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The Beautiful Sound of Silence

Checking out the Klipsch Mode M40 headphones

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When I tried the Klipsch Mode M40 noise-canceling heaphones for the first time, I was on an airplane. It was a red-eye flight and I was in no mood for any of the 174 things that can annoy you on an airplane if you're tired. What I really wanted to do was sleep, but that's always been hard for me in the air.

So I slipped the M40s over my ears, and noticed right away that not only did they feel pretty comfortable, but they had already blocked out a good portion of the ambient noise in the cabin. Then I flicked the little switch on my right ear to activate noise cancellation and...ahhhhhhh. The M40s turned all the hissing, murmuring, and general airplane hubbub into very dull white noise. Next thing I knew, I was waking up with my forehead resting on the back of the seat in front of me.

Next up was a listening test. I think it's important to note a couple things first. One, I do appreciate the difference between good and bad sound, but I'm not really an audiophile. I don't have preamps or DACs or even a proper stereo system at home, though I do have some nice speakers and a sub in my car. So that's me. But I used to play in a band and kinda know when a song has been recorded, mixed, and mastered well.

I plugged straight into my iPod and turned on a recording I know well: Ghost Season by Mason Brothers. The files were ripped from a CD as Apple Lossless. I've listened to the album a bunch of times in my car and on my iPod dock at home, but never with a nice set of headphones on.

First impression: wow, I don't think I've ever really heard this record before - and I'm on the recording! There are layers upon layers of overdubs coming through each ear that were drowned out by road noise in my car or by any number of things at home. Here, in a closed environment, I can hear them loud and clear. I can hear fret noises, the occasional breath, the intricate drum work. The Hammond organ flutters around with beautiful nuance and enhances every song - in the car, that organ can get lost. I think I'm starting to see how audiophiles get started.

Just for kicks, I toggled the noise-canceling switch a few times to see what difference it made. The M40s sound pretty good with the switch off, so you could totally use them that way if the battery ran out or something. But flick that switch, and man, it's crazy what happens. It's like an invisible force pushes you up the front row and the music's suddenly right in front of you. I could hear the bass better, undoubtedly because Klipsch's noise cancellation helped isolate those frequencies. The slide guitar was more present. I could hear the rhythm guitar diligently strumming away, and the vocal overdubs were more clear. Love that fluttering organ! Note to self: engage that switch whenever possible.

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Overall, I loved these headphones. I much prefer the over-the-ear style to anything that goes in my ear, and these fit the bill. Plus they're comfortable - I have what doctors probably call "pumpkin head" when I'm not around, and these fit me nicely when I extend them all the way. They're also kind of bendy and have some give, so I think they've kind of expanded to fit me better over time. I can wear them a long time without them becoming uncomfortable, which seems to me like an important quality for a set of headphones like this. Put it this way, you can conk out on the airplane for a while and wake up feeling fine.

Klipsch includes a nice leather case and two different minijack-to-minijack cords with the M40s - one of them has a little volume control on it, very handy. There are also adapters for plugging into a 1/4" jack and an airplane seat. The case provides some rigidity for the times you'd have to pack it away during travel.

I really have enjoyed the Klipsch Mode M40 headphones. They're nice all-'rounders and are fantastic for the airplane, plus they sound great. If you're in the market for some new 'phones, give them a look, I think you'll like them.

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