Thursday, 15 March 2012

Jaybird Sportsband 2 Quick Review

Jaybird Sportsband 2 Quick Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

Brief:  Wireless freedom

Price:  £89 but currently have £10 off with the code tped5n

Specification:  Battery Life Standby Time: up to 250 Hrs, Battery Type Lithium Polymer (Li-Po), Bluetooth Codec SBC (or apt-X if music device supports) BlueTooth Protocol Bluetooth 2.0 A2DP, Charging Time (approx) 2.5hrs, Controls AVRCP Music Controls (Play, pause, Next, Back), Call Controls (answer, end, reject call), General (Volume, pair, power) Cord N/A - Bluetooth Connection, Dimensions (HxWxD) 160 mm x 150 mm x 30 mm (Band) 43 mm (earpads), Driver Unit High Integrity Single Driver Ear coupling supra-aural, Frequency Band 2.4 GHz, Frequency Response 20Hz - 20kHz, Impedance 32ohms, Manufacturer Warranty 1 Year Limited Warranty, Lifetime Warranty Against Sweat, Max. Power Input N/A - Bluetooth Connection Mic Sensitivity -34 dB + /-3dB (1KHz, 0dB = 1V/Pa) Microphone Type 4mm omni-directional Noise Isolation Passive - Up to 75% of ambient noise* Output Level 15mW RMS (with level limit feature) Playback Time Music Play Time: 8 Hrs, Talk Time: 11 Hrs Sensitivity 117 dB SPL/mW, at 1 kHz THD <5% (1KHz, 10mW)

Accessories:  You get some spare pads and a charging cable.

Build Quality:  It’s quite light but still feels and looks pretty sturdy. 

Isolation:  None.

Comfort/Fit:  Pretty good actually, I worried it may be super clampy on the ears to keep it on there but its not too bad.  Probably because its so light it doesn’t need to crush your skull to remain put.

Aesthetics:  Well the one I had I can’t say I adored the colour but otherwise not bad.  I do think the pictures on the Jaybirds web site look a little touched up.  I don’t know why they would though.

Sound:  Honestly they aren’t the best.  Granted a lot of what you’re paying for is the wireless aspect and I really cannot praise that enough.  The freedom they give you is just fantastic but the sound quality is not.  I’d hope given how they go an about apt-X and CD quality etc etc they would be good.  The inclusion of apt-X is clearly for marketing as I know even the old A2DP is capable of far better.  The sound here is thick, warm and heavy.  It feels almost laboured, given the price and marketing I expected better.  They gave me high expectations and the did not deliver.  However, the big selling point of these is the wireless and that aspect is stunning.  If you have never used something like this then I suggest doing so.  No wires is amazingly freeing and if you’re an exercise junky then that aspect must be hugely persuasive.  As a package its selling point is freedom and the ability to move not audio quality.
Small note, the track back and forth buttons only worked once than refused to do anything.  Clearly it didn’t like to play well with Android.  Also I greatly disliked the use of a proprietary charger connector rather than micro usb.

Value:  Hmm, well how important is the wireless aspect to you?  You’re mostly paying for that and as such there are pricey for the audio quality.  Given that sound quality is not their selling point it’s hard to judge value.  I’m not very sporty so for me I’d live the wires but the freedom they offer is a highly compelling feature that you don’t realise how compelling until you have tried it.

Pro’s:   Wonderfully freeing

Con’s:  Don’t sound particularly good.

Jaybird Sportsband 2 Review

Jaybird Sportsband 2 Review

Thanks to Advanced Headphones for the sample (AMP3’s sister site)

First impressions: Wires are for puppets. So says the box anyway and that these are wireless is pretty much their raison d'etre. I’ve used Bluetooth stuff before in the form of a dongle type thing you plug normal headphones into and it I found good, so with this having the new apt-X I’m hoping for much. Looking at them I see I have a white and red one. I know it’s supposed to be red but it looks more like fuchsia to me. Their web site calls it Runners Red. Frankly it looks very girly, still they make a bunch of colours so I’m sure the black one looks much more butch.

Going to charge the things I note that they use a proprietary connector, those who follow me on twitter will know how positively I thought of that. It’s utterly and impossibly stupid. Jaybird why on earth wouldn’t you use micro usb? You know like everything else on the planet and that I have about 300 thousand cables for. Fail.

Source, well paired device anyway, mostly a Galaxy Nexus and a Sensation XE

Lows: Given this is something that is wide open it comes with the usual bass can go to a point then over the cliff it goes. In most music, particularly pop it’s not a problem. Bass there is often more about impact than it is about out limboing a double bass. There is no danger of that here. Punch wise it’s a fair effort but it doesn’t have that slam or agility I’d like to see in cases where you can’t have that smooth and deep expansion. Meh, it’s okay but as bass goes this is more McDonalds than it is steak. It’s adequate and it sort of gets you there and you kinda know what it should be.

Quantity wise it’s a bit elevated, as you would expect is a consumer orientated device. It’s not as thick and over blown as I might have feared. Mind you it is stretching my tolerance to a point I don’t like these. Thick and heavy.

Mids: A little Tori and these have a go but it’s not great. I want to say it’s not terrible but it is not pleasing me. I know thats not the sort of music this is aimed at but still, it’s not really working. Switching to some Scissor Sisters things aren’t so noticeable. You don’t really listen to pop for the vocals. It’s the all round ensemble and the energy. Even there I want to say something grand about these but I’m struggling. I don’t hate them, they are perfectly inoffensive but I can’t say I actually like them. In quantity they are more or less about where the bass is, a touch behind but nothing to worry about.

Highs: Well they are utterly inoffensive. That may be because they are basically absent. Still it’s better to do that than make the forward and have it ravage you ears. That’s sort of praise but somewhat feint and somewhat damming. Sticking on some Owl City it just sounds like half the song is gone. Like I said it is inoffensive so that’s something at least.

