Ears Of Experience
The Urbanears Plattans are fashion-forward, stylish and very trendy. And they deliver a sound that is nicely bass-heavy and, while not excellent, very pleasing to the ears. No, the Urbanears Plattans aren’t a band—although I can well imagine encountering a band with that kind of a name. The Plattans are my newest addition to an embarrassingly large hoard of headphones and earphones that I have collected over the years.
Actually, I don’t think I should be embarrassed about the size of my headphone/earphone collection (it’s not nearly as many as the number of shoes Imelda Marcos reportedly had—3,000 in size eight-and-a-half!). It’s just that I can’t resist buying a new pair of phones if they catch my fancy. A Scandinavian group makes the Urbanears Plattans and they’re conventional on-ear headphones. Only, they’re anything but conventional. They have a head-strap that fits like a woman’s headband, earpieces that have a post-modern design with a matt finish and a fabric cable that doesn’t tangle. And here’s the thing: they come in any colour that you can imagine. Aubergine? Yes, they do that. Light Blue? Navy? Pink? Grey? Grass? Cerise? Yes, yes, yes…. You can get them in all of those colours and more. I got a black one (yes, I’m old-fashioned) although I did toy with going for the cool lavender one for a minute or two before going conservative.
Anyway, the thing about headphones, as everyone knows, is not really how they look but how they fit and sound. The Plattans are light and fit well but they’re not exactly going to blow your mind with their sound quality. I like their deep bass, which is heavy, if a bit muddy, but the mid and high notes leave a bit to be desired. Yet, listening to hip-hop or rap on the Plattans can be quite a treat. I heard Arular, the debut album by M.I.A. (or Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam), the British rapper of Sri Lankan descent on my new acquisition and it was nice. Of all the three albums she’s released (the other two are 2007’s Kala and last year’s Maya), I like the 2005 debut album the best. She’s feisty and combative and sings about the politics of conflict in Sri Lanka. The name of the album was the assumed name that her father went by during his involvement with the Tamil militant groups in Lanka.
I tried listening to the new R.E.M. album, Collapse Into Now, on the Plattans. It’s an album that has a refreshing, vintage R.E.M. sound and has, among others, Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, doing vocal duty on some tracks. I liked it a lot when I heard it on my stereo (despite the nose-in-the-air Pitchfork giving it a measly 6.8) but on the Plattans it sounded flat. Michael Stipe’s or Vedder’s or Smith’s vocals sounded bland and the overall experience wasn’t that great either. I switched from the Plattans to my most coveted (at least at this moment) earphones, the Klipsch X10i. Unlike the Plattans, which are headphones that sit on top of your ears, the Klipsch fit snugly into your ear canals. Unlike the Plattans, which are very reasonably priced (just Rs 2000), these boys from Klipsch are, well, a bit expensive (How much? You’ll have to find that out yourself; I want to avoid the consequences of putting down in print how much I paid for those).
But the Klipsch X10is are worth every bit of what you can buy them for. They’re deceptively small and light and come with oval silicon eartips and some really mind-boggling technology. Fit them into your ears and listen to anything and you’ll discover sounds that you never knew were on the recording. After R.E.M.’s Collapse Into Now, which sounded far better than they had on the fashionable Plattans, I switched to Canadian indie rockers Arcade Fire and their latest, The Suburbs. Arcade Fire makes theatrical and grand music and use instruments that include the usual guitars, piano, bass, etc., but also double bass, xylophones, the hurdy gurdy, horns, accordions, violins, cellos, harps, mandolins and more. On the Klipsch, you actually hear how each of these instruments and realize just how complex Arcade Fire’s music really is. The highs and lows are well defined and what is best, the middles and vocals are sharp and not fuzzy.
That is really the true test of any headphone or earphone: how good they are with the middles. Over the ears, I’ve experimented with dozens of phones. Some, like Shure’s SE series of in-ear models are great (although I’ve at least once had to visit an ENT specialist to deal with impacted earwax as a result of using them too much; this was before I read somewhere that it is recommended that you get your ear canals flushed regularly if you use the in-ear types too often!) although my personal preference is for their new near-professional conventional headphones. I have their SRH 440, which at around Rs 4000 deliver huge value for money, particularly if you listen to them via an amplifier.
The fact is, like shoes (for some people), there is no end to how many you can buy or how much you can pay for a headphone (I know of some that can set you back by a couple of lakhs of rupees). It all depends on how obsessive you are about them.
You may have noticed that I haven’t talked about noise-cancelling headphones (I hate the active “anti-noise signals” that they emit). You may have also noticed that I sneakily wrote about headphones and not music on a Sunday that my co-columnist and gadget guru, Rajiv Makhni, has taken a leave of absence from writing Techilicious!