Want all the benefits of an open-design headphone with the comfort and portability of earbuds? It’s not available domestically, but these affordable open-back earbuds can easily be acquired on your next visit to Japan.
Open Design Earbuds?
For the past few years, I’ve been using standard sound isolating earbuds on my commute to work. I tried using studio headphones, but they’re too hot, leave weird flat hair, and block out too much sound. I’ve checked out open-back headphones but didn’t like that everyone around could hear what I was listening to. Skip forward to earlier this year, where I ran into the Sony STH-40D open-ear stereo headset in Japan. My life was forever changed and I’ll probably have to buy another pair (or an upgrade) the next time I’m there.
Step One: Head to a Giant Electronics Store
In the larger retail districts of Japan, there’s a good chance that you’ll run into some _really_ big electronics stores. Some of the most popular ones would be Bic Camera, Labi (Yamada Denki), and Yodobashi Camera. You know you’ve arrived when you see a building several stories high, spanning a block wide, with an annoyingly catchy store jingle playing on loop. When you first enter, check the floor guide for the floor dedicated to audio products. Here, you will be able to test out hundreds of headphones, listening to your favorite music type, by simply connecting them to your phone. As a bonus, they’ll have alcohol wipes nearby so you won’t have to worry about ear-cooties the last tester may have had.
Feels like an Earbud, Works like an Open-Back Headphone
The STH-40D [close-up photo] was located by the other Sony earbuds but had a different look. The bud part tucks into the bottom part of your ear, and a hook goes below your earlobe. In-ear, it feels just like standard Sony earbuds. But because your ear canal isn’t blocked, you can hear everything around you as you listen to music. Especially good when you want to hear cars crossing the street, or someone is trying to tell you something. Unlike open-back headphones, however, no one can hear what you’re listening to because the sound is going directly into your ear. Sound quality is decent, nowhere near a studio headset, but much better than you’d expect for an earbud that’s playing indirectly into the bottom part of your ear. As a bonus, there’s a mic and buttons for volume/music control on the headphone wire.
So if you’re heading to Japan and looking for a new pair of headphones, give this unique pair a listen. I picked up mine tax-free for about $40. If it’s not for you, those giant stores probably have something else there that’s more to your liking. Finally, I’d like to thank Sony’s pressroom for supplying photos as I really did not want to model them myself. They thought it was strange that a travel food blog would request earphone photos, but I just really like them and had to share.
Sony STH-40D open-ear stereo headset [sonymobile.com]
post update: Picked up the SBH82D on my most recent trip to Japan. Works the same, but the battery life isn’t the strongest topping at just under 8 hours. I like the behind-the-neck Bluetooth version but since I don’t mind wires, the STH-40D may still be the better value purchase.