Category Archives: headphones

OnePlus Nord Launches Tomorrow



A reminder that there’s a launch event tomorrow (Tuesday) by OnePlus, with full reveals of both the mid-range Nord smartphone and new wireless headphones, Buds.

As ever, there has been a ton of leaks around the devices, some intentional, some less so. Many of the details have been disclosed already, such as the use of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G chipset, which means 5G, and that the Nord will include four cameras, two of which are for selfies. Of course, the big unknown is the price which is heavily hinted to be under US$500 for the Nord.

Regarding the Buds, it’s looking like there will be three colour options; black, white and a light blue with lime highlights. A total listening time of 30 hours is expected, but that includes three recharges in the battery case. From the leaks, Dolby Atmos could be on the cards too, which would be impressive at a price point of rumoured to be under US$100, based on the CEO teasing a price of $XX.XX for the Buds on Instagram. There’s more on the design of the Bugs over at the OnePlus forums.

As the world is still paralysed by Covid-19, OnePlus are going with an online AR (augmented reality) event to debut the new gadgets. If you want to watch the event at 10am EST / 1500 BST / 1600 CEST, there are two options.

  • Option 1: Livestream on OnePlus website at https://www.oneplus.com/global/nord/AR.
  • Option 2: Using the OnePlus Nord AR App available forAndroid or iOS. Install the app, then launch the app and follow instructions to setup your avatar and the app. You might need to accept a few permissions. Close to the launch time, launch the AR app and start the immersive AR experience.

Make sure you have a good internet connection to have a consistent streaming experience.

If you missed out on the Nord  pre-orders, OnePlus have confirmed that they will be continuing the tradition of pop-up stores, albeit again through a virtual on-line pop-up store.


Get Some Sleep with Kokoon Relax Headphones at CES



Sleep deprivation seems to be the curse of the 20th Century but for most people, the problem is simply living busy lives. According to NHS Choices, 1 in 3 people in the UK are affected by insomnia, with 50% of respondents in a recent survey by Mintel reporting struggles with sleep. All of us will have occasionally experienced those nights, lying awake, unable to switch off, but usually we’re back to ourselves the next night. However, for some, getting to sleep can be a clinical problem that needs help beyond getting to bed early.

For those people, there are CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) techniques that can help with the problem. Tim Antos was one such sufferer and it was his experience of guided audio relaxation techniques that encouraged him to setup Kokoon with the mission to help people relax and sleep easier. After attending many sessions at a sleep clinic he “wanted to make all this knowledge, all these great tools I learnt in the sleep clinic more accessible to the everyday consumer to use on their own terms”.

Developed with staff at Europe’s largest sleep laboratory, the Kokoon Relax headphones combine bio-sensing with adaptive audio within an ergonomic noise cancelling headphone to provide personalised, bespoke assistance to help people switch off and relax. Simplistically, that means it uses EEG sensors to monitor brainwaves, motion and heart rate, and adjusts the sounds depending on how sleepy the wearer is.

The Kokoon app features techniques, tracks and concepts developed with sleep professionals to optimise the chances of falling asleep. The app helps insomnia sufferers by delivering a customised content experience developed for the individual using the sensor data gathered from their body and environment. For example, as the wearer falls asleep, the audio changes in response, fading out the content and introducing white noise to mask out disturbances. The system also tracks what helps someone doze off, then personalising content for greater effect.

On top of this, the Kokoon Relax headphones have been designed with comfort as a priority. There’s no point getting to sleep only to be woken up by uncomfortable headphones digging into the scalp. The Flexmould Comfort patented design helps Kokoon headphones conform to the shape of the user’s head, and by using high quality natural fibre fabric, air flows easily through the ear cups to keep the wearer’s ears cool and comfortable (I often get hot ears). The ear cushions are detachable for washing too.

