Best Headphones Ever

Thu June 20 2019 by Christopher Aedo


Around 10 years ago I was traveling enough to where I thought I deserved some fancy noise-cancelling heaphones. At the time, Bose was the king of that space so I bought the QuietComfort 2 headphones. I loved them, but I could only keep them on for maybe two hours at a time at the very most. The pressure on my ears bothered me, but I also found the sound pressure of the cancellation noise got to me after a while... Maybe that wasn't it exactly? Though they worked great on planes, even if I just had them on with no audio going that kind of quiet hiss that was always going on became unpleasant.

Recently I wanted to find new headphones that sounded great and that I could use for a few hours (or a whole day) without issues. A conversation with a friend led me to these Etymotic ER23-HF3 earbuds coupled with custom-molded inserts for my ears. I made them myself with this Radians Earplugs kit, and I was shocked at how amazing they sounded.

Making the molds actually took me two tries - the first attempt I just did not get it down into my ear canal enough for it to work well. The second ones worked out really well and sounded incredible. I used this set for six or seven months and at least a dozen flights. It was great, though I suspected the fit could still be better.

I went to a local audiologist and had professional molds made (pictured above). These were a big step up from the home-made molds I was using. I finally had what were by a long shot the best sounding and most comfortable headphones/earbuds I had ever owned. The only drawback was the fact that they were wired. Most of the time plugging them into my computer (for music or webex) or my phone in my pocket (for music or phone calls) was fine, but I still snagged the wire often enough for it to be annoying.

There are lots of Bluetooth adapters I could use but not surprisingly the cheap one I bought for $12 did not sound great. It was certainly acceptable for conference calls but beyond that, it kind of sucked. The problem was the audio codec, and none of the cheap ones support APT-X. Also I hadn't really thought about Bluetooth audio codecs until after I got that cheapie and found the quality sucked.

I had heard of adapters from Fiio and thought this comparison/review of several Bluetooth audio adapters was really good. I had already seen the Fiio BTR1K recommended multiple places and was happy to see it stood up well in the comparison.

When I first tried it out though, I could not get my machine (OSX) to use aptX codec, it kept only connecting with the SCO codec (on OSX you can see what codec a Bluetooth device is using by holding down option while clicking the Bluetooth dropdown in your menu-bar, then hovering over whichever device you want to see). Turns out because the BTR1K has a built-in microphone there was not enough bandwidth for the better codec. Switching the sound-input device to "Internal Microphone" was all it took, a few seconds later it switched to the better codec and suddenly the audio sounded nearly as good as being directly plugged in.

Including the custom ear molds (and some discounts here and there) the whole setup including Bluetooth adapter cost about $300. It's not cheap, but I don't expect to replace them any time soon. Honestly they're so comfortable and great sounding I feel like it was a pretty worthy investment.