Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Logitech Bluetooth Headphones

I picked these up a while back as… well, they’re interesting, and usually that’s all that’s required for me to pick something up. I was not expecting a whole lot to be honest. My audio-based experiences of Bluetooth technology to date have not been, shall we say, stunning. The headphones retail for £99 in the UK and approximately $130 in the US.

The Logitech Bluetooth Headphones use the Bluetooth (duh) short-range digital transmission system to send audio to the headphone from the slightly bulky transmitter at a practical maximum of around 4 ~ 6m (12 ~ 18ft) range.

The headphones have built-in controls for volume, and the iPod-specific version also has track control / pause functions. As the iPod version has the remote socket built-in to the transmitter, it’s not compatible with non-iPod players nor the Nano / 5G. So I chose the regular “MP3” variety.

Charging up the non-replaceable Li-ion batteries in both headphone and transmitter takes around 3 hours, and pairing it is as simple as switching on the phones after the transmitter is on... and they’re ready to use.

I plug the transmitter into an iPod and am quite surprised at what comes out. It’s actually music as more or less it’s supposed to be played, not a frog chorus with the flu in an echo chamber!

The sound is comparable in general quality and tonal balance to the £30 Sennheiser PX100, although there is more 'enclosure honk', a sort of tin can effect overtone especially in the midrange. There’s a fairly solid bass, a mild top end and a midrange that doesn’t feel particularly boosted or recessed. Quite an agreeable tonal balance in general, but nowhere near a half-decent £99 wired headphone in terms of sound quality. Of course, I wasn't expecting that.

The Logitech phones compared to a Sony MDR-G74.

The general physical characteristic of the Logitech is comparable to other behind-the-neck headphones such as the Sony MDR-G74SL, only that it doesn’t fold. It’s the same sort of street style design, and unfortunately just as uncomfortable, tending to dig in at the top of the ear after a while. There’s also a convex curve to the phones where they meet the ear, and this means that placing of the phone on the ear is slightly more critical than your regular mini / street style phone. Shifting the phones around does create a change in the sound so it’s important to seat them properly. The increase in weight with the circuitry and batteries is definitely noticeable if you compare the Logitechs with a regular street style, but it's not a big deal when worn. The general lack of comfort though (like the Sonys) was more of a problem for me.

Charging the Logitech.

Battery life seems adequate for a commute. The maximum I’ve used the phones for between charges is 4 hours or so, although I'm sure they could have gone on longer (I haven't really tested the battery life). The claimed life is 8 hours on a charge. The phone and transmitter are charged by a ‘dual-head’ socketed AC charger.

Transmitter headphone jack positions

The transmitter is somewhat bulky, but it’s fairly lightweight. It also has a jack that locks into two different positions, so it works with a wide range of players. If the jack positioning isn’t optimal, there’s a low-profile extension cable supplied.

The range depends on whether there's anything between you and the transmitter. Either way, it's pretty clear whenyou're about to go out of range as the music starts breaking up... you get bursts of music with silence inbetween. Usually, I got about a 4m range with one plaster wall / wooden door inbetween.

In terms of sporting use, my jury’s out… although they’re stable while worn, the phones are noticeably heavier than a pair of lightweight earphones and even a pair of regular street styles, and sweat / Li-ion batteries can’t be a match made in heaven.

You certainly don’t get what you pay for in sonic terms, but what it does achieve is quite impressive. And as minor an inconvenience as it might seem to many, the lack of a cable is quite refreshing in use. It is a bit of a shame though that they chose to pattern the phones on an open, street-style chassis as it’s not particularly comfortable, and although open phones are safer for active use, I feel some isolation would have been nice for commuters in general.

Would you pay an effective 200% premium on top of a £30 headphone to get rid of the cable? If I was given a choice once again, probably not. But the wireless technology does work pretty well, and for some I would imagine the curiously satisfying sense of freedom is worth it.

Logitech Bluetooth Headphones: ~$130 (US), ~£99 (UK).

Product Link (Logitech USA)

I have a good excuse, honest...

So... some upcoming reviews have been delayed by the fact that I'm busy, and also because I've caught the flu. Not of the avian variety I hope.

Although I am still generally listening, my nose is blocked and my ears are 'clicky' so obviously any reliable listening evaluations are out for the time being. I'm organising my notes (or in my present condition: "urganising by dotes") on the JVC phones and will have it up fairly soon. It doesn't really warrant the build-up I've ended up giving it but anyhoo, it'll be finally up.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On the way: JVC HA-FX55 in-ear phone review.

Initial opinions are that they seem a tiny bit less compromised than the MDR-EX71SL in certain sonic aspects, while in terms of bass they offer more of what people like about the EX71's (the amount)... and they're cheaper. Some ergonomic misses were apparent within a second of putting them on, but it's about the sound, innit? :p

Full review up soon.

FX55 on top, EX71 on bottom.
The silicone 'bungs' are actually slightly different in design, but they are very similar.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


My Nano took a couple of falls onto underground/subway train floors, both nice and gritty... and in one case, I accidentally gave the Nano a little kick, sending it grittily slithering across the floor to my dismay. Fortunately, although the superficial scratching was heavy I had no functional problems with it. I could still see the screen fine.

