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.

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