Soundstage: Adequate, reasonable fair but I’d expect that from an on rather than in ear.

Comfort: This will always be individual dependant but I had no problems. They do clamp a bit but then how else do you want them to attach to your head? I’m not sure I would maybe want then on me all day long but the idea doesn’t scare me either. Should be easily comfy enough to cope with any gym session that the rest of you can also cope with.

Fit: Super straight forward. Once you get the length right they just go on your head on your done. Cant imagine anyone is likely to have issue here.

Cable: None. I cold stop there but the very lack of a cable is why you may buy this. Now I get that it may sound silly, just how bothersome is a little bit of wire? Once you have tried wireless there is something amazingly freeing about it. If you haven’t tried it then you really have no idea what it is your missing. Like moving from glasses to contacts, you may never have minded the glasses but once they are gone suddenly they seem so intrusive. The no cable is the entire selling point of these things with a clear push to gym and exercise use. As a bit of a lazy chap I outsourced some gym use and their commentary will appear below. However even for me sat a desk, even simple things like getting up for a caffeine refill, so very, very handy not being plugged in. The freedom they give you is just fantastic and they have a range that meant I could get up, wander to the kitchen and it all kept going without skipping a beat. Love it.

Phone Use: Well I found out these have a mic and take calls when my phone rang. Best Bluetooth headset ever! I don’t know how well I came through the other side but my sister didn’t seem to realise I was on a headset. At first it was somewhat surreal but like with music, fantastically freeing. If you are someone who wants a Bluetooth headset but don’t like in ear things maybe this could be just the thing for you? Vocals came through nice and clear, by all accounts I was clearly audible too. Not sure how the mic being so far away would do with being in a noisy environment but seemed good to me. Tbh who actually makes phone calls anyway?

The controls were easy enough to use but the forward and back buttons seemed to work once then not again. I can’t say what the cause of this was so I’ll blame neither them and steer the blame to the more likely android.

Build Quality: Actually it feels okay, it’s a difficult thing to balance between make something super solid and making it light. To me it seems a pretty nice halfway but it may not please everyone. I can’t see any flaws and its looks nicely put together. The band internals are metal so in theory I’d expect it to take the odd collision or two pretty well but I don’t plan on testing it to destruction so it’s all supposition.

Isolation: None. Given these are aimed at sporty activity scenarios that’s probably a very good thing. For yours and everyone else’s safety.

Accessories: You get a few spare ear pads and the stupid proprietary changing cable that you will no doubt loose.

Value: Here I’m a bit conflicted. If we look at these simply from an audio quality perspective then these suck. They are expensive and sound pretty poor. These aren’t ordinary headphones though, that’s probably a big part in why they cost what they do too. These are rather meh sounding but the wireless is amazing in practical use. If you have never used it before then you really won’t grasp how spectacularly freeing that is. I don’t believe you really can get it either until you have tried it. Particularly for things like being in the gym or being all active and sporty it’s much more like having your own speaker system, just for you. Words can’t really express how freeing it is to be free to move with no cables in the way. So when it comes to value how important in that aspect to you?

Conclusion: I don’t know if I like these. I can’t say I like how they sound, looking at their price I can’t help but think hell to the no. For the money as a headphone you can do so much better. It isn’t really just a headphone though. The wireless aspect is great and probably makes the cost worth it if you do any sort of activity with them. It really is just so very freeing and makes it hard to go back to things with a wire. Sporty peeps, or at least people who would like the think they are sporty should love these. If you’re a jogger or whatnot how could you not love the no wires aspect. On AMP3’s website they even did a little video where they have a bunch of ladies doing a silent aerobics routine with a bunch of these. I’d like to see that tried with normal headphones!

These fulfil a role that normal things just can’t quite do and that makes them pretty appealing. Sure I’d like them to sound better and I did have high hopes. The apt-X branding and the quote from their site “The new SB2 Sportsband introduces the option of CD quality music performance over Bluetooth. It comes with apt-X on board, which cleans up, adds depth, bass and treble to your Bluetooth music with technical specifications matching that of CD quality output.” I can say this right now, this is no audiophile product. It’s not even close. Its selling point is that’s wireless, which is why you may buy one of these, nothing else and if I was in a gym or more sporty then I dare say I would have been even more appreciative of that aspect. Wireless as a concept is awesome plain and simple.

This is a sporty product for sporty people to do sporty things. If that sounds like you then they are a really useful way of getting music to your ears and you can take calls too. As a package it’s pretty decent. I wish I could be more praising of its sound quality but I cant, still it’s not like you can use the HD600’s for out jogging though can you?

HTC Sensation XE Quick Review

HTC Sensation XE Quick Review

Thanks to O2 UK and HTC UK for the sample

Brief: HTC does a music phone.

Price: £380 on O2 PAYG, £0 on contract from £27 per month.

Specifications: The full spec is extensive, look here

Accessories: iBeats headset with 5 pairs of tips, shirt clip, USB wall plug, micro USB cable for data and charging. Oh and a little baggy thing for keeping the iBeats safe.

Build Quality: The iBeats I was not loving and I found them to be slightly imbalanced. Maybe I got the one in a million that is so, maybe not. Tbh I suspect most normal people wouldn’t have noticed it anyway. Build quality of the phone is great. It’s a sturdy, solid slab of solidness. I approve.

Comfort/Fit: Comfort of the buds was fine and the fit was pretty easy to get right too. The phone felt good in the hand and fit nicely in my pocket too.

