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The OUT Guide to Mastering Aural

The OUT Guide to Mastering Aural


From the best headphones to speakers, we choose the best music tools on the market

Photograph by David Roemer

Has the digital revolution enhanced the experience of listening to music, or has it -- as aficionados of vinyl insist -- depersonalized music, making it sound flatter, blander, less interesting? However you feel about that question, one thing is certain: What headphones or speakers you use to listen to your music can make a big difference. To help, we identify some of our favorite Bluetooth speakers, sing a song of praise to an Italian headphone brand, and show you how to get your karaoke groove on. Let the music play!

Leather jacket by Paul Smith, price available upon request;


Karaoke Killed The Cat
Self-described as "the infamous karaoke dance party for people who never thought they'd never like karaoke," Karaoke Killed the Cat has been rocking New York since 2003. At this point, the karaoke dance party is not just an institution -- it's a legend. We invited the duo behind it, Chris Goldteeth (yes, he really does have gold teeth) and Lord Easy, to lay down the golden rules to rockin' their weekly bash at Union Hall in Brooklyn's Park Slope.

1. Come ready to bring it. This does not mean come ready to get a record deal, but if you're singing in public, you should aim to entertain those in the room. If you're shy, go for a private room.
2. Choose crowd favorites. Karaoke night is not your time to show how extensive your knowledge of B-sides is. Ain't nobody got time for that. Pick something we can all sing along to.
3. Know your song. If you don't know the lyrics, don't sing it at karaoke. This should be obvious, but it's not.
4. Don't bug the host. Everyone in the room thinks they're the best, and everyone in the room wants to be next. Go get a drink and party with everyone else until it's your turn.
5. Loosen up. Stop taking yourself so seriously! Karaoke is supposed to be fun.

Photo courtesy of Chris Goldteeth

M-100_matte_black_flying_squarex400The Only Headphones You'll Ever Need
If you've never wondered why the ear cups on your headphones are round, you haven't tried V-Moda, an upstart brand from Italy that's carved a niche catering to DJs and audiophiles. Because their ear cups are hexagonal, they just fit better-- and more comfortably--than anything else out there. They also fold niftily to the arch of the headband, making them more compact than their competitors. And then there's the sound: well-defined, generous, and warm. V-Moda Crossfade M-100, $310;

Speakers of the House
A sound system for every type

Soen_transit_on_white_backx400The Jetsetter
TRANSIT BY SOEN Small really is beautiful when it sounds this good, with a balance and clarity that rises above Jambox, its most direct competitor. The solid, jet-black design is a marvel of engineering, with a sleek metal kickstand and a tilt to the body that helps project sound upward. It wouldn't power a house party, but it's excellent for casual home use and travel. $199.95;

Stanmore_-04x400The Nostalgist
MARSHALL STANMORE Long known as a maker of amplifiers, Marshall knows how to fill a room, and the Stanmore doesn't even bother compromising on sound for portability. This is a big number with a big a matching price; like a 1970s hi-fi, it won't be leaving your living room until it's time to retire it. $400;

Wren_product_shot_2_highx400The Modernist
WREN V5 WIRELESS SPEAKER SYSTEM The sound on the Wren V5 is almost as smooth as its bamboo or rosewood finish (you get to choose which). Succinct, with a great wireless signal, this is a very grown-up speaker that sounds great with acoustic instruments, if a little less so with big, bass-y songs. $399;

Pbsgrainaudio-creditmattdoylex400The Hipster
GRAIN AUDIO PWS Grain Audio's strategy seems firmly focused on the Girls-watching, selvage jeans-wearing Brooklyn set. Their portable PWS, in a (certified sustainable) walnut case, was anointed as "dope" by Complex, and in a comparison with the Big Jambox the sound seems brighter, with clean top notes. Dope, indeed. $249;

339622-puma-soundchuckx400The Athlete
PUMA SOUNDCHUCK Weatherproof and lightweight, what the eye- catching Puma Soundchuck gains in portability it loses in sound quality. That may be less important if you want something to listen to while you're working out or on a camping trip, but prepare to want something else to use at home. $129.95;


In Praise of the Cassette
First things first: The cassette was short-lived for good reason. Though it didn't have the quality of vinyl, it was just as vulnerable to deterioration, especially if you tried to fast-forward or rewind too often, when you might find yourself spooling the great entrails of tape back into the wheels. Weirdly, this was also the cassette's virtue, for it made the experience of playing music tactile -- even intimate. Then there was the lovely, plastic-y creak a cassette case made when you pried it open and the neat way the liner notes folded up like a map into the door. As a design object it's unequalled by the CD and has been lost entirely in the digital revolution. The great innovation was, of course, the Sony Walkman, which made music portable (and a public nuisance). I got my first one in 1984 as a bar mitzvah gift and recall an evening of teenage angst, when it seemed like the right thing to do was to walk through my village, barefoot, shedding soft tears to the Smiths. You couldn't do that before the cassette was invented. -- Aaron Hicklin

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