There are basically four ways to listen to music; Live, over-the-ear headphones, earphones, or open air headphones. Until now, I believed that over-the-ear headphones, especially the Bose active noise-cancelling headphones, were the best. But now I’m thinking otherwise. Active noise-cancelling headphones like the Bose use microphones that listen for noise. By reversing the polarity of that noise and inserting the “opposite of noise” into your ears, outside noise is effectively cancelled out.
But I just got my hand (and ears) around the Etymotic ER4SR earphones, which the company describes as a “must have for discerning engineers, audiophiles, and consumers wanting the most accurate in-ear earphone available.” The ER4SR uses the simple technique of isolating ALL sound from your ear canal, and then inserting just the sounds you want.
Mead Killion, Ph.D., founded Etymotic Research in 1983 to design products that accurately assess hearing, improve the lives of those with hearing loss, protect hearing, and enhance the listening experience of musicians and music lovers. Etymotic invented insert earphones in 1984 with an original earphone design that used balanced armature receivers. These speakers became the gold standard for high definition in-ear earphones and created an entire category of consumer electronics. The ER-4 earphones are still produced and channel-balanced to within 1 dB in Etymotic’s labs in the US.
You can easily test the sound isolating capability of any earphones by inserting them in your ears in a noisy environment, like near an air conditioner, for example. The Etymotic ERSR’s standard sound isolators are silicone three-flange eartips through which the unusually long sound production tube extends. These take a little practice inserting, but once you gently twist them into place a jackhammer would have a hard time disturbing your wa. If you can’t to get used to these isolators, the ERSR comes with two other sizes of silicone eartips, along with two sets of simple, foam rubber eartips.
My complimentary review earphones arrived in a very “value added” black box that gave me the immediate feeling that here was something special. Justified. After spending about $350 for something you can hold in a closed fist, the packaging should impress, and the Etymotic folks don’t let us down. The first thing you’re going to find within all the neatly nested boxes is a “performance report.” This is no joke. Someone at the factory puts the earphones on a signal generator and several graphs are produced, verifying the frequency responses of your device. Nice.
There are also two nicely sewn fabric pouches, a small one for the earphones themselves, and a larger one for the small one and all the bits and pieces that come with the unit. I didn’t use these because my set went right on my backup cell phone by my bed and directly into service serenading me at night and playing CSPAN in the morning.
Results? Spectacular. My first playback was a simple tone generator test using the Pro Audio Tone Generator app from Dutchmatic. Except for the 4,000 Hz range which I sacrificed by playing in a rock band, the perception of pure sound was just great. While over-the-ear headphones enclose small pockets of air around your ears within which a certain degree of special presence is created, the Etymotics manage to produce a comparable effect with less than a centimeter of space between their tiny diaphragms and your eardrums. To test this, I loaded some loud Bach with a big bass-to-treble range as expressed in Diane Bish’s Sinfonia Cantata 29 on a big ass church organ. Yes sir!
I think I fell asleep with the earphones in on my favorite World Music Pandora station playing Ginger Baker’s drum solo with Fella Kuti. In the morning, the physical portion of my left ear hurt a little bit from the lump against the pillow, but I just turned the other way and switched to Washington Journal on CSPAN and got ready to write this review over a fresh pot of coffee. Maybe I’ll try a smaller set of silicone earplugs, but the foam plug substitute? Not on your life!
Visit www.etymotic.com to learn more about the Etymotic ER4SR in-ear earphones.
Get Ready For More Peaceful Flights With Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC Headphones
When I flew to Sweden back in September, I traveled Business Class for the 15-hour flight, and it was amazing, with a seat that folded into a bed, a personal entertainment center with plenty of movies to choose from, and Bose noise cancelling headphones to use in-flight.
Now despite being a frequent traveler (80K+ miles this year), I never bothered getting a pair of noise cancelling headphones. But after experiencing the difference first-hand, I was sold. The only problem? Those Bose headphones are freaking expensive!
So I decided to research and see what else was out there that offered comparable performance and comfort at a more wallet-friendly price point. And the recommendations that kept coming back were for the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC wireless headphones.
Priced at just $150, I was a little dubious if they would live up to the claims, as they were more than half the price of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. So I tried out a pair at an airport shop, and I was really impressed with them, so much so that I decided to give them a shot.
First impressions? The headphones look sharp yet understated, with a matte-black finish and cushy earpads that promise comfort throughout your trip. They fold up into a compact form factor for easy travel without taking up too much space, though I do wish they offered a hard-shell case rather than the provided canvas case, to offer a little more protection.
At just 8.4 ounces, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC headphones are rather lightweight, allowing you to wear them for long periods of time without feeling fatigued. That said, those with large ears may be forced to wear these headphones on, rather than over the ear, in which case you might need to give your ears a rest from time to time.
You can pair the HD 4.50 BTNC with your devices using Bluetooth or NFC (or use the supplied cable if you prefer a wired experience), and there are ear-cup mounted controls for changing tracks, making calls, and adjusting the volume. You can also activate or deactivate active noise cancellation by holding down both volume buttons at once. It seems odd that they wouldn’t provide a dedicated button for something like that, but it works regardless.