Aesthetics: Hmm the earbuds are so so, sure the red cable is attention grabbing and looks nice but the buds themselves are uninteresting. Not ugly but not particularly appealing either. The phone however I thought was really nice. I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of the red accents on it and especially the red buttons. I thought oh god, they are going to make it look like a hooker’s phone, red light and all. The reality was it was nicely subtle and after a while made white look so ordinary. Of course looks are very personal.

Sound: The iBeats headset while probably among the better bundled things they just aren’t that good. They may be better than things like iBuds but I think if you the sort of person who visits Head-Fi then they won’t cut it for you. Too bass heavy and don’t have very good clarity. However the phone itself is pretty decent. It’s rather capable and for a phone is near the best I’ve heard. It’s good enough that you could, if you need a convergence device, get away with using this. You’ll be able to rise up to some pretty good earphones too before the phone itself really becomes the limiting factor. A shame the bundled set isn’t better. As a phone the device is really nice, Sense I found myself quite liking particularly the weather stuff. Super pretty. The screen is lovely too and natural looking with a good high resolution. The camera look good to but I’d really like to see a hardware button please; I don’t like hitting the screen. The speed of the device was very good, the CPU is crazy fast on paper but it didn’t feel uber fast over other things. Oh I did love that I can send the phones output to my TV with the use of a little dongle thing, MHL is a feature you should look into. You may not use it but its super cool. All round it is a really nice phone and has some rather nice battery life on it.

Value: It is a nice bundle. The headset isn’t a big bonus but it’s better than what you get elsewhere. The rest of the phone though is pretty much top notch and you pay for that. Good enough value my sister just bought one.

Pro’s: Lovely screen, decent audio output, fast cpu, solid made device, super pretty weather stuff.

Con’s: Beats is more gimmick than substance, to get good sound you will still have to buy your own earphones.

HTC Sensation XE Review

HTC Sensation XE Review

Thanks to O2 UK and HTC UK for the sample

First Impressions: I see on the side of the box it’s just referred to as the HTC Sensation Beats. Actually when I received it that’s what I thought it was called, I didn’t realise it was an XE. Honestly I don’t understand the naming at all. It doesn’t make any sense to me, what exactly is XE supposed to indicate? Anyway this is clearly a device that is aimed at making use of the hundreds of millions HTC splashed out on Beats. The infamous Beats by Dr Dre. Fingers crossed then some efforts gone into the audio side of things and this may then stand out as a phone that appeals to those that care about audio quality. I’m not normally one for convergence devices but I know many out there, the vast majority in fact, is exactly what they want. Opening the box up and it’s a nice looking device that clearly has a black and red theme. It’s odd seeing red buttons. It is a weighty little thing too, much different to the super light but plastic Samsung I have normally. Not sure if I like that or not, it is more solid feeling but I’m not used to it. Screen is very nice, very smooth looking.

Moving on to the included earphones. These is little mistaking they are Beats branded and part of me has high hopes for them, I want them to be good but I’m fearful they will be farty bass cannons. Giving them a quick listen my heart sinks a little as they are very low end heavy. Still let’s not make any rash judgements.

Very quickly I did discover it can’t play ALAC files. Turns out it can play 320k AAC files so I do already have lots of files I can use. I had seen it written that the Beats Audio magic that goes on inside doesn’t work as a default but is dependent on the application in use. So this was something I wanted to test and right enough if I used the HTC installed music app (which is rather pretty) then a red notification icon appeared. Suddenly things sounded less fuzzy too. I don’t know exactly what having the Beats Audio enabled is doing, but it’s likely that it’s some DSP rather than anything hardware related. So what I ask is why don I get this option no matter what I’m doing? I don’t know about you but if I was going to use a phone to listen to music I’d be wanting to take advantage of the quite excellent Google Music service (ahem but of course id only use when in the US, naturally.) so when using Google music, no fancy Beats Audio. This is more that a touch disappointing HTC and I would like to see such a silly error to be corrected, sure many won’t notice but Google Music for me is THE compelling reason to use a data connected device for music. I do understand that such things may be achievable if you root the device and use custom ROMs, this I have not done.

I don’t really know what to make of things right now. While I understand that in the UK we don’t officially have Google Music so it’s not something that for most normal people needs to be taken into account. Most people I’m sure won’t have heard of it and will be just fine copying music across manually and playing back on the standard music app. It is actually a really nice music app too. The album art fills most of the screen, it looks great and the controls are pretty good. Even once the lock screen kicks in you can access music controls without having to unlock. It’s visually all clearly thought out and it works. The animation is smooth and slick and I do like it. However am having a hard time letting go of the Beats stuff not being available everywhere as it just seems a silly thing to do on HTC’s part.

So how does it sound? This really is a two part question, 3 actually. Firstly we have the included Beats headphones, then the Beats enabled audio output then lastly the standard audio output. Looking at the earphones themselves, the first thing that strikes me is your supposed to look at them. They are black and red, like the phone, and that red cable is obviously supposed to be a visual statement. Things like that always make me concerned that looks has been prioritised over audio. I recognise I may not a be the most typical consumer but if you make audio a selling point I think you have opened yourself up to be judged on it.

So to try and separate the Beats Earphones from the XE I grabbed the HTC Google Nexus One that was sitting beside me. I figure HTC can’t really complain if I use another HTC device. I also used them with my faithful 1G Shuffle and the Sensation XE itself.

Lows: Savagely abundant. So much so after about 10 minutes of use I found myself squinting and being compelled to send the volume ever lower. These are big old bass cannons and that’s not really my thing. While I’m sure it’s not an accident they are tuned so but there is also a reason Beats stuff is not very highly thought of in the audio world. More bass does not actually equal better. It’s vast here, maybe not the most bassy things I’ve ever heard but still they move enough air that I actually find it uncomfortable. There is just no way I could deal with these on a permanent basis. It is thick, heavy and rather impactful. On occasion it does surprise me a little and take on a more sprightly nature but it is still overwhelming in its abundance. The low end is a bit humpy too, while it does go pretty low it tails off and there is a middle and upper bass mountain.