The Relax headphones can be used just like any other Bluetooth 4 headphone. With great sound from 40mm electro-dynamic drivers, it makes them ideal for listening to music and watching movies whilst travelling, or simply relaxing in a busy place. And at only 350g or 12oz they make the perfect travel companion with folding earcups and a carry case is included too. There’s a choice of two colours, black or grey.

The Kokoon Relax headphones are now shipping internationally from Kokoon.io for US$349 / GB£315, and there are some new year offers on. They can also be purchased from Amazon.com and selected retailer.


Hidizs Sonata HD DAC Review – USB C to 3.5 mm



There’s no doubt that USB C is the new standard for smartphones, tablets and laptops and it replaces a plethora of legacy ports, including all the annoying variants of USB. In addition, USB C supports digital audio and several device manufacturers have decided to remove 3.5 mm audio sockets from their phones and tablets. Google, OnePlus, Samsung, Huawei and LG all have at least one model which only has USB C.

This is not good news if you have invested in high-end headphones or earbuds that connect via a cable. Yes, manufacturers typically include a USB C to 3.5 mm adaptor for the devices but my experience is that the sound quality isn’t that great – frankly, it’s rubbish.

Both my smartphone (OnePlus 6T) and tablet (Huawei Mediapad M5) are USB C only devices, and as an owner of some half-decent headphones, I’d been looking to improve the audio experience. I came across a recommendation for the the Hidizs Sonata HD DAC Cable II so I thought I’d try it out. I ordered via Amazon.com to be shipped to the UK, so it set me back about US$45 in total.

The Hidizs DAC comes in small zipped case typical of audio goods. Inside there’s the Sonata DAC cable itself, plus a USB A to USB C converter for use with laptops and PCs that don’t have the newer type of USB. It’s also needed for flashing the firmware, but more on this later.

First impressions are that this is a good product – the cable has lovely plaiting and the socket is metal….but we’re not here to look at the Sonata. What does it sound like?

Brilliant. The difference between the Hidizs DAC cable and the Huawei OEM one was easily noticeable. The sound was much clearer, with greater clarity and really opened up the performance.  Very impressed and would definitely recommend the Sonata if you have any kind of quality headphones. I tested with a range of headphones from Sennheiser to 1more, both over-ear and in-ear.

Using the USB A to C converter gives the benefits of the DAC over whatever penny chip was used in a PC or laptop. Windows 10 picked up the DAC on insertion and resetting the audio output to the new device yielded much better sound across the board too.

Finally, the Sonata 3.5 mm input is a TRRS type and supports headphones with a microphone, meaning you can take phone calls when you have your headphones on, as long as there’s a mic on the ‘phones. Interestingly, the firmware can be updated too and if you don’t use the phone function, the output audio quality can be enhanced further to 24bit/192kHz. I didn’t actually try to flash the firmware…

Overall, the Hidizs Sonata HD DAC Cable II is a big improvement over the cables provided in the box with smartphones and tablets sporting USB C. Recommended.

There’s more in the video below.

 


Lizn and Hear the Conversation at CES 2018



True wireless earphones have been around for about eighteen months and products are beginning to innovate away from making the earphones technically better and physically smaller. As an example, Lizn‘s “hearpieces” are wireless earphones but also have some properties of a hearing aid. Todd listens to Michael to find out more.

The clue to Lizn’s USP is in the name itself – it’s a play on “listen”. C’mon, keep up. As well as being discreet Bluetooth wireless earphones, the earphones have directional amplification to help the wearer hear conversation in difficult circumstances. The dual microphones use advanced sound processing to enhance the consonants in speech which helps understanding in noisy environments.

The earphones come in three different colours, ruby red, caffe latte and anthracite grey. They’re on pre-order for US$149 with an expected retail price of $199, and should be available in April.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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Audeara “Hearing Test” Headphones at CES 2018



We’ve covered Audeara’s headphones on GNC before but they’re so interesting that they’re worth a second shout as it’s CES and all manner of advanced technology is on show.

Audeara are the world’s first full fidelity headphones with an built-in hearing test to protect user’s ears and deliver a completely personalised listening experience.

