Headphone Music Essentials

9 songs that are best heard through a fine set of cans

Some songs are designed for shitty laptop speakers. Mixed and mastered to perform best under suboptimal conditions, they sacrifice audio fidelity for pop music punch. Today however, we are talking about the other kind of tunes—those that, due to studio trickery or uncommon attention to detail, require a more refined auditory delivery device. Here are 9 songs that are best heard through a fine set of phones.

Postal Service – Such Great Heights
With the headphones turned up you can almost feel the bleeps and blorps of this Postal Service classic dancing on your skin. Now over 10 years old, it still feels fresh as ever—even if Garden State doesn’t.


The Microphones – The Pull
Throughout “The Pull”, the extreme back and forth panning of that out of tune guitar never lets up. The effect—like much of Phil Evrum’s art—is nothing short of hypnotic. Sometimes, simplicity has to be appreciated through high priced headphones.


Radiohead – Kid A
Kid A was the album that changed it all. Challenging the way alt-rock listeners thought of electronic music in a serious way, the title track was its most convincing argument. After 17 years it’s still one of the most disturbing (yet beautiful) things you’ve ever heard.


Flying Lotus – Massage Situation
The title Studio Master almost seems too faint of praise for Steven Ellison, the experimental, multi-genre producer behind Flying Lotus. On “Massage Situation” Ellison simultaneously plays the role of futurist and nostalgist to exhilarating ends.


The Beatles – Tomorrow Never Knows
Along with The Beach Boys, The Beatles pretty much invented headphone music in the 60s. Recorded at the zenith of their studio innovation, “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a prime example of how time, creativity and a good studio tech can make all the difference to a band’s finished product.


Sigur Ros – Gobbledigook
The song is called “Gobbledigook” for a reason. Still, you don’t need to understand the words to enjoy the dizzying vocal pans and the racing toms. Sigur Ros has always been a band that rewards close-listeners. Nowhere is this more evident than on this Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust album highlight.


The Besnard Lakes – Albatross
There’s something so heavy about the climax of this song. When that first note of suboctive bass comes in at 3:03, you can feel it in your gut. Test out the low end of your “Beats by Dre” for this one.


Wilco – I’m Trying to Break Your Heart
Once dubbed the “American Radiohead” by critics, Wilco undoubtedly take the same level of care in creating detailed, audio-rich recordings as their English counterpart. While that comparison may sound a bit odd in retrospect, there’s no question that “I’m Trying to Break Your Heart” is one for the audiophile.


Hot Chip – Shake a Fist
Go to 1:53 and you’ll understand “Shake a Fist’s” place on this list. No other song has so persuasively (or directly) made an argument for wearing headphones to listen to their music.