published Thursday, January 24th, 2013

In Tune: Scrutinizing the fine points of phoning it in

Hi. My name is Casey, and I'm addicted to headphones.

My obsession started about six years ago with a pair of noise-canceling Philips cans I bought "just for work." Very quickly, however, I realized that, since they didn't bleed noise, no one could tell whether I was listening to an interview or shuffling through iTunes.

Now, I rarely take my headphones off, whether I'm in the office, knocking balls around at the Chattanooga Billiard Club or wandering around downtown. In fact, if I'm seen with naked ears, I'm often met with raised eyebrows or sad looks, as if a beloved pet had the gall to run away without leaving a note.

The Philips 'phones are long since dead and gone, but they have been followed by a series of increasingly expensive replacements. My collection now includes Shure's SR440s, which are built like a demolition-derby contender, Sony's wireless Pulse Elite (with rumble function) and a Bluetooth model that -- judging by how many questions I get about them -- apparently make me look like a "Star Trek" extra.

To the nonaddicted, this probably seems like so much wasted money, but if you're picky about your listening experience, there aren't a lot of alternatives for mobile listening, unless of course you've dusted off your boombox and time-traveled to the early '90s.

Plus, the intricate production and soundscape of some albums seem tailored to headphones listening. Whenever I get a new pair, whether they're over-the-ear monsters or in-ear buds, here are a few albums I test them on:

• The Beatles' "Revolver" (2009 stereo remaster) -- Obvious? Maybe, but the Fab Four packed so much detail into their albums, especially this one, and that nuanced production can be muddled on a stereo.

• Kishi Bashi's "151A" -- The right pair of 'phones will really bring out subtle details like the flutter of wings and chorus of pizzicato strings on "Manchester." I hear new things every time I pipe this album into my ears.

• Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" -- America's musical poet laureate is the quintessential artist who has to be listened to, not simply heard. This is my favorite of his albums, and with a pair of quality headphones, his vocals are in sharp relief so his lyrics, by far his strong suit, are clearly understandable.

If you share my addiction for treating your ears well on the go, tell me what your preferred 'phones are and what albums you enjoy listening to on them.

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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