Walking around with headphones?

Week of June 12, 2023

This is something that I honestly don’t get. This morning I saw a middle-aged man walking down the street with a set of headphones squarely on his head. Why? With all the wonderful open ear earbuds available today, why would anyone compromise their safety by wearing headphones when they’re out and about? I don’t care if they have the world’s best transparency mode. Unless they magnify outside sounds to overcome what’s playing in the headphones, they compromise your safety. “How so,” you ask? One of the benefits of headphones is immersion – being cut off from what’s going on around you. Do you really want that when you’re out walking? Sure the traffic noise can be a bit bothersome but it’s something you should be aware of at all times for your own safety. “But I can still see,” you say. Getting immersed in your music or podcast or whatever and you can easily miss that curb that’s coming up. Or the bicyclist coming up behind you yelling “On your right!” Or the car that’s jumped the curb behind you.

What are “open ear” buds? We covered that back in my column from June 23, 2022 (https://tonystakeontech.com/headphones-headsets-earbuds-oh-my/) but let’s review. Most ear buds sit IN your ears. Open ear buds sit OUTSIDE of your ears – hey don’t insert into your ear canal at all. Early in their development their sound was really inferior to the ones that insert into your ear but nowadays their speakers have gotten better and bigger and they more accurately target your ear canal so they sound more like what you hear from speakers. The two main points to them is that they don’t necessarily cut you off from what’s going on around you and you don’t have to shove anything into your ear canal – for some, that’s a painful and annoying experience.

I have 3 or 4 high end headphones and about a dozen open ear earbuds and I use the open earbuds almost exclusively. The only time I use the headphones is when I really do want to be cut off from the outside…and that’s pretty infrequently. Up until recently I’ve had to make a few compromises when using open ear buds. They all generally work well enough for music but I’ve had to use a mono earbud for phone calls because the open ear buds don’t pick up my voice very well or they pick up too much of the sound around me. Many of the lower priced open ear buds can’t be connected to two devices (e.g. phone and laptop) at the same time so if you want to switch from your phone to your laptop you have to disconnect them from one and connect them to the other. And most can’t be used to watch a video or TV – the sound is out of sync with the video. Then, of course, there’s battery life – it’s too short to allow me to use them on and off all day long without taking an inordinate amount of time to recharge their batteries.

Recently I found a pair of open ear buds that sufficiently addresses all of these shortcomings and, I have to admit, I’m impressed! They’re not terribly cheap but they’re not terribly expensive either, costing about $100 as of this writing. They’re the Lavales Open Ear Wireless Headphones available at Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BYNF64NG (I get no compensation for this – I just like them a LOT). They’re light and they come with a case that recharges them.

Are they perfect? No. You can’t control the volume from the earbuds and the wire that goes behind your ear can’t be bent to better conform to your ear. But they’re miles ahead of all the other open ear buds that I have. Battery life is great and the sound is excellent as far as I’m concerned without getting into ridiculously priced high end ear buds. Are there others that are just as good, if not better? Undoubtedly, but I’ve not found them and I’m always looking. Give these a try. Not only when out for a walk but as your regular ear buds. They’re from Amazon so you can easily return them if you’re not happy. And if you do give them a try, drop me a note and let me know what you think.

That’s all for this week’s column. I hope I’ve sufficiently impressed you with the dangers of using headphones when out and about and shown you a usable alternative.. Don’t hesitate to write to me if you have questions!

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