Updated: Of course 3 minutes after hitting publish I realize the better headline is “Audiophile Ski Helmet.”
It’s so funny that I have a post today, almost exactly one year from my last one! Of course the last one was that I had finished the book project so that’s a pretty decent excuse to stop writing but that’s not the case, it’s just that the blogging I’ve done has been over at my work site – Trust Insights. For martech folks check out this series on lead scoring, attribution, and machine learning for attribution!
Longtime readers know that I’m a huge fan of the Sony 7506 headphones, and I mod them for podcasting and webinars with a removable mic – the ubergeek special Johnny Headphones.
This winter I decided that I wanted to upgrade from my Bose Sport Headphones and started looking into other options. Taking sport headphones in and out is a hassle and I wanted to see if I could get both better sound and less isolation (being able to hear what was going on around me better) as I’m chaperoning my kids and a couple others after lesson time is over and I need to know who is yelling, and more importantly why.
I was new to helmets when I came back to skiing 4 years ago after only going out a handful of times over the past 15 years. At first I thought I would hate them as it’s a lot like motorcycle riding, although it’s moronic in terms of risk management there’s nothing like the wind coming at you high speed to feel like you’re truly free.
What I was not expecting is that the helmet is the perfect combination of super warm, and yet still with enough ventilation to stay comfortable. I was not expecting a helmet to be warmer and more comfortable than any ski hat I’ve ever had. I’ve had a ton of hats and the very best, I would charitably rate as half comfortable. And projecting my skull from impact is a wonderful side benefit.
After a bit of researching I learned that many ski helmets, like the Boeri I got a great deal on at the local ski sale, are made with velcro pockets over each ear so that you can drop in a speaker solution like these Alta Wireless Bluetooth Helmet Drop in Speaker Chips:
As you can see it’s pretty simple, just drop them in and go.
But, in the process of learning how to mod the 7506 I had a bunch of parts lying around and decided to build my own. There were three benefits to this: first I prefer wired, while bluetooth no wires is a wonderful thing, the freedom is offset by even one day of arriving at the mountain and realizing I forgot to charge my helmet. Second I was pretty sure I could do better sound wise than anything else out there, and so far I haven’t tried anything better (although there is a helmet that has a perfect cutaway so that it includes a real full set of over ears with headband, but I wasn’t about to go that route because of reason three – I already had the parts so this was “free.” It as pretty straightforward:
- Take apart the 7506s with Phillips head screwdriver
- Cut all wires, leaving enough for me to see which color goes where (note that the left side that has the jack has 3 points to solder to while the right only has two)
- Use the Dremel cutter to cut around the plastic plate that holds the driver, and then the Dremel grinder to take off all the rough edges
- I had an old patch cord that I soldered to both to connect the left to the right driver. The cord fits between the styrofoam and the outer plastic shell of the headphone so it’s completely out of sight running around the back of my head.
- Plastic twist ties are perfect for securing the cables to the plastic driver plates after soldering, cut the plate leaving pairs of holes that you can run the plastic twist ties through to bind down the cables so they don’t move (cable 1 connecting left to right, cable 2 long enough to run down to my jacket pocket and terminating with a 3.5mm tip which plugs into my iPhone 6 (until next week when my iPhone X arrives!!!)
- Note that many ski jackets have a loop along side the zipper for cord management and may also have a button hole so you can run the cord into the pocket from the inside. I have both so even though I went all fancy with a Neon Lime cord, you can’t see it at all if I have my jacket zipped all the way up so that it covers the bottom of the helmet ear pads.
- This bullet and the next two are critical for sound quality – I used another twist tie to connect the driver plate to the ear cushion that attaches to the ear flap. I tried just having it float in the pocket but sound quality can vary dramatically if it moves too high, anchoring it with the twist tie solves this (and be sure the driver is facing into your ear, not out, that was a moronic mistake I made once.
- Because the 7506 are closed back headphones I found out that by adding a Beyerdynamic driver cover (a piece of foam with velour on one side that normally covers the driver to protect it from your greasy ears) not over the driver but behind it to reduce the amount that bleeds outside the ear flap dramatically increased the sound quality. At this point in the testing I started smiling as the sound quality was fantastic.
- The third improvement was learned by testing – having the chin strap connected and tight is critical, the better the seal on the ear flaps the better the bass, so much so that if it’s snug the whole helmet will bounce a bit when you his some big bass.
I also covered the solder points with electric tape to reduce the risk of shorting out in case it gets wet, or catching fire against the foam. With that said, if you are going to try this at all let me be clear:
You are violating your warranty, odds are it will light on fire, short out and destroy the headphones and probably kill you. I’m straight up telling you that in no way should you try this, if you are crazy enough to still try remember that I told you it would never work and best case scenario is you dying quickly.
With the disclaimer done here’s some photos:
One last thing, using your phone or the normal buttons on the average headphone cable is mostly impossible. While searching I came across Chubby Buttons – a bluetooth controller for your music (and the watch battery lasts a season, no recharging.) It’s not cheap, around $60 but it is fantastic, I highly recommend:
Ok, start building some playlists!
After field testing I thought the sound was only ok. Then this year I added the EarStudio ES100. It’s a Bluetooth Adapter, you can plug in any wired headphone and now it’s Bluetooth. The big win here is that it also has a full EQ app. So while the sound used to be pretty thin (unsurprising make a closed back headphone open back) as soon as I switch the EQ to the setting I use to make earbuds sound better it was fantastic. I can now recommend this rig whole heartedly.
Also one other update, Chubby Buttons 2 have been released. Same link, same thing but you can now access smart assistants so no more pulling out the phone to read text messages. I’ll update when it gets here!