The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Headphone Buyer

The tl;dr, in case you’re thinking of buying Kamtron Marathon 2 headphones –
DON’T. They’re rubbish compared to the old ones.

It isn’t often that I feel the need to take to WordPress to review something. I think I’ve wittered on about my preferred keyboard on Emma Goldsmith’s blog, but that’s about it.

But I’ve been trying to submit Amazon reviews about my favourite wireless headphones for ages. Years. Every time I try, Amazon reject the review, for no obvious reason, and I think “Oh well, never mind” and just carry on using them. Because these things are absolutely brilliant. They’re dead cheap, lightweight, flexible, really comfy, stay put even if you’re using them for yoga and spend a lot of time in downward dog, have an excellent range and a battery life that’ll make you forget you have to charge them. They have on-ear controls for volume, play/pause and forward/back.

The sound’s probably not all that but given I wear them primarily to listen to audiobooks and for emergency supermarket muzak blocking it really doesn’t matter. I can even chuck them in my handbag without a case (although they do come with a rather nice one) and they stand up to that pretty well too. The only downside is that eventually – probably because of aforesaid chucking them in my handbag – they always crack about half way along the cable that goes around the back of your neck. But even then they last for at least a couple of years before that happens, and at about 25 quid a pair, they are, quite simply, fantastic.

Two pairs of headphones, each with a crack in the neck cable.
Two pairs of Marathon headphones, both with the same crack in the cable

Or at least… they were quite simply fantastic.

I should explain that the paragon in question is the variably named Marathon. Sometimes they appear to be made by a company called Kamtron, sometimes it’s Levin. Sometimes they’re called something else altogether.

And the last time I ordered some new ones, it turned out that they’re now called Marathon 2. “Never mind”, I thought, “I’m sure they’ll be just as good but with a different Bluetooth standard or something”.

Mais non.

Two pairs of headphones, one with an obviously thinner cable than the other
Old on the left, new on the right

As you can see above, the new ones have a cable that’s a good bit flimsier than the previous ones. Indeed, the whole build quality feels much less solid. Nor do they come with that rather nice hard case any more. You can’t get them in white (very handy for spotting in a dark handbag). And they drop the Bluetooth pairing at irregular – and extremely annoying – intervals. Sometimes I pause them and they drop it immediately. Sometimes I pause them once and they’re fine, and the next time they drop. And when the pairing goes, the sound goes first and the control goes afterwards. So I press the button to start the audio again, and it starts – but not through the headphones! The sound comes out of my phone. In my pocket, in my handbag, on the front seat of the car, in the bag on my bike frame… And there’s no way to get it back into the headphones without unpairing and re-pairing them. And of course I can’t stop the audio without doing so manually on my phone.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that after a month or two (or less, in the case of the last set I bought), they simply fall to pieces.

Pair of broken headphones with wires exposed
So new I never got around to taking the “Made in China” sticker off them

Now, I know all of this sounds like first world problems. The fact that I can afford headphones, an Audible subscription, the electricity to recharge them and so on means I should be grateful about my lot rather than whinging about cheap consumer goods. Right?

Well, no.

Because cheap consumer goods are killing the planet. Cheap consumer goods are killing companies that make quality products. Cheap consumer goods are killing people in China who have to make the useless things. I wish they were throttling the purchasing department people who say “Yeah, fuckit the quality’s not as good but we’re going to sell them anyway because most people won’t bother to complain”, but sadly not.

After two sets of Marathon 2, both as crap as each other, I’ve just attempted to buy a different brand of folding wireless headphones. These ones appear to have been made for someone with a head the size of an orange, so that’s more of our planet’s precious resources wasted to return them and I’m still left searching for a replacement for my Marathon 1s.

Or would be, because I’ve had a bright idea since I’ve been writing this post, and that bright idea is…. electrical tape! I can just fix the old ones and keep using them. Haha! Take that, cynical purchasing department person!