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Cambridge TV interview 2017

Television interview on Cambridge That's TV. Watch Nigel being interviewed about his crime thriller, The Sound Of Crying.  Read more...

Radio appearances. 2017

Listen to Nigel Cooper being interviewed about his novel, The Sound Of Crying, by Charlie Thompson on his BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Saturday breakfast show and also on Ian Daborn's Saturday morning show on Cambridge 105.  Read more...

The Sound Of Crying – training to be an assassin. 2017

The story of how I trained to become an assassin as part of the research for The Sound Of Crying.   Read more...

Boy – moving on. 2016

Life after Boy. I've had quite a lot of emails regarding my childhood memoir, Boy – especially the ending. Readers want to know what happened next. You can find out here.  Read more...

Why Do Millionaire Footballers Wear Shit Headphones? - January 2018

By Nigel Cooper

 

sergio aguero

If you’re a football fan like me (Arsenal in my case) you probably watch lots of live football matches on Sky Sports and/or BT Sports, and if you watch all the pre-match build up stuff then you’ve probably seen lots of shots showing premier league football players getting off the club coach and making their way into the stadium. And, chances are that these footballers were donning some sort of audio headphones – either the in-ear or over the ear variety. In my TV premier league football viewing experience over the past couple of years I’ve noticed that by far the majority of these footballers (on average seven out of ten) wear Beats headphones which begs the question, why? I mean, Beats headphones are terrible in just about every way, especially regarding Hi-Fi sound quality.

Over the past few years premier league footballers have written Beats headphones into their DNA as part of their pre-match ritual. Music can have a very positive effect on a footballer’s mental preparation and focus. But why footballers choose these gaudy cans is beyond me, or is it?

daniel sturridgeThere are a couple of reasons that professional footballers wear headphones before a match, especially while getting off the club coach and making there way into the stadium to the changing rooms. One is that it helps the player stay focused so he can concentrate before the match without any external disturbances from photographers and journalists shouting questions at them. Another reason is ‘endorsements’ – Beats (now owned by Apple after they bought the Beats Electronics company in 2014 for $3bn) pay professional footballers obscene amounts of money to be seen wearing them.

Beats headphones might look pretty and colourful hanging on the fancy stands at your local Apple store or in John Lewis, on the heads of famous pop stars in their videos, or on the heads of premiership footballers as they make their way from the coach into the stadium, but the cold truth is that they simply don’t cut it with real audiophiles and they are certainly no match in sonic quality when compared to the likes of the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro headphones for example, which cost just £125 new, compared to the rip-off Beats headphones which cost £249 (Beats Solo 3), £299 (Beats Studio 3) and £349 (Beats Pro), and I can assure you that there is nothing ‘Pro’ about Beats headphones. 

Beats headphones are simply not worth the price, not even close, and there are several other brands out there that are far superior to Beats, so forget Beats headphones. They are god-awful things that sound terrible, here’s why.

When you buy Beats headphones you’re paying for the style and branding and for the fancy packaging that they come in. You certainly aren’t paying for decent Hi-Fi sound quality or sonic performance. Real audiophiles say that Beats headphones have way too much bass. I disagree; I say that they have too much ‘low quality’ bass. As for the mid and treble ranges, they are even worse. The bass that comes out of Beats headphones is loud, boomy and overall, bloody awful. There is nothing warm, rich or ‘musical’ about it at all.

Lots of mainstream headphones manufacturers use buzzwords on the box, or in the model title, such as ‘Studio’ or ‘Pro Studio’ etc. (like ‘Beats Studio’ headphones for example). Just because it says ‘studio’ on the box, doesn’t mean that recording studio engineers use them. The truth is that recording studio engineers would not touch Beats headphones with a bargepole because they are no good for studio monitoring use, or for any serious music reproduction purposes. 

Famous footballers wear Beats headphones for various reasons, but two of those reasons are: 1. They get paid skip-loads of money by the Beats headphone company and 2. They simply don’t know any better, have no musical ear, don’t appreciate Hi-Fi excellence, are tone deaf or just fall for the commercial hype like everybody else.

cest fabregas beats headphones advert

Above: Beats plough tons of money into marketing, PR and clever advertising.


Beats headphones cost no more than about £15 to manufacture and produce; yet they sell for as much as £349. I have to give credit to the Beats marketing and PR people for doing such an excellent number on the unsuspecting public regarding hype and marketing. But, in reality you could by a pair or Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro headphones for £125 and these would absolutely wipe the floor with any Beats headphones, by a country mile. I’m an audiophile myself and I take my music seriously. I’ve tried many makes and models of headphones over the years from superior quality makers such as: Shure, Grado, Beyerdynamic, Sennheiser, AKG and Bose, to name a few, and Beats headphones do not even come close to any of the other makes I’ve listed here.


