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Fool’s Gold Co-founder Nick Catchdubs Needs Three Pairs of Headphones

The DJ and record label owner talks about how he uses headphones in his audiophile life.

Illustration by Andrew Janik

Whether he’s writing, recording, or just listening to the avalanche of tracks friends and collaborators send him every day, Nick Barat — the co-founder of Fool’s Gold Records, known by his stage name Nick Catchdubs who has a new release "UFO Style" — keeps connected wherever he goes.

When it comes to Barat’s headphone regimen, finding them is the easy part. Locating the perfect listening environment, however, is the challenge.

“The reality is that being able to be engaged and focused—to be an uninterrupted listener—is kind of a luxury,” Barat says. “If I’m not actively listening to music, I’m always going to be distracted, sometimes to an extreme level.”

As long as he has music in his ears, Barat can focus amidst the chaos of a bar or an office. Different environments and situations, however, require different tools.

“Day to day, there’s probably three separate contexts for headphones,” Barat says. “The first I would call ‘civilian mode.’ So that’s walking around listening to music from my phone or if I'm working on a laptop somewhere. For those situations, I'm going to be using earbuds just because it's convenient, but also because in a weird way it's the most normalized setting.”

For Barat, Apple AirPods, and the other similar products in that category, carry an important cultural significance.

“There's something in particular about the Apple Airpods,” Barat says. “I even use them as a reference when I'm doing mixdowns for my music. I've yet to make the switch to the BlueTooth AirPods, partially because I haven't gotten a new phone yet but also because my pods fall out of my ears so much that I'm worried I'll lose them.”

In more social situations, Barat might only have one pod in his ears, so the wireless AirPods, or a more over-the-ear pair, might not be a great fit. But the audio quality is beside the point—if most people will end up listening to his music, or his friend’s music, using AirPods, he might as well develop a natural feel for it.

“Something always brings me back to the basic, white Apple earbuds,” Barat says.

AirPods are perfect for the casual sifting Barat does, the aimless daily streaming of bits of songs which he calls “audio browsing.” But when things get serious, Barat goes a different route. “When I focus on music, I would call that the ‘audiophile’ context,” Barat says. “Right now I have a pair of Sennheiser AD25s. I’ve always loved your classic Sennheisers because they’re more subtle. When Beats by Dre first came out, it very much drew the line—they were designed to be flashy.

“I can understand totally why that's a thing for a certain generation,” Barat says, thinking specifically about a ridiculous pair of wireless phones that Danny Brown’s DJ, SKYWLKR, possesses. “For me, I never really been attracted to headphones that drew that much attention.”

While Barat likes to keep it pretty straightforward, he still covets the high-end.

“I have been eyeing the plunge on a pair of high-end AUDEZE headphones,” Barat says. You know how people flip through car magazines and they’re like, “Oh yeah, one day I’m going to have this.” That’s how I feel about the AUDEZEs.”

The stage and his DJ setup mandates a third pair. For his performance, Barat values a workmanlike set. Sound quality is important but durability is paramount.

“When I'm DJing, it's more about sturdiness than anything else,” he says. “I want to be able to have a pair that I can just knock around and not to have to stress about it. Fool's Gold did a collaboration with a brand called AIAIAI several years ago, so I'm still using a pair of those TMA-1s.”

The one trait threaded through these three preferences has to do with the jack itself—Barat prefers the pairs that can utilize ¼’’ adapters (but not the ones that screw on).

“In my DJ emergency pack I keep a bunch of emergency adapters,” Barat says. “I always get asked by friends for adapters, and when you lend them out, you never get them back. I like to have a little aux cord that in an absolute emergency, I can just plug straight into my phone.”

Barat compares headphone needs to hat sizes, in that you have to try stuff on and find what fits best for you. Also, if you have a chance to be in an audiophile environment—for instance, Union Square’s Turntable Lab—that’s a much better context than a Best Buy or Guitar Center.

No matter the context, Barat prioritizes durability and versatility above all else.

“Listen, I’ve been doing this for so long,” Barat says. “Every scenario that could go wrong, you have to be prepared for it. And I take that approach to my equipment.”

This story is a part of The Goods™, a series about the stuff we have, the stuff we love, and the intersection between the two.

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