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ATPM 11.06
June 2005



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Pod People

by Paul Fatula,

I’d wanted an MP3 player for a long time, just so I could listen to music during my commute to and from work without having to lug around a Discman and a folder full of CDs. Trouble was, I definitely didn’t want any of the MP3 players that actually existed in early 2001. They held far too little music on their removable media cards, and the cards were far too expensive for me to buy enough of them to let me carry around a reasonable amount of music. Every time a new MP3 player was announced I’d check out the specs hopefully: nope, not even close to what I was looking for.

Then, in October 2001, Apple announced the iPod. Finally, someone had gotten the MP3 player right. Small form-factor, huge capacity (5 GB!), simple interface. Expensive, and I’m not usually an early adopter, but I didn’t care. The wait was over; I placed my order right away.

I saved the fancy cube-shaped packaging it came in, and named my iPod “Samphir,” after a book of poetry by one of my favorite authors, John Cowper Powys. (I’d recently acquired a first edition, with jacket, in near-fine condition.) Samphir wasn’t quite big enough for all of my MP3s, so I created playlists and decided what to leave out.


As the months went by, I decided I really wasn’t impressed with the iPod’s earbuds. I wanted something more comfortable and preferably noise-cancelling, since public transportation isn’t exactly quiet. A bit of online research led me to Etymotic Research. Their ER4 or ER6 earbuds seemed to be exactly what I wanted. The price didn’t bother me as I knew I’d be giving them a lot of use.

I sent an e-mail off to HeadRoom asking for buying advice, and was told that the less expensive ER6s would meet my needs just fine. Absurdly, it was much cheaper to order from HeadRoom in Montana than it was to order directly from the manufacturer a few towns away, so HeadRoom got my money. While I’m here, let me give them a plug: great company to do business with. I only wish they sold more products than just headphones, so I could order from them more often.

The ER6s were spectacular, and I began re-discovering my music, catching details I hadn’t noticed in years of listening. I could enjoy my music on the train or bus without blasting it and without disturbing people sitting beside me: once on Amtrak I was listening late into the night and told the lady next to me to let me know if it was too loud. She replied saying she couldn’t hear my music at all. Great sound for me, courtesy for everyone around me: it’s win-win.

After about three years of use, my ER6 earbuds finally died: one earbud stopped putting out any sound at all. The folks at Etymotic were helpful, suggesting a few things I could try to get them working again and offering a repair (for about half the price of buying new), but the new ER6i earbuds, made specially for the iPod, caught my eye. They offered a little extra bass and, as I discovered once I bought them, a lot more comfort: I like the three-flanged eartips much better than the two-flanged ones that came with the original ER6s.


Ever since I got Samphir, I’ve ripped new CDs to MP3 as soon as I got them. It seems kind of backwards buying CDs when I do almost all of my listening either through my Mac or on the iPod, especially with the introduction of the iTunes Music Store. But the problem is this: when you buy music online, it’s not really yours. There are digital rights limitations on what you can do with it, how many computers you can play it on, etc. Even though I don’t do anything that those limitations would likely get in the way of, I’m just more comfortable buying a physical object that I, not some DRM server, have control over.

As for downloading music, well: if the major labels don’t want to let me listen to their music before buying it, that’s OK by me. Epitonic lets me (legally) download tracks from an enormous variety of artists and albums. I’ve discovered some amazing music there. (Cat Power, currently featured on their main page, is one of my favorite artists.)

More recently, I discovered a program called Indy that lets me listen to MP3s by independent musicians of all genres. Best feature of the program: MP3s that I like are saved to my hard drive for future listening, and those I don’t like aren’t saved so no space is wasted. Indy seems to be just starting out, but I think it’s got a lot of potential.


More than three years after the iPod was first announced, there are a lot of cool third-party iPod accessories. Most of them require a more recent iPod than mine, so it seems I’m out of luck. Once in a while I’ll get a press release for a clever new iPod gizmo that makes me think about retiring Samphir, and with over 20 GB of music on my computer now, a little more capacity would be nice. But as long as Samphir’s still working, I can’t talk myself into the expense: I just don’t feel the need to replace something that works so remarkably well.

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Reader Comments (4)

Gregory Tetrault · June 2, 2005 - 14:08 EST #1
I never even tried the iPod earbuds (after reading numerous reviews complaining about them). I also went to HeadRoom (from whom I had previously purchased some excellent Sennheisser heaphones) and bought Etymotic Research ER6 earphones. The ER6 headphones are comfortable even after hours of use (including falling asleep with them). They block >20 dB of noise just by being inserted, and they deliver good sound. (I use the Small Speakers EQ setting.) I play my iPod in airplanes and while mowing my lawn, and I found the noise blocking ability of the ER6 earphones to be equal or superior to noise cancellation headphones.

One caveat is the need for replacement filters. ER6 earphones use tiny filters mounted in a steel cylinder. The filters are required, and they eventually need replacing due to buildup of waxes, sweat, etc. (The filter can look clean but still be unusable.) Replacement filters are sold in packs of 6 with a list price of $15. The cheapest price I've seen is $13. I go through a pair of filters approximately every 6 weeks. Exercising or use in hot weather shortens filter life due to sweat and thinner ear wax.

Even with the need for filter replacement, I am pleased with the ER6 earphones and recommend them.

For anyone who, like me, has tinnitus, the ER6 earphones are highly recommended. I don't listen to pure white noise, but I ripped a few CD albums of natural sounds (tropical rainfall, ocean surf, burbling streams, etc.) and some electronica music that I play through my iPod to reduce the annoyance of the constant buzzing, humming, or whistling noises of tinnitus.
Oliver Boermans · June 14, 2005 - 08:27 EST #2
Long live the first-generation!

The good old olliPod is still going strong. Sometimes I'm tempted by those new fangled features like text notes or on-the-run track rating, but it still does what I bought it for beautifully so it stays.

My white ear bugs didn't last long either (eaten by a lawn mower!). My B&O buds, with the nifty ear hooks, are much more comfortable with sound great sound.

My one concern is replacing my somewhat tired case/belt-clip. (Bought from XtremeMac before Apple offered their own.) Does anyone still make cases for us old timers or is eBay my only bet?
ATPM Staff · June 14, 2005 - 18:47 EST #3
Oliver - try pouring through the links on this page and see if you come up with anything.
Petrrosen · July 13, 2006 - 03:48 EST #4
I use the earbuds that come with the video ipod , except they keep falling out of my ears no matter how I try to put them in. So, being creative, I took the bag of extra "Rubbers" that come with my Verizon Ear-phone by Jabba and fit them on the iPodbuds. Those suckers really stick in my ears now, effortlessly and instantly. No sweat will knock 'em out and they don't clog after months of use.

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