Are Expensive Headphones Worth It?

Are Expensive Headphones Worth It?

Everyone has a pair of free headphones. Probably more than one. Every mobile device comes with some near-disposable pair of earbuds of marginal quality and dubious sound quality. Apple even sells theirs for $30.

Since nearly everyone has a mobile device now, headphones have become big business. From a few dollars to thousands of dollars, there’s a style, brand, form, celeb endorsement, and/or color to match your interest.

But are expensive headphones worth it?

Updated November 2014!

As a lover of music and audio, my personal opinion is yes, absolutely. to a point. As a headphone reviewer, I feel like I need to make a few qualifiers first. Or at least, offer some background.

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Back in the day, I sold hi-fi at a little store in Framingham, MA, called “Circuit City.” You may have heard of it. I’d get customers all the time coming in to just “get a cheap pair of speakers.” When I tried to show them something close to the same price, but that actually sounded good, the answer I’d receive 100% of the time was “I won’t be able to hear the difference.”

This is, completely false. Everyone can hear a difference between good speakers or headphones, and bad speakers or headphones. Everyone. You may not care, but that’s a different thing entirely. Turns out, people smarter than me have studied this for years and found the same thing: better audio is universal.

But are more expensive headphones “better audio?” Now that’s a good question, and unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. I’ve reviewed a lot of headphones at every different price point. There are some that are amazing, and some I wouldn’t give as a gift to someone I hated. The Audeze LCD3s I reviewed are some of the best headphones I’ve heard, but they’re also the most expensive.

To an extent, sound quality is somewhat subjective. Harman has done a lot of work showing that, all else being equal, people prefer flat, accurate sound over colored, inaccurate sound. With speakers this is easy: a speaker that measures reasonably “flat” (i.e. no frequencies are boosted over others) is going to sound good to nearly everyone. With headphones, though, your ear becomes part of the system, so what sounds good in my ear with headphones/earbuds might sound different (perhaps worse) in yours. You also might prefer a little more bass or treble than I do, too.

As far as sound quality goes, price is less of a factor than the individual headphone. The key is to look for reviews that compile the opinions of multiple listeners, to get a better idea of what the headphones sound like. Two examples of this are TheWirecutter and Sound&Vision. If you have a local store where you can try out headphones back-to-back, that’s huge and well worth a visit. Check out How to Compare Headphones for more info.

Stepping up in price also gets you different “features,” like active noise cancelling. This is when a microphone and some clever circuitry cancel out ambient noise (like the engine noise on an airplane). Check out Noise Cancelling vs Noise Isolating Headphones for more info.

Courtesy of Bose

It’s important to understand, not all noise cancelling is the same. Some headphones have excellent noise cancelling, like the Bose QuietComfort 20 and QuietComfort 25s, two picks for Best Travel Headphone check out (Bose QuietComfort 25 Vs QuietComfort 20 for the difference). Others that I’ve reviewed barely do anything at all (or worse, add noise).

You can also find Bluetooth headphones or waterproof headphones. Combining these features with something that sounds good is, of course, is the key.

Build quality you’d hope would go up in price, and generally it does. The $400 B&W P7s I reviewed, for instance, were really solid. But then I’ve reviewed $300 headphones I felt like I could crush to dust with my hand, and mid-range and lower headphones that were built like tanks. Like I said, it all varies a lot.

Some expensive headphones, like the $400 Parrot Zik 2.0s, do a lot right, then do some serious things wrong that make them best avoided.

Generally more expensive headphones look better too. This is another subjective category, to an extent, but compare cheap plastic headphones to something like the gorgeous Harman Kardon Sohos.

And don’t always (or ever?) believe the marketing. No doubt you’ve heard one one popular brand when it comes to headphones, but here are 10 Headphones Better than Beats.

On to the takeaway.

