My fifth headphone review went live on Boing Boing Gadgets Friday, marking the midpoint in the series I’m doing this summer. I’m penning 10 pieces covering 11 models from seven different manufacturers.

And what have I learned? More than I expected, some of it obvious, others less so:

  • Greatness is variable. Undoubtedly, almost all of the headphones I’m testing are great, in one way or another; the cheapest pair is a hundred fifty bucks, after all. But what defines greatness? To Etymotic, it’s pure reproduction of original sound; to Klipsch, it’s top-to-bottom balance; to Audio-Technica, it’s pumping abnormally strong bass through miniature devices; to JVC (coming next week), it’s replicating its audio style across product lines. More than once I’ve found myself thinking, really, who am I to judge?
  • MP3s truly are a crappy audio medium. Don’t get me wrong, I’m used to the sound, and I don’t deny progress. But the high quality of electronics in my possession exposes an MP3’s flaws and has me casting a skeptical eye on my iTunes library. Someday I’m going to switch to a 200GB iPod and a lossless audio format.
  • I’m a picky son of a gun. Etymotic has pure sound the likes of which I’ve never experienced. My wife swoons at the mere memory of listening to music through them. But I disliked the lack of low-end punch, which I noted, and which made my contact at Etymotic downright wistful. Maybe I should lighten up a bit.
  • But hey, I know what I like, which is a balanced output that brings warmth and resonance to music at low volume levels. While I remain impressed by it, I don’t need Etymotic’s hyper-clear output. Give me the Klipsch, thanks, with a side of Audio-Technica‘s mind-blowingly good noise isolation. Heck, I’d take the Audio-Technicas, too. I like bass. (I’m bringing them both on a business trip I’m about to take.)

This project has been a ton of fun, and I haven’t even written about the fancy models yet. My continued thanks go out to Rob Beschizza and Joel Johnson for giving me the platform.