Ohms & Impedance

Ohm is the unit of measure for impedance, which is the property of the loudspeakers (or headphones in this case) that restricts the flow of electrical current through it. Hi-Fi loudspeakers typically have an impedance rating of 4 ohms, 8 ohms or 16 ohms. The lower the impedance the harder it is to drive the loudspeakers i.e. a more powerful amplifier with a lower impedance rating is required. For example, a pair of 4 ohm speakers should be mated with higher powered amplifiers. 

Beyerdynamic DT 770 ProI keep mentioning the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro headphones as they are my personal favourite headphones for both casual listening and for studio monitoring. I love these headphones for their sonic excellence and the sheer comfort of wearing them. The DT770 Pro headphones are available in 32, 80 and 250 ohm versions. If these ohm figures don’t mean anything to you, let me explain. Some professional headphone makers sometimes offer a particular model with different ohms transducers as they know that both professional studio engineers and serious Hi-Fi connoisseurs will be using headphones for different applications and this is where one might require a different ohm transducer. 

In the case of the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones, they are available with 32, 80 and 250 ohms transducers, which differ in application:

The 32 ohms DT 770 Pro works great with computer soundcards, audio interfaces, portable recorders and players (mobile phone, tablet, handheld recording device, etc., units, powered by (rechargeable) batteries or external supplies), also with instruments like digital piano, synthesizer or instrument amplifiers (e.g. for guitar).

The DT 770 Pro with 250 ohms is suitable for stationary sources like mains powered studio monitor controllers, Hi-Fi-amplifiers, headphone amplifiers, and the like. Both the 32 and 250 ohms versions are based on very low mass, so called: underhang voice coils, which can reproduce enormous details with low distortion. For the lower impedance, Beyerdynamic can use slightly thicker - and heavier - wire for the coil, therefore it plays louder with lower supply voltages (from mentioned units) as the 250 ohms version.

The 80 ohms DT 770 Pro is optimized for very high listening levels in a recording studio, for example musicians playing an instrument or vocalists singing. You normally can find very high power headphone amplifiers here and achievable level is more important than the last bit of sound quality. This transducer uses an overhang voicecoil, which is longer than the air gap. Its larger surface increases the electrical power handling (better cooling) but its higher mass results in a different distortion behaviour.

So, in a nutshell, use the 32 ohm model for use with an iPhone, laptop or MP3 player for example. Use the 80 ohm model for recording studios or DJ use, and the 250 ohm model for mains-powered Hi-Fi amplifiers.


Frequency Response

Beats Pro headphones cost £349.95 and they are not wireless either, meaning they don’t suffer even more audio quality issues due to chronic wireless audio compression. I had to do a little bit of investigation to get the technical specifications of Beats headphones as Beats do not reveal such technical data under their so-called ‘Tech Specs’ section on their website. For Beats, ‘Tech Specs’ means the colour of the headphones and the cable length, that’s about it. Of course, Beats would not want to advertise the more detailed technical specifications of their headphones in case a serious audiophile came along and exposed them for the inferior product that they really are.

What I did manage to find out is that the minimum frequency response is 20 Hz and the maximum frequency response is 20,000 Hz, that’s a range of 20 - 20,000 Hz. Compare that to a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones, which have a frequency range of 5 Hz to 35,000 Hz and you can see the huge difference.

frequency response graph

How to read the above graph:

1. You want the Frequency Response to be as flat as possible. This means that the headphones are accurate and the sounds and music will sound true to life and realistic.
2. Harmonic Distortion should be as flat as possible.
3. Isolation should ideally be flat with the line being as close to the bottom of the graph as possible, assuming you want to block out external sound.
4. Generally, the lower the Impedance, the easier it is to get loud volumes. Ideally a flat line.
5. For both Square Wave Response graphs, the more square the waves look, the better. This means no curves – lines should be optimally just straight up and down and completely horizontal when not moving vertically.

As you can see, Beats headphones do not fare well at all when it comes to Hi-Fi excelence and sound reproduction.


What do these audio frequency response range figures mean? Audio frequencies are the range of sounds – be it musical notes, a symphony orchestra, traffic, screaming children in the park, etc. – that we hear every day. Musicians refer to audio frequencies as ‘pitch’ (low to high).

note a440Sound is a wave, a movement of air molecules that our ears and brain translates into tangible sounds that we can decipher. The waves are measured by how many times they complete a cycle in a second. These cycles per second units are called hertz (Hz). In music, for example, the tuning reference pitch (that orchestras tune up to before a concert) is called A440, which is 440 Hz and it is the note that produces a vibration that cycles at 440 times per second. A440 is the note A above middle C for the piano players amongst you.

