Tag Archives | Headphones

CES Wows and Duds

The Consumer Electronics Show is a behemoth, with vendors hawking hundreds of iPad holders and trays, and millions of iPhone cases and protective films; there were just as many oh-look-at-me-too tablets (thanks, Apple, for creating this new industry). And, of course, there’s lots of noise, more booth babes than last year, and people tethered to their smart phones, tweeting their every movement.

Perfect if you have big thumbs.

I found a handful, maybe a dozen, innovative and smart products in out-of-the-way booths, and a few “oh, wow, I gotta have that” gems. I’ve got a few to tell you about this week — like the gizmos that help you save energy at home and earbuds that’ll knock your sox off.

In upcoming newsletters I’ve got hardware that brings TV and the Internet closer together, software that blocks cell-phone telemarketers, and a tool to recover my stolen notebook — or pay me a grand if it doesn’t.

At CES, I watched a 20-year-old whip out what looked like an error-free message on his iPhone in nothing flat. Me, I have the toughest time keeping my thumbs on my iPod’s keypad. Solving the problem is 4iThumbs2, a rubbery, plastic overlay. It has little bumps above where the letters are, giving a lovely, tactile feel when typing. It comes in two versions — landscape and portrait.

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Yurbuds' Ironman Headphones are Great. If You Don't Do Anything Athletic

David Spark (@dspark) is a veteran tech journalist and the founder of Spark Media Solutions.  Spark blogs regularly at Spark Minute. Read his recent article 16 Annoying Communications that Must End in 2011.

I go through earphones like crazy. I abuse them. I yank the cables by accident, I sit on the ear buds, I step on them. I’ve broken so many earphones that I purposely never spend that much on them. I usually can find decent ones for about $20.

Yurbuds Ironman SeriesAt the ShowStoppers event at CES I saw a new set from Yurbuds from their Ironman Series (retail $49.99). To promote the headphones’ athletic usage, Yurbuds had two Ironman athletes in their booth.

In addition to promoting them for athletic usage, Yurbuds advertises its headphones as soft, comfortable, and guaranteed to not fall out. I’m in agreement with two out of three. They are soft and they won’t fall out, but they’re not hugely comfortable. In fact, they’re kind of painful. After having them in for just an hour, my ears  became rather sore. Were my ears working out?

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Last Gadget Standing Faceoff: Two Ear-Related Gizmos

We’re down to ten finalists for our Last Gadget Standing competition. None of them competes directly with any other item on the list, but we do have two unusual devices you hook to one or both of your ears.

The $199 Looxcie looks like an oversized, old-school Bluetooth headset, and while it can indeed serve as a headset for your phone, its main trick is that it’s really a camcorder that can send video clips to your iPhone or Android handset–and it has a buffer, so you can capture stuff going on around you even after it happens.

Sonomax’s Soundcage–also $199–is a set of in-ear headphones with a unique twist: It comes with a headband that lets you sculpt the buds for maximum comfort for a bespoke fit that’s otherwise the province of much pricier, fully custom headphones such as Ultimate Ears’ highest-end models.

Your verdict, please…


Loud, But Not Deafeningly Loud

Last Gadget Standing Nominee: dB Logic headphones

Price: $29

Worried that listening to loud music for too long could damage your hearing? You could stop listening to loud music for long periods. Or you could buy dB Logic’s headphones. They use a technology called SPL2 which the company says “intelligently modifies the sound wave to closely match the profile of the original sound wave, while keeping the overall volume level at a level that can help avoid hearing loss.” They’ll be available this month.


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A Bespoke Fit for Off-the-Shelf Earphones

Last Gadget Standing Nominee: Sonomax Soundcage

Price: $199

I have oddly-shaped ears. I’m not sure if they’re oddly large or oddly small–all I know is that most headphones either fall out or sting. Or sometimes both. So I’m interested in the idea, at least, of Sonomax’s Soundcage–a set of headphones you buy, then custom-fit yourself. The fitting process takes four minutes and involves a special headband, shown to the right.

The $199 price may sound stiff, but it’s a pittance compared to fully customized headphones such as Ultimate Ears’ $999-and-about models which are produced from molds of your ears. I wonder how close the quality comes–and whether these would stay in my ears without hurting?

