“Hey there! I like your reviews! They’re really weird, quirky, and detailed! I just have a quick question.”
Uh huh okay, go ahead.
“It seems like you really liked Headphone Alpha, and I’m trying to decide between buying it, or Headphone Bravo. I think I would like Headphone Alpha a lot more because of the music I like to listen to, and it has the features I want… but other reviewers who are more famous than you love Headphone Bravo even though it’s more expensive.”
I’m with you so far.
“Okay, so you said in your review that Headphone Bravo probably isn’t worth the extra money. So which one should I buy?”
Well. It seems to me like you’ve done your research and Headphone Alpha would be a great choice for you. If you don’t like it, Big Retailer will let you return it, so you should just go ahead and give it a go! Headphone appreciation is often largely subjective, so you’ll have to try them to know for sure. Also —
“Lol! Do you even freaking know what you’re talking about? Did the makers of Headphone Alpha pay you to tell me this, or something? Everyone out there knows that Headphone Bravo is clearly better. I’m going to buy Headphone Bravo.”
I go through this about once a week, and yet I still keep doing this.
An Accidental Start
I started out writing headphone reviews on Tumblr, just to amuse myself.
I still do it for the fun it provides me.
I’ve always had a “Reviewer Mind.” Long before I ever wrote any sort of “official” tech/game/headphone reviews, I loved to read criticism(mostly in magazines) and discuss things like video games in a critical fashion with my friends.
This habit snowballed over time as I grew up, and was compounded by studying Film and English Literature in school. Then it was further enhanced by actually being a “real” reviews writer at a small computer magazine for a while.
The end result is that I can’t use a product, watch a movie, or listen to music without generating a bunch of critical reactions and thoughts about it. I will usually share these with whoever is “lucky” enough to be near me at the time, or in extreme cases…just speak them out loud to myself.
Thoughts need an audience to exist, right?
I realized “Alex, it’s weird that you create all these critical thoughts for no apparent reason. Why not put these words on the internet?” So two years ago I started writing headphone reviews on Tumblr, and then Medium. And then it kept going and going.
I now have a tiny, dedicated audience.
And they spend a lot of time asking me weird questions I can’t ever hope to answer to their satisfaction.
The Market Explosion
Dr. Dre made headphones cool again.
Or maybe… he made them cool for the first time.
Before the rise of Beats, big over-ear headphones were something you’d find in a few homes on computer desks, and in recording studios.
After Beats, they were everywhere.
I can’t walk for five minutes through the suburb I live in without seeing a pair of headphones on someone.
A few years ago I started writing in the middle of the day in a local coffee shop, to help develop a regular writing habit. I realized with haste that it would be totally fine for me to wear headphones.
Every other person was wearing headphones while they stared at their computer, and I was the only one with naked ears.
So that’s how I got back into the headphone hobby that lead to this parade of reviews and the ensuing insane and hilarious questions. I’d dabbled in it as a kid, but my tech habits of choice were mostly computers and video games. But with Beats out there crushing the market, suddenly everyone, including me, wanted big headphones.
They just had no idea how to decide which one to get.
The Impossible Decision
“Hello yes! Which of these ten headphones you’ve reviewed is the BEST one?”
That’s…that’s super complicated. Beyond a certain level of quality, these are all ‘good’, it’s just a question of which one fits your personal tastes. Headphone Delta, for instance, is a studio headphone, so it’s built to be more durable even if you haul it around and —
“I don’t have time for this sort of detail! Just tell me which one is better! These are on sale and I need to decide if I should buy them.”
Okay! Well that’s a pretty good deal so you can safely do that without —
“But is it THE BEST? I need the best one.”
The explosion in choices meant that it’s now nigh-impossible for consumers to decide which headphones to buy. This choice conundrum is, I think, the main reason I get any readers at all, and the main reason that I get to have so many “interesting” conversations with them.
I totally sympathize with this decision problem.
I don’t receive any review units from the audio companies, so I have to make this same complex decision all the time from a slightly different angle.
- Will I enjoy this headphone enough to make it worth spending my own money?
- Will anyone care to read about this if I write about it at length with my particular attention to detail?
- Will my articles about Beats and Razer products be way more popular even though this new headphone is better in so many ways?
The answer to that last question is always: “Yes They Will!”