It is generally accepted that the range of audible frequencies that the human ear can hear is between 20 and 20,000 Hz. With 20 being the lowest (deep bass notes, anything below 20 is considered felt, rather than heard, a flat response) that we hear and 20,000 being the highest (something very high-pitched, just below a dog whistle). By coincidence, Beats advertises the frequency response of their headphones at, you guessed it, 20 to 20,000 Hz, hmm, what a coincidence that these are the frequency ranges that humans can hear. Beats obviously think that anything outside these frequency ranges is pointless as we can’t hear them anyway, so what is the point of making headphones with an even wider frequency range than this … little do Beats know, more on this a little later, but first, to give you an idea of what falls in to these frequency ranges here are some examples:

Frequency (Hz) 16 to 32 = Lowest human threshold of hearing. Lowest pedal bass notes on a pipe organ.Frequency (Hz) 32 to 512 = Rhythm frequencies where the lower and upper bass notes lie.Frequency (Hz) 512 to 2,048 = Approximate human speech range. Horn-like or tinny sound quality.Frequency (Hz) 2,048 to 8,192 = Gives presence to speech, where labial and fricative sounds lie.Frequency (Hz) 8,192 to 16,384 = Brilliance, the sounds of bells and the ringing of cymbals.Frequency (Hz) 16,384 to 32,768 = Beyond brilliance, nebulous sounds approaching and just passing the upper human threshold of hearing. 

The human ear is most sensitive to frequencies in the range of 2,000 - 5,000 Hz and our hearing has its peak sensitivity at around 3,000 - 4,000 Hz. At frequencies above 10,000 Hz, our hearing sensitivity declines. We also hear lower frequencies less well than higher frequencies. Frequencies below 30 Hz are hard for us to distinguish and these lower frequency sounds (especially around 20 Hz) are heard mainly through bone conduction i.e. felt and resonated.

human hearing range

Ok, so you’re probably wondering why you’d need to buy some headphones with a frequency range of 5 to 35,000 Hz if humans can’t hear anything below 20 or above 20,000 anyway. Well, here’s why. It is important for the headphones to reproduce the sounds that are outside our hearing range to get the fundamental frequencies correct. Also, mixing ‘audible’ frequencies with ‘inaudible’ (frequencies outside our human hearing range) frequencies during the listening process creates ‘audible’ harmonics and other harmonics that ring out in sympathy to the inaudible ones, which is important to the ‘character’ of the sound. Basically, the inaudible sounds have a knock-on effect which cause the audible sounds to create extra harmonics and the like. Without the inaudible sounds, these extra audible sounds would not be produced. This results in more detail, more presence and more depth to the sound. Of course, Beats fanboys and premier league footballers wouldn’t understand such things and probably don’t care. They are more concerned with wearing big gaudy brightly coloured headphones that look like a flashing Belisha beacon which, to me at least, says, ‘look at me, I don’t appreciate sonic quality.’

The fact is that Beats headphones are nothing more than obscenely over-priced plastic garbage – at best – that defines fashion over function. Droves of people buy crap brands like Beats simply because their high price and clever marketing cause them to be perceived as a great brand, something they are definitely not – they are actually one of the worst brands you can buy. Beats have very effective advertising and product-placement campaigns and, unfortunately, the masses typically confuse Beats higher prices with higher quality – not so.

Also, Beats headphones can be dangerous and bad for your health. The fact is that Beats ‘tune’ their headphones in a way that exaggerates the bass frequencies. The bass is too overpowering and unnatural and as a result it they put unnecessary pressure on the listener’s eardrums, even at low volume levels – which can induce a loss of hearing and/or tinnitus. Quality headphones with a more balanced and natural sound with lower levels of distortion won’t yield the same negative results to your health.

Does every major recording studio around the world use Beats headphones for professional monitoring purposes? No they don’t, this is a whopping great lie. No self-respecting recording studio in the world – even home recording studios – would go anywhere near a pair of Beats headphones, not if they want to end up with a good final mix they wouldn’t. Remember, this is clever marketing by Beats and just because it says ‘Studio Pro’ on the box, doesn’t mean that studio professionals in the real world use them – the only pros that use them are premier league footballers. This is like breakfast cereal manufacturers claiming in their TV commercials that their cereal ‘can’ help prevent heart disease. Well, I’m sure that if any given breakfast cereal manufacturer paid a group of scientists enough money they could prove that drinking a cup of freshly mixed cement each morning could help prevent heart disease too.

shure microphone and headphones

Above: Professional recording studios use professional grade 'closed back' headphones from companies like: Beyerdynamic, Shure, AKG and Sennheiser, to name a few – they do not use Beats. 

