The Taste of Music: Dog rates Etymotics “delicious”

When we started Backstage two years ago, we mentioned that we loved dogs – frequent readers may recall that Dennis, Bob, and Larry have had dogs named Rocket, Briadha, and Chewie, respectively, while I have Sake, a mostly adorable Siberian Husky, and thanks to my girlfriend, his new brother Roman (shown here). You don’t hear often about any of these pets because the worlds of iPod and canine so rarely intersect, but this weekend brought one such opportunity, so I’m sharing it here today.

I described Sake as “mostly adorable” because he’s been a pretty good dog for the past two years; even on the ten or so total occasions he’s done something obnoxious – say, sticking his face into an apple pie or eating freshly baked cookies off of a counter – he’s generally more amusing than harmful, living up to the Siberian Husky breed’s reputation for almost charming mischief. Almost all of those ten naughty incidents involve him eating things he shouldn’t be eating. Unfortunately, three of the things he’s eaten happened to be high-end earphones. And coincidence or not, all of them were developed by Etymotic Research.
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As a just-arrived puppy many moons ago, Sake sniffed at my then-favorite pair of earphones – Etymotic’s ER-4Ps – only a few days before pulling them off of my nightstand and chewing them to shreds. For obvious reasons – starting with the $330 price tag, and ending with the fact that I carried these headphones pretty much everywhere – I was very upset. But after I appropriately disciplined the dog, he didn’t go after another pair of earphones for a very long time, and trust me, he’s had access to lots of them.

In early July, fresh back from a brief trip, my girlfriend made the honest mistake of placing a pair of Altec Lansing iM616 headphones – developed by Etymotic and strongly resembling the ER-4Ps – in a Ziploc bag on the floor of her car, near Sake. We don’t know whether it was scent, appearance, or something else, but within 15 minutes, he’d chomped up the monitors, eating their rubber triple flange earpieces and leaving only cords and chewed up plastic as evidence. Human error? Partially. He’d sat right next to plenty of earbuds without even licking his lips, but for some reason, he wanted to sample these for himself.
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This weekend, Sake struck again. I had purchased replacement ER-4Ps some time ago, and continued to enjoy them, using the headphone plug frequently for case testing and the earbuds themselves for travel and comparative listening evaluations. As iLounge Headphone of the Year award winners, they were quite literally the only $300 pair of earphones I considered good enough to buy twice, and I put my money where my mouth was.

Unfortunately, Sake was equally willing to put my money in his mouth, doing another Etymotic taste test while I was out on Saturday night. This time, my new ER-4Ps were hidden inside of a zippered case on top of a desk, with only the headphone plug sticking out for use in case testing. When I discovered them in pieces later, the case had been opened and the earphones removed, both from the case and from the cables they’d once been attached to. The triple flanges had again disappeared, while the monitors were chomped nearly to the point of indistinguishability. This time, I was livid – mostly at Sake, but also at myself for thinking that he wouldn’t jump up on a desk or go after another pair of Etymotics.
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Has Sake been disciplined? Yes. Have I learned anything? Definitely. After phone calls and e-mails with family members and dog experts, there were different opinions on whether Sake had earned a one-way ticket back to Siberia, but the most level-headed commenters opined that some major changes were necessary. With a dog around, a safe or lock box should be used for storage of my high-value testing components. And despite Sake’s previously good past track record – he’s sat alongside me during testing of literally 1,000 different iPod accessories – he probably shouldn’t have complete freedom to roam the house any more when he’s not being watched. Additional discipline – not yelling or screaming, but a more rigid system to keep even his low-level mischief in check – is appropriate. Though one person surmised, probably correctly, that there was a distinctive Etymotic or other familiar scent in either the rubber flanges or the earpieces that explained why Sake would treat these specific earphones – and not their cables – as a toy, he shouldn’t be given the chance to repeat his past offenses again.

I’m still a bit upset and certainly a bit poorer for the experience, but my attitude is this: thankfully, the earphones can be replaced, the dog’s not sick, and no one was hurt. As goofy as the story may be, I hope that it will help someone else to avoid the same sort of problems we’ve had here – and perhaps encourage others to share their similar experiences. Does anyone else’s dog (or other pet) have tastes like mine, or is Sake the world’s only premium earphone gourmet?

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