OnePlus Partners with JBL for E1+ Earphones

OnePlus LogoOnePlus today announced a partnership with audio specialists JBL for exclusive earphones to complement the audio capabilities of the OnePlus One smartphone. The new JBL E1+ earbuds are bright red with flat tangle-resistant cable and comes with an in-line three button remote. The built-in microphone means that there’s no need to unplug when a call comes in, and it’s a standard 3.5mm jack on the end.

JBL E1+ Earphones

 

These earbuds look great and I love the knurled endcaps. I’m usually pretty understated with black Sennheisers but I could like these red E1+ earphones and I hope the audio is up-to-scratch too. It’s great to see all these moves in the audio space and it’s not just the iPhone that has all the fun, too.

Available in October for US $39.99 or GB £29.99 from the OnePlus Store. Video below ticks all the expected boxes.

Auro 3D Immersive Sound

Auro 3DDon and Todd get a demo of Auro 3D‘s immersive sound experience which until recently was only available in movie theatres. The newly launched consumer version of the Auro 3D audio system adds a height component into the sound mix, giving the equivalent of 9.1 sound. Coming from a digital cinema background with over 150 theatres already using the system, Auro 3D is being introduced into home theater, gaming, mobile and automotive markets.

Especially watch this video if you want to see Don and Todd looking like smurfs while discussing the merits of smooth jazz and alcoholic beverages….

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Philips Golden Ears Challenge

Philips Golden EarsThe mp3 digital music format has liberated music in a way that would be totally unthinkable to a previous generation. The Walkman made music portable and the CD digitised music but the revolution came as the mp3 format compressed music to fit into a fraction of its true size. Instead of music collections stretching from floor to ceiling, they could fit into a small box. However, audiophiles claim that this freedom has come at the price of sound quality, gradually eroding in the transition from vinyl to CD and finally to compressed digital, with serious deficiences in the sound output from mp3 music.

Are you one of the audiophiles or do you think that mp3 sounds just as good as vinyl? (C’mon, seriously?!) Do you want to put your hi-fi hearing to the test? If you do, the Philips Golden Ears Challenge is right up your street.

Philips has created a self-testing website that lets you find out “how good your ears are”. The Golden Ears sites educates you in everything anyone could ever need to know about sound, and helps to deepen the everyday listening experience, defining your own superior audio experience and understanding in what goes into creating quality sound equipment.

Golden Ears Legacy

The site takes the listener (you) through a number of challenges starting at basic then working up through bronze and silver before achieving Golden Ears!

Golden Ears Challenge

Each step explains the terminology and related effect before letting you hear the differences. For example, “Spectral Balance is the relative balance between the low and the high frequencies. A bright sound has more high frequency content, whereas a dark sound contains more of the low frequencies.

Timbre Training

After training, you then take a test to see if you can pick out the modified audio track from the original. The changes get progressively smaller over six samples to see how good you really are. It gets pretty tricky when there are only a few dB differences. It really helps if you have decent headphones or speakers on your PC – I wouldn’t recommend doing the tests with a Bluetooth headset!

It does take a little while to work through the exercises but it is educational and rewarding to understand the complexity of audio reproduction. You could easily spend a couple of hours going through it to get “Golden Ears” but the site remembers your progress so you can leave and return as you have time. It’s very satisfying too when you correctly select all the distorted tracks in a test. The Basic Level will take about an hour.

If you think that mp3 sounds as good as a CD or that bundled headphones sound as good as those costing $100, then take the Golden Ears Challenge and you’ll be both educated and surprised!

Minimalist Momentum Headphones from Sennheiser at CES

Sennheiser LogoSennheiser are usually my headphone manufacturer of choice when it comes to music, so I’m always interested in the latest news from the German team. To be honest, it’s not massive news but when the headphones look as good as these, who cares?

For CES, Sennheiser have updated their “minimalist urban” headphones, the Momentum On-Ear with three new colours; high-gloss black, classic brown and intense red. Nice. The ear pads and headband have been finished in Alcantara, a high-tech soft-touch material produced in Italy. Alcantara provides a combination of suppleness, durability and breathability that makes it popular in the fashion, interior design, and automotive industries, and the use of the material by Sennheiser makes the headphones very comfortable for long listening sessions. The headband is made of brushed stainless steel. All round, they look great.