Mids: Quality wise it’s not terrible. At the same time I can’t say it is actually good either. They are recessed and overly thick. Female vocals come through better being much less interfered with by that low end. Ellie Goulding sounds pretty reasonable on them. Vocals here though really are just making up the background, even of very vocal orientated stuff like Vienna Teng. I can’t say I’m liking them too much.

Highs: Not terrible, dynamics tend to do highs decently. They do a little bit of shimmer but they are once more in the background. So I can say quite positively they aren’t likely to produce much ear fatigue. There isn’t really much of an edge or crispness to them but that’s a good thing. If you can’t get them right then cover up those sharp edges.

Build Quality: Meh, they are imbalanced. I’ve swapped them about and tried different devices so its definitely the earphones at fault. Would normal consumers notice? Maybe not but I do and its unfortunate. I could have that one in ten thousand that is off but I can only go by what I have. Visually they look perfectly fine though. The cable feels sturdy and the buds look fine too. They do feel like they could take some everyday wear.

Isolation: Actually rather good, better than I expected for a dynamic. Clearly they are sealed but I didn’t really get any corresponding air pressure issues. Easily enough isolation for normal activates and more than sufficient to make you road kill if you don’t quickly learn to look when crossing the road.

Comfort/Fit: Comfort was fine with the exclusion of all that air being moved in the low end. That was uncomfortable and unpleasant. Physically comfort was fine; I could even wear them up without problem. Fit was a touch fussy but never took more than a few seconds to have them sitting right.

Accessories: A bunch of tips and a little baggy. I’d have rather seen a hard case to ensure longevity but what are the odds most people will use it anyway?

Microphonics: Quite annoying if you wear them down. I don’t know about you but I always have a collar on and the mic attachment tends to catch and generate noise. Wearing these up and over your ears makes the problem vanish; it really makes such a difference.

Mic and Controls: Having made a call or two the mic seems to do just what it’s supposed to. I was told I could be heard just fine. Likewise I could hear them very clearly. The controls are likely most frequently going to be engaged in controlling the music. The use of touch screens on things means you can’t control without looking at a screen normally but the buttons let you skip back and forth. It is pretty handy and functionally it works just fine.

Value: I’ve seen it said these are “worth” £50 since I can’t see anywhere you can buy these without the phone. The closes these look like are the iBeats which are £80 on the Beats website. Frankly I’m going to assume these are not they as if they are anyone paying £80 for them needs to be sectioned. However, as free things that come with a phone then they have to be rather better, certainly more popular, than most of the junk that comes with phones. (cough, Apple, cough)

Conclusion: Sound wise I don’t think I can pretend I liked these. I really didn’t. Actually I really am quite keen to get them out of my ears. HTC may well be on to a branding winner with the Beats stuff but from an audiophile perspective these included buds are not great. I’m sure they will appeal to a certain demographic but it’s not likely they will find much if any love in places like Head-Fi. They are big bass cannons but then that seems to be what the Beats brand is all about. I’m not saying it is wrong to want such a thing but just so long as you don’t believe this is what high quality earphones sound like, it is not.

Moving on to the audio output of the phone itself I am unsurprisingly going to discard the included Beats things. I have read that using anything that isn’t the included Beats earphones disables the ability to enable the Beats Audio DSP thingy, this isn’t true. I have the Etymotic hf3 plugged in and the icon appears and I can disable or enable it as I like. I am still unsure what to make of that feature. All I can really gather is that it’s an EQ preset and nothing much more. With it on it boosts things here and there making for a more dramatic sound. Mostly boosting the volume and the low end. Somewhat of a W shape my ears suggest. I don’t particularly feel it adds anything wondrous so stuff it. I’m going back to Google Music which is how I’d use a phone for music if I was ever going to. Plus it means I can directly compare things.

N.B. While the Beats functionality worked with mic enabled earphones it did not with normal connecter earphones.

This is where things begin to look up for HTC. Ignoring the lack of integration at all of Google Music, such as on the lock screen as I get on the Nexus One. They sound pretty good. Clearly better than the Nexus One. Not too much of a contest there. Comparing to the Galaxy Nexus though and things change. The new Nexus which I’ve seen widely praised. I really want to say nice things about the XE but acoustically it’s just not all that. Please don’t mistake that as saying it’s not good, I think for a phone its pretty good sounding. I can only take it head to head with what I happen to have here and the Galaxy Nexus is simply better. I do wonder whether it’s due to too much playing about with EQ setting in the background to make the Beats Audio setting sound that much more dramatic. HTC I really had such high hopes but I can’t help feeling you have entered a race and decided to tie one hand behind your back. I know the Beats range isn’t exactly aimed at the audiophile market but I do hope that’s not what you have done. Given that the phones main competition though is really the Galaxy S 2 this isn’t so much of an issue. It’s famed for having one of the crappest audio outputs around. The S2 using some Yahama thing and I believe the XE uses a Texas Instruments TLV320AIC3254.

Taken on its own merits to audio quality is pretty reasonable. They may not sound ruler flat and they don’t have quite the openness and dynamics that I would like it’s still better than I would naturally expect from a phone. Giving a little bash with some other things, they get even more impressive. The notoriously source dependent UM3x sound really very good. They don’t have the treble they should but the lows and mids both sound immersive and alive. Not an easy feat to achieve with them, with their high impedance it makes me curios how the XE might do with something like the RE-262. Turns out they can drive them reasonably well too. The low end seems to drop off quite a bit but then they are 150 ohms. Mids sound beautiful and the highs are surprisingly acceptable. The 262 is clearly being held back by the XE in the top end, the detail and clarity isn’t what it should be but...... way better than you would think it should be. I could probably live with this. The mids are particularly nice and intimate, nice level of detail. It’s nice to see that you see real benefit to splashing out on some actual decent earphones for the phone.

