Perhaps I’ve been doing this too long, but there’s a thing I’ve seen time and again with some British products. It starts with a quirky pitch – an odd press release and a meeting proposed in a strange place. You then proceed to said strange place and are confronted by some lovely people with a product that may be OK, but you know it won’t stand a chance because everything, from the design to the branding, is just wrong.
And my prejudice looked to be spot-on when I visited a hearing-aid factory in Balham to view these customised, in-ear headphones called Snugs, which emanate from an Exmoor farmhouse. Everything was as I expected: delightful people, a baffling obstacle course of confusing manufacturer names, weird logos and bizarre promotional literature, plus an insistence that I watch a terrible company video.
The Snugs proposition, however, was novel. You have inserts made for your ears in a comfortable, soft silicone, not the hard stuff these kind of custom headphones are generally made from. The company will even, for £70 extra, send an audiologist to your central London address to do the 20-minute fitting. It offers headphones in three judiciously picked models, or it will make in-ear sleeves that can be used with your own headphones. You can colour-select your inserts, too; because I never know with customised earpieces which one to put in which ear, I chose red for my right ear, white for the left.
A few days later, my sample pair – fitted to the most expensive headphones Snugs supplies, a Japanese model from a specialist audiophile company called Final Design (pictured, £1,277) – turned up, in predictably peculiar packaging. And they are, unexpectedly, sensational. The fit is extraordinary, and they seal you off from the world better than any custom earphone I’ve tried, so you can listen to music at half the normal volume and disturb nobody. They feel great and give the best sound I think I’ve ever heard. I’ve been re-listening to everything I know just to hear it afresh (be careful, though, poor-quality recordings are particularly noticeable when wearing these). This is an outstanding product; ignore forthwith all my scepticism about quirky Britishness.