Review: Dusting Off Some Vintage Headphones

Checking out the latest acquisitions during a recent visit to Vancouver, BC vintage audio dealer Innovative Audio, I noticed a lot of headphones that I hadn’t seen since the days when I wore Qiana shirts and had hair down past my shoulders. They were big, bulky, and beautiful, the models I dreamed of owning back when it was a big deal for me to save up $29 for Panasonic’s cheapest cans.

When I was a kid, I got to hear these headphones only for a few seconds, playing Beethoven piano sonatas or whatever my local mall’s audio store deemed sophisticated enough to drive off long-haired 16-year-old kids with no money. Now I finally had my chance! So I grabbed as many headphones as I could carry, and sat down on the vintage 1970s couch in Innovative founder Gordon Sauck’s office for a long listening session.

I was amazed at some of the vintage ’phones long-abandoned features and design concepts, but just as amazed when I found a couple of models that were reasonably competitive with the factory-fresh AKG K 550 I had on hand. I was also amazed that they all worked. Although I can’t be sure how age and use affected their sound, none exhibited any obvious technical flaws outside of a scratchy volume control or two.

Here’s a roundup of the headphones I tried, along with a few listening notes. I can’t say it’s time to rush out and grab a set of vintage cans, but there are a couple of models in here that might be worth dropping a $20 on if you encounter them at a swap meet.