Sound of mind, sound of ears…

I am not a really regular wearer of headphones when I am running. However I do like some music when I am out training on my own from time to time, usually when I am on a recovery run, which to be honest I often find a bit boring. Music can help me relax and enjoy the time that I am out, rather then running fast to get what should be a slow recovery run over and done with. I also discovered the wonder of music on a long run when I borrowed my wife’s iPod a while ago – her jazz mix was like audio-EPO! I was massively pumped up and ended up flying along faster than I know I would have run sans sounds. But I don’t reach for the MP3 player every time I go out. I quite like the sounds of the street and my breathing and listening to the internal dialogue as I plod along.

MHISRTIEBKCAV2_128474_PKG_01When I do run with music, though, as a music fan, I realise that more than ever, digital files and cheap players and headphones mean that audio quality can take a nose-dive. So going for a run with a digital music player can be a pretty low-fi experience. But not so much for me after I was introduced to Monster headphones

Monster is actually a brand that started off making really high quality interconnectors or cables for audio systems. The thinking is that having a great amp and equally fantastic speakers is pretty pointless if you have cables that don’t allow the sound through well enough.

More recently Monster have started making headphones, including the Beats by Dre ones that you see adorning so many heads in London’s cooler neighbourhoods. In their own range, Monster have a huge range of headphones, including a £320 Miles Davis Tribute in-ear headphone. That must be a bloomin’ good set of headphones.

They also now have a range of sports headphones – three in-ear (Strive, Intensity and Victory) and one on-ear headphone, the Freedom which is a wireless bluetooth headphones.

Meeting the Monster

I was invited to meet the Monster team and try out the headphones this week and it was quite an astonishing experience.

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Me and Pete from Fitness Playground not talking to each other!

When I arrived, I was fitted with a pair of the Victory – an in-ear headphone with a curl of rubber that hooks into the curves of your ear and comes with a clip and a microphone / controller on the cable. The fitting process is actually really simple and very effective – there are literally dozens of ear-buds and hooks in the box and you can even go for different sizes in different ears if you are uneven in the aural department.

The plan for the evening was that we would be going for a run led by the team from Fitness Playground – actually in the end my love of sprinting up and down hills mean that Pete from FP was saddled with me for the run back to the meeting point. I think he got the short straw: sorry Pete!

Out into the fading light of Covent Garden, we all plugged in and set off at an easy pace. We were warned that because it would be busy on the route we were taking to the Mall, we should keep the volume low and one ear-piece out and I must admit that I found trying to stay in touch with a group, keep an eye on the traffic and have music in my ears was challenging. But then I never run with music in company.

Once we passed under Admiralty Arch and on to a relatively traffic- and pedestrian-free Mall, I popped in the second earphone and upped the volume. My word! What a sound.

Big sound

MHISRTIEBKCAV2_128474_GLAM_01Don’t get me wrong – we are still talking about low-grade audio files on a cheap iPod shuffle. But the noise that I heard was like nothing I have experienced from an in-ear set of headphones before. The sound was crystal clear and the bass almost made me jump.

As for comfort, well these bad boys really stay in your ears! I was worried that because the headphones hang on equal length cables at the front rather than asymetric length cables where one loops behind your neck, they might fall out. But despite some mid-run drills and even a series of hill sprints, they stayed put perfectly.

And what about afterwards – well unbelievably the Monster Victory headphones are washable so if you do get a bit sweaty, you can just wash them off under the tap. Nice and fresh!

As I guess you will realise by now, I like these headphones. I will say for now that I have never invested in decent headphones for running before so I don’t have much in the way of comparison. But I love music and I will now be taking much more care about what I download to my iPod shuffle because for the first time I think I’ll probably be able to hear it well. And bass… I must remember lots of bass!

Music maestro

Do you run with music? I think that this is something of a Marmite issue in the running world – some love it and some hate it. Typically, I love it sometimes and hate it other times!

I usually find that I want to run with music when the conditions are not optimal: a gloomy day or a gloomy mood will mean that I don’t want to go out running and the iPod can be just the thing I need to get me out the door. Or if I am contemplating running a route that I have run too many times before (currently that this along the canal near to work – there doesn’t seem to be any viable alternative and it is getting very, VERY boring!) I find that music helps.

As with so many things in running now, there are a plethora music devices that can be used. People who take their iPhone for the GPS capabilities that has will often use the inbuilt MP3 player. There are also dozens of stand-alone MP3 players (my choice is the simplest possible iPod nano). And I have even seen people running with personal CD players, although that is exceedingly rare nowadays.

But whatever you choose, probably the thing that is hardest to get right is the headphones. Again there are choices to be made – in-ear or over-ear? Great-big DJ style headphones or the little ones that hook over your ear? Microphone built into the cable for answering calls to the iPhone you’re carrying or not? Sports specific headphones or just normal ones? £3 or £300?

My choice has always been a simple pair of Senheiser in-ear headphones – no microphone or anything like that. A wire that goes round the back of the neck. Good sound quality. And the ability to clean them easily enough. I have always been pretty happy with that.

So when I was asked by the marketing company for 3 Mobile if I would like to try a different set of headphones, I was curious. Would there be something better?

The headphones I was being invited to try out are from Jabra and are called the ‘Rhythm’. They are described as being premium sound and I will admit that when I opened them and gave them a listen, the sound quality was great. But this is a running blog and I am a runner, so I had to take them running. And here is where I found they are not as good as the Senheisers I use. There is a clip on the wire that I hoped would eliminate the problem I have of the wire in my headphones snaking along my sleeve or under my armpit, but it didn’t because the only place I could clip it was at the neck of my t-shirt and then it just kept rubbing my chin! I tried without the clip, but the weight of the in-built microphone means that the earbuds, which were a tad too small, kept pulling out of my ears, especially if I got a bit sweaty.

And here is the thing. I do like to run to music from time to time. But if I do, it is to compensate for a gloomy day or a crappy mood or a boring route. Running with headphones that just don’t quite work for me actually adds to the frustration of the weather and deepen the grumpiness. So I’m afraid I won’t be running with the Jabra’s. I’ll stick to what works, on the few occasions I do want Julio Eglasias to accompany me along the canal.