Recently, I had fun reviewing two very different headphones made primarily of wood: the premium Meze 73 Classics and the budget Griffin WoodTones. Each had their pros and cons, and it was hard to tell if the wood — as cool as it is — had any real effect on the sound. As I said in those reviews, I’ve heard many excellent headphones that contain no wood. I’m not convinced of wood’s aural effectiveness when used in headphones. However, wood does look cool and it gives the headphones an aura of richness that no other material can match. That brings us to a company that not only offers headphones made of wood, but also has a global conscience. Each LSTN Troubadours headphone is made from reclaimed wood, which means no trees were cut down for the manufacturing process. Plus, LSTN donates a portion of profits towards funding hearing restoration through the Starkey Hearing Foundation, helping to spread awareness to the problem of hearing impairment and loss. In fact, LSTN claims that’s the only reason for their existence. Interesting.
LSTN’s goal to better the world for the hearing-impaired is laudable. After all, there are about 320 million hearing-impaired people worldwide. That’s a lot of people who don’t have what I take for granted — the ability to hear and enjoy music. However, as good as LSTN’s intentions are, if they don’t make a headphone worth owning and listening with, why bother?
The LSTN Troubadours headphone is made from three different woods: dark ebony, a reddish cherry, and light beech. Since it’s reclaimed, it’s also guilt-free. This review covers the beech model – the one LSTN sent to me. However, each model should sound the same so the choice of wood is strictly aesthetic. The styling is pure retro in an aviator theme, similar in look to Skull Candy’s — you guessed it — Aviator phones. In addition to the wood ear cups, construction is mostly brushed aluminum and chrome metal. The headband has no padding, just a thin rubberized, grippy strip. Even so, I didn’t experience any discomfort on the top of my head. Sizing is easy and quick with slotted holes that click into place. By counting the holes, you can have a consistent fit every time. Ear pads are a plush fake leather. I prefer real cow skin because it breathes, but it’s not a big issue.
The cups are triangular in shape. At first glance, this doesn’t make sense, because ears are not shaped like that. Even so, i was impressed by how comfortable they were. LSTN calls the Troubadours headphones over-ear, but I would call them on-ear. My ears did not fit completely inside the padding, and I don’t have large ears. I own over-ear headphones, and they are huge compared the the Troubadours. I’ve reviewed many headphones that were called over-ear but weren’t. There is no consistency among headphone makers in this area.
The beech cups are polished and lacquered to a sheen, adding a layer of protection to the cups as well as visually enhancing the wood grain. The LSTN logo is embossed at the base.
Construction is on par with other headphones in this price range. They should hold up well if not abused. Included is an unbleached canvas drawstring bag. It won’t protect the Troubadours from damage if dropped, but it will help keep them cleaner. Since they are comfortable, extended listening – whether at the office or living room – is a breeze. I could easily wear them for hours. There are many more-expensive headphones that are not this comfortable.
The Troubadours headphones sound is easy to absorb. They have that friendly, slightly bass-leaning quality that so many people prefer. I would have liked a bit more realism and accuracy, but I gotta say, they are quite fun to listen to. Most music sounds warm and forgiving. This means that if your collection consists of many lower-resolution files, you should be impressed. On the other hand, if you have an extensive collection of high-resolution files, the Troubadours headphones won’t bring out all the clarity needed to fully appreciate the subtleties inherent in these higher-resolution files.
Classic rock fares well, as does older recordings in general. If your tastes lean towards the 60s and 70s, the added warmth from the Troubadours headphones will help fill in the general lack of bottom end from songs in that era without overpowering the mids and highs. These are not bass monsters. If it’s the Beats sound you want in a retro package, these aren’t for you.
Modern music — with all its bass and pushed-forward beats — comes off as overdone. Hip-hop fans won’t be disappointed with the lack of bass; they will be disappointed that there is not more of it. The Troubadours are better suited towards vocal-oriented (excluding hip hop) songs, even songs that are – ugh – auto-tuned.
If the Troubadours headphones were a bit less expensive, I would rate them higher. As it is, they are well-made, stylish in a retro way, sound good with most music, and are very good with older hits. But the important thing to remember is the social conscience that LSTN advocates with proceeds from each sale going to help hearing-impaired people through the Starkey Hearing Foundation. How many other headphone makers can claim that?