The takeaway

The free earbuds that came with your smartphone are probably the worst audio you can get. There’s no reason to settle for such bad sound. You don’t have to spend thousands to get better sound, there are a lot of inexpensive headphones that sound great. True, stepping up in price usually gets you better sound, better build quality, features like Bluetooth or noise cancelling, but if you’re unsure if that’s all really worth it, check out some reviews of headphones in a price range you’re comfortable with, and check those out. I’m sure you’ll find something that’s perfect for you, and that sounds way better than the freebies.

I’m curious, how many of you have stuck with the free headphones you got with your smartphone? Have you considered upgrading?

If you are considering upgrading, check out What Are The Best Headphones?, a comprehensive guide to finding the right headphones for you.

How your in-ears fit matters a lot

If you’re a user of in-ears, you may be interested to know that you could be getting more out of your purchase. It’s very possible that you’re not getting the right fit, and that can have consequences like poorer sound quality, worse isolation, and discomfort.

While we can’t give you scientific measurements of how uncomfortable in-ears may be, we can show you how a bad fit can affect your listening—and why you should put the time in to get the best fit possible.

Editor’s note: this article was updated to include an explanatory video.

Why you need a good seal

If you’re new to higher-end in-ears or even just want to get more out of your existing in-ears, a good seal is the single most important thing you can do to make your music sound better. Not only will the earbuds perform the way they’re meant to, but a good seal will block out more outside noise, meaning you don’t have to turn up your tunes as much. That, in turn, means you can avoid noise-induced hearing loss.

Additionally, a good fit means that when you work out, walk around, or otherwise move: the in-ears won’t fall out for no reason. It seems like a no-brainer, but the advantages of a proper fit are huge—especially if you want to use true wireless earbuds.

The test

Because a good fit is something we can test, we’re going to do exactly that. Today we’re simply going to use the same set of earbuds in our test fixture to see how each size affects the sound and isolation. There are eight pairs of ear tips included with the JLab Epic Air Elite, so we’ll roll with that for now. We’ll use our normal testing protocols for each set of sleeves, and note how you’d experience the results in concrete terms, like how it’d affect your music.

Today’s victims of Chris’ tinkering.

To perform each test, we’ll use the same test fixture so that all our results are directly comparable. Our fixture uses human-like ears, but because everybody’s ear canals are different, your experience will probably be different in minor ways.

We’ve done something similar before when discussing headphone “burn-in,” but in-ears don’t have viscoelastic foam that degrades over time to change how you hear the sound.

The results

We found that the ear canals on our test fixtures were quite shallow, which is a common issue with some in-ear users. The fact of the matter is that all of our ears are vastly different from person to person, and ear canal depth is just one of the factors that can make ear tips uncomfortable or ineffective. Though we’d normally assume that double or triple-flanged tips will isolate better, for the wrong ear canal that’s not always true.

We also noted that the testing results varied wildly, and which tips you use can have a huge impact on your listening experience.

Silicone tips

In general, you can tell if you have a decent fit a number of ways, but today we’re just looking at isolation and frequency response. The better the fit, the more isolation you’ll see, and the more regular the frequency response.

Large tips (blue), medium tips (red), and small tips (green) shown here.

Right off the bat, it looks like all of our ear tips fit the test fixture fairly well. Great! Here we see a lot of high-end isolation (below) like you’d expect from a good seal, and the frequency responses are roughly similar. However, as similar as they look, the sound will be quite different based on the ear tip. The large ear tips (blue) will have music that sounds clearer than the others, and the medium tips (red) will give you far bassier music.

JLab offers a lot of ear tips with its models, so it made for a good guinea pig.

I’d say that the large ear tips are the best fit, because they most consistently block out noise at lower notes than the others. Even a 3dB reduction here can cut the force on your ears by roughly half, so every little bit counts. Consequently, we can rule out the small tips (green) as “fitting well” here, because it doesn’t block out at much outside noise.

A good seal will provide more consistent isolation.

However, there are more ear tip types here, and those get a little hairier.

Double-flange tips

Remember when I said that our test fixture has shallow ear canals? Well here’s where that starts to show up. The double and triple-flanged tips are longer than the regular silicone ones, and consequently didn’t fit our test fixture as well as we’d hope. However, that does give us the opportunity to see what having ear tips that fit badly do to your sound!

