There’s dozens of headphones on the market, with many of them relying on gimmicks ranging from celebrity endorsements to noise-cancellation tech to improve on the sound. The LSTN (pronounced “listen”) Cherry Wood Troubadours Headphones doesn’t rely on either; it’s sound comes from a lightweight, attractive and minimalistic over the ear design based on quality components.
The ear cups have a cherry wood casing free of any etched design, with the oval shape reminiscent of a troubadour’s instrument from olden times (hence the name). Many profess that wood-based speaker cabinets create a more inviting and “warmer” sound than plastic and being a headphones, the Troubadours can make direct contact with a person’s ear to enable the wood chamber to work its resonance wonders. This is aided by the heavily padded ear cups that, while moderate in size, are large enough to create a tight seal for deadening surface noise. The two-piece headband itself is made of metal and the construction allows for a fairly tight fit that is not uncomfortable. This is due partly to their being a good amount of “bend” with just the right amount of stiffness to keep the headphones from slipping, along with a sliver of cushioning beneath the headband. The couplings allow a little forward/back movement for the cups and almost none laterally. I think this aids in making for a more solid “fit,” and I know that it keeps the cups from becoming looser over time, as compared to those headphones where the cups are allowed extreme movements. And makes them comfortable to wear for a few hours at a time.
The combination of wood and steel may form a fashion statement to some and harkens back to when plastic and speakers weren’t in bed together. The overall appearance is that of a well-heeled and expensive looking headphones; certainly they blow all plastic models out of the water at first sight. So I’d say the $150 price tag is just about right for what it is made of and how it was constructed. But since you can’t see them once they’re on, it’ll be how they transmit sound that will count. So I took a few seconds to plug in the dual mini-jacks from the included nylon-wrapped audio cord into their corresponding sockets on the ear cups (these plugs are also wood encased so as to not spoil the look).
For my audio tests I used two CDs initially: the first being a new mastering of Stravinsky’s Lesacre du printemps (a.k.a, The Rite of Spring), as conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. It’s a vibrant work that well displays the frequency range a CD can reach. The clarity I was expecting to hear was there, from the deep throbbing bass to the light tinkle at the high end of the strings. There was times when I was expecting a harshness to slip in amidst the woodwinds, but it didn’t happen — I credit the headphone’s “cabinet’ for that, i.e., not being plastic but wood. I also never heard any distorting in the horns which I credit to both the recording as well as to the LSTN headphones. Overall I’d say the Troubadours makes listening to classical music a pleasure because it captures the nuances that are so vital when listening. I also went to Amazon and tried out MP3 snippets from the disc which, while nowhere near the level of resolution of what I had been hearing, didn’t sound distressing at all. So I can imagine MP3 playback through the headphones being of reasonable quality, depending on the resoluton of the source material.
The other CD was more contemporary, being Buddy Holly’s greatest hits as I was curious as to how the guitar and drum set would sound when combined with his vocals. Maybe Baby’s somewhat harsh guitar mixed in with background vocals came through with a strong punch and no waffling, and That’ll Be The Day, which has a very hard drum beat and a somewhat plunky guitar was a delight to hear as the separation between these two was totally noticeable. I also appreciated how the Troubadours handled the somewhat brittle sounds of the celeste in Every Day as well as the string bass. And while it’s not my cup of tea, I played some heavy metal, courtesy of Judas Priest, just to ensure that the headphones could take it. They did, better than me.
I also connected the Troubadours directly to my Mac Pro and brought up voice memos recorded at a convention using an iPhone in very noisy conditions. It performed quite well, although there was some difficulty in making out words when the ambient noise in the conference hall rose. I would say its performance was compatible to that of other non noise-canceling headphones. Of course playing an audio book, the dialogue came through clear and free of distortion but I hadn’t doubted that.
Bottom line: LSTN makes each of these headphones by hand using reclaimed wood and also makes donations to The Starkey Hearing Foundation for restoring hearing to people in need worldwide. This makes purchasing one of LSTN’s headphones noble, but of course doesn’t change the fact that they must perform well. The Cherry Wood Troubadours Headphones do: I really liked the look, was pleased with the fit and wasn’t disappointed with the sound.
In-line microphone, 18 - 22,000 Hz frequency range
No in-line volume control
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.