• Sennheiser PX 360 Headphones
    The Sennheiser PX 360 headphones deliver a sweet sound with good bass, and also provide good comfort, but they lack an iPod control and may be too quiet for some content.

    Sennheiser is a German company that was established immediately after the Second World War to make microphones. Headphones followed, but the company's main headphone fame came in the late 1960s, when it introduced an "open" design. That is, headphones in which the back of the sound reproducer was open to the air, rather than being contained inside a sealed box.

    The PX 360 headphones are from a different lineage, though. They use a closed design, but they also prominently feature that stylised "S"' logo, so those in the know will realise that you're wearing quality.

    The headphones fold up for carrying around, but in a different way. The earpieces swivel, so that they can form a flattish bundle. They also tilt in a little, but not very much. The supplied pouch is a substantial 195x145mm, and is 60mm thick.

    Finished in black plastic with silvery highlights, the ear pieces look compact, but in fact, they are large enough to encompass my ears, so that the soft pads rest against my head. That, and the reasonably gentle grip, made them very comfortable for long-term listening. The padding on the headband is quite thick, so they were gentle on the crown of the head, as well. At 169 grams, they are fairly light, too, and remained securely in place on my head, regardless of activity.

    The signal cable is fixed and attached to the right ear piece. It is terminated with a right-angled 3.5mm plug of the kind that tends to work better with portable music players. Supplied with the headphones is a gold-plated 3.5mm to 6.5mm adaptor, allowing you to readily use these headphones with a high fidelity system.

    What you don't get is the iPod/iPhone/iPad inline remote control, which won't trouble you in the slightest if you use some other brand of music player. But after using a bunch of headphones with this control, I found that having to scramble in my pocket for the iPod Touch in order to pause a song ended up being a significant drawback.

    First, a word on loudness.

    If you are determined to destroy your hearing, then these are probably not the headphones to apply to the task. They are relatively insensitive. Sennheiser uses a different method of specifying sensitivity to most brands. Its 110dB at 1 volt RMS converts (for headphones with a nominal impedance of 32 ohms) to a relatively modest 95dB for 1 milliwatt of input. Since a typical iPod Touch, iPhone or iPod Nano delivers about 1 volt max, then 110dB is pretty much the top volume you can expect on your portable travels. Most other portable-focused headphones tend to offer 6, 9 or more decibels.

    Having said that, with music that is encoded at a level to come close to the full scale of what is available in a digital audio file, these headphones proved plenty loud enough for some pretty heavy rocking.

    The only time you might have trouble is when transferring from older CDs, where sometimes, the music wasn't encoded very loudly within the digital space. Your iPod just simply might not turn up high enough to get a really full-throated sound out of these headphones.

    However, the general performance was very solid, with extended and well balanced bass. On instruments, the mid frequencies and highs were sweet and detailed. They sounded particularly nice with acoustic strings in classical music. Yes, classical music isn't normal, walking-around fodder, but it is nice to have that performance anyway. They did add a touch of sizzle to Nick Cave's voice on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, especially when turned up loud, to the point where there was noticeable sibilance.

    Drums had plenty of bite, too, but seemed a touch restrained dynamically, rather than rising above the mix. Rap was excellent on these headphones. Their higher frequencies made the vocals very easy to understand, while the background musical themes and the bass rhythm was strong without being overpowering.

    The bass was also strong, with Les Claypool's bass clearly articulated on Primus' "Southbound Pachyderms", and while the drums may have lost a slight edge in dynamism, they still remained very controlled.

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  • Not Right in the Head

    Listen up, cyclists: Riding with headphones is incredibly dumb.

    Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.

    On my daily commute, I bike through a Frogger-worthy array of door-opening drivers, bike-lane-blocking taxis, and heedless jaywalkers. And then there are the other cyclists, my allies in obstacle avoidance. In the seconds after dodging the chrome-plated kiss of some cellphone yakker’s Toyota 4Runner, it’s soothing to glide over to a fellow rider and whisper, “Did you see that asshole?!?” At least it would be soothing, if my comrade-on-wheels could hear me. Most days, I ride past more than one biker who’s cruising around with her ears plugged up. Cyclists, please hear me out: If you’re wearing headphones, you’re as much of an idiot as that guy in the 4Runner.

    There are very few occasions these days when portable electronic devices are considered off limits. (At last check, we were down to select funerals, art-house movies, and the first and last 10 minutes of air travel.) In an age when earbuds are removed only while bathing—and don’t worry, we have the technology to solve this problem—the bicycle lies in a gray zone of quasi-connectedness.

