Sunday, 8 July 2012

FLS Zero Review

FLS Zero Review

Thanks to iheadphones for the sample.


First Impressions:  Visually these look rather ordinary, nothing is leaping out at me with is probably a good thing.  No garish colours to offend the eye.  What is offending me is the realisation that the charging cable is not micro usb.  So it’s not a deal breaker but why???  The charger plugs into a usb socket so it can’t be a power requirement issue, everyone has a million micro usb cables so allowing them to be charged anywhere and anytime.  This propriety socket isn’t and seems like a rather silly thing to do. 

Looking at the controls they look pretty sensible and should be easy to use.  Pairing up too was super easy.  So getting a quick listen to and I’m pleasantly pleased.  The last Bluetooth headphone I used was somewhat disappointing and first impressions here are much better.  A bit mid recessed but really not bad at all.  The top end sounds a touch gritty but then I’m not exactly feeding it flawless tracks and it’s just fresh out of the box too.  Perhaps it will smoothen with some hours on it.  Even if it doesn’t, so far I’m quite impressed.


Source:  Galaxy Nexus and HTC Sensation XE

Lows:  Not perfect but for the money and the fact its Bluetooth means I couldn’t ask for better!  Depth is impressive, scale, speed, impact you name it is all just about bang on.  Purists will point out it doesn’t quite plumb sub-woofer depths and it could be faster etc etc but it’s coming at £60 which isn’t exactly all that much.  Sure it’s a bit hump like and there is a bit too much (many would see that as a boon anyway) and it does eek a little close towards the vocals but I’m being mean and petty.  Aside from the quantity I think it’s about as spot on as you could realistically ask for.  Its speed and agility mean it’s got only a little in the way of bloom or softness yet still gives grand abundance and richness.  It being closed I’m sure helps matters greatly here as closed things usually do.  That said directly comparing to the Philips O’Neal Stretch things I have (closest thing I’ve got) that cost basically the same price the difference is noticeable.  Impact is better and more defined but then you have the wire to deal with.  I can’t say what proportion of the costs are simply dealing with the Bluetooth side of things which obviously takes money away from the other bits.  Seriously though, who cares?  I can’t see anyone having a listen and thinking they haven’t got a bargain.  It’s a very consumer friendly sound.


Mids:  These sit a little behind both the bass and the treble but not overly so.  They are still very clear and well focused.  Maybe a little over focused but again I’m just nit picking.  Tonally these are a little warm in the lower vocals and get airier as you more upward.  They aren’t a product that’s going to ever be used for monitoring and have been tuned to suit normal pop stuff.  Going wild with Nora Jones and you may find yourself a touch disappointed, coming from something like PL-50 but if you slap on something with a bit more bounce you’ll be more than pleased.  That’s really where these are in their element.  Get some quick, lively music, Pink, Maroon 5 etc etc.  Actually if you have “Now That’s What I Call Running” then basically anything on there.  Vocals are fun and enjoyable.  Purists who want something more serine should try something else.


Highs:  If I was to have a complaint it would be here.  The treble quantity is a bit much for my delicate little ears. I’m pretty treble sensitive and the quantity combined with these not being exactly the most accurate ever means I find them tiring.  However, it offers a highly enthusiastic and energetic experience.  Bouncy, fast, energising, stimulating etc etc if you want something to go to the gym with then this would do very well. 

Being more objective, the treble, while not fabulous is still rather good.  Its coming at me from a phone streaming a 320kbit mp3 from Google Music (I promise Google, I was in the US the whole time, honest) then streaming over a Bluetooth A2DP connection.  So really just great do you think the treble was ever going to be?  Sure if I was paying £60 and getting something with a wire then I’d hope it would be a little better.  The nature of this product and its sound signature means you’re really not likely to be listening to true hi-fi stuff that’s been mastered by the musical gods.  So is there really a need for its treble to be perfect?  As it stands it is a little edgy and a little gritty, both adding to its very energetic flavour, and for me that’s not what I really want. 


Soundstage:  While they can move some air they don’t really do distance or much in the way of positioning.  It’s not really what the products about though.  They do sound big ish but nothing really of note.

Fit:  Well I do seem to have a slight imbalance between sides.  I don’t seem to get quite as good a seal on the left side as I do the right.  As I wear glasses that may well be a factor.  I have no plans to try to test without as I’m basically blind without them.  So I’d say really no problems but as always its very dependent on the individual.