Yikes. Though this looks bad (and is, for the most part), it’s not the JLab Epic Air Elite’s fault that this test used the incorrect ear tips. It’s just what happens when you get a bad seal. A good fit can make or break your entire listening experience.

The double-flanged tips on this pair of RHA earbuds attempt to seal your ear canal twice.

On the above chart, you can see the bass (pink) drops significantly, and the higher notes and sounds in your music (green, blue) will sound roughly twice as loud as anything else. Your music will sound very different from the first tips we tried, and you may not like it. Music with a response like that will probably sound unclear, and a little harsh when the cymbals, snare drums, and synths hit. You won’t be able to hear basslines as well as you should either, with lower notes and male vocals getting drowned out by higher notes.

Take Olivia Noelle’s High for Me for example. The bassline and marimba combine to set the stage for the whole song, as the vocals and background samples are in a higher key. However, with a note emphasis like the one we just recorded, you’ll have a lot of trouble hearing anything but the singer, drum machine, and some of the samples. With the single-flange tips we tested above, you’ll hear everything I just mentioned, and enjoy the song quite a bit more.

Double-flange tips make two seals in your ear to provide extra isolation. Even if the fit isn’t perfect, they typically isolate better than normal silicone sleeves. However, the improvement here isn’t as big as it should because of the poor fit in our test ears.

It seems that the tips are unable to make the correct seal because the ear canal is so short. For these ears, the double-flange tips aren’t a good option. We saw similar results with the triple-flanged tips, so we didn’t see the need to rehash that here when the headline is: those tips didn’t fit our fixture.

How to tell which is the right size for you

I know trial and error isn’t exactly the most fun thing to do in the world, but thankfully with in-ears you only need to do it once. I’ll walk you through the steps:

  1. Try out your in-ears with the stock ear tips
  2. Replace the stock ear tips with another size, listen to the same song you just listened to
  3. If it sounded worse, try another size—if it sounded better, stop here
  4. Repeat 1-3 until you find the best-sounding, most comfortable ear tips

Seems a little too straightforward, right? It’s not a complicated issue, but it really does make a difference. So take the time to experiment with your new in-ears. I promise you it’s worth it.

If you’re not satisfied with your fit, you may also be able to use third-party options to get an even better seal. However, we always like to see consumer products with many options to meet the needs of their intended users.

Should I have an otoplasty?

Otoplasty refers to the surgical reshaping of the pinna or outer ear. The aim may be to correct a deformity or to improve appearance.

Reconstructive surgery involves building up the outer ear after an accident or because of a congenital deformity.

Pinning back the ears so that they look better, however, is a cosmetic procedure.

Prominent ears can be bothersome for children, who may be subject to bullying. Ears can be considered prominent if they stand out more than 2 centimeters from the side of the head.

Otoplasty is more common during childhood but can be performed on patients of any age.

In 2012, over 4,100 otoplasty procedures were carried out in the United States.

Share on Pinterest Otoplasty is a type of surgery focusing on the outer ear.

The pinna, or outer ear, has a minor function in hearing.

Some people feel that their ears are too prominent and this can cause embarrassment and psychological distress.

Being teased or bullied because of “sticking-out ears” can affect a child’s self-confidence, their emotional well-being, and their behavior.

Even adults with protruding ears can feel embarrassed to the point where it affects their everyday lives. They may not want to wear a helmet or other headgear, and they may be distracted by or concerned about their appearance.

The outer ear is normally positioned on the side of the head at an angle of about 20 to 35 degrees. If the angle is more than 35 degrees, they will appear to “stick out.”

Protruding ears may run in families, but they often occur randomly. Having protruding ears should not affect a person’s hearing. They affect around 5 percent of the general population.

They occur for a number of reasons:

  • Overdevelopment of the cartilage: if the pinna has too much cartilage, it is more likely to be prominent.
  • Underdevelopment of the cartilage: the ridge of cartilage at the top of the ear does not fold properly during development. The outer edge of the ear does not fold in toward the head but sticks outward instead.
  • Injury: prominent ears can result from an injury to the ears.