    As opposed to texting while driving, listening to music while you pedal isn’t so transparently stupid that it invites universal condemnation. A sensible-seeming, spandex-swaddled fellow might tell you that hearing isn’t all that important when you’re on a bike—and besides, a headphoned rider can hear a lot better than a dude blasting his car stereo. And when it comes to legislation, there’s no nationwide consensus. Bike riders in Florida and Rhode Island are prohibited by law from wearing headphones. In several other states—including New York, California, and Virginia—you can listen to whatever you like so long as you keep one ear free. And in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, there are no restrictions on listening to podcasts on your 10-speed.

     

    Whether or not it’s legal where you live, there is no defensible reason to listen to Stealer’s Wheel on wheels. I can’t cite any convincing research on headphones and bike safety—as far as I can tell, there isn’t any. This is also not a bogus trend story: You can find plenty of horrible news items about cyclists in headphones getting maimed or killed by trains and buses, but I can’t say for certain that such incidents are on the rise. Plus, the presence of earbuds at the scene of an accident does not prove causation: A headphone-wearing cyclist can get sideswiped by a truck while riding cautiously in a bike lane.

    What we’re left with is common sense. When you’re riding a bike on a busy city street, you need to be fully aware of your surroundings. There are cars turning in front of you and racing up from behind. There are pedestrians who, seeing no motorized four-wheeled vehicles to their left or right, mosey into the street without regard for the big red hand on the don’t-walk sign. There are potholes and speed bumps and double parkers—and just wait until you get to the next block.

    Cyclists mostly rely on their eyes to weave through these obstructions. It’s less common for your ears to serve as your primary warning system—rare is the day that a barking dog notifies me that I’m about to get doored by a Subaru. Indeed, there’s no prohibition against deaf people cycling, nor should there be. And unless you’re cranking Japanese noise rock at cochlea-eviscerating volume, your music will never occlude all other sounds. You’ll still hear car horns and sirens and motorists screaming about all the fixie-riding Commie hipsters in the turning lane.

    But even a burbling sonata can prevent you from picking up on subtler cues, and cyclists need all the cues they can get. Cars have air bags and crumple zones. Bikes do not. Cars have side and rearview mirrors. Most bikes don’t. Cyclists must crane their necks and look backward constantly. If your head and your front reflector aren’t pointing in the same direction, then auditory signals are essential to staying upright.

    In the interest of science, I strapped on my over-ear headphones before a recent morning ride to the office. Listening to music at medium volume didn’t hamper my ability to navigate the road in front of me. I did lose all sense of the world behind me. The distant hum of a car closing in from a half-block away, the rusty chain of a bike inching up on my back wheel—these sorts of aural warnings couldn’t overpower the thrum of mid-’90s guitar-based rock. I also became disconnected from my own ride. Rather than propelling a machine with creaky moving parts, I was sitting atop a soundless chariot. It was a sensation I’d never had before: feeling like a passenger in a one-man vehicle.

    The music did make the ride go faster, though. It encouraged my mind to wander, giving me something to think about aside from the store fronts and sidewalks I’ve zoomed past every weekday for the past two years. Was I distracted enough to put other people at risk? I doubt it, but I don’t think that should be my decision to make. “Like motorists who insist that they can safely text and drive,” wrote Bicycling.com’s Neil Bezdek last December, “perhaps cyclists should skip the headphones simply because it’s unfair to take unnecessary risks in other people’s road space, regardless of personal risk tolerance.” Riding a bike during rush hour is perilous. The best way to mitigate that danger is to avoid as many distractions as possible. And music is a highly avoidable distraction.

    Erring on the side of alert silence is especially important for the majority of urban cyclists who, like me, make a habit of coasting through stop signs. Though it might appear hypocritical for an avowed violator of traffic laws to give a lecture about safety and risk tolerance on the public way, the truth is that the rules of the road were designed for cars, not bikes. Cycling is about maintaining momentum. It’s inefficient, and I’d argue more dangerous, to come to a full stop, put your foot down, and restart at every intersection. Treating stop signs as yield signs—looking both ways, and coasting through if nobody’s coming from either direction—is both safe and sensible. That’s the law in Idaho, and it “has resulted in no discernible increase in injuries or fatalities to bicyclists” according to the state’s Transportation Department. (And come on, let’s be real: Cars roll through stop signs, too.)