Comfort:  Once more they seemed to be a little more noticeable on the left.  Why I don’t know but after a few hours on I did want to take them off.  It wasn’t painful or anything but I think my ear just needed a bit of a rest.

Cable:  Arguably its best feature.  Unless of course you talk about the charging cable which I’m still maddened by the fact it’s not a micro usb one.  The lack of a cable is really got to be the main selling point of this product.  If you have even seen it then again it’s likely to be because you specifically want the Bluetooth connection here.  I can see why you would too.  The sound quality is just fine and despite a big chunk of the cost going to replacing a wire which usually costs very little, the freedom you get is worth it.  Purists would probably disagree but then purists probably aren’t looking at £60 headphones anyway.  These are about fun and freedom and they give you spades of both.

Phone Use:  Here things were a bit of a let-down.  I could hear the other party just fine but they immediately complained that they couldn’t hear me.    On speaking to them after they said it sounded like I had my head in a fish tank.  So could it have been an isolated thing, maybe but I guess you aren’t buying this product to sit all day on the phone.


Controls:  The buttons on the device look a little plastiky but they work just fine.  Actually when you use them while it’s on your head I would have rathered there was more of a gap between the buttons as they were not immediately obvious to my fingers where one button started and ended.  I don’t think I ever hit the wrong thing but it did take me a second or two to get the play/pause button in the middle.

Microphonics:  Yey, aside from hitting your head an impossibility.

Amped/Unamped:  Well due to its nature you cannot amp it.  Not that I’m sure most people would care anyway. 

Build Quality:  Hmmm, a bit varied here.  Visually these are mostly plastic and they aren’t always the very best looking plastics, the pads especially.  They are perfectly functional, they just don’t look fantastic.  Still I think I’m being a bit hard on them as these are a cheap product and what really matters is their sturdiness rather than how pretty they look.  Physically they feel rather solid, no creaks or squeaks, it all feels decently robust. 


Isolation:  Pretty good, good to the point of it blocking most sound out.  Enough that I think it may be a detractor for one of its potential uses, sporty activity.  For in the gym where you probably want to block out noise, great, for running or cycling outdoors where you’re in danger of being run over, not so much.  Isolation in itself of course is neither a good or a bad thing, it’s about what you want the device for and whether you want to be cut off from the outside world.  Aside for any potential to lose them outside these could quite happily be used for normal day to day uses.  Walking about, on a bus etc etc.  You could use on a plane if you had to and while they would help they aren’t what I’d want to use for a long trip. 

Accessories:  Well you don’t really get any, all you get is the proprietary charging cable.  I cannot express enough how much I dislike that.  Why is it not micro usb?  It’s the one thing I really do not like about this product.

Value:  Bargain.  It’s cheap, sounds super fun and is wireless.  Sure if you willing to have something with a wire you’ll get better sound quality for the money but that defeats the point of this object. 


Conclusion:  I like this.  There is no two ways about it, I like just about everything it does aside for that charging cable of course.  Acoustically these are good enough that they don’t offend and they have a lively energetic nature that I think only serves to enhance its very freeing nature.  The single biggest selling point of the Zero is its Bluetooth connection and the resultant lack of wires getting in your way.  Until you have used something truly wireless you really won’t get just how freeing it is.  I’m not going to try to deny that you make a bunch of sacrifices to do wireless but at this level many of them don’t apply.  Obviously you can’t add in a superior amplifier or DAC, you can’t swap sources willy nilly, you can’t use just any device with them etc etc.  Most of those things aren’t issues for what is a fairly entry level product.  If I had something more normal i.e. with a wire, then I still wouldn’t expect to see an amp getting used. I also wouldn’t expect an insistence on using lossless tracks.  Seeing as I’m using these streaming music from my phone, streaming from Google Music just as you may with Spotify or whatever others.  They won’t be lossless anyway.  The Bluetooth connection, A2DP is sufficient to cope with these sort of bitrates without trouble so it’s not really much if any limitation at all.  The limiter is probably the headphones themselves and at this price should be, wired or no.  That these pull off wireless that sounds this good but manages this cheap too is a sure sign of the times.  Things are getting ever cheaper and ever better sounding.

