Thursday, February 19, 2015

LSTN Cherry Troubadour Headphones

I hate to admit this being a music blogger and all, but I’ve purchased my last seven pairs of headphones from a little display right by the checkout area at Sports Authority. It is here that the fabulous colors of Skullcandy earbuds are arranged neatly in a rainbow of wires. For a little more than ten bucks, I can purchase headphones that are perfectly fit for running. As far as music listening goes these headphones, well, they are about the equivalent of going to see your favorite band perform in a high school basketball gymnasium. LSTN Headphones must’ve understood what I was going through with my Sports Authority version and felt bad. They sent me a pair of their Troubadours to test out and review. Here’s my take:

The Backstory

LSTN Headphones are the brainchild of Bridget Hilton and Joe Huff. Bridget grew up on music. She got her first job at a Detroit concert venue and then spent the next decade perusing the vinyl racks at record stores, stuffing boxes in the mailrooms of major labels and selling merch on tour with her favorite bands. A Youtube video introduced her to the world of disabling hearing loss. Around this time her good friend Joe suggested that life is mostly about helping those in need. Joe had recently left his job to focus on doing just that. One thing lead to another and the two of them founded LSTN
Headphones. The company had two main goals. The first one was to put out a product that everyone from amateurs to fashionable audiophiles can enjoy. The second goal was to make it a priority to help those in need. For every pair of headphones that LSTN sells, they donate money to help restore the hearing of someone who needs it. They do this in partnership with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. To date, LSTN has helped over 17,000 people around the world.

Features and Specs

LSTN Headphones come in three styles. The Troubadour is the over the ear headphone (they also offer an earbud and an around the ear version). No matter what type of headphone you select, it will be made of handcrafted recycled Ebony, Beech, Zebra or Cherry Wood (each pair is said to be unique because of the natural variations that occur with each wood type). Every Troubadour Headphone comes with a woven burlap drawstring bag and a detachable 1.2-m nylon-wrapped, no tangle cable. The detachable feature is cool because it means that the cable can be replaced if it is damaged. At one end of the cable is a gold-plated jack that plugs into the audio source. On the other end are two wood-wrapped audio jacks that plug into the bottom of each earflap on your headphones. The Troubadours have a frequency range from 18 Hz to 20 kHz, a sensitivity of 101 dB (+/-3 dB), 32 Ohm impedance and a rated input power of 30 mW.


LSTN’s Troubadours have a retro hipster look. This is mainly because of the recycled wood covering that conjures up images of old station wagons (or acoustic guitars since we are talking music). When I am wearing the headphones in my normal, everyday wear I look good. Throw on a headband and some really short shorts and girls start asking me about “Ina Gadda Da Vida.” Of course, I don’t
always hear them because while the Troubadours aren’t active noise canceling, cranking the sound up to a moderate level minimizes the sound going on around me. The foam cushions on each of the earflaps have a unique duality. They make listening to music longer possible because of their comfort. At the same time they make it difficult to listen for a long time because they are so hot. If you dance, even a little, you’ll find yourself overheated in no time. The Troubadours’ headband is made completely of metal. This aids in the stylish, simplistic, old-timey look that the headphones give off. Comfort wise, the only thing keeping you from a complete skull on metal rubdown is a tiny layer of padding that circles the top of your head. The Troubadours are not nearly as uncomfortable up top as they look. Just know that if you are looking for something that your head can sink snugly into, the Troubadours are not it.

Listening Experience

The first thing I noticed with the LSTN Troubadours is their bass. I don’t listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, so the fact that it was coming through in the tracks I was experimenting with showed just how bass sensitive these suckers are. I started my listening run with “Dissolve” by Absofacto. Despite the #indieelectronic label, this track is all about the bass. The Troubadours took what Absofacto had to offer and mastered it with ease. Even increasing the sound as far up the spectrum as my ears could handle, there was no speaker wheezing or distortion. The lyrics playing out overtop the bass? Easily discernible, nothing lost.

Next up was Melbourne based Run Rabbit Run and their single “Wasted in the Sun.” The track is a
folksy upbeat tune with a bit of American alt-country flavor sprinkled in. It features a triumvirate of harmonies, an airy mandolin and a thumping double bass. It was the bass that caught my attention on this track as well. The double bass in “Wasted in the Sun” plays a deep throaty smoker to perfection. The band does their best to try and bury it but the Troubadours have no problem picking it out of the lineup. Despite the depth at which the double bassing takes place, there was no bleeding of sounds. Everything came across crisp and clear. The vocals were clear and the Troubadours actually let me hear things that my earbuds would’ve missed. I’m thinking mainly of the tambourine. It’s there and, with the Troubadours backing, its precise.

The third track I tested the headphones with was “Best Franz” by Baby Baby. While previous singles have played through my speakers like a tornado, all thrill and no depth, the Trobadours develop (or is it bring to light?) some of the layers that Baby Baby has going on in their songs. I especially appreciate the hi-hat/cymbal/bass drum combination that takes much greater prominence in these headphones. Around the 3:08 mark the band scales things back and its just vocals, a bass drum and organ (I think?). Here I can hear every rattle the bass drum makes. It feels like I’m there, watching Grant beat his drum kit, at some live performance in Atlanta. This song marks the best experience I’ve ever gotten through headphones before.

My final selection was “Dirty Smile” from Terrorista music. I selected this track because the band’s lo-fi tendencies are hard on any pair of headphones. I wanted to see how the Troubadours performed with something like this. There were points where the sound coming from the headphones was a bit muddied but it was hard to tell if that was because of the Troubadours or Terrorista. I mean if they intended it muddy, they succeeded. I will say that, again, the components that made up “Dirty Smile” were much more pronounced and discernible with the Troubadours than with previous listening arrangements.

All in All

The Troubadours, behind their recycled wood and minimalistic headband and earflaps, look good.
They sound absolutely amazing (remember this is coming from someone who has spent their life listening to cheap headphones). They do overheat quickly, which won’t be a good thing in the Florida summer. With each pair that is sold LSTN donates money to help out someone who is suffering from disabling hearing loss. All of these, when added up, almost would convince me to shell out $150 for
these headphones. I say almost simply because I can’t remember the last time I bought anything for $150, let alone headphones. It was probably my blender. But these headphones do have me sitting here avoiding my next run. Not because I’m lazy or tired but because I’m not sure that I can go back to Skullcandy earbuds.

LSTN Headphones. Opening up a Pandora’s box that one can’t ever shut again.