Momentum On-Ear

Audio-wise, the On-Ear is driven by Sennheiser’s proprietary 18-ohm transducers, delivering the usual Sennheiser experience of incredible clarity and detail with a slight bass emphasis. The closed, on-ear design ensures reliable isolation from external noise for a great listening experience on the move, even in noisy urban environments.

The Momentum On-Ear headphones feature a single-sided detachable cable with in-line remote and microphone for Apple devices to control music playback, and to make and receive calls on the go.

With the three new colour versions, Sennheiser has reimagined this essential, cool design in richer, more subtle tones,” said Charles Cha, Product Manager at Sennheiser. “Where the Momentum On-Ear headphones first showed their playful and extroverted character, the new versions are a more discrete revelation of luxury that hints at their superb performance.

The MSRP seems to be US$299 but they currently seem to be on-sale in the Sennheiser store for $199.

I want.

Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker Review

Logitech LogoWith a few notable exceptions, the speakers on most mobile devices aren’t up to much, limiting any chance of an impromptu party rocking out to Spotify’s top 100. An external speaker is needed for bigger sound and the Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker might be the answer. Coming in hot pink, sky blue and, err, boring grey, the z50 is intended to be fun without costing a fortune. Let’s take a look and a listen.

The Logitech z50 is shaped a little like a flower pot, with the speaker driver facing upwards rather than horizontally towards the listener. The picture doesn’t really show it, but the speaker is tilted at a slight angle and isn’t pointing straight up. On the more colourful versions, the grey band at the bottom is pink or blue.

Logitech z50 speaker

The z50 connects to the sound source via a stereo 3.5 mm jack rather than any wireless technology and is powered via DC jack. There’s no option for batteries which is slightly surprising to me.

Logitech z50 Speaker.jpg

Enough of how it looks, how does it sound? I wasn’t expecting much from the z50 but it definitely exceeded my expectations. It’s quite loud when cranked up to full volume and the sound quality is good in the mid-range. Songs similar to Lianne La Havas’ Au Cinema still captivate, but Adele’s Skyfall sounds flat, failing to project the fuller range. It’s not unexpected with a speaker of this size and weight, but the bottom line is that the z50 sounds better than all the smartphones, tablets and laptops that I’ve ever heard.

Overall, I think that the z50 sounds good for the price but I feel that not having a battery-powered option restricts its appeal. The z50 would be perfect for moving round the house, taking on holiday or camping but needing a power adaptor limits its usefulness. The ideal solution would be a battery unit that took a couple of C cells and clipped to the bottom of the z50, giving power and sound on the go. This gripe aside, it’s a fun speaker.

The Logitech z50 Multimedia Speaker is available from Logitech and other retailers for GB £17.99 or US $19.99. Thanks to Logitech for the loan of the z50.

Sennheiser Momentum Headphones

Sennheiser

Sennheiser has been producing headphones for over 50 years and has created some classics along the way (HD414s anyone?). Each year, Sennheiser brings something new to the table and this year was no different. Todd chats to Ivan, Sennheiser’s Head of Product Development to find out what’s hot.

On show is a new addition to the Momentum range: the Momentum Black open headphones in a stylish black leather, accented in red with a red cord. Cleverly, the headphone jack converts between both straight and 90 degree configuration to suit the owner’s preferences, and there is a interchangeable remote for use with digital music players and smartphones.

Undoubtedly high-end phones with a price of $349, but if you are interested, they’ll be in the stores real soon.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Griffin MicConnect for iOS at CES 2013

Griffin MicConnectJeffrey Powers goes all Pop Idol when he chats to Jackie from Griffin Technology about the newly announced MicConnect, which connects iOS devices to XLR mics with phantom power.

The Griffin MicConnect is a small brick adaptor with an XLR socket (input) on one side for the microphone and a 3.5 mm jack on the other to connect into an iPhone, iPod or iPad. A 3.5 mm socket provides for headphone monitoring of the sound source and for condenser mics, the unit takes two AA batteries to provide phantom power (48V).

(As an aside, I’m not 100% clear if this is iOS only – the 3.5 mm jack looks pretty standard and there’s no reference to special apps being required so if Android is your OS of choice, it might be worth contacting Griffin directly.)

