The ears have it

I was a longtime user of the earbuds Apple includes with its assorted iPods, and for a long time I thought they were good enough for me. But I discovered that it’s not until you try a higher-quality headphone that you realize what you have been missing.

Future Sonics is a familiar name to musicians for the work they do in the field. With its Atrio Series canalphones, the company has given everyone a chance to experience its pro-level technology at a reasonable price.

The decision on what headphones or canalphones to use has a dramatic effect on how your music will sound and consequently how much you will enjoy listening. The enjoyment of listening to music is why most of us do it, so we should do whatever we can to maximize that experience. I’ve been using the Atrio Series for a few months now—the black m5 model—and I couldn’t be happier.

There is a misconception out there among some people that canalphones can hurt your hearing, both because the drivers are so close to your eardrums and because you need to increase volume to get some feel from the bass. That’s not necessarily true. Better in-ear-canal headphones let you hear everything clearly at the lowest volumes—sometimes even better than with full-sized headphones or expensive studio monitors.

Future Sonics Atrio series model m5 canalphones

And, in fact, the bass response of the Atrio Series is incredible, even at lower volume levels than I use with other products, and even with my iPod’s EQ turned off—no artificial tweaking of the music here. In other words, you don’t need to crank up the volume in order to get good bass response.

Another thing that annoys me about many headphones is how bright they are—sometimes they actually hurt my ears. I’m no doctor, but even I know that can’t be good. Future Sonics products are recommended by H.E.A.R. (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), a non-profit volunteer organization dedicated to raising awareness of the real dangers of repeated exposure to excessive noise levels from music which can lead to permanent, and sometimes debilitating, hearing loss and tinnitus. Lower volume, better bass, and less fatigue on your ears—sounds like a good combination to me.

As with most canalphones, the Atrio Series offerings includes several types of fittings (or “tips”) to fit various ear sizes and shapes. Or you can do what I did and get a set of custom molds; constructed with the help of an audiologist, these molds fit your particular ears perfectly and make the canalphone experience that much better.

At $199, the Atrio series is not the cheapest set of canalphones on the market, but they’re far from being the most expensive either. (Custom molds will set you back another $149.)

Whether you’re a professional musician, audio engineer, or just a music lover, if you’re still using Apple’s stock earbud, you’ll immediately hear the difference of the Atrio Series. Do your ears a favor and try them out. My colleagues over at Playlist will be putting the Atrio Series canalphones through their paces soon enough, so check there in the coming weeks for a full review.

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