But you know... it's practically new and a rough Nano was clashing with my sense of well-being :p So I ordered the iCleaner Ultra Pro kit.

The Ultra Pro includes your regular scratch remover and a polish, as well as the cloths to do the polishing. It also includes a deep scratch remover / back cleaner, which I didn't need this time around as on both impacts the Nano landed face down.

So, 5 minutes of antiscratch and polish later, this is what I ended up with.

Not completely pristine, but the scratches have been reduced by perhaps 90%. If I put more elbow grease into it (and pehaps a tiny bit of that deep scratch remover) it would undoubtedly end up looking even better.

For what it is, the kit is of course somewhat overpriced... but if you don't have the time nor the inclination to hunt for the individual components by yourself, the iClean is a fantastic all-in-one scratch removal solution for your iPod.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Apple iPod Nano

The player on the right is the Sony D-555 portable CD player. Introduced in 1989, the 555 is considered 'legendary' in terms of sound quality and desirability. They still change hands regularly for the ~$400 mark.

The player on the left is Apple's latest...

...And for sound quality, it blows away the D-555.

I briefly abandoned the iPod Photo because I felt its audio performance was compromised compared to older versions (I ended up re-acquiring a 60Gb Photo recently, but primarily to use as a portable large disc/backup for my documents). It just didn't quite sound 'like an iPod' even with the Qualias, which were great with the 3G and the mono 4G. Sticking the Photo on the measuring rig revealed that various undesirable nasties were creeping into the sound even with a 70 ohm load, while the falloff remained uncured. On aggregate, it was no better than (and slightly worse than) many 'also-ran' players in terms of sound quality so I quietly put the Photo aside.

The Nano on the other hand is a sonic return to form for Apple. The most noticeable thing to anyone will be a significantly reduced bass falloff in comparison to previous hard-disk based iPods. The fall-off level is now favourably comparable to the iAudio X5, and the overall quality is a little higher with a more open, incisive sound than the X5, especially noticeable on the Qualia 010. The power of the headphone amp is on a par with other iPods... which probably makes the Nano the most powerful flash player in terms of being to drive more demanding or odd-load headphones.

I'm assuming everyone who reads this knows about how iPods work in general these days, so I'm not going into that. Suffice it to say the Nano works exactly like a full-sized iPod, with the exception of camera USB-OTG and the lack of a remote capability. The smaller control wheel takes a little while to get used to but once mastered works as well as the Mini/Photo wheels.

In conjunction with iTunes ease of loading in general, the HDD player-like loading time (unlike the majority of other flash players, especially Sony's dreadfully slow NW-Exxx OLED players) and Smart Playlisting, you can put a decent collection of tracks for that day's listening onto the Nano in next to no time.

Battery life tested with Apple Lossless (since I felt this is a player worthy to use that codec) is ~8 hours with an additional 15 minutes of backlight-on 'fiddling around' time. Not spectacular, but usable. I'll edit this article later if possible to relfect MP3/AAC tests. There's also negligible battery drain in standby mode.

There are lots of nice things about the look and feel of the Nano, but the display completes it. It is extremely crisp despite its small size, and like the Photo (and unlike most other colour-screen players) is visible in daylight without the backlight needing to be on. Photos are convincingly vivid on the screen, although the screen is a little too small to make out real details. Zoom would have been nice.

Unfortunately Outlook sync is still very flaky. I had a problem with syncing which I assumed was due to the complex nature of my email set-up but actually it turned out that a lot of people were having problems. If it's fixed, then it makes a passable appointment reminder and phonebook. The Screen Lock is a new feature which allows you to secure the iPod against other people using it. It's something which is handy if you do use it as a phonebook/calendar. But the feature isn't that practical to use since you have to turn it on manually.

Scratches? Yes... but I did drop mine a couple of times onto very gritty surfaces. The result is a network of fine scratches covering most of the front panel, but nothing that impedes my ability to use the player or appreciate the screen.

Overall, I think this could well be the best iPod yet. It sounds good (and even better with truly high-end headphones), retains everything that's good about the iPod and is incredibly portable. As a pure music player, the Nano is a great choice for those who want full mobility.

Addendum: 11/Oct
I forgot to add the bit about the EQ of the Nano, mainly because I rarely touch EQ on any of my portables. I'm not sure exactly what is taking Apple so long, but they have still yet to grasp the meaning of workable EQ. This is a problem that they've had for ages.

Applying EQ does screw up the sound quality in practically any portable I've had (even the "fabled" Rio Karma), and after a short time of enjoying the 'zing' put into the music by an initially optimum-sounding EQ curve, the loss in quality always leads me to put things back to flat... but there's no doubt that some people want to add that extra thing to the sound, regardless of quality. The problem is that many of the EQ curves on the iPod which heavily reinforces bass result in audible distortion, regardless of the headphones you have (i.e. higher-impedance phones aren't a cure).

Everyone else seem to be able to manage this, so you do have to wonder what is going on. Are the Apple engineers closet audiophile nanny-state'ers? Did they calculate by making 'bad' EQ settings unusable they would swing people towards actual sound quality? That would be a nice story but highly unlikely.