Ears: The Latest
Audio suppliers have left no stone unturned – and no listening or style trend uncovered, as evidenced by the plethora of new approaches to on-, in- and over-ear listening.
As more companies enter the headphone category, the added competition has stimulated a level of creativity sure to keep the category an attention-getter at retail. This year, consumers will be met with more design choices, more functionality, more quality and more celebrity endorsements as manufacturers vie to gain shelf space and build brand identity. Following are thumbnails on a few of the hottest introductions for 2014:
• The over-ear 808 Audio DUOs ($99.99), a noise-isolating design, permit wired or wireless listening, with support for Bluetooth v2.1 EDR A2DP and AVRCP. Their rechargeable battery provides up to eight hours of wireless listening, and there is hands-free calling capability through Bluetooth or via a flat cable equipped with a mic.
• Altec Lansing’s newest MZW855 3D Surround Sound Bluetooth 4.0 active-noise-cancelling headphones provide a cordless, 3D listening experience. They pair with a free app available on iTunes and the Google Play Store that mirrors songs playing on the headphones. The app also displays the title of the song, artist and album cover on social media channels.
• 180s is marketing a combination ear warmer/Bluetooth over-ear headphone. The ear warmers feature a patented behind-the-head design that fits comfortably over ears and allows them to be worn with hats, helmets or glasses.
Adjustable click-to-fit frames adjust to a wide variety of head sizes. They also collapse for storage in bag, briefcase or purse. Several styles (the $80 Bluetooth HD is shown) include built-in speakers or headphones for use with smartphones or MP3 players.
• Harman’s JBL line now includes the $99.95 J46BT wireless Bluetooth 4.0 in-ear headphone. The model, featuring JBL PureBass technology, doubles as a wireless headset for managing phone calls, and is outfitted with a three-button remote. Its built-in rechargeable battery provides up to five hours of music-listening or talk time. Ear fit is precise, due to the J46BT’s angled sound nozzles.
• iHome’s new iB78 wireless Bluetooth 4.0 earbuds ($99.99) offer low energy consumption and NFC (Near Field Communication) capability, which works with NFC-capable devices to make Bluetooth connection just by touching the device to the earbuds. A built-in microphone offers echo-cancellation technology for clear sound on phone calls. An in-line remote control puts track control, play/pause, answer/end calls and volume control within reach. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides four-plus hours of continuous audio. The price includes a USB charging cable and a travel case.
• Klipsch’s KG-200 on-ear headphones are specifically designed to enhance the gaming experience. They boast 40mm drivers, wide-field stereo imaging and athletic mesh earpads for breathability when the wearer keeps them on for long periods. Controls are on the earcups themselves, and there are independent game and chat volume levels; the user can tap on the earcups to cycle through four equalization options (Fidelity, Stealth, Sport and Combat), and the headphones remember the last setting when they are powered up.
• Maxell expands its M&M stereo earbud line to include the Ms. Brown SKU ($9.99), which ties in with the candy’s most recently introduced M&M ad character. The newest earbuds are the seventh color SKU added by Maxell; packaged with the earbuds are two sizes of silicone ear tips.
• Monster’s new DNA Pro wireless over-ear headphone ($399) features active noise cancellation. The ’phones leverage the acoustics of the earlier DNA Pro, adding Bluetooth capability with embedded AAC technology for iOS devices and APT-X for near-lossless wireless connectivity with Android devices. USB Direct Digital Audio technology provides purer sound from digital sources like tablets and laptops while simultaneous charging occurs, and a button-free touch-sensing user interface rounds out the package. The headphones automatically power on when unfolded, and power down when collapsed.
• Muzik’s “smart” on-ear headphone works with a specially designed software platform that can be personalized and that enables connection and music-sharing with the social media community. Functions the technology provides include synching, organizing iTunes and other libraries, broadcasting, discovery of what others are listening to and receiving recommendations about music selections. The company has an SDK available for developers to use to leverage the technology within Muzik.
• Sennheiser’s Momentum Ivory headphones feature eye-catching ivory-colored earcups that are offset with a tan leather headphones and the company’s iconic stainless steel headband slider, which offers adjustability for comfort. The Ivory includes a single detachable cable with in-line remote and mic control for iOS devices.
• SOL Republic’s Relays in-ear headphones ($79.99) have all the features of a sports headphone but are designed as a “crossover” device for multi-purpose use. They incorporate the company’s patented FreeFlex technology for a widely adaptable, universal fit with no adjustments needed, thanks to a malleable ring around the earbud. Their tiny I5 Sound Engine is said to deliver full sound with balance and detail. Relays are water- and sweat-resistant, and have a clip-on cable. They are part of the company’s “Ear Tips for Life” program; the manufacturer will replace the ear tips anytime they are lost.
• The STREAMZ smart streaming headphones ($549) permit play of music and audio from multiple sources including onboard stored music, streaming online radio, streamed phone music and audio from TV, movie players and game players. They incorporate a music player, a 48kHz/16-bit CD-quality DAC plus individual 3-watt vibration drivers and 160 mWatt dynamic amplifiers. The headphones incorporate Smart Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interfaces that detect and connect to a listener’s Wi-Fi hotspot, a Bluetooth phone or other device, or (with optional module) to a Bluetooth-enabled AV receiver.
• Westone’s new Elite Series custom-fit in-ear monitors include four models. They feature the company’s proprietary balanced armature drivers, with the entry-level ES10 carrying a single-armature driver and the ES 20, 30 and 50 featuring multiple balanced armature drivers with multistage crossover designs. The monitors are made of two materials: a flex canal, body-temperature-reactive semisoft earpiece and a cold-pour acrylic earpiece housing for durability and enclosure stability.
• FLI Over over-ear headphones combine sharp, futuristic styling with comfortable, pivoting earcups. The Bluetooth versions of the ’phones feature NFC technology for simplified pairing with compatible devices. They’re from British Audio brand VIBE, which has over 20 years of sound engineering. They feature 50mm drivers and a rich, detailed sound profile with plenty of depth of bass, making them a suitable all-around pair of headphones for any type of music or movie listening on a mobile device.
• Mizco’s Ecko Unltd. range adds the Underground Airplay Studio line of headphones. The company has partnered with underground hip hop artists to develop this on-ear model ($129), which comes in a selection of five colors. Two versions are currently shipping and three others are due out in April. n