Included in the interview is Griffin’s updated Mic Stand Mount, which is now compatible with all iPad models (not Mini), and unsurprisingly holds an iPad on a mic stand. Jeffrey reckons the MicConnect and the Mount are a great combo for the mobile podcaster. Pricing-wise, both the MicConnect and the Mount are $39.99 but the MicConnect won’t be available until June.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine for the TechPodcast Network.

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Underneath The Pringles Tree

PringlesPringles are running a Pringles Tree competition in December and each day you can open a virtual Pringles can to reveal the prize within. The prizes are inexpensive but there seems to be a good chance of winning as I’ve picked up a Pringles Speaker and a voucher for 7digital already. Other prizes include on-line games and receipes.

The Pringles Speaker arrived yesterday and it’s much better than I expected. The idea is that the speaker is inserted into the top of a Pringles tube once the contents have been munched. Powered by three AAA batteries (supplied), the sound quality and output is surprisingly good. For sure it’s not hifi and the bass isn’t great but for an impromptu party, it’s perfect. Plug in your mp3 player or smartphone and away you go.

Pringles Speaker

There’s 11 days left of Pringles Tree. Get popping, though it looks like this promotion is for UK residents only.

Thorax Concrete Hifi Unit

Concrete has always been a popular product, but it’s not what you think of for display purposes – marble and solid wood come more readily to mind. Increasingly, designers are turning to this relatively cheap material with some very attractive polished concrete artifacts and recently I saw a lovely kitchen worktop in the material.

In this mode there is Thorax by Kompatibel Design, a modular hifi unit in concrete.

Thorax Concrete Hifi Unit from Kompatibel Design

Concrete is a good choice for a hifi unit, as the high density and consequent mass makes it less vulnerable to vibration. Of course this is only still an issue if you listen to vinyl records: if you’ve gone all digital, it’s not really a concern. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty impressive piece of furniture and while the aesthetics may not suit everyone, it certainly makes a statement.

The are three basic modules, “O”, “C” and “E” which can be joined to make the desired configuration. The picture above shows and “OEO” config and there are more shots on the website. In a nice touch, the concrete can be coloured to match a particular decor.

Price on application. Promotional video below.

(My German isn’t what it should be so apologies for any mistakes in translation.)

Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds

Custom-fit earbuds and headphones can be scarily expensive because the price often includes high quality sound drivers as well as the custom moulding. Advanced MP3 Players have come up with a product that solves this problem by adding a molding to already-owned earbuds – the Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds.

Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds Retail Pack

Inside the somewhat Spock-esque package are two small pots of self-molding silicone that when mixed together will set in about 5 mins. There’s a choice of two colours at the time of purchase, white or gray.

Silicone Pots

The idea is that you mix the silicone together, wrap a small roll of the material round the outer part of the earbuds, pop the earbuds in your ears, then knead the silicone into the auricle (or pinna) of the ear, before leaving to set. Here’s a video of the process.

Once set, you have a pair of earbuds or headphones customised perfectly to your ears that stay in place even when you are working out.

Naturally in the interests of research for the readers of GNC, I used the Sharkfins on a pair of Sennheiser earbuds. There’s sufficient molding material to do three fittings, so if the first one doesn’t work out, you get a second chance….which you’ll probably need. On the first one, I didn’t get sufficient coverage on the earbud itself and the molding came away from the earbud. The second time I was more successful.

Here’s a picture of my earbuds with the molding in place. I admit it’s not that pretty and it would have looked better with white earbuds but they definitely stay in your ear. I never knew my ear was so wiggly!

Ear Moldings

Another tip from the fitting would be to keep them in your ears a bit longer that the suggested 5 mins. The silicone was still quite soft at 5 mins, but had firmed up nicely by 10 mins. Leave for a few hours to make sure it really sets.

Any downsides? Depends on your point of view….I think I might be too self-conscious to wear these in any circumstances other than at the gym or running. Putting in the expanded earbuds takes a little getting used to, but once they were in, they were in. Finally, the silicone didn’t stick to my earbuds which meant that the moulding was easy to remove when I wanted my earbuds back to normal. That may be a positive or negative.

The Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds cost just £4.99, which I think is a good deal. If you try them out and don’t like them, you aren’t out a lot of money. Similarly, if you break your headphones at the gym, it’s not going to cost much to replace them.

Overall, a good idea at an excellent price that suffers aesthetically but if function wins out over form, these are for you.

Disclosure – the Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds were provided free of charge by Advanced MP3 Players.