I am not going to sit and argue that these for the money is the best sound or near the best sound quality you can get because it’s not.  It however is very good and that is good enough, more than good enough.  Everything you ever buy (unless you’re Bill Gates) is going to be a case of compromising and working out what aspects are most important to you.  If you’re buying these then clearly a huge factor is the lack of a wire.  It’s a fantastic thing to be completely free of wires.  No being plugged into something attached to a desk or being forced to use something portable and have a wire trailing around you.  That they offer this freedom as cheaply as this and sound as capable is a testament to how far production costs have come down.  These may not be the pinnacle of audio quality but they do a great job with a highly entertaining, enthusiastic sound that I think perfectly complements their intended usage.  Fun, fun, fun and I suspect would make the perfect gym accompaniment.

FSL Zero Quick Review

FSL Zero Quick Review

Thanks to iheadphones for the sample.

Brief:  Bluetooth, both good and cheap.

Price:  £60

Specification:  Bluetooth version: V2.1 + EDR (A2DP stereo transmission), Transmission distance: ~ 10m (Class 2 standard), Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz, Sensitivity: ≥ 85 dB, Output Power: 2 x 15mW, Charge time: 1-2 hours, Continuous Playing time: 9 hours, approximately, Built-in battery: 3.7V 300mah (High-energy lithium polymer battery), Charge power: USB port (cable included); DC 5V, 500 mA

Accessories:  Charging cable.

Build Quality:  Nice.  It’s not the most premium looking plastic used but it feels sturdy and the head band is metal.  It should stand up well.

Isolation:  Quite a reasonable amount.  It’s sufficient for normal use but not really up to say all day on the tube.  It’s a bit much if you want to use running or cycling as the isolation is sufficient to mean you’re in danger of getting run over.  It really depends what you want them for and if you want to be cut off from the outside world.

Comfort/Fit:  Rather good.  I could wear these happily for a good few hours before my ears wanted a little air.  They are light on the head and clam just the right amount, enough to keep them on but not so much its crushing you.  As a glasses wearer I had no trouble with them getting a fit or comfort.

Aesthetics:  So so.  These aren’t much a looker, nothing bad just rather plain.  Given some of the garish monstrosities out there it’s nice to see something more polite.  These also being wireless are not going to attract an unwelcome element to come steal them off your head. 

Sound:  Better than you would expect.  These are not expensive and despite being Bluetooth and battery containing sound really good.  They are fun and lively that I think suits their freeing aspects nicely.  I know they aren’t being actively marketed as such but I think these would be perfect for a gym.  Its energetic sound driving you on and no wires getting in the way.  Let’s face it, at this price your likely aiming much more for fun than you are a ruler flat, analytical headphone.  It’s much more about having a good time.  The bass is accordingly boosted and with a bit of a hump, still depth isn’t bad.  The mids are a bit recessed on the whole and then very focused in the middle.  The vagaries of such delicate and nuanced vocals from the likes of Nora Jones are distinctively meh.  Slap on some bouncy chart toppers and they sound most lively and are clearly far more at home.  Highs are forward and a bit crispy, a little too gritty and edgy for my delicate sensibilities but dramatic and attention grabbing.  Very much that “scream if you wanna go faster” type of sound.  Its fun.

Value:  If you just want the best sound you can get for £60 then this is not it.  Its not meant to be either.  The selling point here is no wires and that steals money that could otherwise go towards better drivers.  The combo these have is a bit of a compromise but I think a superb one.  So long as you really do want wireless.

Pro’s:   Bluetooth, Good sound quality, Exciting and lively sound.

Con’s:  The mic didn’t seem to do a great job, can get better sound if use a wired set.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Vdera Sharkfin Review

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

First Impressions:  Looking at the little packet I’m not sure what to make of these.  it’s not something that would naturally interest me as you may know, I don’t really like buds.  This product therefore is aimed at a different demographic to I.  Still I was offered to give them a go and I thought where’s the harm.  I still have a pair of the Blox M2C, buds that pretty much blew me away with how good they were but were still buds and hence uncomfortable.  Let’s see if the Sharkfins can make them comfortable.