Headphone companies have gone a little bit crazy. They’ve made a hilarious pile of products, and new ones come out every few months. They’ve brought back old products in new versions. They’ve done limited edition releases. They’ve done minor upgrades just to create new product lines.
And it’s all because of the big old Apple Beats Elephant in the room.
If you decide not to go with the roughly 65 percent of worldwide consumers that choose Apple’s Beats headphones…what awaits you is a vast sea of totally competent products that are all quite valid choices for particular tastes.
It’s true madness. And this big pile of products means you have to be insane to even attempt reviewing any of them.
I’ve thought about writing a book to try and help people navigate this nightmare…but I wouldn’t even know where to start. So I have to be content with trying to answer their questions while they regularly refuse to listen to me.
I derive a strange satisfaction from all of this. Which I know makes me weird. The alarming number of headphones on the market means that new exciting ones are always out there waiting to be found.
And that new exciting people are always out there, waiting to ask me which one is the BEST.
Video Killed The Written Review?
The market explosion meant an explosion in online headphone reviews, too.
But the most popular headphone reviewers make videos.
For me, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s sometimes tough to get exposure as a guy just writing text. On the other hand, when people do want a text review that isn’t just some random thoughts from a customer on a retail web site…I’m one of the only choices they have.
The big tech sites can’t afford to have a person that just covers audio, even though there’s a huge market of products out there that consumers can’t decide between.
Isn’t that weird?
Headphones, in spite of their massive and still relatively new popularity, simply aren’t enough to sustain an entire review chain for journalistic outlets.
Phone reviews are way more popular, and headphones are largely viewed as an accessory instead of the main attraction. So others out there, like me, are struggling.
I Believe in Text!
I love the written word. I have a firm commitment to text. Which is ironic because I majored in Film/Video production back in college…but text is essential even in the video field.
I like to cover headphones in such weird, obsessive detail that text is the best format for me and I have no plans to change that. If I tried to make videos, they’d be so long and involved that people would get bored and wander off before they got through the intro.
Shortness is the order of the day in online video. But in text, I can dive into all the weird little things that I find interesting. This is what keeps me coming back and enjoying this reviewing experience.
I’ve learned in the past that having a critical outlook can suck all the fun out of something I enjoy.
As I said, I can’t watch a film, play a game, or listen to a headphone without picking it apart in my brain. But by writing about those details and pushing them out of my head…I get that fun back that I lost to the nitpicking.
The joy of writing the review replaces the joy I lost by obsessing over the details.
I’m Like A Human Search Engine?
The weirdest thing about being a reviewer that solely uses text is that readers treat me like I’m an extension of their favorite search engine.
Readers have questions that are too complicated to type into the internet and get a satisfactory answer…so they type them at me instead.
“I’m thinking of buying Popular Headphones on Sale, but a new model is coming out soon! Your review said the current model is great, but I just don’t know…”
That impending new release is probably why the old model is on sale. But from everything I’ve read, the only thing the new model adds is a single button.
“Well, I should just wait and get the newer one then! I always like to have the newest thing!”
Okay, but just be aware that you’re going to pay an extra 30 dollars for a single button and what is otherwise the exact same pair of headphones. I wish I could make that sort of decision so easily! But hey it’s up to you!
“The company probably paid you to say that to me!”
Oh yes. Popular Headphone Company paid me to try and save you 30 dollars.
(A few days later)
“I bought the newer version of Popular Headphones, but this new button doesn’t really seem all that useful…”
You don’t say?
“Should I return them and get the older model?”
I enjoy helping people navigate the complex nightmare world of making headphone purchasing decisions even though they almost never listen to me.
Writing headphone reviews gives me an outlet for all the weird criticisms and information floating around in my head on a regular basis. I don’t maintain any sort of database of this information outside my writing. I’m just going on instinct, sharing my honest reactions in the moment with anyone who will read.
And I don’t mind when people accuse me of being paid for my opinions through gritted teeth. It cracks me up every time.
I’m sorry I can’t tell you which pair of headphones is the absolute best. I find new favorites all the time, and having an outlet for my thoughts has furthered that journey in ways I never anticipated. I always thought receiving brazen and bizarre internet insults would be off-putting… but it turns out that’s just enhanced my enjoyment of my personal audio journey.
I’m honored to be able to share that with all of you.