Mobile Phone Accessories Archive

Buyer’s Guide–Headphones and earphones

A situation that may easily come your way is that you may need to purchase a set of headphones for use with your MP3 player, smartphone or laptop. Similarly, a pair of headphones may come in handy as a gift idea for most people who travel or use the mobile or portable computing and audio equipment a lot.

Headphone acoustic-design types

Headphone driver-positioning arrangements:

Intra-aural: This type has the speaker driver placed within or on the ear canal and is typically represented by the classic hearing aid or the common earphones supplied with most personal-audio equipment. Some intra-aural headphones use a hard U-shaped headband that hangs around your neck, similar to the cheap “pneumatic” headsets that used to be used for airline inflight entertainment.

Circum-aural: The speaker driver in this kind of headphone sits outside the ear but has the ear enclosed with a sound-proof foam ring wrapped in vinyl or leather. This type is commonly used with aviation headsets and with headphones until the late 1970s.

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones

Bang & Olufsen Form 2 headphones – An example of a premium supra-aural headphone design

Supra-aural: With this type of headphones, the speaker driver is wrapped in foam and is intended to just sit on the ear.

Headphone enclosure or housing types:

A pair of headphones that uses a circum-aural or supra-aural driver positioning arrangement can either have a closed-back or open-back housing.

Closed back: This type does not have any perforation or venting on the drivers’ housings. It is known to provide a focused sound with less sound leakage and improved bass response.

Open back: Here, the enclosure is vented or perforated or the headphones are designed as if the driver mounted freely on the bracket that is attached to the headband or ear clip. These typically can yield an accurate sound with good drivers but cannot be heard easily in noisy environments and can suffer sound leakage where other can hear the content.

Headphone Styles

There are three common styles of headphones that you can choose from.

Earphones

Earphones typically describe the class which plug in to or clip on your ears and don’t have any headband of any sort. Earlier versions used to plug in to your ears like a set of earplugs or a hearing aid, but these evolved over time. For example, Sony ran a set of earphones which were a supra-aural type that had the speaker sit on your ear and they clipped on like the arms of a pair of glasses.  But most of today’s earphones typically have a small speaker that just faces in your ear with the unit resting in your ear.

Traditional headphones

Voyetra Turtle Beach M3 gaming headset

Voyetra Turtle Beach M3 gaming headset – an example of a circum-aural-style headphones

Then you have traditional headphones with a headband that sits over your head. This style has existed ever since this class of device was invented and most of the good-quality heavier-design closed-back types typically used a padded headband.

Compare this with lightweight supra-aural designs like the types that were popular when the Walkman came on the scene. These typically had either a lightweight aluminium or plastic strip serving as the headband with their earpieces anchored on to plastic brackets.

Street-style headphones

Another style that has started to appear in the late 90s is the “street-style”  where the headband wraps around the back of your head and the set rests on your ears in a similar vain to a pair of glasses.

Other points of interest

Headsets

A headset describes any class of headphones that have a microphone either on the cord or as a boom that is attached to one of the headphone housings. Denon has integrated the microphone in to one of the earcaps in some of their headset designs rather than using a separate microphone on a boom or the headset cord.

These are used for communications applications like smartphones, forum chatter in online games, business call-centre telephony or Skype / VoIP telephony. They are also being considered useful with voice-activated assistant software of the Siri, Google Now and Cortana kind that is becoming part of desktop and mobile computing.

Wired headsets typically have a four-conductor 3.5mm plug which may work with some devices like laptops or iPhones but may not work with other devices. These may also come with a breakout cable to plug in to a microphone jack and a headphone jack.

Noise-cancelling headphones

Most manufactures are selling a range of “Active Noise Cancelling” headphones that are pitched for travel use. Here, these headphones, typically traditional closed-back circum-aural types, use battery-operated circuitry that feeds a form of “anti-noise” to combat the low-frequency noise that you hear when in a plane, train or bus. You are still able to hear voices from around you such as announcements that come over the vehicle’s or aircraft’s emergency-announcement system and these headphones can play program material coming from any audio device that you connect to them. Here, you have the ability to hear the program material in relative peace and quiet without the drone of the vehicle’s or aircraft’s engines distracting you.

Wireless headphones

Some manufacturers supply wireless headphones that use an infrared or radio link from the audio source to the headphones.

There are some of these headphones that require that they work with a manufacturer-supplied transmitter that connects to the audio source. It may allow for special functions like headphone surround-sound or as a cost-saving measure for very cheap setups. These are more applicable if you intend to use them with a regular TV or music system rather than a computer or mobile device.

