I hate all headphones, I need headphones
February 3, 2022 10:41 PM   Subscribe

I hate headphones but I want them so bad for podcasts, audiobooks and calls. If I could do a brain implant, I would. My ear canals are small and sensitive so I hate in-ear shapes - the ipod earbuds hurt. Big comfy overheads get hot and sweaty when I'm walking, bluetooth runs out of charge or won't connect (iphone/mac/windows) and I get tangled up in cables - although I would take wired if it meant none of the other problems. Please, there must be other people with tiny angry ears out there who have found a solution.
posted by dorothyisunderwood to Shopping (39 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe bone conduction headphones?
posted by supercres at 10:59 PM on February 3, 2022 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Have you tried "on ear" (vs "over ear") headphones? If you haven't, the decades-old Koss Porta-Pro might be work for you - the speaker cushion sits on top of your ear rather than covering the whole thing. It folds for putting away during your walking sessions, it's wired, and the reason it's a "decades old" design is that it sounds good. It runs about $50 on Amazon but looks like there are $12 knockoffs as well.
posted by troyer at 11:07 PM on February 3, 2022 [9 favorites]

I use headphones more than your average person, I think, for both business and pleasure. My solution has been to accept that there is no holy grail set and the switching between multiple options is the best answer. When working, I use the Google Pixel in-ear buds. I find them comfortable enough, and their sound/microphone quality is excellent for calls that stay in my ears rather than echoing throughout my place. For pleasure I alternate between a wired set of hi-fi over-ears at home and a Bluetooth over-ears set for when I'm out and about. When I run I have a rubberized set of over-ears that are connected by a tether. I've accumulated these through trial and error over years, and I think that's what you have to do: try them on and see what works. None of these individual solutions is great for every application, but that said I would absolutely recommend the Jabra over-ears if you're curious about testing them out. They aren't too sweaty, the noise-minimizing tech is beautiful, they're physically comfortable, and the Bluetooth is strong and simple and not prone to technical problems. If I were forced to save one of my options and let go of all the rest the Jabra set would be the one.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:34 PM on February 3, 2022

i was just about to say bone conduction too! i love them, but not in crowded spaces - I'm too easily distracted by other inputs. but for long-term wear it's pretty solid. I use them in zoom watch parties, so the media goes into that, while chatter comes out of another set of speakers, and my ears don't feel sore after a few hours of listening. And these days, you can get solid China ones at really affordable prices, though battery life per charge can be variable, but good enough if you can do regular recharging.
posted by cendawanita at 12:00 AM on February 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

I gave a roughly 90,000-word answer to a similar question recently, so I won't repeat any of it here but just link. That (Anker Soundcore Life U2 but with some custom mods) has been my best answer to similar requirements.

Particularly, cutting/slitting the rubber ear inserts, or just removing the entire 'dome' part by cutting it off with scissors, or just removing the entire rubber dome from this type of earbud have been ways I have tried to accommodate my (apparently fairly small) ear canals. However, your ear canals may be smaller yet than mine, so no guarantees.

I actually almost like it best to use the type of earbuds that take the silicon/rubber dome but then just remove the rubber dome altogether. That leaves you with the skinniest possible thing to go in your ears. Unfortunately the plastic earbud without a silicone tip installed often irritates the inside of the ear after some days of usage, so I've gone back to installing the smallest available silicone tip and just slitting it, which helps to make it functionally smaller and also eliminates the "head in a bucket" effect that I hate.

Also removing the silicone tip will cut the bass down a lot, but I just compensate for this via a graphic equalizer as described in the linked post. I like to do this for all cheap earphones anyway (ie, anything less than about $300 or $500) so for me that is no big deal - YMMV.
posted by flug at 12:03 AM on February 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

I also find earbuds fairly uncomfortable, and big over-ear headphones too hot.

The best thing I've found is AKG on-ear headphones, which are fairly light, padded, but only about 2" across. They leave space around the ears, and I find that much more bearable.

Mine are an older, wired model, but there are wireless models that look similar, such as the AKG N60NC or the Y50BTBLK.
posted by pipeski at 2:49 AM on February 4, 2022

Have you tried "on ear" (vs "over ear") headphones? If you haven't, the decades-old Koss Porta-Pro might be work for you

The granddaddy of all those designs is the Sennheiser HD414, or the slightly wider, flatter and bassier but very nearly as lightweight HD424. They both sound really good.

