Archive for the ‘Headphones’ category

V-Moda Vibe Duo

January 24, 2008

Apple doesn’t make it easy to replace the headset that comes with the iPhone: The phone’s headset jack is infamously recessed so deeply into the casing that most standard plugs are too short to connect. That’s a shame considering the Apple headset’s mediocre sound quality. A number of people report problems, too, with the fit – the shiny white earbuds have a tendency to fall out, even if your ears are not the size of Dumbo’s.

Surprisingly, alternatives are still hard to come by. Some four months after the iPhone’s debut, only V-Moda has presented a stereo headset specifically designed to play with Apple’s new star. Not only does the “Vibe Duo” offer a guaranteed-to-work plug, the recently updated model – look for “vdb-nero” on the box – also sports a button next to the microphone that allows answering phone calls with one click, meaning you won’t have to take the iPhone out of your pocket. A nice touch, and potentially a real boon if you happen to be roaming in seedy areas of town.

You can also play or pause music and skip ahead to the next song by double-clicking the button, just like on Apple’s iPhone headset. Priced at $99.95 in the U.S., the Vibe Duo has quickly become a popular choice among early iPhone adopters who paid $200 more than everybody else and received Steve Job’s $100 guinea-pig store credit in return. That way, you end up paying sales tax and nothing more. Unfortunately, to my ears, that’s still more than the Vibe Duo is worth.

The first problem is sound quality:

I found these earbuds dull and bass-heavy, muffling voices and sucking the air out of acoustic and electronic music equally. Moreover, no matter which size of the provided plastic earpieces (small, medium or large) I tried for optimal fit and sound, the second problem remained noise: The cables dangling from my ears constantly generated unwelcome sound effects – scratching and popping, for example, whenever the cord scraped against my jacket. Even walking added an audible thump, in rhythm with my step. And while these may be common issues with headphones that sit in the ear-canal, ultimately it hardly matters if it spoils the fun in your music. Similarly, talking on the phone with this headset can be disconcerting. The microphone works well, picking up little ambient noise, but when you speak you’ll barely hear your own voice. It’s like talking while wearing ear plugs because the Vibe Duo does not play back anything you say.

Music sound quality, granted, is a matter of taste, and judging from user reviews posted on the Apple Store website, plenty of buyers seem to like the Vibe Duo’s characteristics. To put things in perspective, let me compare these earbuds with a few other headphone models. Where Denon’s AH-D1000 allowed Amy Winehouse’s vocal cords to sparkle and shine, the Vibe Duo tended to compress her tonal range to a narrow corridor. Same thing with Canadian singer Feist, whose little gem “Mushaboom” came across as appropriately breezy on my Sennheiser PXC 250 headphones but sounded nasal and leaden on the Vibe Duo.


To compare earbuds with earbuds, I pulled out my Bang & Olufsen A8 headphones and found them to be superior as well. Bands like Kaiser Chiefs and Hard-Fi showed a liveliness they were missing with the V-Moda headset, which had a tendency to muffle the music and take the edge off guitars and drums. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe fared a little better but still seemed to be sitting in a tunnel and singing with unusual restraint. The biggest bang the Vibe Duo delivered for the buck was a fat bass line. In this aspect, the V-Moda earphones clearly trump Apple’s own.


If that’s not quite enough to make you want to spend $99.95 (or a certain voucher), the other option is to fork over $9.95 for Belkin’s “iPhone Headphone Adapter” or $39.95 for Shure’s “Music Phone Adapter.” Both allow you to use any headphones or headset of your choice, and the Shure adapter even features a built-in microphone. But the Belkin looks less-than-elegant, and Shure’s model adds quite a bit of cable to your headphones. Clearly, there is still plenty of room for improvement.



