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Getting an earful

Getting an earful
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First Published: Wed, Jun 10 2009. 12 30 AM IST

Average performance, works for muzak enthusiasts; serious audiophiles, keep away. Price: Rs3,300; Rating: **
Average performance, works for muzak enthusiasts; serious audiophiles, keep away. Price: Rs3,300; Rating: **
Updated: Wed, Jun 10 2009. 11 32 AM IST
Average performance, works for muzak enthusiasts; serious audiophiles, keep away. Price: Rs3,300; Rating: **
1. SHURE SE115
Let’s face it: Headphones are brilliant, but carrying them around or using them on a bus can be difficult, uncomfortable and downright annoying. Earphones come packaged with most MP3 players; while light and mobile, their weight loss unfortunately also translates into low sound quality.
The SE115 attempts to break this taboo, while looking cool. Although the colour options are helpful for the fashion oriented, they don’t do much for the sound. That part is handled by comfortable buds, which come with multiple tips (in case you lose or tear the first pair) and a tiny carrying case that ensures dust won’t stifle the sound. The SE115 also does a remarkable job of increasing the bass, giving it a full sound, without converting it into a sonic assault on your brain.
Once again, hip hop lovers will rejoice, but classical and jazz enthusiasts might be disappointed.
Also Read Sound Check
Clean, comfortable sound. Price: Rs25,000; Rating: ****
These headphones are sonic gentlemen. They remove any sharp bursts of annoying frequency shifts and replace them with a “round sound”, which is to say they smooth the high frequencies and roll the low bass, giving your ears the comfort of listening to everything without fatiguing them. Like the HD 595 (see No. 9), the headband and large ear cups of the HD 650 ensure that your listening experience is unmarred by any physical discomfort.
But this comfort comes at a price: While the “velour” ear pads of the HD 650 are extremely soft, they are placed on open ear cups. The advantage is that your ears don’t become uncomfortably hot and sweaty; the problem is that everyone else can also hear what you’re listening to. While listeners on the transition from lower-level devices may be thrilled with the HD 650s, they aren’t an audiophile’s headphone: The round sound also removes very high frequencies and very low sounds, thus limiting the range of sound.
3. Bose QuietComfort 2
Blocks noise lets the music speak; Price: Rs16,763; Rating: ****
When it comes to removing background noise, nothing comes close to a Bose. The QuietComfort 2 uses a single AAA battery that fits snugly into the right ear cup, giving you the bliss of an ocean of noise-cancelling sound even while operating heavy machinery. Unlike its predecessor, the original QuietComfort, these headphones can be folded, taking up less space and making them easier to carry around.
Even the sound comes out unharmed—for the most part: While the bass remains rich, the treble can be a bit flattened out. Nonetheless, for most music enthusiasts, these phones are worth the price.
However, there are two other issues to keep in mind. First, when the batteries that power the noise-cancelling mechanism die out, the music also stops. Second, for sensitive users, the noise cancelling itself can feel like a slight pressure on your ears.
While the battery issue isn’t much of a problem (they still give you around 35 hours of seamless music), sensitive users may need to look elsewhere to listen in on peace and quiet.
4. DENON AH-D7000
Unbeatable sound, painful price. Price: Rs55,000; Rating: *****
Nothing comes close to the D7000: The sound quality is unparalleled and the simple design is unbeatable. Right now, the 7000s don’t even have a competitor! Everything about these headphones screams luxury: The cups have glossy mahogany wood, gold lettering and soft leather ear cups; even the headband is pure leather. All this encloses impressively powerful circuitry, so there is absolutely no loss in sound: The bass is spaced out and the treble can come out to play; even live music seems drab in comparison. Yet, unlike other high-quality headphones, the 7000s need no amplifiers: You can move them directly from a professional recording deck to an iPod without any loss of sound. While all-genre friendly, the 7000 is especially good for rock, folk, acoustic, electronic and metal.
Unfortunately, it costs a small fortune.
Website: www.denon.com
Comfortable fit, but little else beside. Price: Rs15,000; Rating: **
This is Denon’s answer to Bose’s noise-cancelling supremacy. The 732 rivals the QuietComfort in almost all spheres: The cups have been designed to optimize comfort, the headphones can be folded down to the size of a paperback, and they can make you forget that you’re sitting in a noisy compartment of the most sonically annoying train ever. They do have the edge over Bose in one aspect: Unlike the QuietComfort series, you can use these headphones even when the noise cancelling is off. So even if your battery runs out of juice, the music never stops playing.
Unfortunately, while Denon was out beating Bose at everything else, it forgot to look at the music. The sound quality is average, nowhere near its Bose counterparts, which is especially disheartening because Denon is actually known for quality sound.
While the 732 is definitely still in the reckoning, you should probably explore your options a little before you settle for this pair.
