Sunday, August 15, 2010

Crystal Clear Sound

So, the other day I wound up in Media Markt again, as I tend to do while waiting for a movie to start. There isn't really a whole lot else to do around Amsterdam Arena. This time I went in to look at TVs and headphones, because you can't see it all. There's just too much. Not that I ever intend to look at their selection of fridge-freezers or curling irons.

TVs and headphones are confusing and difficult to buy. I've looked for good headphones before, and when doing so you tend to get lots of advice from lots of places. Last time I bought a pair I got some Sennheisers, based on lots of people telling me that Sennheisers are good. So I bought some HD205s, which on paper should be decent for a pair that don't cost the earth. And when I put them on, they sounded great. Not a world away from what I have, but very good.

Their only real issue sprung up after about a half hour of usage, when I realised they acted on the skull like a pair of hooped plastic vicegrips. A problem I've been unable to rid them of. So I kept on using them in the knowledge that I'd spent good money on them and was going to get my value out of them. That was almost 18 months ago, and I feel like I've almost gotten value, so I'm looking for new headphones, and this time comfort is king.

Now before I asked all my friends, and they all said Sennheisers. This time I asked friends who were sound nerds. Almost all of them said Audio Technica. That's pretty straightforward. Unfortunately Media Markt don't do Audio Technica, so I'll leave out buying for now and just try them out. Media Markt lets you try on their headphones, which is nice of them.

I found that even the higher end Sennheisers are uncomfortable, so I wrote the lot of them off, even though they sound good. The Sony's were hit and miss, they all sounded good, but some were comfortable and some weren't. Most looked okay though, which is more than I can say for the silly shapes of the Sennheisers. The AKGs on the other hand, were all very comfortable, and some of them sounded absolutely fantastic. Though I  realised later that the best sounding ones cost in the region of €200-€300.

The pair I was considering buying were a €40 pair of AKGs. They looked rather plain and nondescript compared to the plastic and chrome of the high end, and were extremely comfortable. The store also had my HD205s on display, so I compared them to see. I found that on the HD205s, I could definitely hear far more instruments than on the AKGs, but what little I could hear on the AKGs was far clearer and just sounded better. I spent a while trying to figure out which was better, then tried on an €80 pair of Sonys that disgraced them both and decided not to buy anything. The best of the lot was still the €300 pair of AKGs, but I'm convinced I can get a pair as comfortable that sounds as good for less.

I only spent a brief time in the television department, as I've no intention to buy anything. I noticed trends amongst the brands. None of them were bad, so I felt I would be walking out with a good TV no matter what I picked. The Panasonics seemed to be the biggest, physically. The Sonys looked to be the most upmarket, with very nice stands. The Samsungs seemed to be the thinnest, with the most impressive being thinner than the width of my notebook. The LGs and budget ranged Samsungs looked to be the cheapest too.

The most impressive TVs by far, that I saw were the Sharp Aquos. I don't know if they can do black as well as the Panasonics, but every other colour is rich and vibrant. The picture was sharp and deep. It was just the most impressive in the store by far. And that includes the 100", €80,000 Panasonic on the wall.

One last thing I learned from looking at TVs. Sizes are misleading. There was a 32" TV in the house I've lived in all year. My dad at home as a 32" TV. They look big. I was walking amongst the TVs in Media Markt, and came to the smallest one in a row. I figured that €700 was a bit much for a TV that small. The thing looked tiny. Not much bigger than a computer monitor. Then I read the tag and realised the truth. It was a 40" television. The giant TVs screw up your perception.

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