I had a pair of the original white and blue HD414s for many years (a burglar got them, eventually) and your question has prompted me to go looking for another set, so thanks!
posted by flabdablet at 2:56 AM on February 4, 2022 [4 favorites]

Came here to mention the light, non-sweaty, non-earcanal-molesting, although wired and non-soundblocking Sennheiser HD424, which is still my all-time favourite (need to get a new set of pads, though), but Flabdablet already did so.
posted by Stoneshop at 3:41 AM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

I can't deal with earbuds but like over-ear headphones a lot. But, I don't like wearing them in situations where I am likely to work up any kind of a sweat. For exercise, I have a set of Plantronics Backbeat Fit and they're great. Your ears may be more sensitive than mine but I don't find them irritable at all.
posted by synecdoche at 3:51 AM on February 4, 2022

I came here to recommend on-ear headphones too! I'm really happy with my Jabra Elite 45h and they have good sound quality for phone calls, too.
posted by bighappyhairydog at 4:00 AM on February 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

You might do well with sleep earbuds like these, that are made to be thin and squishy enough to not be perceptible when sleeping on your side. I wouldn't say they're 100% successful at that, but they're pretty good, and those qualities might help them not be painful for you.
posted by trig at 4:01 AM on February 4, 2022

I hear you (no pun intended).

The solution back in the day would be neckband headphones (ex1, ex2). Unfortunately this style of headphone is not super common these days (outside bone conduction, and assorted nameless brands on Amazon).

I don't really have a good answer for you in 202x. I have never found any sort of headphone that enters my ear canal comfortable. For Zoom calls/ computer listening, I often use a usb headset.

I do concur with others that you are probably looking for an "on ears" solution.
posted by oceano at 5:01 AM on February 4, 2022

Until they killed the headphone jack on iPhone I used cheap on ear models like these JVC ones or others in the $10 range. They don’t sound amazing but I found them good enough for walks and other general use. The advantage is they tend to be very light and not annoying to wear, and if they break it’s no big deal to get others.
posted by freecellwizard at 5:04 AM on February 4, 2022

trig's answer made me think of sleephones, a headband style headphone. I've never used them so can't attest to their quality, but they certainly look comfier than in-ear or over-ear options.
posted by carlypennylane at 5:10 AM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have very sensitive hearing, tinnitus, and lots of other related sensitivities, and I also own the Anker Soundcore Life U2 mentioned above and would highly recommend. They are light and don't make me sweat at all. Ridiculously cheap and perform as well as a lot of very expensive models that I tested beforehand.
posted by mani at 5:12 AM on February 4, 2022

Best answer: the decades-old Koss Porta-Pro might be work for you

I was going to suggest these. I bought a pair not so long ago and was amazed how good they sound. And also how comfortable.

The only downside is that - because they’re very collapsible and foldable - the headband tends to collapse when you take them off and you have to put them back to the right size when you put them on. I understand the headband can also pull on hair a bit if you’re lucky enough to have it :) Both problems could be solved by replacing the headband (there’s a common replacement by “Parts Express”).

An alternative would be the Koss KSC75 which has no headband, and each one clips over your ear. Apparently they also sound good, with a bit less bass than the Porta Pros (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).
posted by fabius at 5:18 AM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Would something like Sony's Sony's wearable speakers work for you? I got them for watching movies in the evening, but other folks in the house have started using them to listen to podcasts while puttering around. The audio bleeds out into the room, but unless the volume is extremely loud I don't find it annoying. I've made a few phone calls and have not received any complaints about quality.
posted by phil at 5:28 AM on February 4, 2022

Best answer: Nthing the Koss Portapro, you will not find a better bang for your buck in terms of sound quality for the money. They also make a wireless version. Protip: some people find the earpads uncomfortable but the larger, cushier Yaxipads are much more comfortable.
posted by mattholomew at 6:16 AM on February 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: On handling wires, there are learned skills to manage the wires. Try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHNfcpqebW8

The key is the figure 8 does not twist the wire so it doesn't get kinked.
posted by bdc34 at 6:18 AM on February 4, 2022

Best answer: There's another active thread you might want to check out.
posted by adamrice at 6:27 AM on February 4, 2022