I think it’s time to move on from the audio side of things. Also from here on all photos will be from the Sensation XE.

Screen: Looking at the specs it has a high res, qHD screen of 540 x 960 pixels. It the flesh it looks beautifully smooth. No way around that it’s a very nice LCD screen. If you have much experience with phone screens they come in two types, LCD and OLED. Each technology does things differently and arguably LCD screens look smoother, more natural colour wise but OLED screens look hyper vibrant. On OLED the colours pop out at you in a somewhat unnatural way but they do look fab. The massive down side to OLED is they rape the battery like nothing else especially if you are viewing a white page. The screen on the XE in comparison is much less hard on the battery. The only way to really know what you prefer is to go see the screen, the purest in me likes the accuracy found in LCD screens but I can’t deny I love the vibrancy in OLED ones. Nether is really “better” just different.

Battery Life: The battery inside is a relatively large one at 1730 mAh. Naturally HTC quote that it can last 3 years on standby like everyone else and I’m sure it’s true if you never picked it up. The reality is all smart phones suck horribly when it comes to battery life. HTC if you are reading this why can’t we have a phone that’s twice as thick but has a battery that’s massive? Anyway, I tend to hammer my phone for data and the XE held up very well. Clearly rather better than my Galaxy Nexus normally does. I wasn’t using the phone for music but it managed to last the day even with some pretty heavy use. It never even got to the stage the auto power saving features were forced to kick in. You can turn them off but normally if the battery hits 10% it will apply a bunch of power saving features. I like the idea of that but as the first thing I do with a new phone is order a spare battery I’m glad I can turn it off too. I really would like phones to have bigger batteries though.

UI: One of the great debates when it comes to Android is the UI. Some people would like just plain old vanilla Android but most companies don’t like the idea of that. They want to have a differentiator. In many cases these prove to be rather unpopular, have a Google for Motoblur and see if you can find anyone with anything nice to say about it. HTC was one of the first to overlay their own user interface, Sense, and so have had a long time to tweak it. For me this was the first time I’ve encountered it. I have always gone with Launcher Pro as my favoured Android launcher (what the overlaid UI’s are known as.) it’s what I did with my Galaxy Nexus, to hell with the stock android UI. Still since I would be reviewing the XE I felt I had to give Sense a go. I know from a normal person, in this case my sister, that she just a couple of weeks ago was after a new phone. She narrowed it to the XE and the Sensation XL on the basis of she tried Galaxy S2 and I quote “didn’t like how it worked.” Clearly for her Sense was a plus point and it made her go for an HTC. (She got the XE in the end.) She and I are rather different users though. While I can see some aspects to Sense that are nice not all was so. I really didn’t see why I need a personalise button on the dock? Just how often do you think I will be changing themes that I can’t hit the menu button? I also wasn’t keen on the app menu only scrolling whole pages at a time. That said on the whole I found Sense to be rather pleasant to use. Clearly a lot of work has gone into making it pretty and it is. The famously ripped off by everyone else, HTC clock and weather widget is beautifully integrated. You can set the lock screen to display the weather when you wake the device and the animation is lush. It is beautiful. That when it’s raining it will do a windscreen wiper animation and animated rain drops, freekin’ awesome and it never gets old seeing it.

Of course the fab thing about android is if you don’t love Sense then you can toss it aside and install whatever launcher you feel like as I would usually do. Habit meant had I bought the XE with my own pennies I’d have right off the bat, installed Launcher Pro and basically never given Sense a chance. I’m not saying you will love it, I don’t think I do entirely but it’s really not bad. I really thought I would hate it but it’s really quite pleasant, oh and my sister really liked it.

You also get other things like the HTC Hub and HTC Likes. Likes seems to be HTC’s own little app store thing. It isn’t really separate as it will just direct you to the normal app store but I guess is a nice way to find things. I can’t say I found any use for it but it does no harm. HTC Hub was a bit more interesting. If you are sticking with Sense as your launcher of choice then in it you will find a heap of additional skins, themes, wallpapers, ringtones, alarms etc etc. Since HTC clearly want you to personalise your phone this offers you a heap of additional ways to do it. It’s maybe not something I’d use myself but it’s a very nice feature and more so given they are all free.

The integration built into Sense with Twitter and Facebook support I’m undecided about. Clearly it works very well but I just don’t know if I like it. It does all work well together though so that aspect I can’t fault.

Camera: HTC seemed to be quite proud of the camera, they seemed very keen we all go take photos with it and even offered up Red Letter Day vouchers to take interesting pics. So would someone like to tell me if the camera functionality is so important why the hell there is no god damn camera button? HTC isn’t alone in this but for gods sake I want a camera button and I cannot be the only one. Grrrrrr!!! Use of the camera though is fine. I didn’t like the having to push the shutter “button” twice though to take the snap. No big deal but seemed an odd way to do it and I don’t really like it. Speed wise it’s okay but that pressing the button twice adds delay and I just don’t see any good reason to do so. Quality of the pic’s looks good to me. I’m really not a photo taking person so I’ll just add a couple pic’s and you can make your own judgement on them but to me they look pretty good.

Reception: It’s a hard thing to be exact about as the little bars on the screen don’t actually mean anything. The only judgement I can definitively make is that at one point on my regular bus journey the 3g signal dies. It did on my Nexus one, does on the Galaxy Nexus but it didn’t on the XE. Granted the signal fell to 0 bars but the connection didn’t fall and data stayed alive. Now that could be a factor of a million things and I couldn’t say why but repeatedly it held on at the same point while every time I tried the Galaxy Nexus it would drop back to 2g. The Sensation in my eyes was a clearly better phone at holding on to a signal. There aren’t many dead spots for coverage I know of though but it held on well there.

