Shure's PTH Control Switch

I've never owned a set of headphones. Is that what they're called? Or should it be pair of headphones? Headphones? Earphones? I don't even know. I've stayed away from headphones for a couple of reasons: I don't like having things on my head or in my ears, and I actually do enjoy hearing the sounds around me — the banjos on the F train, the buses on Madison Avenue, the sirens around the corner, the construction in our hall. Oh, and the birdies chirping, too.

So, I when I heard about Shure's Push-to-Hear (PTH) control switch, which allows you to instantly mute Led Zeppelin or Sonic Youth or whatever music's being shot into your ear canals so that you can chat with the dude on the corner who needs a dollar or the time, I was pretty intrigued.

I walked over to the Shure display and demo'd their flagship E500s ($499). Why not? I squeezed the yellow foam like I would when inserting earplugs at a Rye Coalition show, wrapped the thin black cables around the tops of my ears, and stuck the earphones in. Soon, the yellow foam gently expanded leaving the sounds of the outside world dull and distant. I was impressed by how comfortable they were. And, once "Whole Lotta Love" started swishing around in my brain — way down inside, way down inside — with a remarkably deep and wide soundstage, it was easy to forget that I had anything at all in my ears.

At this point, I wasn't even sure I wanted to try the PTH control switch — I didn't want to stop the music — but, when I did, I was again immediately impressed. A small microphone is activated which amplifies all of the surrounding sounds. Suddenly, you have mutant hearing abilities. Even simply speaking becomes a fun game. Meanwhile, the music still plays. There's a volume control on the PTH so that, if you wanted to, you could hear a bit of the music, too. Or, turn it all the way down, and tell the beggar on the street that you don't have any spare change.

The PTH comes standard with the E500s, or can be purchased as an accessory for any of Shure's E Series models, and is compatible with other brands of headphones, for a cool $49.99.