Sunday, October 15, 2006

Oh! For a perfect headset

Headphones that come with portable music players like the iPod are usually adequate in delivering an enjoyable experience, but often they ate not the best choice for comfort, convenience or sound quality.

Ear-bud-style headphones that come with iPods, for example, can be uncomfortable after extended use and, if they do not fit properly, can jar loose. Moreover, many headphones are not effective at blocking outside noise, which can degrade sound quality and induce users to increase the volumes in loud surroundings.

A number of headphones options are available to improve the listening experiences on portable music players. They include wireless headsets that can free you from having to deal with wires, sound-isolating earphones that form an acoustically sealed zone inside your ear canals, and noise-canceling headphones that reduce sounds n your environment. Some of the options can work with cell phones as well, allowing you to toggle between phone calls and music.

Several wireless headphones are made for use with iPods and other portable music players. These headphones employ the wireless protocol of Blue-tooth to deliver stereo sound; a Bluetooth transmitter, included with the headphones, connets to the music player’s headphones jack and broadcasts audio to the headset when within range. Blue-tooth works at short distances, and these headsets typically enable roaming up to 30 feet from the music source.

For example, the iMuffs, from Wi-Gear (, are about $130 and are compatible with many iPods models, including the Mini, Photo and third and fourth-generation models (but not yet with the newest iPods, like the Nano and video iPods).

Buttons on the right earpiece control the iPod’s volume and song selection, even when the iPod’s hold feature is enabled, and the headset has a batter life of up to 16 hours of continuous use before it needs recharging. The transmitter, a white plastic enclosure, plus into the top of the iPod and extends its length by about 1.2 inches.

In tests using an iPod Mini, the sound quality of the iMuffs was about the same as that of the headphones that came with the iPod. For example, in a song with the moderate range of sounds, Careless Love by Madeleine Peyroux, the bass, vocals, keyboards and guitar were clear, the wireless connectivity worked well when the headset remained within a few feet of the iPod; when roaming away from the iPod, the music was occasionally interrupted. A similar option is available for about $120 from Logitech, the Logitech Wireless Headphones for iPods ( As with the iMuffs, the headset wraps around the back of your neck and is a one size fits all dimension, though it is slightly heavier thatn the iMuffs and provdes a snugger fit. The Blue-tooth transmitter that attaches to the iPods is bulkier. It includes its own battery whereas the iMuffs transmitter dras power from the iPod.

In other tests, experts found the sound quality to be roughly equivalent to the headphones that came with the iPods. The roaming range was good, and connectivity held up well through walls and windows.

Another wireless option is from Pantronics, the Pulsar 590A Blue-tooth Headset ( ). The device, about $250, has an adjustable headband that wraps over your head and a puck-shaped transmitter with a wire that connects to most standard 3.5 mm audio jacks, including those on iPods, laptops, computers, portable CD players and mini-cassette players.

Like some of the other wireless headsets, the 590A comes with a built-in microphones and can simultaneously connect with Blue-tooth enabled cell phones and music players. When cells are answered or initiated, music is automatically switched off and the call takes center stage.

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