Specifications: I don’t plan on giving a detailed list, there are many places they can be found so I’m only going to go ever the bits that caught my attention. I thought this to be a weirdly spec’d phone as some components were clearly top end stuff but others bits seemed to be a little skimpy.

CPU: First thing is the CPU, on paper the 1.5 GHz dual core CPU should mean this thing will go like a rocket ship on crack. In the hand I can’t say I noticed. It never felt slow or anything and it was having to deal with all those pretty Sense animations but I never thought wow this is a fast phone. Running Sunspider the Galaxy Nexus hit 2166ms, Nexus One 3549ms and the XE got 3623ms. Don’t ask me why or how because I don’t know. Again I will say it never ever felt in anyway slow.

Data Connectivity: The XE only seems to support HSDPA+ upto 14.4 Mpbs which I know it’s not like you’re going to get near that anyway but as a raw number why no 21Mpbs like I see elsewhere? On Wi-Fi too there is no 5GHz support. That probably matters nothing to most people but this is a top end device so why not include it? In use however it feels pretty zippy and particularly the mobile data is basically the same speed I’ve had on everything. O2’s network is the limiting factor in this equation not the phones capabilities. Not that I’m bashing O2’s data network, I’ve put about 16GB over it this month (February) and it never seems to bat an eye at it. Pretty much no matter where I am or the time of day I get about 2.5 to 3 Mbps down and about 1.5 to 2 Mbps up.

MHL: I hear you ask yourself, what the F is MHL? Well boys and girls its freekin’ awesome is what it is. You know HDMI? The very handy AV connector for video and audio that we use for pretty much everything now? Well, it’s a bit big to go on a phone so they have MHL. It takes the normal micro usb socket and adds some stuff so you can get HDMI video and audio out. Granted you need to buy a little adapter and it needs to be powered by another micro usb cable from a hub or charger. So it’s not the most elegant solution in the world but it gives you a way to display your phones output on any HDMI TV. Want to show off your photos or homemade video to grandma then no problem. Oh and before you ask, yes Netflix too works but what looks good on your phone screen doesn’t look all that great on a 42 inch TV. I could see this feature being an absolute god send for parents though; just think how easy it would be to let them watch stuff on Netflix or iPlayer on a big screen rather than the 4.3 inch screen of the phone. Why is this feature not being pushed like mad?

Volume: Not looking at earphone volume but speaker volume. The ringer while reasonably loud I found lacked elsewhere. This was most notable when using Google Navigation. The directions were hardly audible. This is an issue not only found on the XE (Galaxy Nexus is the quietest phone in the universe, completely useless) but it’s an issue I see no good reason for. I found Netflix to be hard to hear too. What was odd was the iPlayer was very loud. I can only assume the BBC realise phones are quiet and have bumped the audio output gain.

Conclusion: Well this may be the second conclusion but this time it’s for the whole thing rather than just the audio aspect. I have purposely not included as I normally would a section on value because its really depends. If you look at this device you have to look at in the context of its surroundings and like it or not HTC, this is not a stand out device. It is however HTC’s answer to the Samsung Galaxy 2, I don’t have one of them but a friend does and the Galaxy nexus shares many of its traits. The big differentiators are audio and the screen. You will either prefer LCD or OLED and that’s just that, both screens look great but different. The Sensations XE’s screen looks so smooth but the Samsungs OLED looks stunningly colourful and vibrant, if a bit unnatural. The second big difference is sound. The Galaxy S 1 was much spoken about for having probably the best audio out of any Android phone. It contained a Wolfson DAC and people loved it. Then the S2 came out with some Yamaha chip and has been panned as one of the worst sounding phones out there. HTC therefore have a great opportunity to offer something and easily be the superior option and in marketing terms they have. The trouble is they have hit on that audio really will matter to some but they have invested too much in the marketing side and made some disappointing mistakes in the implementation. Yes the phone sounds pretty reasonable but I can’t help feeling it’s been artificially held back by all the marketing getting in the way. Please HTC how about making and Etymotic or a Shure version? Aim for making something of quality and accuracy rather than giving a fancy name to an EQ preset. You had so much potential but you are squandering it.

As a convergence device I could probably live reasonably happy with the sound quality. It is reasonable but this is no audiophile product. Its music credentials are style over substance and while good (and well ahead of the S2) it’s not an exceptional stand out device.

As a phone I can honestly say I rather liked it. I liked it more than I thought I would particularly Sense. It wasn’t perfect but having gone from the “flagship” Android device the XE felt really nice. Nice enough that my sister just bought one. It’s a good solid device both physically and in usage. The build was really noticeable next to a Samsung, I’m not saying either way is better but the Sensation felt like a brick but a sturdy solid one. The Samsung felt super light and rather flimsy. It’s like with the screen, one will suit you better and the only way you’ll know is to hold them in your hands.

I found the XE to be a really nice phone. It is a phone. It is not a DAP. It may be able to do that and have all the functionality of a DAP but inside it is a phone. If you want a phone that can play music then this will serve you well and do the job adequately but it will not compete with the better single purpose devices. Still this is one of the first devices to be marketed with the audio as a key feature so it may just be a taste of things to come. I think HTC seem to pretty much have the phone aspect nailed so finger crossed they have in the pipeline some phones with some real high quality audio output. It may be amongst the better phones for audio but it won’t be making me part with my single use DAP’s anytime soon.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

EXS X10 Quick Review

EXS X10 Quick Review

Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample

Brief:  Siren does airy and trebly

Price:  £57

Specification:      Driver Type: Balanced Armature, Noise Isolation: 26 dB, Input Sensitivity: 105 dB SPL/mW @ 1kHz, Impedance: 29 Ohms, Input Connector (plug): 3.5 mm, I type,     Frequency Response: 20 Hz ~ 20 kHz (-10dB), Cable Length: 1.2 m/Balanced Type,  Weight: 10 g

Accessories:  1 pair of double tip tips, 2 pairs of A type tips in 2 sizes, 2 pairs of B type tips in 2 sizes, 2 pairs of C type tips in 2 sizes, 1 pair of XS tips, 1 carrying case

Build Quality:  Great, I loved the jack and the cable was lovely and flexible yet sturdy feeling.