500XL Speakers A Hoot

January 24, 2008

The 500XL speakers were so-named for a very good reason – it is actually 500 times the size of the original iPod earbuds. Definitely a conversation starter be it at home or at work, the 500XL comes with an integrated amp and 3-way power, running on either batteries, a nearby power outlet or via USB. There is no word on pricing for the 500XL as at press time, but it sure as heck makes for one interesting purchase

Koss KEB/79

August 25, 2007

Koss Earbuds don’t have the most outstanding history on CNET, but they haven’t utterly failed either. Still, they have tended toward the middle of the road, which isn’t bad considering their low price point. Now, Koss has made a brief departure from ultracheap ‘buds to release the KEB/79, a $100 pair that purports to offer “deep bass and unbelievable isolation.” Unfortunately, for some users, problems getting and retaining an effective seal with the ear may interfere with this claim. Still, the KEB/79 is quite capable of producing quality sound, if you can achieve a proper fit.

The design of the Koss KEB/79 is my main gripe, though there are certain aspects that I appreciate. First, the cable is modular, so you can choose between two lengths: 17 inches for use with an MP3 player that you carry in a shirt pocket or wear clipped somewhere on your upper body, or add the extender to get to 58 inches for use at home or with a player that you carry in a bag. Another nice touch is the inline mute switch, which you can press and hold if you want to hear external sound without taking the earbuds out. It’s cool that you can press it in the middle for full mute, or on either side to just mute either the left or the right channel. I also like that Koss includes a pouch for storing and carrying the earphones.  

However, the mute switch and cable connection also cause part of the problem with the KEB/79: they add weight that pulls on the left earbud, causing it to gradually slip out during activity. Plus, it can be difficult to achieve an adequate seal with the ear to begin with. Koss includes three sizes (small, medium, and large) of silicone ear tips, but I couldn’t even get a good fit with the smallest ones and was never able to bring about effective isolation. And unlike with competing models from the likes of Shure and V-moda, the ear fittings rest flush with the ‘bud, meaning the hard plastic casing sits inside your ear as well. This low-profile design is good for looks, but I found that this contributed to my problems getting a seal with the ear, and it proved uncomfortable after less than 30 minutes of wear. 

 Of course, not everyone will have this issue with fit, and users that can get an effective ear seal will be rewarded with good sound quality. Initially, music came off as bright and lacking in bass, but once I pressed the KEB/79s into my ears, things improved considerably. The high-end clarity is not the best I’ve heard, but it’s up to the $100 standards. Really, the mids and lows shine the most through the KEB/79–you can even pick up upright bass in track backgrounds. Overall, folk, classic rock, blues, and dancey hip-hop sounded best, but the headphones do a fine job in general.

Denon AH-C700 In-Ear Headphones

March 24, 2007

Think about it–there’s something like 42 plus million iPods and who knows how many other MP3 players out there–and they all come with crappy headphones. Clearly, it’s a heady time for aftermarket headphone manufacturers. Denon Electronics, a name we normally associate with high-quality home theater components, apparently took note of the burgeoning sales opportunities and recently introduced five headphones, including two in-ear models, the AH-C350 ($50) and the model we’re reviewing here, the AH-C700 ($200). The latter is available in either a silver or black finish.




As with most canalphone designs, the AH-C700’s eartips must be pushed directly into your ear canals to deliver the full sound-isolating potential and bass response. To that end, the headphone comes with small, medium, and large hemispherical silicone earpieces, and chances are that one of the three will be a perfect fit your ears. We found the AH-C700 easy to wear over long periods, but some listeners may find the AH-C700 (and other in-ear headphones) uncomfortable, and their sonic isolation makes them less than ideal for jogging outdoors or walking on busy city streets. We can’t fathom why, but Denon neglected to include any sort of travel pouch or carrying case with the AH-C700. We stowed the headphones in our pockets where the earpieces picked up a small amount of dust and dirt. Yuck! We removed the earpieces from the headphones every few days to wash them under running water.

The headphones’ all-metal design feels more robust and “high-end” than more typical molded plastic designs and its beautifully finished aluminum connector is fitted with a gold-plated, 3.5mm mini jack. The 45-inch long OFC (oxygen-free copper) cables cable proved to be less tangle-prone than most headphone wires.