Soundcage is scheduled to ship in February of next year.


dB Logic Is The Headphones Your Mother Always Dreamed Of

No doubt your mother has already told you to turn down those headphones, they’ll make you deaf. Well, in a way she’s been right all this time. The typical headphone listener will crank the volume to near its maximum, which is much louder than the 85dB “safe” levels for extended listening.

The fact is that listening to sounds for longer than two hours at levels above 85dB will cause hearing loss. That’s why dB Logic, a headphone manufacturer, has come out with head and earphones that will not allow the maximum volume to pass beyond this level.

The company does this though a technology it calls “Sound Pressure Limiting.” It reduces the decibel level to a safe level while maintaining a full sound without any distortion. dB Logic says this technology differs from other efforts to limit decibel levels, which instead choose to clip the sound wave.

In the demo shown to me, I did notice that the headphones did get up to a respectable level of volume even in the crowded noisy room I was in. While the headphones obviously allowed a lot of that ambient sound in, the earphones definitely performed better.

For those of you concerned with your hearing, this is a good solution — but for the headbangers among us, probably not. Either way, you now know that cranking up the volume is as bad as mother says. Both models will start shipping in November, with the headphones retailing for around $30, and the earbuds about $40.

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Sony Ericsson’s Motion-Sensing Earbuds Sound Cool

mh907_520x311Here’s a neat idea from Sony Ericsson: Put motion sensors in earbuds, so they automatically stop playback when you pop them out, and resume the music when you put them back in. As someone who hates fumbling for the play button when temporarily removing earbuds — say, to answer a question — I’m interested.

The MH907 earbuds use capacitive sensors that turn your ear into an electrical conduit, determining whether the earbuds are inserted. In addition to controlling music, the earbuds work as a cell phone headset, going into call mode when you insert only one bud.

Here’s the catch: You’ll need one of Sony Ericsson’s phones with a Fast Port connector, as opposed to a standard 3.5 mm jack.

On one hand, this makes sense, as you’re sending as well as receiving information from the headphones. Still, iPods are able to detect when you’ve removed headphones from the jack entirely, so I’m wondering if a 3.5 mm connection could at least handle the basic on and off switching from the motion sensor. In any case, I can’t fault Sony Ericsson for using a cool accessory to sell its music phones.

Before today, Sony Ericsson was teasing that this announcement would change the way we listen to music forever. That seems a little extreme, but if there’s any chance the company hasn’t locked up the idea with a patent, I’m hoping we’ll see other manufacturers follow suit.


Monster’s Turbine In-Ear Headphones: Great Sound for $150

On Tuesday night I hopped on the subway downtown to a restaurant in Chelsea, Manhattan for a rendezvous with a bunch of Monster Cable executives. The Monsters (as they refer to themselves) were there to showcase their new value-priced Turbine in-ear headpones. I walked away reasonably impressed. Looks like Monster is doing more than just diversifying itself: It is serious about being a player in the headphone market.

The Turbine was a pet project of company founder  Noel Lee, and its development was ongoing for three years. It was originally conceived as a $500 product, but the market dictated otherwise: The Turbine lists for $150. Monster experimented with using different materials and manufacturing processes while keeping with the spirit of designing a $500 headphone, according to Monster’s Headphones and Digital Life product area manager Kevin Karth, a longtime Intel veteran.

Monster’s claim that the Turbine was intended to be a $500 set of headphones contains a pinch of vendor bravado., but these headphones are an excellent follow-up to the company’s $350 Beats by Dr. Dre headphones that were released earlier this year, and a sign that the company is seriously cycling its resources into the headphone business. My experience listening to some of my favorite music on the Turbine was very positive, though. While I cannot legitimately claim to be a serious audiophile, I can trust my own ears. I could hear very nuanced sounds that I usually have to jack up the volume to enjoy on my Sennheisers. “Sleeping with Ghosts” by Placebo played nicely; it is a very textured song that demands quality speakers. The Turbine also carries some decent bass for its diminutive size.

The Turbine features 8mm drivers and facilities for delivering audio accurately as well as for ensuring quality signal transfer. It has an impedance of 18 ohms and sensitivity of 97db/mW @ 1kHz. I am only mentioning that information because the Web site has not been updated for the product yet.

Overall. Turbine looks like a very good value, and a worthwhile replacement for your current ear buds.