Monday, October 10, 2011

No Bud of Mine

With all the encomiums, most of them deserved, heaped upon Steve Jobs' head in the past week or so, it's worth remembering that he is also responsible for one of the true scourges of the modern music fan: the earbud. I don't know if the earbud existed prior to the introduction of the iPod, but that's when I first encountered it, and when it becamse ubiquitous. It was fitting for an Apple product: simple, sleek, discreet, no doubt cheap. Remember those early commercials, with the Kara Walker-style black silhouettes of people grooving to their new iPods? Those ads were as much about the earbud as they were about the iPod.

There was only one problem with earbuds: They don't work. Maybe my ears are unnaturally small, but I could never keep those things in place at all. I don't mean they would fall out if I moved my head around too vigorously; they would fall out if I nodded "yes."

I never used the earbuds that came with my iPod, but at the time I was able to find some headphones that hung snugly over the ear, with a tiny speaker nestled on top of the tragus. Recently, though, out of some misguided sense of paternal devotion, I lent those to my son, who liked them so much I ended up giving them to him. What he didn't realize was that I had direct access to the family's bank account, and could thus go buy a new pair for myself.

What I didn't realize is that all you can get these days are earbuds. Since they were an Apple product, and everyone knows Apple products are designed perfectly, they took over the market. When I went to Best Buy, I found earphones with a similar design as my old pair, ones that attached to the top of the ear, but the speaker was the modern form of the earbud, a little rubber raspberry perched on a stick that's supposed to be plugged into your ear. When I didn't have my hand pressed to the side of my head, they stayed in for about 20 seconds. At least the frame keeps them on my ears, unlike the classic free-form earbuds, but since they're so loosely placed in my earhole, the sound tends to be thin and tinny.

But unless you want those '70-style headphones that clamp over your ears, this appears to be the only option now. After all, they're so sleek and well-designed. I guess for a generation of people who only otherwise listen to music coming out of their computer's speaker, they're good enough.

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