Clean Sound, easy on the ears. Price: Rs11,000; Rating: ****
Background noise is something the 700s do well. But unlike most earphones, which expand the ear canals, giving you an ache that’s more annoying than painful, these buds are hugged by your ear canals, and feel as if they’re not even there.
Add extremely faithful sound quality and you have the perfect pair for an MP3 player, mobile phone or laptop. They do not distort sound and are fair to all genres, raga to Bollywood. But they aren’t cheap.
7. Bose QuietComfort 3
Lighter more comfortable than QC2, and still keeps noisy out. Price: Rs21,263; Rating: ****
These headphones pick up where the QuietComfort 2 (see No. 3) left off. Not only are they smaller, lighter and more comfortable to wear, they do not lose even an ounce of sound quality. Unfortunately, the price is steep. While the older avatar (QC2) uses standard batteries, the QuietComfort 3 comes with a rechargeable lithium ion battery and a charger.
The plus is that the charger fits into the accompanying carry case; the negative is that without a charged battery, these headphones too become glorified paperweights.
Yet Bose achieves what it set out to do: Provide high-quality sound in a package so comfortable and small that you can carry them anywhere, connect them to everything—from your MP3 player to your mobile phone—without the loss of a single rhythm or beat. It even manages to enhance the bass sound, giving an extra surge to hip hop tracks. Jazz listeners might miss the cleaner sound of the previous model, though.
Excellent for on-the-move listening. Price: Rs4,500; Rating: ***
These headphones are built for long hours of crystal-clear listening. The ATH-M35 provides a good balance between comfort and clarity.
The headphones boast a light, adjustable band and padded ear cups that fit snugly on the head when in use, and can be folded and stored in transit, lengthening the life of the device: The compact package that results provides some protection against breakage.
As for the sound, these headphones employ a neodymium magnet structure, providing accurate playback at most audible frequencies, without waver even at extremely high volumes. In addition, the M35 comes with the standard jack for home or on-the-move listening, and a professional screw that lets you connect to recording and mixing equipment.
It also provides high isolation in noisy environments. So sit back and let your ears savour the sound of music.
Not best in crowded transport. Price: RS8,500, Rating: ***
These are connoisseur’s headphones. The HD 595 isn’t built to connect to some media device, it is meant for concentration on, and contemplation of, every little frequency shift in the opera. Unlike most headphones, which tend to augment the bass (leaving the listener with a long line of very loud thumps), the HD 595 was built to play clean sound: no changing the music, no playing with recorded frequencies. It simply serves you music the way it is meant to be heard—of course, with the comfort of a band that doesn’t feel like your head is in a vice and cups that don’t pierce your eardrums. Unfortunately, the HD 595 does have some problems: First, the sound leaks, so if you’re cranking up the volume, people around you will notice (and maybe complain); second, sound quality suffers in low audio-quality formats, so MP3s will not sound like vinyl.
Add 200M to your iPhone
App of the week: a zoom lens you can download! The iPhone lacks one particularly handy tool: zoom. The 99-cent Camera Zoom app adds a 4X digital zoom to the iPhone. You move a slider on the screen to the desired magnification and touch the picture. You can position the slider along any border of the screen. Camera Zoom works like other digital zooms, blowing up a portion of the picture in the viewfinder. But the more you zoom, the more degraded the picture quality. Your shots will get a noisy grain and slightly distorted colours as you approach maximum magnification, more pronounced in lower light.
Making your note available everywhere
Say you get a phone call and need to make notes. MS Word takes too much time for you to open, name a file and decide where to save it. It’s faster to write on paper. Today’s best note-taking softwares replicate the Post-it, but add organization. Microsoft’s OneNote has a cult following of Windows users, and Mac users have other alternatives. Evernote (www.evernote. com), however, stores your data on the Internet, making it available everywhere: your Windows desktop, Mac laptop, iPhone or BlackBerry. Even better, you can take notes on the Web without downloading any software at all! All your notes are synchronized instantly: Anything on your home computer is available to you at work, on your phone or even in an Internet cafe. Evernote’s best feature: It decodes text or handwriting in any image, making it searchable.
DIY website
Every business wants global visibility via a website. However, for medium, small or tiny ones, limited resources can make DIY the only option. Mr Site Takeaway Website (Rs2,999, www. mrsite.com) is among the best website-in-a-box kits available. The bundle includes an URL, 150MB webspace, 50 Web pages, 20 personalized email addresses, FTP support, hundreds of ready-made (but customizable) layout templates, secure PayPal account, phone/email support and more. But no irritating ads. That’s for a year. Thereafter, it’s Rs240 a month.
—Ashish Bhatia
Disclaimer: All prices are estimates based on an average from a survey of various Web stores. Prices may vary at individual retailers.
Ratings are on a scale of 1-5 stars, with five being the highest.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Jun 10 2009. 12 30 AM IST