How I Audio: Desktop Edition

At my desk, I use open-back, circumaural, wired headphones. This technology peaked decades ago. Despite what marketers may claim, there is no reason to keep up with the flavor of the month. At home, I use the Sennheiser HD 600. At work, I use the Massdrop Sennheiser HD 6XX. These two models have some aesthetic differences, but in my experience they are identical in use. I can’t tell a difference between them when they are on my head, either in feel or in sound.

The key with both of these headphones is that they are modular. Every pair of headphones I’ve ever had fail has failed either at the cable or due to the disintegration of the padding. Both are replaceable on the Sennheiser cans. The cables and ear pads on the 600 and 6XX are interchangeable, so I only have to stock one set of spare parts. (The headband pads are different, but I wear the headphones with this pad just lightly resting on the top of my head, so those pads last indefinitely.)

I had to replace the cable on both headphones after five years of use. In both instances, I went with a generic 3-meter Chi-Fi cable from NewFantasia. It is cheaper than the official Sennheiser replacement cable, and it works great. The braided sleeve may provide some extra durability.

I replaced the ear pads in one pair after four years, and in the other pair after six years. Since ear pads can actually effect the sound, unlike the cable, I went with the official Sennheiser replacement pads.

Both my Sennheiser cans have Antlion ModMic microphones attached (one has the Uni, the other has an older discontinued model). This allows for audio calls without needing to switch to some sort of inferior, integrated solution. Boom mic or bust. Importantly, the ModMic has an integrated mute switch. This allows the microphone to be kept muted, and only made hot when actively speaking. (When not on a call, I unplug the ModMic cable.) Because it is a simple two position switch, it provides haptic feedback and thus can be toggled blindly. With this system, you don’t look like a noob trying to find the software mute button in whatever video chat software the kids are using this week, nor will you start talking without realizing that you’re still on mute. Just touch the switch with your finger and you’ll know what position it is in.

The ModMic cable and headphone cable are wrapped together in a length of Techflex Flexo F6N0.25 braided cable sleeve. This keeps the cables together, and also provides some extra protection when they inevitably get stepped on or rolled over by a chair.

Both cables are plugged into a Schiit Fulla DAC. This is the only piece of audio equipment I have that is approaching the “audiophile” market (but is incredibly cheap by the standards of that market). More important than the purported improvement in audio quality that this provides is the volume control knob. I’m a sucker for sexy knobs.

I recently got the newer USB-C model of the Fulla at home, and moved my older Fulla from home to work. Previously I used the UGREEN USB Audio Adapter at work. This was adequate for solving the problem of needing to plug dual TRS connectors into my laptop, but it did not provide the hot knob fondling action I desire.

I also keep Kingtop Headphone Mic Splitter cables in a desk drawer at home and work, so that I may use this rig with my cellular telephone. I use this rarely, as most voice communications these days are VoIP based, and thus performed on my laptop, rather than PSTN.

When not in use, the headphones are stored under my desk on the Elevation Lab Anchor.

The theme with my entire desktop audio setup is modularity. The headphones allow for pads and cables to be replaced. The mic is a separate unit. The DAC is a standalone device. All these components can be easily swapped if one fails. All of them are based on long established technologies that have already reached a practical level of perfection, providing me with a level of immunity to advertising in these spaces.