Isolation:  A bit so so for BA things but still easily enough for normal day to day usage.  Not what I’d want for a long flight but still better than pretty much every Dynamic out there.  Certainly enough to turn you into road kill if you don’t watch where you’re going.

Comfort/Fit:  Fine but they really didn’t want to sit as deeply as I wanted to push them.  Once I gave up trying they were fine but never quite melted away like the best can.

Aesthetics:  White and pretty noticeable.  They do come in black too but I can’t imagine there is anyone who will look at either and love or hate them.  They are not particularly visually interesting.

Sound:  Fantastically enthusiastic.  These about with energy and boundless enthusiasm.  They don’t have a tow end quantity some may want but the quality is fab and has an impressive punch fro a single BA.  The mids are wonderfully clear and open.  Rather dry but so expressively open and forthright.  They do have a little too much energy up top and sometimes a lady can be a little too enthusiastic and attention grabbing.  Not quite shouty and thankfully never sibilant but too piercing.  The treble has rather a great deal of energy too, a little too much maybe.  Thankfully it’s not hard edged and it can decay and shimmer really well for a BA.  These really make me think of an Ety that’s out to party and has taken way too much caffeine.  Fabulous clarity and outstanding instrument separation but somewhat unable to calm itself down.  Too much enthusiasm all the time which will either drive you crazy or you will adore it.  It is a wildly fun and bouncy IEM so maybe not the one you want if you listen to smooth relaxing music.  It can’t really do it.  If you just want energetic stuff then its a bucket load of bounce, especially if you give it a bass boosting amp to partner up with.  Fun, fun, fun whether you like it or not.

Value:  Fab if you want that sort of sound.  Super fun all the time with a clarity that pretty much spanks any comparably priced Dynamic.

Pro’s:   Fabulous fun, superb instrument separation, super clear open sound.

Con’s:  bass quantity isn’t vast, upper mid and treble energy is a bit too much, can’t really play nice with the relaxing stuff.

EXS X10 Review

EXS X10 Review

Thanks to Frogbeats for the sample

First Impressions: Okay I just love the case, it’s a felt outer that I know is going to soak up fluff but oooooh it feels pretty. One of the nicest cases around. I have a white pair and I’m never wildly keen on that, why do people like white buds? God knows. Nice selection of tips going here too. Tbh I’m struggling for things to say, it’s just not that interesting or exciting aside from the lovely case.

First listen though and that all changes, I’m going to wager right now this is going to be an overwhelmingly positive review. These are light, crisp and super enthusiastic and yet stupid cheap. Hmmm maybe they are too enthusiastic? Time for a little burn in, they are BA but for consistencies sake away they go.

Source 1G iPod Shuffle with a 75 ohm adapter added and 5G iPod Video line out through a Practical Devices XM5 with LM6171 opp amps

Low: If you’re a bass head then these wont be for you. They are single BA drivers and they just cannot move a large amount of air. Thank fully they don’t really try to either. As the use of the Siren Armature inside these has proliferated many companies have had a bash to tuning them for a more consumer orientated sound, i.e. they have wacked up the bass levels. While many may like the bigger bass they never really compete with dynamics and here EXS haven’t bothered to try. They have accepted it’s a BA and they have tuned it to play to its strengths and it really shows. The bass response is rather limited in quantity; it doesn’t really go too deep either. It can do deep enough but the quantity means it tends to be somewhat overshadowed too. Where it does impress though is that its super tight, super clean and super punchy. It has such wild enthusiasm and energy, the speed with which it can function is really impressive. In some ways this is a bit of a problem as it just doesn’t want to do anything slow and mellow. It wants to party and punch its way through a song, great if its popy, bouncy song but more relaxed things not. The bass here can’t move the air it needs to do rich and mellow so it constantly tries to move to fast and punchy. This just doesn’t suit the slow stuff at all.

If you don’t mind its desire to go fast then the low end here really is a bundle of fun. Just so long so you don’t need lots and lots of it.

Mids: Dry, airy, energetic and enthusiastic. The mids in terms of quality are super impressive. The Siren armature has long been a favourite of mine in things like the PL-50 but here they have taken all its best qualities and gone for the opposite tonal quality. Where the PL-50 was smooth and luxuriant the X10 is airy and dry. The energy levels too have been dialled up a little despite the 50 being a little more forward. The mids on the X10 are rather prominent too with fantastic level of clarity and detail. They however like things to be fast passed with a tremendous sense of enthusiasm. They want to have a party and need things to go a little quick or they just feel out of place. These want to go fast, they need to go fast. It’s not to say they cannot do slow songs but they yearn so for something quicker that I repeatedly find myself hitting next track until something more sprightly comes on. Oh and they just love you cranking up the power too. The more power you can throw at them the better.

They do have a tinge of extra energy in the upper mids that really ought not to be there but that just emphasises their enthusiasm. It does mean that particularly female vocals really pop out at you. I can see some people not loving that but I think its fab. They are so clean and forthright as only a good BA can. Love it.

