Maybe it's the weather, but headphones that double as earmuffs have made a big comeback. On the subway, in the elevator, on the airplane and just walking down the streets, you see guys (yes, mostly men) not just tuned in, but their heads covered with isolation disks. What's even stranger is that it's a habit shared by businessmen and hipsters alike. The main thing that sets them apart is the graphics on their headphones.

[#image: /photos/58539c4c9c190ec57ac08e71]|||||| Blame it on snowboarding and noise reduction. In 2003, a company called Skullcandy started making headphones for those who needed rugged, bass-heavy headphones that would actually protect them against the elements. They used the "mix style" headphones DJs had been using as part of their retro equipment (the old fashioned turntables and Rat Pack hats) and gave them the same neon-colored graphics that you can find on snowboards. Pretty soon the look seeped into mainstream (well, perhaps slipstream) culture. My favorites are the Skullcrushers (above), the first of which were designed with a little help from Snoop Dogg. I love their neo-Maori tattoo look, but they're pricey. You can get decent imitations from companies such as Pacific Sun.

[#image: /photos/58539c4c57dfc3b0230f86e9]|||||| At about the same time, Bose released the first semi-affordable noise cancellation headphones, and they started cropping up wherever executives wanted to execute or nap without interruptions. Bose headphones are now ubiquitous, but look towards companies such as Audio-Technica (above right) for a serious look and Sennheiser (above left) for a much more streamlined gadget. I am just waiting for the Executive Traveler model of the Skullcrusher, perhaps with some Mad Men styling.

Critic, curator and museum director Aaron Betsky curated the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2008, ran Rotterdam's Netherlands Architecture Institute from 2001-2006 and these days, helms the Cincinnati Art Museum. See his previous blogs HERE and check back on Thursday for his next post.

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