Opening the box:  Inside there is two little tubs of white blobs and a piece of paper with the instructions.  the instructions are tiny and not hugely clear so I suggest you go look at them online and if need be print them at human size.   once you have done that and figure out what your about to do, i strongly suggest you read it a few times and get yourself accustomed to the instructions as you only have 3 goes so bare in mind you need to get 2 out of 3 right.  I say this as my first go I got a bit off by putting the join at the bottom and it didn’t end up wrapping all the way round.  It sort of worked but it wasn’t as good as attempt number two so I redid the first one.

Also be aware that when it says there are two different colours of goo they are both very similar, in my case white.  One was super white and one a slightly cream coloured white.

Moulding:  The getting them in your ears and then moulding the stuff round the buds and into your ear is a little weird.  I’d suggest if you have a good friend get them to do it but I managed it fine myself, it’s just not the most natural thing in the world.  Once you have them in your ear you have to just sit for a bit and do nothing.  Try not to talk as it moves your ear.  After a minute or so you should hear them fizzing and hissing away as they set.  This wasn’t mentioned anywhere and at first I wondered if something was reacting that shouldn't be!  Also another warning, have a box of tissues to hand as your fingers will need them and once the moulds are dry they will need them too.  It’s all rather greasy.

Comfort:  Once all was done setting and I took them out, had a coffee, then put them back in.  I must say it was odd at first but perfectly comfortable.  I’m very used to things going IN my ears but not this filling to outside.  It’s peculiar.  I’m also not used to the not actually isolating properly.  They clearly isolate far more than before but this isn’t going to quite be IEM replacing.  Of course if you don’t want to be entirely cut off from the outside world then it’s somewhat of a boon.


Isolation:  For a bud it’s a big step up, as in there actually is some but compared to my more typical fair, not so much.  If it were an IEM I’d consider this to be one of the most open, least isolating around.  Should you be looking for something to use while running near traffic maybe you’ll love not being cut off from the world.  Isolation in itself isn’t a good or a bad thing it’s what you want and the use case scenario you want it for.  For me with music on it drowned out most normal office noise but off I could hold a conversation with them still in with relative ease.

Sound:  Clearly the Sharkins themselves don’t produce sound but they will have an effect on what you’re using with them with.  I chose buds that I now see may not have been the best option.  The Blox M2C are, as buds go, stunners.  They sound just terrific and I liked them rather a lot.  However, I found them uncomfortable.  These now being somewhat enclosed has changed things.  They are still amazeballs sounding but the formerly light low end is no more.  Oh dear god it is comically huge.  VAST!  Buds designed to live in an entirely open environment tend to try to boost up the bass so that in normal use you can hear it.  Well now I can not only hear it but am being ravaged by it.  My first thoughts where giddy and joyous, it’s ridiculous and rhythmically bouncy.  Many out there might actually really like this sort of thing.  I’m no bass head and this combo is super bassy, so bassy it’s actually growing unpleasant and uncomfortable.  The Blox M2C was never meant to be enclosed like this; it’s not tuned for it.  I’m not sure any bud would be, it’s not like I can try others, it’s not like I even have many I could try.  As I’ve said before I don’t as a rule like buds.

Acoustic quality has also been somewhat impacted in the high ranges, there is no longer the same air and space to be found but that not exactly a shocker.  Otherwise these sound every bit as stunning as the M2C always has.  The primary change is the low end as you would expect.


Value:  Well they are only a fiver and for that it could turn buds into a theoretically useable proposition from me.  Acoustically it gave me waaaaay too much bass but most importantly it gave comfort.  These are comfortable, well so long as I listen at low volume, my ears just don’t like this much air moving.

Conclusion:  Would I buy a set of these, no but that is primarily because I much prefer things going inside my ears.  I’m very used to it but I am aware that many dislike such a notion.  They aren’t used to shoving things inside their ears and they do not want to do it.  Yet buds simply aren’t very comfortable things either.  The use of these weird blobs of goo transforms buds into comfortable bass cannons.  So do you want comfy bass cannons?  If the answer is yes then here you go.  Be aware that if your buds are crap sounding these won’t change that, all it will do is enclose and raise the bass level you hear.  Since buds are tuned with a realisation that they will be radically open they actually move a lot of air compared to an IEM and these change that.  The Blox weren’t the bassiest buds ever and now they are hugely bassy so if you had better want shedloads of bass.  With those provisos in place then if you think it sounds like something for you then by all means grab a set.  It’s only a fiver and they may transform a formerly bass anaemic, horribly uncomfortable pair of buds into something rather more.