There are no exact statistics about how many children are born with a congenital ear deformity, but the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests it is between 6 and 45 percent.

Around 30 percent of children with prominent ears have ears that appear normal at birth, but the unusual shape can appear in the first 3 months.

Some deformities are self-correcting. If an external ear deformity has not self-corrected a week after birth, either an otoplasty or a non-surgical correction may be recommended.

Two main techniques are used to correct protruding ears.

Ear splinting

This is a simple and safe procedure that can be used to treat infants of 6 months or younger.

The surgeon uses a splint to reshape the soft cartilage. The splint supports the ear and keeps it in the new position.

After 6 months, the cartilage in the ear becomes too hard for remodeling with splints. Surgery will be the only treatment option.


A surgeon will use otoplastic techniques to correct, reconstruct, or replace a deformed, defective, or missing ear or pinna.

For best results, an otoplasty should be done after the ears reach their full size, which normally happens by the age of 5 years.

Surgery can remodel the cartilage to create the missing folds and position the ear closer to the head.

There are three main types of otoplasty:

Ear augmentation is needed if the pinna is underdeveloped or non-existent, known as microtia.

Otopexy, an ear pinback, “flattens” protruding ears.

Ear reduction can reduce the pinna when it is too big. When the ears are too large, this is called macrotia.

A plastic surgeon will normally carry out an otoplasty. Sometimes an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) surgeon or a pediatric surgeon will do it.

What to expect during surgery?

Adults can undergo surgery with intravenous sedation supplemented with local anesthesia. In children, general anesthesia is used.

The surgeon makes an incision behind the ear. The procedure lasts approximately one to two hours. There is a thin scar, but it is localized behind the ear and out of view. The scar will fade over time until it becomes, in most cases, barely noticeable.


The patient will need bandages over their ears for several days after surgery. While the bandages are in place, they will not be able to wash their hair.

After removing the bandages, a loose but supportive headband is worn over the ears at night.

This will help remove tension from the ears. The headband should be worn loose to prevent the ears from being pulled forward if the patient moves while sleeping.

The individual can return to school or work within a week of surgery. Regular activity and exercise can restart within 2 weeks.

Patients should avoid activities that could cause trauma or injury to the ears during the recovery period. Physical contact sports, such as judo, rugby, or football should be avoided for at least 3 months. Swimming should be avoided for up to 8 weeks after surgery.

Post-surgical numbness may continue for several weeks, and mild bruising may be present for up to 2 weeks. The ears may feel stiff for several months. Soreness, particularly at night, can last for a few months.

The desire to change the appearance of the ears should come from the child.

Pediatricians and child psychologists recommend that children be old enough to understand what the operation involves beforehand.

Possible complications

Some complications can arise with this procedure.

  • Infection: rarely, an infection of the skin and cartilage of the ear may occur. This can be treated effectively with antibiotics.
  • Bleeding: a hematoma or blood clot can form under the skin of the ear. There may be severe pain, inflammation, and bleeding of the wound. Bandages will have to be removed to treat the hematoma and the lesion.
  • Suture complications: this depends on whether the sutures are absorbable, monofilament, or braided. Removing the sutures may sometimes be slightly difficult.
  • Recurrence: the ears start sticking out again. Sometimes, revision surgery will be required.
  • Unsatisfactory appearance: Sometimes, the results of reconstructive or cosmetic surgery are not what the person hoped for.

Other problems that can occur include:

  • Asymmetry: it is difficult to set the ears back in exactly the same way
  • Partial Correction: the ears are not positioned close enough to the head
  • Overcorrection: the most common complication, where the ears are positioned too close to the head

The goop Ear-Piercing Guide

So apparently, those ear piercing guns at mall stores aren’t always such a great idea—not only is symmetry key, but the angle of the hole based on how attached your ear is to your lobe is everything. Who knew? We decided to figure it out, since everyone at goop HQ is on a bit of an ear piercing bender—one of our go-tos, Maria Tash, answered all of our questions below, and some friends of goop sent in some earlobe-styling inspo. (Yep, it’s a thing.)

