Introduction: Ultra-cheap Studio Headphones

aka the Portable Zen Place.

Made by combining a pair of headphones and a pair of ear defenders to make outside-world-blocking headphones, in anticipation of a long train journey in which I'd rather hear my music than everyone else on the train talking loudly into their mobiles. The aforementioned train journey took three and a half hours, and my carriage was populated by screaming babies, teenagers, the aforementioned phone users and an obnoxious woman eating crisps with her mouth open while staring at me; these were an absolute sanity-saver. Hence "portable zen place". "Studio headphones" is because I don't know what they call those headphones they use in sound studios, but I'd guess they're sound blocking.

(This step probably makes me sound like a raging sociopath; I'm really not, many of my best friends are humans.)

Step 1: Materials Required

- Uber-cheap ear defenders: about £3.50 ($7)
- Uber-uber-cheap headphones: about £2.50 ($5)
- Electrical tape: you should own already, and I can't see it costing more than £1.00

I am lucky to live 30 seconds walk from a fantastic hardware shop that's kind of like Aladdin's Cave for DIYers, but you should be able to find these in any self-respecting hardware shop or (probably) online.

Step 2: The First Incision

The first thing to do is remove the horrible plastic headband that came with the headphones. I briefly considered doing this in a surgical manner, and then just broke them off. If you want to be technical about it you could dremel/hacksaw/melt them off, but at this stage you probably want to keep at least part of the headband attached to give room to fine-tune later.

Alternatively, if you want to just use the speaker (the inner circular bit here) and mount it yourself, now would be a good time to cut it out.

Step 3: Defender Dismemberment

Probably as a direct result of their being so cheap, these ear defenders were an absolute joy to dismantle. There was not a single drop of glue or any sort of threaded attachment used in their construction, everything was press fit. The anatomy of my ear defenders (YMMV) was:
- Headband
- Plastic "cups", attached to headband by press-fit rubbery things
- Foam insert
- Plastic retaining ring to hold foam in
- Padded ring

Dismantling them just required removing the press fit components (ie. all of them). If yours are slightly more up market there may be a bit more to this step but they should still come apart. The foam shouldn't need much modification unless it's the rigid stuff used in shooting ear defenders.

Step 4: Cut It Up, Put It Together

Once I had the ear defenders in bits, I contemplated the best design. The earphones were conveniently the right size to fit in the defenders with minimal modification, so the simplest method was to remove the padded ring, slot the earphone into the defender so it was in about the right position, cut a slit in the bottom of the padded ring sleeve to allow the wire through and reassemble.

The rubbery thing holding the cup onto the headband protruded into the inside of the ear cup slightly, reducing space for the headphone speaker, so I took the foam out to cut the rubbery thing down to size before inserting the earphone, but I suspect this is dependent on your particular defenders. If everything doesn't fit together right, take it apart and see what you can alter to make it fit. If you are just using the speaker part out of your headphones, you may want to find some way to anchor them to the body of the defenders so they aren't rattling around inside.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

Not much to add here. I chose to completely cover the bright red, very cheap looking plastic ear cups with black LX tape to give a 0.01% more professional appearance to them, but they will look a bit stupid no matter what you do to them. Also, the wires on the hideously cheap headphones started separating so more strategic LX tape was called for. They're ludicrously short as well, I'd extend them if it wasn't such a pain soldering to stereo wires.

Step 6: Usage

Attach an MP3 player or similar source of portable sound. Wear. Listen to music and marvel at the improved dynamic range (I think) allowing you to hear the quiet bits you'd never heard before. I recommend the intro to "Nice Weather for Ducks" by Lemon Jelly or "Deeper Underground" by Jamiroquai to illustrate this. Alternatively, take on a long journey with a good audiobook (I recommend Terry Pratchett because.. well... he's Terry Pratchett).

Remove from head when awareness of external world is required, for instance when crossing roads or listening to public transport P.A. systems. While they don't block all external noise, wearing these in traffic is profoundly dangerous, as I quickly discovered in the middle of London. Don't do it- they make a perfect indie-kid accessory hung casually around your neck :)

Alternatively, wait until dark, find some fresh underwear and fire up a game like Bioshock, Doom 3, Half life 2, or anything with the requisite make-you-brick-it-in-terror sound.