Picks for Listening to CDs

Powered speakers
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Cable (RCA−phone)
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4.A Mac-Based Audio System

If you are someone who regularly listens to music on their Mac, I recommend setting up an audio system that can playback high-resolution audio.

For a PC setup you won’t find much difference between different external hard drives and USB cables, but for this article I will assume this is just a first step, and introduce several products used by the pros.

Yes, it is possible to listen to music on your computer through the internal speakers or through headphones or earphones, but I’d like to recommend using a DAC (a digital-to-audio converter, which converts digital music data into analog) in order to enjoy high-resolution sound.

I’ve chosen a Fostex brand DAC and powered speakers. These can be connected using a cable from Kanare, a Japanese professional audio equipment maker that makes products used by television stations.

Both the DAC and the powered speakers can be connected using RCA cables.

As for headphones, Japanese maker Audio-Technica has made models that have a very Japanese, gentle sound.

These headphones are great for listening to music at night in a small room.

Picks for Enjoying Music on your Mac

External CD drive
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External hard drive
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Powered speakers
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So far in this primer series on audio systems I’ve covered:
Audio Equipment for Listening to Music at Home
On Production Environments for “DTM"
Pro Audio Versus High-End Consumer Audio
Throw Out Those Smartphone Earbuds and Buy a Pair of Proper Headphones

Next time I’ll be going over some quality CD recordings that are perfect for testing out the fidelity of equipment—specifically, my classical, jazz, and rock picks.


Throw Out Those Smartphone Earbuds and Buy a Pair of Proper Headphones

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