Highs: I think this is one where you will probably want to go get a set of Comply’s. There is no way around the fact there are little trebly happy. Slap on a little Owl City and I find myself reacting for the volume dial. The wildly abundant energy and enthusiasm these have becomes a little too much for my delicate little ears. They don’t really have much of a hard aggressive edge to them but the energy is just too much. The Comply’s tone it down a touch and with the rubber tips I found it unpleasant at times if playing too loud. Extension wise they don’t really go as high as I’d like but they are capable of doing a really good attempt at a natural like decay. They lack of aggressiveness combined with the energy means a cymbal can trail off rather well in the slower songs. It’s not perfect but for something so cheap it’s good. The trouble is that the energy can be overwhelming in the fast stuff. If you get a particularly treble heavy song then it really begins to dominate. The bass is the first to be overshadowed but that can always be filled back in with little go on the bass boost button on an amp. Out of the little Shuffle 1G itself this want an option and at times the bright source and bright IEM was too much for me. However if you had something warmer like the HM-601 then things were much more tolerable.

Overall I cannot fault its quality but it’s a bit abundant and a bit too enthusiastic at times.

Soundstage: These never took on a grand sense of scale but they do offer up a wonderfully airy presentation. Lots of air and great instrument separation but you’re never going to mistake these for a pair of speakers. The instrument separation is very impressive and about the best I’ve heard for a single BA.

Comfort: Hmm, fine. I cannot say these ever melted away but they were never uncomfortable either. They have a large nozzle and I just always wanted them to sit deeper than they really wanted to.

Fit: They really weren’t the best shape and they didn’t particularly want to be worn up. Still they were okay if maybe they stuck out a bit. In term of getting a seal it was okay but I didn’t like how they wanted to sit so shallow.

Cable: Very nice, the jack was great and the cable was super flexible. It was very light too and I absolutely cannot fault any aspect of it. Hmm maybe it could have done with a neck slider but otherwise its first class.

Microphonics: Even worn down there pretty much nothing. This is thanks to the cable with as I said was just great. Worn up there was nothing at all.

Amp/Unamped: I have already said that these like power. They didn’t like impedance though as it just savaged the low end and did little to improve anything elsewhere. In short I wouldn’t bother with it. Moving up to more powerful players now that it did like. It particularly liked the FiiO E9, just loved it. So open, so expressive and so super enthusiastic. Much fun was had I can assure you.

Build Quality: Very good. I really couldn’t fault anything. Everything looks and feels first rate.

Isolation: With the rubber tips on it was okay but somewhat improved with Comply’s. It also varied with how deeply they were shoved in and since they have larger nozzles they didn’t want to go too far. Not really up there with the best BA stuff but beats pretty much any Dynamic out there. Easily enough for normal usage and to make you road kill if you don’t pay attention to traffic.

Accessories: You get a good selection of tips but really the best thing is the case. It’s a great little case. Sure it’s a fluff magnet but it does the job superbly, looks great going it and is such a convenient shape. Top marks.

Value: I have been told they shall come in at £57 and id buy them at that. Of course I might be inclined to go with the PL-50 for that money as it very much suits my tastes with its buttery, creamy sound. I know that’s not really a flavour that suits everyone and certainly doesn’t play ideally for all types of music. It never comes to life with the energy and enthusiasm the X10 can. The X10 is so much more popy and dynamic, somewhat like an ety out to party. Compared to the RE-0 it isn’t the most accurate or detailed you can get for the money either, the 0 wins there but it doesn’t have the fun or enthusiasm that the X10 brings. Its bouncy, lively and fun. Don’t forget you can give it a FiiO friend and boost up that bass level too to turn it into a real party IEM. Lots and lots of fun with BA accuracy for a pretty fine value price. Like I said I’d buy one.

Conclusion: When I get something I normally have a look round at what reviews and things people have said about something. Usually things match up pretty well and you can always tell certain reviewers react in certain ways to particular attributes. The only thing I really found about these was by Shigzeo, what shocked was that it was dated 2010! How have I not really heard about these before? His review summary on Head-Fi got not a single comment. Was it posted then simply ignored by the world? I fear that in this case the world missed out. The X10 is a prime example in my opinion of what a BA driver can do. It’s not going to be all things to all people and it cannot move a ton of air so it doesn’t try. It has a decent low end quantity but mainly it focuses on the aspects it can do well. That namely being the quality. Not to name any names but some makers have taken the same driver and tried to max out the bass at the cost of the places where it shines and believe me this shines. Maybe it shines a little too bright and a little too energetically. It has an abundance of enthusiasm and exuberance that I find to be wildly fun but for me it’s a bit much all the time. I like a bit of calm now and again and this just wants to play with hedonistic abandon. It’s like it’s had one too many vodka and Redbulls. Yes its fantastic fun but just so brim full of energy it really struggles to do boring and relaxed.

None of that of course is a bad thing it’s all just a choice and it’s an enjoyable one. Super fun and only gets more so if you toss in a bass boosting amp, punchy, lightning paced bass. Super clear, airy open mids and fab shimmery highs. The only down point is the energy level in the upper mids can be a touch too much at times. It may make for a tremendously lively sound but for me it’s too lively for all day every day. Granted I have a ton of IEM’s so I can swap about taking whatever suits the mood I’m in but I realise this isn’t what normal people do. I’m not sure I could live with this level of enthusiasm all the time. It has far more energy than I do, it just wants to have a good time and party. Not something to sit quietly in the library with.

So while I’m being a grumpy old man and protesting at their inability to do boring I cannot help but find them to be bucket load of fun. Popy, bouncy, frenetic fun. Just so long as you pair it with a non bright source and maybe even give it a bass boost then it may be the most lively BA IEM around. Certainly the most lively single BA driver. It’s party time in treble town and the EXS X10 is going to drag you there forcing a smile to your face or drive you mad with its relentlessness.