On the other hand, most of these headphones and headsets work using Bluetooth standards. This is in order for them to work with your mobile phone as a hands-free communication device. But they can work with Windows 7 and MacOS X Snow Leopard computers for communications or entertainment; or they can work with a Bluetooth transmitter for a wireless link to existing audio equipment. As far as traditional desktop computers go, you may need to use a Bluetooth dongle to bring this wireless functionality to these computers.

If you do buy Bluetooth headphones, make sure that they comply to Headset Profile, Hands-Free Profile for headsets that have a microphone; and, in the case of those that have stereo headphones, A2DP audio profile. If the headphones or headset implements a form of media control, they should implement it to the AVRCP profile.

Questions

Do you need to have two or three pairs of headphones “on the go”?

You may think it is unnecessary to have more than one set of headphones in your possession and ready to use. But this may be an advantage where you want to have a particular set of headphones suited to a particular kind of audio content or listening environment.

For example, you may use a pair of earphones or circum-aural headphones for listening in a noisy environment or to hear the detail in a piece of music whereas you may use a pair of lightweight supra-aural headphones when you go jogging so you can hear the traffic.

What kind of headphones suit your needs best?

If you are doing a lot of walking, you could benefit from a good-quality set of lightweight supra-aural headphones because they are not tiring to wear and you can still be aware of the traffic and other sounds around you.

A pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones, perhaps equipped with active noise cancelling can come in handy if you use public transport, especially planes, buses, diesel-powered trains or underground trains (subways) frequently. This can cut out the droning noise associated with these public-transport options and let you focus on your programme material.

Similarly a DJ or someone who likes to do a lot of recording could benefit from a good-quality pair of circum-aural headphones. Some of these headphones that are targeted at this application may be described as “monitor” headphones because you are after the high-quality sound that you want to use as a reference while not hearing outside noises or allowing sound to leak out thus causing a feedback loop with a public-address or broadcast application.

When you want to hear an accurate sound while listening to music or other content especailly when alone, you could benefit from a good-quality pair of supra-aural headphones that have large drivers like the Sennheiser range. This may be of importance with classical-type music, some kinds of jazz music or a lot of the down-tempo music classes like easy-listening / lounge or ambient / chillout music.

On the other hand, closed-back headphones can yield improved bass response which is important for popular up-tempo music, especially jazz, funk / soul, dance music or rock.They can also be handy if you want a distinct weighty impact from sound effects in video or games content.

What to look for with headphones

Things to look for to see long service life

When you buy a set of any headphones that you use a lot, make sure that you can purchase replaceable earpads or foam rings for the headphones. This is important that as you use a set of headphones, the earpads or foam rings do tend to tear or come apart over the years of use and you still want to have your headphones comfortable to wear.

Headphones that have a “single-sided” cord have an advantage because the cord comes in to only one housing with the other housing being serviced by a cable that passes through the headband. This cuts down on cable entanglement and can avoid the situation where you could ruin one earpiece due to the cable being tugged on that earpiece.

Some premium headphones do have the cord detachable from the earphone housing. The advantage here is that you can replace the cord if it gets damaged, which is something that can easily happen as you use the headphones out and about.

Conclusion

When you choose the right sets of headphones for your private-listening or communications needs, you will be in a better position to enjoy them better in the application you have bought them for.

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Repost–USB Audio in Android Jelly Bean to mean more in the way of accessories

I am reposting this to make sure that the link to the product review is working properly for RSS, email and Facebook subscribers

Article

Gear4 speaker dock supports USB audio for Jelly Bean at Google I/O 2012 (hands-on video) — Engadget

My Comments

Sony CMT-MX750Ni Internet-enabled music system main unit

An iPod-enabled music system that can also benefit from Android’s new USB Audio interface

Apple iOS users have had the advantage of also having a USB single-wire or docking connection between their iOS device and accessory equipment, with the ability to channel the sound data, the control signals and power to their device using the same connection. This has built up the iPod / iPhone accessory market very strongly with the accessories allowing the user to start and stop the music or move between tracks and folders on their iPod or iPhone using the control surface that the accessory provides.

People who used Google Android devices were limited to an analogue or Bluetooth audio link between an amplification device and their smartphone or tablet with support for transport control if the phone was connected via Bluetooth. They typically had to run a separate USB cable if they wanted to supply power to the Android device from that accessory.

Now the latest iteration of the Android platform, known as “Jelly Bean” and version number 4.1, supports USB Audio. This is similar to how a USB speaker system or external sound card can work with most desktop operating systems. It can then allow a large manufacturer base to develop “Android-friendly” audio playback equipment like speakers, Internet radios and hi-fi amplifiers / receivers in a timeframe that allows the device to be “ready-to-market” quickly.

