I recently managed to justify buying myself a set of Bluetooth earbuds. Ruining regular earbuds is a recurring feature of my life; I go nowhere without a music player, and usually I'm carrying another ten pounds of oddly-shaped crap besides, so I'm constantly pulling the wires out of the drivers, or breaking the cord at the plug, or God forbid busting the actual headphone jack on the player with a hard enough hit. I'm trying to be smarter-slash-less desperate with money, and testing out this whole theory that if you wait a little longer and pay twice as much, you'll have to replace the damn things less than half as often. I've bought so many sets of cheap earbuds at CVS that I ought to have a buy-10-get-one punch card for them, so all I need the expensive set to do is last more than a few months, and I'm way ahead.

The first set I tried were terrible -- returned with extreme prejudice the very next day, on the grounds that you have to be trying to make earbuds that sound that bad -- but the second try were acesori A.Buds, which I've kept. I don't know if they're swank enough to be worth the $59.95 they seem to be going for on Amazon, but I'd rate them worth the $29.95 I paid at Microcenter. The low-end response is good enough I actually turned off the bass boost. They get about five hours of listening time on an hour of charge, and do go to sleep automatically if you turn off the music and forget about them for a while.

You ever have a small annoyance that you didn't realize was a major problem until you accidentally solved it? Maybe that's just me. I routinely don't notice how much stuff hurts until I remember to take more Aleve and it stops. I bought the wireless earbuds because the wires are the parts I keep breaking, and I hoped that not having any would keep me from destroying this set. So far, so good, on that. I just didn't really grasp how much time and brain power I was spending juggling things in three-dimensional space and untying knots until I didn't have to do it anymore.

This is particularly noticeable when I rehearse at home. I turn the music up very very loud when I dance, and I don't think the neighbors need to be treated to the eclectic mix of Placebo, Indila, and girl group K-pop on my playlist right now, so I use portable players. I actually prefer headphones/earbuds to open-air audio, unless I can turn it up to levels that contravene noise regulations. Because of the way stereo encoding works on the engineering end, and the way stereolocation works on the brain end, stereo sound from two sources generally seems as though it's coming from some point on a plane which intersects both speakers and is oriented such that [distance from left speaker to listener] + [distance from right speaker to listener] is a constant sum.

You can pan things around the field pretty well even with only two speakers, and I've heard it done in audio dramas, but in music, stereo mixes are generally rigged to sound as if they're coming from a 'stage' at about speaker-distance away, directed towards an 'audience' in whatever direction the speakers are pointed.

[Admittedly, you can screw with this if you try. If you place a sound in the field directly at the midpoint between the two speakers and then shift the signal on one side by half a wave, you get what's called out of phase stereo. This doesn't happen in nature, and makes the sound psychoacoustically unlocatable in space. It comes from everywhere and nowhere. The effect is prominent and eerie under headphones, vague at best in open air stereo, and collapsing the signal into mono makes whatever was in the center channel vanish. Pop vocals are usually mixed center, so OOPS is used a lot to cheat karaoke tracks.]

In the open air, this means the music appears to come from the stereo. Under headphones, this puts the source of the audio inside your head, which makes it much easier for me to ignore distractions coming from outside my skull. With earbuds, if they're sealed well and you're liberal with the volume control, you can get some of it to come in via bone conduction, the same way you hear your own voice. That's overwhelmingly effective. The universe is music, at least until the batteries run out.

The problem is that I work with props like hoops and fan veils and now a cane-handled brolly, which require both hands and grab loose cords. Feel free to imagine the hilarity and swearing that happens when these things interact badly. It's no picnic to juggle this stuff on the train on the way to the studio either, when I've also got a tote bag.

I can use the phone and regular earbuds, but the cords have to stay very close to my body, which in practice means I stuff everything in my cleavage. It'll stay, but it gets sweaty and gross, and I have to get creative about feeding wires down behind my head and into my shirt, or I can't leave enough loose cord to move my head around without also leaving enough to catch on stuff. I also have a pair of cheap studio 'phones that I've kludged up into a wireless player by wrapping the cord around the headband and pinning one of my retired Sansa Clip+s to it; no wires there, but it's aggravatingly easy to knock them off with the slightest bump from anything, or just swinging my head around too fast.

Bluetooth earbuds attach to nothing but each other.These sit inside my ear canal, wedged in with silicone tips. (They come with optional hooks, but I find them more trouble than they're worth.) Wind the cord around my ponytail a couple of times, add a bobby pin for security, and they really don't go anywhere, no matter what I do. I have magic earplugs that block out noises by making other noises. They're like a Thermos, keeping hot things hot and cold things cold. How do they know!?

The downside is that now I can get partway out of the house before I realize I've left my phone charging on the bed. Class II Bluetooth devices have a theoretical range of about 10m; walls and metal door and window screens cut it down considerably, but I have the front bedroom, so even a 15' radius gets me well into the stairwell before the audio stutters. Whoops.

They play nicely with the computer, too. I might have onboard Bluetooth, but I have no idea and the model number sticker has long since worn off the bottom. I contemplated pawing through Device Manager and maybe cracking the case to see if I could find a Googleable number or just the Bluetooth chipset itself, and then looking up the incantations necessary to convince Windows that it was there, and decided it would be a better use of my time to go give Microcenter another $10 for a USB dongle. The two devices will 'steal' the earbuds from each other, but life is simplest if I just don't activate them both at the same time -- turn the phone Bluetooth off before opening up the laptop, close the laptop before turning the phone Bluetooth back on. Which also forces me to close the damn computer every once in a while, a thing I otherwise don't bother to do.

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