Everyone has a degree of hearing loss. Not just as a result of every loud gig they’ve been to, every busy street they’ve walked down, or every police siren that’s ever gone past but also damage can be sustained purely by listening to their headphones too loud. More and more young people have some loss of hearing, with an increasing number with the same hearing health usually associated with a 60 year old.

Audeara headphones can be used to test and retest hearing over a lifetime and adapt music to the user’s individual needs. They make music better, not louder, and provide perfect sound as it’s personalised for each person’s hearing. The first time the headphones are worn, the user undertakes a hearing test – the results of which, are subsequently stored in the headphones themselves. The headphones use this hearing profile to adjust the sound signal as it passes through them. They adjust the right ear differently from the left, making sure each part of the signal reaches the user’s brain in a way that’s heard as a perfect reflection of the intended signal.

What makes the Audeara headphones especially powerful is that all the technology is inside the headphones themselves. After the first test, the app isn’t required again unless the user wants to retest. This means headphones are no longer passive magnets for signal conversion, instead, they’re sophisticated tools for personalised sound reproduction.

The A-01 headphones are on pre-sale for AU$399 (that’s Australian dollars) with delivery expected in February 2018.

There’s video explaining the technology here.


Brainwavz B200 Earphones Review



Headphones are packing in more and more features – Bluetooth connectivity, in-line remotes, microphones, even digital assistants like Alexa and Google. But sometimes you just want to strip it all back and focus on the sound. You want to listen to the music, not just hear it, and that’s what Brainwavz are serving up with the B200 earphones. Sitting in the mid-to-upper end of their audiophile B series, the B200s promise “a balanced and accurate sound signature, with little to no colouring in the mids and a slight focus on the upper mids sound…delivering an overall sound the artist would have intended when producing the song.” That’s a big promise so let’s hear if the B200 earphones deliver.

Based in Hong Kong, Brainwavz have been around since 2008 and have built a range that includes earphones, headphones, Bluetooth ‘phones and accessories including stands. Prices go from US$20 for basic earbuds to $180 for the top of the range B400 earphones

The B200s arrive in an understated black box with red-highlights. Opening it, inside is a zipped pill-shaped travel case, with matching red highlights. Unzipping reveals the earphones neatly wrapped in a velcro band, a shirt clip, and a selection of ear tips. There’s one set of red Comply memory foam tips, plus 10 silicone rubber tips in S, M, L (two pairs of each size in total). It’s a satisfactory package.

Unwrapping the earphones and looking closer, there’s a gold-plated 3.5mm audio jack with the cable coming out at about 30 degrees. The main cable feels like it’s braided and then covered in a soft-touch rubber. The cable then splits to the left and right ears with a cinch slider to keep the wires under control, and suit audiophiles, they’re of equal length. Unlike many earphones, the wires go up and over the back of the ear. The wires have a thin moulding on them to hold the over ear shape. The earphones themselves have almost a coffee-bean shape to them, with slightly curved facets. It’s all plastic, so aficionados of bare metal need look elsewhere. It’s all very understated.

The B200s are very comfortable to wear, even for extended periods. I’m not sure what makes them comfortable because the eartips look like every other eartip. It might be that the wire goes upwards over the ear rather than down. Who knows? There’s a little bit of a knack to getting the buds in and the wire looped over but helpfully L and R are stamped on the inside of the earphone. Sound isolation is good too with very little of the outside world leaking in.

Getting the heart of the matter, what are the B200s like to listen to? Frankly, they’re pretty good and give the listener a lovely balanced sound with excellent clarity and what I feel is just about the right level of bass. They’re particularly rewarding if you can get away from Spotify et al and listen to a uncompressed source – remember those CD things? I’ve been listening to John Legend’s Darkness and Light and it’s just glorious.  No question, Brainwavz deliver on their promise and who needs an inline control when it sounds this good? Less is more.

