I love listening to music (mostly rock and metal), and I’m in meetings, A LOT. So, naturally I use headphones a lot, especially due to the video calls situation forced by the pandemic. Now, I’ve been having this uneasy feeling for a long time which is sort of like a headache but not really and it’s been gnawing at me. I attributed this to lack of sleep, stress, etc early on but then recently realized the main culprit for this is headphones that’s constantly keeping my ears busy. I used to use mostly IEMs for their better sound and isolation. Tried over the ears headphones but it didn’t really help much. People suggested using open back headphones and those helped but not much.
Things got so bad that I felt irritated all the time and started dreading any calls as it seemed to not just cause me issues in ears/head but an overall fatigue. Then finally decided to completely let go of headphones but that meant I had to find appropriate replacements for my routine (noise-free calls, good enough music while working, good enough music while running/working out). After a lot of trial and error, have finally stumbled on to a setup that works out pretty great.
- An old google home that was lying unused ever since I moved to the nest hub
- Bone condution headsets (Aftershokz OpenMove. Wanted to buy the Aeropex but it seems to be out of stock everywhere)
- Logitech C930e (for the microphone)
Conference calls / Meetings
Using Google home was a cinch for the incoming sound. Connected my laptop to the Google home via BT and the effect was immediately noticeable. First my ears didn’t feel any pressure at all, and they didn’t get hot as well like they used to earlier. Secondly, the voices were much heavier/bassy so that helped ease the load on my ears as well.
The next challenge was the outgoing sound/microphone (since Google home mic cannot be used for calls via laptop) and to keep it sufficiently noise free. I decided to use the mic on my Logitech C930e for this. Now I’ve tried various microphones in the past including the ones on my headsets, the one in the laptop, and external ones like Blue Yeti and ATR2100USB and always came out unimpressed. The issues with them are that generally they are too sensitive and they pick up not just my voice but also any other sound nearby, or even the noises coming from outside my home office like kids shouting or a neighbor hammering away on their wall etc. ATR2100USB, being a dynamic mic with a helpful cardiod pattern, fairs better but I had to keep it quite close to me to be useful. The logitech C930 helps a lot with this. It has actually 2 microphones and both of them are unidirectional/cardioid. Using this, I figured out that it was able to easily get all of my voice easily recorded while not capturing any of the vocal or other sounds happening more than a few feet away from me. This coupled with the built-in noise cancellation capabilities of most meeting sofware of today (I tried Google meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams), I could get perfect output. I was a little worried that the sound of others speaking during the call which was coming out of the google home will cause issues/feedback, but it seems that all the meeting software do a very good job of removing this and I did not face any issues of the output audio getting routed back to input. Couple of things I had to do to get the setup perfect were:
- Select the “digital” interface device for the microphone of c930e (In archlinux/kde, this mic shows up with 2 entries one for analog and another for digital. The analog one captures all the unfiltered audio, including noise, just like other mics I tested while the digital one works better)
- Had to set the gain of mic at ~90% in the settings to tailor it appropriately for my seating distance from the mic
Listening to music while working
I started using just Google home for this. Not only this serves my purpose well when I am listening to music exclusively (Google home has surprisingly good sound for its size), but even when I am working I can now listen to music witout getting distracted. I set the volume to 5% and it keeps playing in the background as a nice backdrop to my work.
Listening to music while running
This was the last issue for me as I really like music while running. Ashwin suggested to try out bone conduction headsets as he has been using these for a while. I was a bit skeptical at first but decided to give these a go. Researching on these I figured that Aftershokz Aeropex are the current state of the art/top of the line in this area but sadly they are nowhere to be found right now. Thankfully, they’ve launched the “Openmove” model recently which is supposed to be quite close to the aeropex in audio quality. I got these last week and have been using these during my runs. TBH, they aren’t anywhere close to the audio experience of an IEM but they are decent enough. A side bonus is that I have my ears open to the nearby sounds of traffic or any other things happening around me since I like to run in the open, not on a treadmill.
With these changes, I feel a lot more energetic through the day and feel that not just my ears but overall health has improved a lot.