LSTN Headphones' motto is "Buy Headphones, Give Hearing," which points to their mission to help restore hearing to those in need through Starkey Hearing Foundation by donating proceeds. With a mission statement that gives consumers a warm and fuzzy feeling of doing good (which also happens to be a pretty smart business move), LSTN is ahead of the headphone game from the get-go. Plus, their flagship Troubadours have a super cool vintage look that's made from reclaimed wood. But even more important is how they sound, and unfortunately, LSTN seems to have spent a little too long on the image and not long enough on the quality.
We tested out the zebra wood model (they're also available in beech, cherry, and ebony) and have to admit that first impressions out of the box weren't necessarily positive ones. While the headphones look really sturdy in image, they feel surprisingly light and fragile in person. Personally, we don't like shaking a pair of headphones a little to hear the parts rattle together. That said, the wood on the earpieces look just as great in person and can also be found on the removable nylon-wrapped cable (which is also an in-line microphone). Since each is handcrafted, no two pairs look the same and the wood grain will always look different from pair to pair.
It may be a silly complaint, but anyone with long hair may want to skip the Troubadour, as the metal strips that make up the band and sizing slider tends to catch your hair when you take the headphones off. That said, the ear pads are pretty comfortable and don't wear the ear down after an hour's use. Though marketing as over-ear, they tend to rest on the outer ear more than they do the head — which definitely depends on the size of your head and ears. The placement didn't really hamper the quality though, as limited sound escaped and still did a pretty good job to drown out the noise around you. It can get pretty loud sometimes in our office and even amidst a loud conversation about the newest Game of Thrones episode, I was able to enjoy my tunes without interference.
Any audiophile knows that wood gives a better acoustic sound than plastic or metal, which is why so many brands source wood for their headphones. LSTN reports a frequency range from 18Hz to 22KHz, a sensitivity of 101+/-3dB at 1KHz1mW, a 32 Ohm impedance, and a rated input power of 30mW (the max is 50mW). The different wood types promise different sound performances and the zebra gives a really solid bass range, which works great with R&B especially. Unfortunately, older tunes didn't sound too clear, with the vocals taking a back seat to the bass.
Of course, the headphones are only $150, so they're not exactly high up there in the luxury realm, but they're a solid lower-priced product that you can snatch up for travel and back-up use. Plus, with their cool retro look and charitable cause, the LSTN Troubadours make at the very least a good gift for your coffee shop, Bob Dylan-loving friend (though ironically, Bob Dylan may not actually sound too great on these).