Headphones in the Car

I have developed a preference for ‘ear/headphones’ (of whatever type is appropriate) vs speakers. I have a very low mileage, but 10 year old car that does not have bluetooth or an AUX input and I would like to listen to music (Android Smartphone source when I drive (earphones). But I don’t like ‘taking my ears off the road’ and I have no reason to change cars.

I have tried a couple of IEM’s and they are a bit too isolating. I am not going the on/over the ears route as I don’t like the impression that leaves WRT other drivers. But I have a set of ‘hang on the ear’ type (Yamaha’s that came with a unusual electric guitar that I own). I find the ‘isolation’ to be acceptable and the sound isn’t bad. So I have two questions.

  1. How have others made this trade-off?

  2. I am having trouble finding wired, decent quality ‘hang on the ear’ type earphones out there. For those who use them what do you suggest (in the $100 to $250 range)?



ps. My ‘test’ for acceptable isolation is that I can hear the blinkers blink, and when I wear them outdoors I can hear the birds in my back yard. WRT the ‘hang on the ear’ types, they seem to all be sourced from Asia with relatively unpredictable delivery times and just a general lack of confidence on my part.

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Laws are obviously different in the US than here. In Spain you would be fined a minimum of 600 to 1000€ and lose points that could even end in jail time.

By the way, there is a piece of equipment that will allow you to add an aux in (or Bluetooth) to your existing car unit with decent results (especially compared to the FM broadcasting style). The way the device works is that is has an antenna connection in and out, what you do is remove the antenna from the back of your unit, connect it to this device, then connect from this device to your units antenna input. There is a switch on the unit that allows you to switch between the device or normal FM reception.

This unit works pretty well as it is connected via cable and not radio waves (although the principle is the same).

I have it installed in one of my vehicles because the stock unit is part of the onboard computer etc. It is obviously not going to rival a high end system but is fine for casual listening (far better than FM radio). I will see if I can look for the brand name.

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Senyor, thanks for the comments. I have read about the ‘install inline with your antenna’ systems, but have not really looked into that. The quality of the FM type that I bought was disappointing.

Regarding laws in the US headphone limitations are differ by state. There are no limitations in North Carolina, FWIW.


I believe here in California you can have 1 ear covered but not both for driving.

There are open back IEMs such as the Audeze iSine10/20 or even LCDi4 which will not “take your ears off the road”.

I have a 16 year old BMW and had tried the FM transmitter thing for awhile. It technically works, but the quality is pretty bad. My stereo did not have an AUX input on it either.

I installed a bluetooth module that connected directly into the back of the stereo head unit. This also had a mic and an aux input. This actually works our pretty well although it takes some work (google and youtube are your friend…). The other option, of course, is to upgrade your stereo to a more current model that has bluetooth.

In Washington: According to RCW 46.37.480, “No person shall operate any motor vehicle on a public highway while wearing any headset or earphones connected to any electronic device capable of receiving a radio broadcast or playing a sound recording for the purpose of transmitting a sound to the human auditory senses and which headset or earphones muffle or exclude other sounds.”

It’s a little broad, but basically you can use a hands-free device to phone communication, but you can’t use it for listening to music.

I don’t really recommend using headphones at all while driving, but if you must, there are plenty of open-back or non-isolating headphones out there, such as ear buds and open-back IEMs (like the iSine)


Formally, I have to recommend against this sort of thing. However, I’m not your (collective) mom so a few things to bear in mind if you want to persist with it:

  • Here’s a summary of the laws regarding this, by state (and province), for the US and Canada.

  • Understand that just because there isn’t a specific state/province/city law/provision/ordinance against something, does not mean it cannot be considered a contributory, or even causal, factor in the event you do something else wrong or are involved in an accident.

  • Be sure that your insurance policy does not have provisions about such thing; they are often a lot more restrictive than the strict word of state (etc.) law.


Good point about the insurance policies. Although nobody seems to mind people playing stereos at insane volumes inside their cars.

Koss makes several hang on the ear models. The Koss KDE 250’s I reviewed don’t block outside sound, and once you get them dialed in to your ear measurement, might work pretty well. I still don’t like the idea.

I knew someone who used to keep a sound effect tape of an awful crash queued up on his cassette player. He used to use it to end conversations when people called him on his cell in the car. (I think at the time it was a bag phone car phone).


Penn, thanks for the Koss suggestion. I have a pair of Rose Masya’s (used) on the way. Depending on how that works out, Koss appears to be an attractive next stop.


I received the Rose Masya Pro earbuds yesterday. I am pretty happy with the sound that I am getting and, more importantly, how well I can still hear what is going on around me. These earbuds come with a earhook thing that, for me, really works well. It holds to earbud in place without you needing to cram it into your ear canal, it doesn’t cut off external sounds, and to my unsophisticated ears, yields good sonic results (Tidal App running on an Android/Motorola G6 driving a Dragonfly Red).



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Nice! I would love to hear your impressions on the Pro model! I used to own the Rose Masya originals and I really liked them a lot!

Antdroid, I have always been a bit reluctant to post reviews given the really high quality stuff from many of the regulars here (my listening skills are poorly developed in comparison). But here is a quickie comparison of

  1. The Rose Masya
  2. Sennheiser HD650 headphones
  3. Audio Technica ATH E50 earphones

The digital stream was feeding a ifi Nana iDSD Black Label. In the case #1 below the source was the Tidal app running on a Dell XPS laptop (Tidal Hifi sound).This was pretty quick as I did not have a lot of time.

  1. I started with Also Sprach Zarathustra (Deodato’s Prelude Album). There were times when I thought that some of the more subtle percussion things were more clear in 650’s. Other times that same nod went to the Rose Masya’s (now to be referred to as RM). THe ATH E50’s are always very crisp, but to my ear seem less satisfying, although I don’t know why that is. What is interesting is that with the ATH’s I am always fiddling with the fit of the earphones trying to find the sweet spot (I put Comply ear tips on them, although I would not do that again). I am using those ear hook things on the RM’s and I just kind of put them in and twist 90’ish degrees and there they are.

  2. Next I listened to Elise Neumann (classical guitar) playing the Prelude from Bach’s Lute Suite in C Minor (BWV 997). This was a 24/96 FLAC file read by MusicBee. In this case I did my standard classical guitar EQ of a bit of mid range boost (250 to 2000 hz). Again the 650’s and RM’s were kind of a tie to my ears, although an edge if there was one goes to the 650’s. Again the ATH’s were last place and I don’t know how much of this is due to the fact that they just don’t work in my ears. That 45 degree angle thing between the body and ear canal piece just does not fit my ear geometry.




The beauty of a headphone impression or a review is no one is wrong. It’s a personal experience :slight_smile:

Thanks for your comments. I haven’t tried the ATH E40 but I have experienced the HD650 so thanks for the quick impressions. Traditional Ear buds typically do well in the mids but struggle with bass and treble extension, but a lot of these newer ear buds coming out are actually improving on those weaknesses which is impressive given the physical limitations of the ear bud form. I still love the comfort and openess of ear buds and find myself wearing them often at home when I need to hear around me.