A Q&A with Maria Tash

Which piercing points are most painful? How long does it take on average for each placing to heal?

It’s a bit difficult to quantify the level of pain for each area of the ear. Several factors contribute to the sensation of pain: the quality of the needle, the skill of the piercer to perform a quick piercing and jewelry transfer, and the client’s state of anxiety and preconceptions. All piercings done by a professional should take 0.5-1.5 seconds to execute.

In the context of the professional piercing world, earlobe piercing pain is mild, and areas of the ear with cartilage are slightly more painful. But we must be careful to generalize, as someone who had an inept lobe piercing might have experienced more pain than the same person getting a tragus piercing done professionally. I have experienced this many times in the room: nervous clients really want a tragus or upper ear piercing but worry about the pain. After, they said it “barely hurt” and were thrilled and proud of themselves. The client had exaggerated their expectation of pain based on memories of a past experience. Some of the inner ear piercings can take longer on the above scale to execute, like the daith, but that does not make it a painful experience. That piercing folds easily with the ear and does not experience torque from sleeping on the jewelry that a helix piercing can.

The different areas of the ear have a different amount of vascularity; for example the cartilage has less blood flow than the lobe, and that can contribute to how long it takes to heal. Less blood flow equates to a longer healing time. So, a helix piercing, which might takes the same amount of time as an earlobe piercing to perform, will take longer to heal and be more sensitive/tender in the morning if you have slept directly on it. This vascularity also explains why tongues, despite their thick tissue, take a very short amount of time to heal.

You are very careful to ensure that both the front angle and the back angle are flattering—how do you determine what will look best?

This determination tests the aesthetic skill of the piercer. I first look at the person’s ears and see how “attached” they are. That means I assess how much their ears stick away from their body. The closer the ears are to the face, in general, the more the piercings should be deliberately designed forward for rings/studs to be pointing to the front, and not just perpendicular to the ear. The end result is that the wearer should see the front of their studs when looking straight in the mirror and not have to turn their head to the side to see the stud straight on. Our low profile settings emphasize this point—we like our studs to lie very close to the body, and that helps to see the jewelry when looking straight on. The same angling goes for rings, as we can pierce with rings for earlobes. Rings should sit almost straight on, with a slight angle. This way, the emphasis is on the front of the ring and its decorative elements, not the inside of the ring which frequently happens when rings are pierced perpendicularly to an attached lobe. On the same note, we start ear piercings at age 5 and up, because we want someone’s ears to be sufficiently developed so as to not change and affect piercing placement. I frequently see women come in for secondary lobe piercings and I can tell their first hole was done as an infant due to the high, non-center placement. It was center when they were a child, but the ear grew and more tissue developed, so what was centered as a child is frequently not centered as an adult.

A lot of chain stores use piercing guns—best to avoid?

Everyone in the professional piercing world uses needles, not piercing guns. Non-disposable piercing guns are banned by the Association of Professional Piercers, and disposable ones are very frowned upon. Although the concept of a needle stirs up most people’s anxiety level, the truth is you will get a cleaner, more accurately placed piercing with less trauma to the tissue with a specially designed piercing needle than with a gun. Guns use a spring mechanism to shove a sharpened, thick earstud through the tissue. Most people are familiar with the gun stud, which is thicker than most traditional earposts on the market. I suspect that the gun manufacturers make the stud thick so that it does not bend or torque when attempting to go through the skin. Unless you specifically ask for a thicker piece of jewelry, we pierce with a stud or ring the same size as the majority of traditional jewelry. There is no need to pierce thicker. Another reason that getting pierced with a piercing gun is not suggested is that it is very difficult to control the angle of the piercing. They really just shoot perpendicularly, as the stud might not make its way through the tissue if done in another way. I have used piercing guns in my piercing career infancy, where the stud, when aimed perpendicularly, did not make its way through the lobe—there is always a chance the stud will not make it through the lobe when getting pierced with a gun. Also, not all piercing guns are pre-sterilized and disposable. Some are, but a quick Google image search for “ear piercing gun” will show you the prevalence of non-disposable guns. Non-disposable guns are not pre-sterilized in autoclaves, and should not be used for sanitary reasons. The stud inside the gun could be sterile, but the parts touching the stud are not, and micro-fine tissue spray can land back on the gun to fester until the next recipient. There is also a fixed length to piercing studs and the earring back cannot be adjusted for thicker tissue, it can only be removed—that is contingent on your piercer even being aware of the actual thickness of the tissue they are piercing, and then removing the earring back because they know it won’t fit thicker tissue.

