The great ear cushion mystery

I buy new headphones rather more often than I would like.

I’ve had sound stop working in one, and then a few months later, both of the ears. I’ve had the cord get all frayed and wonky so that you have to twist it around the frame and hold your head just so to get the sound to come out right. I’ve had the ears come off the frames and the frames snap in two. There was even one time when I got a relatively new and working pair mixed up in a pile of broken ones and accidentally threw it out.

Sometimes I feel like I should just give it up and use one of the trusty pairs of earbuds that have come free with my phones over the years and never broken or deteriorated in any way, but I’ve never found those quite comfortable enough – even after years of not infrequent use, they still make my ears ache after prolonged use.

Other times I think maybe I should just use my speakers, but you just can’t go full speakers after using headphones your whole life. Either the sound is so soft you can’t hear it properly or it’s so loud you feel like you’re interrupting other people and get all guilty about it.

So headphones it is. The big problem with having to buy new headphones all the time is it’s really hard to get ones that look and feel right. I’m not an audiophile or especial enthusiast of noise-cancellation, but I need my headphones to be comfortable, and to not be bulky, and I’ve got a somewhat irrational preference for an included microphone1.

Comfortable, in my terms, means supra-aural. What makes it real difficult to walk into the shops and buy a pair of headphones when I need them is that pretty much all of them, at least in the shops I frequent, are circumaural, or at least resemble them. And I probably wouldn’t mind that if the majority of them weren’t made for people with weird midget ears.

Look, correct me if I’m wrong, but when your headphones have a rubbery cushion around the edges of the ear parts, that cushion is supposed to be large enough to extend past the edges of your ears a bit, right? It’s not like I have huge ears – they’re actually a little smaller than the average 6.3cm2. And yet every pair of circumaural headphones I buy under duress have ears barely larger than the broken supra-aurals they’re replacing, and the result is this superfluous-feeling rubbery ear irritation that never feels like it’s on properly.

I’ve taken to just scavenging the earpads from old sets and stretching them over the new ones, but I really don’t understand why so headphone manufacturers insist on putting these overwrought ear cushions on such small headphones without even slapping a “For Kids” label on the box to save face.

There’s got to be something I’m missing. Like maybe no-one else feels like this is an issue because my ears are weirdly misshapen in some way I’ve never noticed.


  1. My main computer is a laptop with an inbuilt microphone, but I don’t know where the mic actually is, and while it captures my speech perfectly well, I just feel better speaking into a microphone that I can see dangling in front of my face and actually looks like a microphone.
  2. I was originally going to make that link lead to one of those awful Answers.com slideshow pages that claimed the same fact, but then I remembered that this blog is all about hard-hitting, meticulously fact-checked journalism.

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