In a very short time, large studio monitor headphones have given way to a new generation of compact monitor earphones. The reason is the sound quality of these in-ear plugs has vastly improved and the tiny devices are far more portable than their larger brethren. But are they as reliable?
Shure, a manufacturer of monitor earphones, recently wrote an article on earphone ruggedness and how to care for them. The company began making earphones designed to withstand considerable abuse on stage as replacement for stage monitors. From this, they gained a lot of experience on what can go wrong.
Shure said proper storage of earphones is the first line of defense. Virtually all professional earphones come with a storage case or pouch. That’s not for cosmetics but for proper storage when they they are not being used.
Rather than wrapping the cable around the earphones or bunching it up, users should unplug the earphones and coil it using either the “over-over” or “over-under” method. After the cable is coiled properly, the earphones and cable should be stored in their pouch or case. Many earphone problems are the result of a cable failure caused by stretching or tearing.
While Shure earphones have even survived an accidental spin in a washing machine, there’s a much better way to keep them clean – especially when working up a sweat during a performance.
Take a paper towel and wipe down the cable and connector jack after each use in those situations. At home, try mixing in Dawn brand detergent in warm water and lightly wipe down the cable to remove oils that have collected on it from your skin.
Human ears produce earwax to moisturize ear canals. This fights off infection and helps keep dust, dirt and other debris from getting deep inside the ear. Earwax build-up is often also the cause of poor earphone performance. Remove the sleeves from the earphones and use a cleaning tool to clear earwax from the nozzle.
Make sure the connectors between the earphones and the earphone cable are clean. Most higher-end earphones have detachable cables. It is best to remove the earphones from the cable and make sure there isn’t any moisture or debris buildup.
A cotton swab is usually all that’s required, but using some DeoxIT D100L-CPK cleaner on the end of the cotton swab can also help protect those connections. When reconnecting the cable, don’t forget to match up the R and L markings on the earphones and cable properly
If earphones have been used with heavy perspiration or caught in the rain, dry them off with a towel and place them in a container with a desiccant (moisture absorber) packet in it for about 48 hours.
Use silica gel pack to dry out headphones. Leaving them wet is sure to cause problems.
Silica gel packets can be reused if they’re allowed to dry between uses. Rice makes a handy substitute. And, though it may be obvious, do not put the earphones in the microwave.
Professional earphones are designed to last for many years, but foam, rubber or silicone sleeves will still degrade over time. This may result in the loss of the earphones’ ability to block ambient noise that will end up diminishing the overall sound quality.
Professionals usually choose to replace theirs on a regular basis. Replacement should always be on periodic earphones maintenance checklists. Sleeves can be ordered from most manufacturers of high quality earphones. It’s always a good idea to keep a few spares on hand.
Finally, as with all things in pro audio, you get the quality you pay for. Cheap earphones bought at convenience stores are NOT for professional monitoring applications. If you’ve never heard of the brand, there’s a good chance you won’t be pleased with the product.
Shure offers one final piece of advice. Take care of your ears. Shure earphones were initially developed for professional use with in-ear systems to replace blaring monitor wedges.
The idea was to provide the required amount of monitor levels, but without earsplitting stage volume. All this assumes users keep their earphones at a reasonable volume. If you turn up the volume on earphone monitors all the way, all the time, your hearing can be damaged. Be sane about headphone volume if you want a long career in the “listening” business.
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