I found the sound quality of the headphones to be second to none, delivering good clean bass and an overall nice sound profile. The active noise cancellation worked great at blocking out the ambient noise (and crying babies), and with a battery life of 19 hours (or 25 hours without ANC), you will be good for even the longest of flights.
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the Sennheiser HD 4.50 BTNC wireless headphones, and I’d highly recommend them to anyone who is looking for some peace and quiet on their next trip. They’re a bargain at just $150, and once you shut out the world and immerse yourself in music with these amazing headphones, you’ll wonder why you didn’t get them sooner.
Photo credit: Sennheiser
Libratone’s TRACK+ Wireless Headphones Keep The Chaos Out And The Music In
When the Libratone TRACK+ Wireless Earphones were unveiled at CES earlier this year, I was intrigued by their Smart Noise Cancellation technology, which lets you control how much of the world you want to let in or out.
Now, active noise cancelling headphones are nothing new, and they’ve long been a must-have for frequent travelers like myself who want to “get away from it all” and just enjoy their tunes.
But Libratone has taken it a step further, with the TRACK+ offering 4 levels of adjustable noise cancellation so you can control how much you hear of the world around you. You can even let Smart Mode do it for you automatically, adjusting based on your environment and activity.
When the TRACK+ detects movement like running or a workout, it will automatically allow in slightly more ambient noise so you’re aware of your surroundings. Because let’s face it, the last thing you want is to get hit by a car or bike because you couldn’t hear them coming!
Similarly, when you’re sitting still in a loud place (like an airplane or train), the earphones will cancel the maximum amount of outside noise so you can focus on the music and nothing else. And in that respect, they work incredibly well.. assuming you read the directions.
You see, during my first testing session, I wasn’t all that impressed with the TRACK+, as there was too much ambient noise coming through, even on the highest noise cancellation (-20dB) setting. The problem? The eartips weren’t forming a perfect seal with my ear. Once I switched to a larger eartip (four different sizes are provided), the difference was night and day, with the outside world completely disappearing.
Since then, I’ve taken the TRACK+ on a few flights, on a train ride to New York, and even into a crowded Starbucks. And in every case, they performed amazing well, allowing me to focus on my music, movies, podcasts, and such without being distracted by the outside noise.
Those planning on hitting the gym will be pleased to know that they have a splash-proof IPX4 rating, that the earbuds are sweat-proof, and the included sport fins allow you to run on the treadmill without concerns about them falling out. And thanks to the ANC, you can drown out those grunting meatheads and focus on what you’re there to do.
Overall, there is a lot to like about the Libratone TRACK+ Wireless Earphones, and I’d highly recommend them to anyone who’s looking to drown out some of the outside chaos. At $199, they’re not to cheapest option out there, but they’re well worth it. These wireless eadbuds offer high quality sound, 4 levels of adjustable noise cancellation, long battery life (8 hours), and a sleek, minimalist design. Seriously, what more could you ask for?
Visit www.libratone.com to learn more about the TRACK+ earphones.
Alpine Unveils 9-Inch Aftermarket Head Unit With Floating Design At CES
Many of today’s newer cars come with huge infotainment screens (like the Lexus LC 500 with it’s 10.3″ dash-mounted screen). But if you’ve got an older car and want that big screen experience, you’re pretty much out of luck, as most single DIN and double DIN radios only give you so much space to work with.
Alpine Electronics came up with a unique solution to this common problem with their new 9-inch iLX-F309 in-dash system, which they debuted at CES this week. This AM/FM/audio/video receiver uses a 1-DIN chassis for installation, with a 9-inch touch screen “hovering” in front of the vehicle’s dash, allowing the oversized screen to be added to a variety of vehicles without the need for custom installation.
Installation of the Alpine iLX-F309 sounds like a breeze, as described here:
The 9-inch screen is attached to an adjustable mount connected to a 1-DIN chassis. Once installed, the screen and mount are fixed to the chassis for a sturdy installation. The screen hovers over or in front of the dash while its rear housing tapers off cleanly at the edges for a thin, modern silhouette. At its default position, the screen’s sliding mount is pushed out, sitting at a 90-degree angle and the bottom of the screen is centered with the 1-DIN chassis.
At this point, the screen can be angled at select positions to assist during installation, help with visibility, or move it away from other items on the dashboard. The screen can be positioned 20 mm back from its default position, to move it closer to the dashboard. It can be moved up or down 30mm from its default position and can be tilted up/down at a maximum of 45-degrees, depending on the position of the up/down location.
The iLX-F309 has a suite of entertainment features sure to please the most discerning of techies, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio, HD Radio, SiriusXM, Alpine TuneIt App integration, AUX, HDMI, and rear camera inputs, and more. The system doesn’t include a CD or DVD slot.
If you’re interested in getting the Alpine iLX-F309 for your vehicle, you won’t have long to wait, as the system will be available at authorized retailers in February, with a suggested retail price of $1,100.
What do you think of the Alpine iLX-F309 with it’s 9-inch floating screen?