I have been pierced with a piercing gun in my youth and I have pierced people with guns. When kids are under 18 and don’t want to bring a parent, or want to keep their ear piercing wants secret, they frequently go to unsavory locations with poorly trained staff to get pierced. It is much better to have an open dialogue and encourage safe piercing practices with your children.

People are intimidated by needles, but this is how it actually works: the specially designed tip of the needle is designed to cut tissue and move it aside to make room for the jewelry. It does not remove tissue (unless piercing at a very large size), so that fact should help pacify those worried about a needle. As a piercer, we want you to barely feel any discomfort, perform the piercing quickly and elegantly, and have you thrilled about the result. My old joke is “if you want pain you have to pay more.”

Is it possible to get pierced with something other than titanium? What are the options and what should be avoided?

We pierce with 14k and 18k nickel-free gold, platinum, medical grade and commercial grade titanium, and medical grade stainless steel. Our 14k and 18k white gold is specially alloyed with palladium, instead of nickel, to make the white color of gold. When people have a reaction to a metal, it is most commonly to nickel. The U.S. is not as strict as Europe when it comes to keeping nickel out of white gold, so you really need to be diligent as a manufacturer to keep alloys and solders nickel-free. Most white gold studs and rings on the market in the U.S. are alloyed with nickel, and stainless steel usually has some nickel in it, though often not enough to create a reaction. Yellow and rose gold do not have nickel, nor does titanium. Historically, gold has been the choice of piercings: just look at all of the great history of Indian and Pakistani culture with their 18k and 22k yellow gold and multiple piercings in the ears an nostrils. This is also the case for the Pre-Columbian culture. Other cultures like the African Masaai, Alaskan Inuit, and the Amazonian Yanomami pierce with organic, permeable materials like bone, and have successfully healed their piercings. I always tell people to choose a metal that resonates with their coloring and other commonly worn jewelry.

How can you avoid infection?

The main way to avoid infection is to not touch the piercing with dirty hands. It is so common to see people reach for their new jewelry in the fresh piercing with hands that have touched door knobs and keyboards. Transference of bacteria from these and other common sources needs to be avoided just by being mindful. It is important for your bedding to be clean and to keep pet dander away from your pillows and sheets so that it does not get inside of your freshly healing piercing. Cleaning twice a day is usually plenty—over-cleaning can irritate. Irrigating a piercing with sterile, wound wash saline is also helpful. Some other non-traditional methods can work, too: emu oil, diluted tea tree oil, and mild antibacterial soap. Please note that healing piercings do produce some discharge and that is normal. They can also be a little red around the entrance or exit of the piercing, which does not necessarily mean that you have an infection. In the uncommon cases when infection could be present, it is usually diagnosed via a physician’s lab culture, and antibiotics are prescribed. Sometimes one can mistake inflammation for infection, but a qualified piercer can differentiate between the two. For example, if a fit of jewelry is too tight or the angle is not good, the body will not be happy with the placement and it will let you know. Simply changing out the jewelry for a better fit or a hypoallergenic piece of jewelry can help many cases.

If you want multiple piercings, what’s the ideal spacing between each hole?