    But even if this is a rational move, engaging in this behavior is a decision you’re imposing on others. The serial moving violator bears a responsibility to himself and others not to screw up—to keep his eyes and ears open and his brain locked in. That doesn’t leave much leeway to ponder that awesome point that Robert Krulwich just made.

    For those who can’t survive a tuneless commute, there are companies that make headphones designed for cycling—devices that use “bone conduction” or mix sound into a single ear to allow “the wearer to maintain alertness in any environment.” But these technological workarounds drown out the bigger-picture questions here: Is it really so horrible to spend a small part of your day focused on a single task? Is bobbing through a sea of two-ton SUVs while perched atop a narrow, unenclosed frame on wheels so dreadfully boring that you’re desperate for something else to do? If so, then find the nearest bike path and rock out with your sprockets out. If you want to stay on the streets, turn down the sound and put your earbuds in your messenger bag.

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  • Apple of Jobs' Ear? Great Headphones
     Apple's long-awaited in-ear headphones have, at last, made an appearance at the Apple Store. Called "Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic," the in-ear headphones feature two drivers in each earpiece (a woofer and a tweeter), a microphone with iPod control buttons, and three sizes of silicon tips.
     
    The headphones first appeared (Tuesday), but do show a 7-10 day shipping date, with free shipping. The product was first announced at an Apple media event on September 9th of 2008, though Apple had not offered a shipping date heretofore.
     
    At the time, Steve Jobs said he felt his company had finally gotten it right with this version of its in-ear headphones, saying the quality of the sound produced by this model was vastly superior to that of earlier attempts from Apple.
     
    You can find more information on the headphones at the Apple Store.
     
    Thanks to our friends at AppleInsider for first noticing the addition of the in-ear headphones at the Apple Store.
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  • Forget about Dre: AKG K551 headphones actually deserve the ‘studio’ moniker

    HD

    The AKG K551 have just been anounced as AKG's latest headphone offering. If the company's legacy is anything to go by, these new consumer-friendly, studio-quality cans should sound pretty amazing.

    The terms “studio-grade” and “studio-quality” are tossed around with reckless abandon by scores of headphone makers these days. Unfortunately, based on our experience, those terms rarely apply to the products upon which they are stamped. But if there is one company that has earned the rights to the studio moniker, it would be AKG. The company’s K240 open-backed headphones are a staple monitor in recording studios everywhere (A/V Editor Caleb Denison won’t darken a studio’s door without a set) but now AKG is rolling out a more consumer-oriented headphone that should play nicely outside the studio.

    Check out the AKG K551, a closed-back (read: not going to annoy those around you) headphone that the company says brings that classic, balanced AKG signature and super-wide to the masses. Let’s take a look at some specs.

    The K551 house a 50mm (that’s, like…really big) driver for each ear. Frequency response exceeds the limits of human hearing at a rated 12 Hz – 28 kHz. Maximum input power is listed at 200mW, but AKG doesn’t mention the headphones’ impedance — an interesting omisson, since many of its headphones like to gobble up power and aren’t necessarily the best choice for portable media players

    The phones come with an in-line mic and remote, carrying pouch and an ultra-collapsable design which AKG calls a 2D-axis fold-flat mechanism. These aren’t really novel features, but with the K551′s reported horsepower, there’s no need for unnecessary gimmickry.

    The AKG K551 studio headphones are available for pre-order now at the company’s website (though there’s no indication of a planned shipping date) and currently retail for $330. In our experience, that’s not too pricey for a great pair of studio headphones – but they had better be a great pair of studio headphones. We’ve requested a set for review and will update you when we’ve had a chance to listen for ourselves, but if AKG stays true to its roots, you can bet these cans will sound pretty fantastic.

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  • Lil Wayne + Dr. Dre Collaborating on Headphones

    Lil Wayne + Dr. Dre Collaborating on Headphones - They have also recorded music together!

    Hip-hop icons Lil Wayne and Dr. Dre are from two different eras of the genre, but they have been collaborating on a Weezy edition of Beats By Dre headphones. But that's not all.

    Weezy confirmed that they have recorded tons of tracks together, but he doesn't know their future fate.

    "I've always worked with Dre," Wayne told MTV News. "I'm not sure if you guys know how Dre works. Dre always send you a song, so I done probably did like 90 songs for Dre. You just never know which one he gonna put out."

    Do you wanna hear any of these Weezy and Dre collabs?

     

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