What could be looked at

Communications audio

There are some questions I have about this kind of setup. One is whether the USB Audio functionality in Android Jelly Bean can allow for communications audio as well as audio content from the media player program. This would be of importance with automotive applications where the USB Audio link could be used as an alternative to Bluetooth for hands-free telephony in the car.

Device control

The other issue to look at is exposing the accessory device’s control surface as a control point for the Android device’s communications and media-playback functions. This situation would be of importance for accessory devices which have other audio or video sources like broadcast tuners, optical-disc players or USB Mass-Storage device connection. In the automotive context, it also extends to nearly all car infotainment setups that allow the user to make or take a call using the controls on the dashboard.

Here, it could be feasible for the accessory to control the media player or phone user interface using either the screen on the Android device or using the controls on the accessory. Here, it could allow for “basic” transport control and metadata display on the accessory device while advanced “search and play” can be performed on the Android device. Similarly, call-progress control can be managed using controls on the dashboard with the ability to, when the car is parked, commence a call on the Android device’s touchscreen.

Similarly, MirrorLink or similar techniques culd allow the accessory device to be configured or controlled in an advanced manner using the touchscreen on the Android device. It could come in handy with A/V equipment which may need specific configuration and setup procedures or Blu-Ray players that may expose “second-screen” interactivity functionality on the handset.

Conclusion

At least, Google have integrated commonly-accepted open standards to add functionality to Android in a manner as to rival the established Apple mobile-device platform and stimulate a healthy competitive design environment.

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The full-featured wristwatch has come back thanks to Sony

Articles

Sony unveils ‘Dick Tracy’ Android wristwatch

Sony unveils the SmartWatch, syncs with Android phones | News.com.au

From the horse’s mouth

Product page – Sony UK

My Comments

Since the late 1970s, some Japanese firms like Seiko and Casio introduced multi-function digital wristwatches. These typically had an integrated calendar, alarm clock and stopwatch as well as the time display with a seconds count; and showed this information on a liquid-crystal display. There were some economy models that came with just a time display and a calendar.

Infact, through 1980-81, these were a “must-have” and people could impress each other by showing that new digital watch they had bought. They would even step their watch through the functions that it could do.

Through the 80s, manufacturers gradually added extra functions to these watches such as hourly chimes, musical alarms, phonebooks, four-function calculators and even games as a way of differentiating their product. This trend started to peel off through the 1990s due to various factors such as an effective “innovation ceiling” for this product class as well as the mobile phone becoming a commodity.

Even now, the smartphone has displaced the wristwatch as a personal timepiece, with some people wearing a quartz analogue watch as a “dress watch” or not using a watch at all. This is due to the smartphone implementing a clock that works off an Internet-based or mobile-network-based master clock and setting up for daylight-saving automatically. They also have the same functionality as the most tricked-out 1980s-era digital wristwatch, if not more.

There have been a few attempts at implementing a digital watch that works as a remote terminal for a smartphone but Sony have released the latest in the form of the “Smart Watch”.

This is an Android-powered wristwatch that is paired with an Android smartphone using Bluetooth technology. The phone runs a special communications app that allows it to be a display and control surface for that phone. You control this watch using its OLED touchscreen rather than pressing one of the buttons on the side of those watches, There is the ability to upload apps to the watch via the communications app so you have the right functions on your wrist.

At the moment, there needs to be work done on providing a level playing field for data communications between smartphones or similar devices and remote-display devices like these watches. Devices like watches would also need to keep the time independently of the phone when they are offline from that phone so they can do what a watch does best.

This could become an interesting return to the watch just like what has happened in the 1980s where the desire for many functions on your wrist made this accessory earn its utility value rather than fashion value.

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Product Review–Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth Audio Adaptor

Introduction

You have a pair of good-sounding B&O, Bose or Sennheiser headphones but want to use them as a full-blown headset with your smartphone. You may also want to try them with your laptop or desktop computer when you are playing a game or using a softphone app like Skype.

The only solution would be to buy a wired or Bluetooth headset that connects to the computer or phone. But these would make your good headphones redundant. Therefore you would need to look for an audio adaptor with an integrated microphone so you benefit from full handsfree communication.

The only problem with a lot of the wired audio adaptors supplied by the phone manufacturers and third-party accessories suppliers is that you may not be sure that they will work properly with your phone. This is more so if you jump mobile platform every time the contract expires. Similarly, wired audio adaptors can be hard to find because the only device to be seen using with your mobile phone is a Bluetooth headset.

There is also a greater risk of failure with wired audio adaptors as they are used in that the wiring at the device plug can be easily damaged through regular use and storage, thus impairing the quality of phone calls with these devices as I have experienced.

The Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth Audio Adaptor itself

Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth headset adaptor fob

Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth headset adaptor fob - same size as SD card

But wait, I have come across the Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth Audio Adaptor which connects to a set of regular headphones, comverting them in to a Bluetooth stereo headset. It comes with a set of in-ear earphones but these may come in handy as “emergency spares” or for compact-use requirements. It is available in three different colours – black, white and a “hot-pink” colour and retails for AUD$50, making it fit within gift-pricing range.

This kit is centred around a small fob that houses a microphone, control buttons, rechargeable battery and Bluetooth transceiver. You can connect the supplied earphones or a pair of headphones to a 3.5mm stereo jack on the end of the fob’s “hinge pin” and this fob can clip on one’s shirt or tie like a lapel microphone.

Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth headphone adaptor with headphone jack

Bluetooth headphone adapotr fob with headphone jack facing you

The operation buttons are each edge of the face of the fob, with one “multifunction” button that is used primarily to make or take calls, a previous-track button, a next-track button and a play-pause button that can mute the microphone during calls as well as start and stop the music. The hinge pin on this fob has a knob for adjusting the sound volume opposite to where the headphones are plugged in to.

When you charge this Bluetooth audio adaptor, you plug the supplied battery charger or a USB-2.5mm DC cord in to the side of the “hinge pin”; and it doesn’t take long to charge this adaptor.

The Nokia BH-111 complies to the following Bluetooth device classes: Hands-Free Profile, Headset Profile, A2DP audio playback profile and AVRCP audio controller profile. It can store pairings for up to five physical devices at a time and can only connect to one Hands-free or Headset Profile device and one A2DP / AVRCP audio-player device at a time. This could allow you to work it with a Bluetooth smartphone and a separate Bluetooth-capable MP3 player at the same time.

Nokia BH-111 headphone adaptor connected to headphones

Now these good headphones work as a stereo Bluetooth headset for your smartphone

The clip can be very stiff and hard to attach to a thick tie or suit coat but can work with most shirts. But it doesn’t look like something that could break easily after regular usage.

Setup and Usage

You have to use the “multifunction” button to turn the unit on and off as well as make it open for pairing. Here, you have to turn the audio adaptor off, then hold the multifunction button down until you hear a five-beep sequence, followed by a silence then a distinct beep. Then you start your device in “Bluetooth-device-scan” mode and it will show up as “Nokia BH-111” on the device’s user interface.

On the other hand, you hold the multifunction button down until you hear the five-beep sequence complete, then release this button in order to turn the audio adaptor on.

The Nokia BH-111 can act in a very confused manner if two or more devices that are paired with it are in the vicinity. This can happen more so if it is still connected to a mobile phone while a computer associated with it is nearby.

When the phone rings, you hear the Nokia ringtone rather than your handset’s ringtone, which can be confusing when you take a call through the audio adaptor for the first time and your phone plays its own ringtone through its speaker. I would rather that the phone’s ringtone plays through the headphones when a call comes in.

Battery Runtime and Sound Quality

For battery life, the Nokia BH-111 audio adaptor can complete a day of music-playback use with a Bluetooth mobile phone and longer in a quiescent state. It works properly and clearly when making and taking calls – the caller can hear and understand my voice properly and I can hear their properly as if I was using the phone handheld. I noticed this more with quieter environments but the intelligibility for the sound degrades if I was in a noisier environment.

The audio quality for music playback doesn’t change from what is offered by a wired connection to the phone, although there may be jitter occurring if the phone is “overloaded” with other tasks.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The clip could be improved on with a lever-type action similar to a clothes peg so it can easily clip to thicker material such as winter clothing or formal wear. The functions could also be marked in a colour inverse to the finish so it is easier to discover them.

It could be beneficial for a device like the Nokia BH-111 to have a 3.5mm input jack so you can connect other personal-audio devices to this adaptor, with the call audio from the Bluetooth phone cutting over sound from the connected personal-audio device. This could benefit people who use a high-capacity iPod Classic or similar device as their music library, listen to broadcast content from a personal radio or play content on legacy formats like cassettes or CDs using a device like a Walkman or Discman.

Similarly I would like to see a function that allows the audio adaptor to work as a speakerphone when connected to other audio equipment that uses speakers rather than a set of headphones. This may appeal to those of us who want to connect it to a car sound system via the AUX-IN jack or cassette adaptor for cassette-based equipment and use Blu-Tack to secure the fob to the dashboard for a high-quality reliable Bluetooth handsfree / music-player setup in a borrowed or hired vehicle.

An improved unit could implement a microphone array as a way of focusing the sound on the user’s voice in a phone conversation, and could place this leagues ahead of the typical Bluetooth headset.

Conclusion

The Nokia BH-111 headphone adaptor is infact the first product of its kind on the market that permits one to use their favourite headphones as a reliable calls-and-music Bluetooth headset for their smartphone especially if they use it for more than just phone calls.

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