You won’t find high quality premium  ‘Hi-Fi’ grade headphones in regular high street stores like: The Apple Store, John Lewis, Currys/PC World, Hughes Electrical, Game, Argos and the like. Decent brands such as: Beyerdynamic, Shure, Grado and AKG and the like are typically only found in more discerning Hi-Fi outlets or online so don’t expect to pick up anything that could be construed as ‘decent’ while you’re down the retail park on a Saturday afternoon with the wife and kids because you wont. You might well find Bose and possibly Sennheiser headphones in certain retail outlets though. Remember, garbage is everywhere and easy to find, but you have to seek out quality.


Build Quality

Any product that is manufactured in the millions – like Beats headphones – have lots of factory production line optimisations in place. For example, injection-moulded parts that ‘snap’ or glued together because the use of metal screws require more sophisticated factory machinery and/or human manipulation. There are some metal screws used in the manufacturing of some Beats models, but they are kept to a minimum – and they are the cheapest type made out of, what they call in the industry, ‘monkey metal’.

Beats headphones exploded view

Above: Beats headphones taken apart and shown in exploded (and exposed) view. Cheap components that are 'snap' fitted or glued together. Total cost of parts and manufacturing process, approximately £15. 

Beats headphones, while they may feel substantial, they are not. A little bit of weight goes a long way to making any product feel more solid and durable and the way Beats achieve this (on the cheap) is by adding some metal components which are otherwise not necessary. With Beats Solo headphones 30 per cent of the weight is made up via four tiny metal parts that are put there for the sole purpose of adding weight to make them feel like something they are not.

Beats headphones weight

Above: As you can clearly see, 30 per cent of the weight of Beats headphones is made up from unnecessary metal parts that are inserted into the headband for the sole purpose of adding weight to make them feel more substantial. 

The cheap injection moulding, tacky parts, added metal for weight, cheap screws, snap and glue fit and finish, are all examples of the poor build quality of Beats headphones. Beats have shaved off factory assembly line time all over the place in the manufacturing process of their headphones, and it shows. Instead of using screws to do the job properly, they simply ‘trap’ the PCB (plastic circuit board) between two pieces of ‘snapped’ together plastic then they heat it in place and hope that the unnaturally deep bass doesn’t shake the components apart over time.

Here’s the shocker. The total cost of the parts that go into manufacturing a pair of Beats headphones (including the soft case, manual and fancy box that they come in) cost approximately £15. Yet Apple (the owner of the Beats company) manages to sell these headphones for: £249, £299 and £349 per pair.


Wireless & Bluetooth

Mesut OzilWhen it comes to Hi-Fi excellence, Bluetooth sucks. It uses aggressive audio compression, which reduces the sound quality. This is the equivalent of putting your music through a mincer. You just don’t get the richness or warmth of sound that a pair of ‘decent’ wired headphones offer as the wireless music transferal system removes huge chunks of the music resulting in a lack of detail, breadth and airiness to the sound. Having said that, don’t buy poor quality headphones from the likes of Beats or B&O for example. Bluetooth rides on the back of the same 2.4Ghz wireless frequency that so many other household goods do such as: wireless computer mice and keyboards, Wi-Fi signals, even microwave ovens and other electrical appliances, which often cause audio drops and other quirks. Bluetooth is convenient for listening to spoken word, but for serious audio connoisseurs, forget it. Remember, for every advantage there is often a disadvantage and for the advantage of having wireless headphones you have to suffer the disadvantage of sound quality loss. For home wireless music, it’s pretty much the same, Bluetooth is bad for music. There are better wireless technologies such as: AirPlay, DLNA, Play-Fi and even the Sonos wireless system.

Bluetooth was originally created not for audio entertainment, but to connect phone headsets and speakerphones. It was also designed with a very narrow bandwidth, which forces it to apply data compression to an audio signal, which results in a loss of sonic performance. While this may be perfectly fine for phone conversations, it's far from ideal for music reproduction. Not only that, but Bluetooth could be applying this compression on top of data compression that might already exist, such as from digital audio files or sources streamed through the Internet, which just doesn’t bode well for your music listening pleasure.

Everything I’ve written up here is factual and, should you feel compelled to research a little further you will find all this information on the internet. If you are about to invest in a pair of headphones, look into some of the makes I’ve mentioned here (just not Beats) and prepare to enjoy sonic excellence.