Taking a quick look at the tech specs…
Drivers : Dual Balanced Armature
Rated Impedance : 30 Ω
Frequency Range : 12 Hz ~ 22 kHz
Sensitivity : 110 dB at 1 mW
Cable : 1.3 m Y-Cord, Over the ear, OFC Copper
Plug : 3.5 mm, Gold plated

Wrapping up, the Brainwavz B200 earphones sound great and will complement almost any music genre. They’re very understated – no-one’s going to be recognised the brand from across the street. tThe B200s were announced for the UK market back in June, but since then Brainwavz have updated the B200 model to version two which includes detachable audio cables and a transparent body. As a result, the pictures of the B200 earphones on the Brainwavz website look different to the ones shown here but I’m sure they sound just as good. The B200s v2 are priced at GB£90 / US$120 and if you get in quick you’ll find a few Christmas discount codes. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Video review below.

Thanks to Brainwavz for supplying the B200 earphones for review.


1More E1001 Triple Driver Earbuds



As I unpacked the box for the 1More E1001 triple driver headphones, I realised that there was good chance that these earbuds might be something a little bit special given both the attention to detail on the packaging and the price at just under GB£100. Was I disappointed? Let’s take a look and find out.

Starting with the E1001’s box, it’s designed to look like a much-loved hardback book, with detailing on three sides to give the impression of pages. Held shut by a magnetic catch, opening the outer cover reveals pencil-drawn draughts of the headphones construction. On the right are the earbuds, and lifting the tray reveals accessories in neat boxes.

The largest box holds additional eartips for the E1001s. In total, there are six sizes of silicon earbuds going from 10 mm up to 14.5 mm, plus three sizes of foam tips at 11, 13 and 14.5 mm sizes. With having a range of sizes, swapping based on use is realistic: one size for listening at home on the sofa and a larger size for walking in the park.

Other boxes contained instructions, a pleather case for the headphones, an aircraft adaptor and a clip for holding the cable in place. The clip does make a big difference when using the E1001s on a call as otherwise the microphone picks up too much background noise. Both the adaptor and the clip are finished in brush gold effect.

Returning to the headphones themselves, the body of the earbud is made entirely from metal; there’s no plastic here.  With two contrasting colours on the earbuds – soft gold and blue grey – the E1001s live up to expectations with a lovely finish. If gold’s not your colour, there’s a silver version to lower the bling level. The earbuds point forwards slightly and I had no problems with comfort and fit.

The cables running from the earbuds are equal length, and the right side has an inline control for volume, next track and taking calls. The control sticks with the grey and gold colouring. 1More keep it simple when it comes to the control – don’t expect to be able to manage two calls or anything fancy, but it does work on both iOS and Android. The lower part of the cable is braided and ends in TRRS 3.5mm jack. The total length is about 1.2 m from jack to earbud.

With the physical review completed, let’s move onto the important bit….what do they sound like? In one word, stunning. Tuned by a Grammy-award winning sound engineer, Luca Bignardi, they deliver an accurate listening experience which is frankly wasted on smartphones and mp3s. I hooked up the E1001s to a Yamaha amp with Pioneer CD source and listened to albums all over again. I particularly enjoyed listening to acoustic tracks, especially R&B like Keb’ Mo’ where you can hear every slap of the guitar, every nuance in the vocals, every thump of the bass. There’s tremendous clarity and detail in the sound coming out of these earbuds and the triple drivers deliver where it’s needed. Unless I’m going to the gym, these are my current favourites for listening.

Priced at GB£99.99 and US$99.99, these aren’t cheap but in terms of bang for buck, the E1001s are great value. If you are interested in buying from the UK, there’s currently a coupon on the website to get 20% off, which is an even better deal. When you consider 1More released its first headphones in 2015, it’s astonishing that it’s now producing earbuds of this quality in 2017: the established players in this market should be concerned.

Thanks to 1More for providing the E1001 triple driver headphones for review. Unboxing video below.