I AM NOT A BIG "gadget guy" or any sort of audiophile. My stereo dates from 1993, and my car radio is stock unmodified Toyota gear. However, I do own an iPod (2003 vintage), and I have never regretted the purchase I made shortly after loading my first MP3 onto the beast. That would be a pair of Sony MDR-V600 headphones.
From the start, I noticed a strong difference between the marketing value of the iconic iPod earbuds and their functional worth. I found them not too much better than the foam ones you can get at a drugstore. Worse, to make the music loud enough to hear clearly on the train or bus, I risked having it bleed out to annoy other riders. At least, I imagined I might be as annoying to others as they were with their up-to-11 earbuds blasting lousy Top 40 music across the train. I was facing deafness either way.
Enter the Sony. I bought my first pair at Best Buy. The decision had nothing to do with a deep insight into the tonal quality of the headphones, the dynamic bass or any of that logic. They were in my price range, they covered the entire ear, and they seemed well padded. Sold.
The difference was stark. In addition to making my then-meager collection of MP3s and iTunes files sound far better, they blocked out all cellphone chatter short of that emanating from two seats over. This was heavenly. Plus, I could use them at work to listen to WFMU via the Internet.
Shock absorption from the inside of my bag eventually loosened a wire in the right earphone, which rendered them shamefully mono. I relegated that pair to sweaty duty on the aerobic-machine TVs at the gym, and immediately bought another pair, more cheaply this time via Amazon.com.
By this point, my office had moved to its current location. My surrounding coworkers, just outside the range of my civilized workgroup, included my drama-queen then-boss and an executive with a laugh that would sound much better through the heel of my old Doc Martens. The cans became less of way to enjoy music than a felony suppressant.
Within this space, I was able to lose myself in the rhythms of typesetting. William S. Burroughs wrote a speculative essay on a man who discovers and masters the practice of DE—"do easy." Effort is exerted in precisely the right measure and direction, and the resulting actions flow so smoothly, so naturally, that the reactions almost seem to precede them. I came close to this ideal when in this state. Pages flowed forth, text finding its proper place with little prompting. I wove tables and charts into their proper size on the first try, and they all but jumped into the columns of text by themselves. In this sonic womb, I could spin two or three sets of first-pass proofs, if uninterrupted, in a few hours. I wasn't conscious of the mouse, my email, the Web, the rumbles of hunger, the passage of time. Even the exact music didn't matter. I was in a sacred space, practicing my craft, not entirely sure myself how the finished product had appeared.