Jamey Warren owns a terrific headphone Web site, HeadRoom, and it's been a valuable resource for headphone buyers for 20 years. Since he already stocks a large inventory of headphones opening a physical store seemed like the next logical step. Great idea, but Warren's company is based in Bozeman, MT, a small town of less than 40,000 people. The store required additional staff and Warren had to rent a space downtown, but he was eager to take the chance. He sees the store as a work in progress, and if all goes according to plan Warren will open stores in other towns and cities.
The shop's doors opened in early January, and business has been steady. After all, it's one thing to read about a headphone, it's way better to have it on your head and listen, so if you're curious about the sound of the $1,699 Audeze LCD-X headphone, there's no substitute for an audition. Or maybe a $299 Sennheiser Momentum, you can listen for yourself. The store isn't just about high-end headphones, they sell the terrific $20 Koss KSC-75, but you can spend some time listening to a wide range of headphones and see what makes sense for you. The range of brands is vast -- AKG, Audeze, Audio-Technica, Beyerdynamic, Etymotic, Fostex, Grado, Hifiman, Klipsch, Koss, Polk, Skullcandy, Sennheiser, Shure -- the list goes on to include almost every name I could think of, except one: Beats.
Does a $100 'phone really sound enough better than a $50 one to justify the price? Maybe yes, maybe no; the best way to find out is to listen. It's not just about sound quality, at the store you can try out different kinds of headphones, does an on-ear make more sense for you than an in-ear headphone? How does an over the ear sound compare with an on-ear model? The only way to know for sure is to try 'em on.
Another consideration when buying headphones is comfort, and swapping a few 'phones on and off your noggin in quick succession will narrow your options. After the first round you might try listening for 5 or 10 minutes on each one to zero in on the headphone that feels right for you.
The HeadRoom store also sells small speakers, headphone amps, and digital converters. Again, you can hear for yourself if an amp or converter makes enough of a difference to justify a purchase.
If you're lucky enough to have a headphone store in your town with a nice selection you can audition on-site, share the news in the comments section.