The AH-C700’s sound is definitely bassy, but the treble is still very lively and detailed. To be honest, the plump bass might be a bit too much for those that prefer balanced audio, but as guilty pleasures go, the AH-C700 sounds very right to us.

The headphone’s sound-isolating talents were put to the test on the
New York City subway system. It didn’t do much to banish the low rumble of the trains or dramatically hush the screeching sounds of the wheels against the tracks. Its sound-isolating abilities are about average–our reference
Etymotic ER 4 Micro Pro in-ear headphones ($299) more effectively blocked out the din. Ah, but when we played
Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible the AH-C700’s bass clobbered the ER 4’s. The mighty 500-pipe organ in the Saint Jean Baptiste church in
Montreal that opens “Intervention” positively thundered over the Denon and the bass drum’s thuds were more convincingly percussive and drumlike. The Etymotic’s sound offered somewhat greater clarity, but we missed the Denon’s soul-satisfying warmth. In the end, we’d call it a draw.


Top 5 Headphones

January 26, 2007

Shure Personal Audio E4c Earphones

Sometimes you want the best money can buy. If this is the case, the Shure E4c is worth checking out. It incorporates components developed for professional musicians to pump out sweet music and other audio in a sound isolated bubble. It has an in-ear design, high end sound driver and advanced bass boost technology. It also has a personal fit kit to create a securer fit in your inner ear by using several types of sleeves which can seal out background noises. The total weight is just over an ounce.


Sennheiser HD280 Pro Headphones

The HD280 Pro from Sennheiser is the type of comfortable, full sized headphones you put on to forget about the world around you. The closed, earcup design is used by professionals in studios or at home by audiophiles. It offers nice linear sound reproduction and delivers great sound range, especially in the mid to upper areas. The HD280 Pro is well built and features a space saving design with collapsible earcups. It weighs around 10 ounces. Sony

MDR-IF540RK Headphones

Sony’s MDR-IF540RK headphones use wireless technology to help you move up to 20 feet away from your music source. They provide a good sound for the price, with all ranges providing a quality listening experience. The headphones feature built in rechargeable batteries and sit on a recharging stand when not in use. The stand also plugs into the sound source and acts as the transmitter. Volume control is built into the side of the headphones, eliminating the need to move from the sofa.

Sennheiser PXC250 Headphones

The Sennheiser PXC250 headphones offer as their main claim to fame a quality noise-canceling feature. This mini-stereo headphone design uses a special noise compensation technology to help block out ambient noise, even in noisy environments. The headphones can fold and flip and are easily storable in a provided travel pouch. The PXC250 uses two AAA batteries for the noise reduction feature, offers a closed ear design and weighs just over two ounces. 

Sony MDR-EX71 Fontopia Earbuds

On the more casual side of headphones, the Sony MDR-EX71 is a nice one to check out for good sound to the dollar. They deliver a good listening experience, especially on the bass. Their small size makes them nice to pair with your favorite MP3 player. The earbuds are made of soft silicon, which makes them comfortable for longer listening via the in-ear design. Three different sizes of earbuds help to provide a more customized fit. A hard carrying case is provided for the 0.1 ounce headphones.

Top Earbuds

January 26, 2007

Shure E4c 

 Excellent sound quality; earpluglike design blocks environmental noise; thick, durable cable design; includes full assortment of accessories. 

V-Moda Bass Freq earphones

  The V-Moda Bass Freq earphones are available in several stylish colors and are competitively priced at $50; they’re louder than other earbuds and offer great sound quality. 

Etymotic ER-6 Isolator

  Noise-isolating earbuds with awesome clarity and detail; includes multiple eartips and travel pouch 

Ultimate Ears 3 Studio

  The Ultimate Ears 3 Studio in-ear-style headphones deliver accurate sound for a reasonable price, and they offer a comfortable, secure fit. 

Creative Zen Aurvana 

 Lightweight, durable, and low profile; comfortable fit; good noise-blocking capability and balanced clean sound.