Best answer: My entire family swears by MOITA Sleep Headbands, which are around $20, depending on the day/sale status. It's a soft headband with embedded headphones made of thin flat sponges. They connect via bluetooth. The sound quality is great for podcasts and audiobooks, and passable for streaming music. Although we bought them originally for listening to stuff at bedtime, they've now become standard for wearing while out on walks, doing chores, etc. They're extremely comfortable and they hold charge a long time. Pretty similar to the sleephones linked above, but about 80% lower in price.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:28 AM on February 4, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: On sleep headphones: I *think* almost all the $20ish ones on Amazon et al have the same electronic guts made somewhere in China and are just sewn into slightly different headbands/branded differently. The ones I have have guts that can be removed for washing and could probably easily be sewn or tacked onto whatever headband or similar thing you find comfortable. I've found the bluetooth to connect pretty easily with my iphone, and over the past 18 months it has kept holding a charge decently.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:14 AM on February 4, 2022

Also, I don't know if the sweat issue is weather-specific for you or not, but I just wear the giant over-the-ear type over my knitted hat (pulled down to cover my ears, so the hat is between the headphones and my ears) in the wintertime when I'm walking and listening to podcasts and I can hear just fine. If wearing big headphones over a thinner knitted stretchy cap would be comfortable for you, that could be an option.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:17 AM on February 4, 2022

My ear canals are small and sensitive so I hate in-ear shapes - the ipod earbuds hurt.

They're not supposed to actually go in your ear canal -- I made this mistake for a long time. They sort of nestle outside your ear canal. The audio quality kind of sucks but they shouldn't be uncomfortable.

And "earbuds" are an entirely different beast from in-ear phones (often also called earbuds) which are supposed to go in your ear canal. These can be somewhat uncomfortable for various reasons (my main complaint is usually conductive noise from the cable rubbing) but shouldn't be painful either.

The good quality in-ear headphones come with multiple "tips" to help fit your ear since the actual sound-generating part is really small. There are also aftermarket tips (e.g. Comply Foam) you can get for most common brands.
posted by neckro23 at 7:35 AM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Others have mentioned bone-conducting headphones, so here's my specific recommendation: I've been using the previous generation of the OpenRun, called the Aeropex, for about 3 years and I absolutely love them. I wear them in the shower listening to podcasts. I wear them on the bike. Running. I've worn them to sleep. They're great.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:57 AM on February 4, 2022

And the other not immediately obvious suggestion for wire management is to just route the dang things through your shirt. I use PortaPros with a generic-ish bluetooth adaptor (although Apple's lightning to 3.5mm adaptor is fine), and I just drop the adaptor through my neckline and clip the bluetooth adaptor to my pants pocket. I wish I'd known that when I was younger and killed a half dozen headphones by snagging the wires as I stood up...

But yeah, the fact that PortaPros rest their weight via pads on the skull over your ears and not actually your ears makes them some of the best all-day earphones I've ever owned, at least at the $35 Amazon pricepoint. Other normal open-back designs are OK, but eventually caused pain in my outer ear just from pressing themselves into my ears all day. To be fair, I have a gigantic noggin, so I'm probably at the outer limit of most headphones expandability.
posted by Kyol at 9:20 AM on February 4, 2022

Okay, you want no in-ear earbuds, unless we can come up with an improvement. You don't want big headbands as they weigh a lot, and you want battery life.

As some recommended, a lighter over-head headphones, such as the Koss Porta-Pro, may be up your alley. MassDrop (aka Drop.com) often has the "Massdrop x Koss Porta Pro X" the slightly improved version available, now with inline mic, Y-split, and strain relief on the connector and thicker cable. But they seem to be out of stock at the moment. This is a WIRED headset though.

I've personally find the Aventree Audition, at $50, to be very light and its batteries lasts 40 hours as claimed. And its pressure on the ears as quite light (and I have a big head). They also have a pro version with AptX Pro and AptX Low Latency, but you need a BT source that supports that, for $70. This is wireless Bluetooth with optional wired mode.

One possibility of fixing your in-ear comfort is replacing the silicone tips with memory foam tips. Keep in mind that you will have to replace these tips every few weeks to few months as they soak up your ear wax and they do become gross after a while. So I don't see why you need to splurge on the Conform tips at like $20 for 3 pairs when you can get generic tips for like $8-10 for 6 pairs. Lots of them on Amazon.

And the final solution is to bypass the ear altogether, and go with bone conduction. Shokz (previously Aftershokz) is probably the best known and most premium, but they're kinda like one-size fits most (except they make a SMALL size, but not a big size). They have 3-4 different versions at different price points and weight with the Aeropex being the lightest and most costly at about $130, and there are a LOT of Chinese clones out there made with inferior materials.