The wonderful thing about the modern, creative world of piercing is that there are no rules. Some people want a closely placed group of three rings pierced in a row far away from their first ear lobe piercing. This and other asymmetric looks, where the right ear and the left ear deliberately do not match are frequently requested. I will say, though, that the most important spacing on an ear, is that between earlobe hole number one and hole number two. I always assume that a woman will want to wear, at some point, a large stud in her first holes (not so much with men). So, I assume that such a stud could be as large as 12-13mm in diameter. Therefore, the stud will take up 6-6.5mm on each side of the piercing hole. So the second piercing should be at least 8mm away from the center of the first hole, so the jewelry in the first and second holes do not touch. Even spacing between ear lobe holes two and up the ear is a matter of style. The real complaint about spacing is when there is a misalignment between holes. For example, if lobe hole number two is lower than hole one, the wearer may be annoyed because it is more aesthetically pleasing to climb up the lobe. Another non-ideal spacing is where the back angles between two piercings do not match, so one ring sits at a different angle than another next to it. Our brains frequently interpret facial beauty as symmetry, and the parallel lines between rings going up the ear correspond to a deliberate good piercing angle match.

Ultimately, I think the important thing is to be deliberate about what you plan for your ears. If you are going asymmetric, as long as it is deliberate and both ears look quite different, the effect is interesting and artistic. Same note with symmetry: creating a completely even and balanced appearance on both the left and right ears is a challenge since our bodies and ears are not symmetric and a well done job is impressive.

Guess Who? How To Style Your Ear

We asked some friends to show us how they layer their earrings.

Is there anything to be done if there’s too much space between piercings, or if you have any piercings that you regret?

It’s worth noting that sometimes people covet a misaligned, non-ideal piercing for social or ritual reasons. Their best friend may have done the piercing in college and that memory and person means more than the slightly off placement of the piercing. The converse may be true as well—someone may want to abandon a piercing if it holds negative attachments to someone they may have gone through the experience with. From a jewelry designer point of view, there are visual tweaks to jewelry that can mask faulty alignments or spacing. For example, one can mount the post on a stud off to the side, in order to create space farther away or closer to a piercing next to it. So, we can change the jewelry (via a custom order) instead of moving the piercing and re-healing. There are also some tricks with rings—it is sometimes possible to bend the post going through a piercing in a hoop earring in the shape of a Z. This can compensate for a non-ideal back earlobe placement and change how the hoop earring sits forward. There is also the trick of using a large earring back for studs that are low down on the ear or point down in general. A jumbo earring back can force a stud to sit up straight.

The only cases where there should be surgical intervention is where earlobe piercings are way too low and are in danger of tearing though the tissue. This situation requires the piercing to be cut and stitched back up, to be re-pierced later after the internal tissue has healed. Even this line scar is easily hidden with a stud. Any piercing freshly done in a non-ideal spot can be removed to heal and be re-pierced later. Usually jewelry will hide or distract the eye from any abandoned piercing entrances.

What are things to look for in a good piercer?

Look for a professional piercer with a confident and comfortable demeanor, who answers any and all questions you have competently. Ask how the piercer sterilizes their jewelry, and how many pairs of gloves are part of the procedure. Ask to view the autoclaves and assess the cleanliness of the studio. You can even ask to see the spore tests that prove an autoclave’s efficiency that are usually run on a monthly basis. But I would use rating sites as well, like Yelp, to wean down the choices and then interview the top selections based on reputation. There should also be quite a few jewelry options to choose from for any given piercing when you go into a studio. If there is only one or two, you might have hit upon a competent piercer whose boss does not invest in many quality jewelry options. You can also get a referral from us at Venus by Maria Tash, or the Association of Professional Piercers.


A. Adir Abergel; B. Jennifer Meyer (wearing pieces from her own line); C. GP (wearing from top to bottom, Lena Wald, Jennifer Meyer, Maria Tash, and Gabriela Artigas; D. Lena Dunham (wearing the Lena Wald Initial Stud Earring and Gabriela Artigas Pave Infinite Tusk Hexagon, E. Nicole Richie (wearing her House Of Harlow Plateau Earring Set); F. Crystal Meers (wearing the Gabriela Artigas Pave Infinite Tusk Bar and Grace Lee Shield Flip)

Louisa Cannell

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