I personally am using Mu6 Ring as it's the only one that seems to fit on my huge head if I don't rotate the front bits all the way down. Before that I've tried about 6 different pairs from different companies and none really fit that well. YMMV. :)
posted by kschang at 10:21 AM on February 4, 2022

FWIW, Koss has an Amazon store where you can find the non-Massdrop versions of PortaPro for as low as $36. Apparently they also made a Bluetooth (!?) version of PortaPro for $73
posted by kschang at 10:31 AM on February 4, 2022

Best answer: I recommended shokz bone conduction headphones in the other thread and I'm recommending them again here for the following reasons:
- They do not cover your ears or require anything inside your ear canal. I have a large head and the standard size fits fine without any discomfort.
- audio quality doesn't match traditional headphones but they are very good for podcasts and audiobooks
- I haven't used them for phone calls but according to their FAQ, all models are capable of this.
- battery life is 8-10 hours and pairing is straightforward and reliable

These look like a good model to consider (prices in Canadian dollars) but you can go to higher or lower price points from here.
posted by piyushnz at 10:54 AM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

^ Seconding this. I hate earbuds and over-ear rigs exhaust me. Aftershokz bone conducting headset with mic lets me stay on long calls or listen to media without giving me that 'closed in' feeling that in/over ear solutions do. The mic quality is good and I find zoom calls way less hard on me.

I will say that the bluetooth solutions remain finicky and I wish there was a better wireless solution.
posted by robot-hugs at 12:03 PM on February 4, 2022

I asked for bone-conduction headphones for Christmas and I absolutely love them. I got the Aftershokz Aeropex (or however all that BrAnDzPeLlInG works out) and they're fantastic. I no longer have to stop and pop things out of my ears to speak to someone, and I can kind of leave them on and idle when not actively listening to something and the battery keeps on for a while.

I wear mine to listen to podcasts while cycling, but also it's nice to be able to walk around without sweaty waxy ears again.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:43 PM on February 4, 2022

One thing I discovered with bone conduction headphones is that when it gets noisy, touching a finger to certain spots on my ear will help me hear what's going on without actually fully plugging my ear. I'm still playing with it, but I think there's some games going on with conduction and interference.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:44 PM on February 4, 2022

I have tiny ears and sensitive ear canals and *by far*, by MILES the most functional earbuds I have ever found are this particular style of Bose earbuds which tragically I don't think are being made anymore. It's possible that the old style of silicone tips fit on their current earbuds but I haven't tried (that's my hope, if/when my current pair break).
posted by cheesegrater at 5:43 PM on February 4, 2022

I have one of the sleep headband things because I have similar problems with things that go in my ear. I might just have the world's smallest ear canals. Mine last several nights on one charge. I like putting them over my eyes like a sleep mask.
posted by kathrynm at 5:48 PM on February 4, 2022

Response by poster: thank you all! I got the wireless Koss KSC35 because they remind me so much of a pair of Philips over-ear clips I had and loved until they discontinued them. My phone doesn't have a headphone jack, and I just know I will lose the convertor so gave up on wired recommendations, although there were some good ones. For at home and bedtime, I picked one of the sleep headbands recommended with a local warranty, so charging-wise I'll have something I can use all the time.

I am really tempted by the bone conduction headphones but my two options are half the price of a set. If neither of these work, the Shockz OpenRun are my next option.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:19 PM on February 4, 2022

FWIW, Aeropex is the most expensive model from Shokz. They have cheaper models as low as $80.

And Chinese equivalents are as low as $30 on Amazon. Probably not as good, as light, or as long battery life.
posted by kschang at 10:49 AM on February 5, 2022

Came here to recommend Koss Porta-Pro. Discovered I'd been beaten to it several times. Going to do it again anyway.

The basic Porta-Pro comes with simple foam pads, but you can buy better padded ones--I think Koss does them but third-parties do too, and they're not expensive.
posted by Hogshead at 12:19 PM on February 5, 2022

Seconding cheesegrater - I don't have tiny ear canals, but do have very sensitive ears, and the only headphones I've been able to make work are that style of Bose tips.
posted by taltalim at 7:40 PM on February 5, 2022

Not to sound like fanboy but the Airpods Max is surprisingly comfortable, have amazing audio, and seem pretty sturdy, so far! If you're looking for a more affordable option, an Arctis 7P or Sony's PULSE 3D Wireless Headset both give you a bang for your buck! :)
posted by jacquicoombe at 8:38 PM on February 5, 2022

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