Category: Audio Accessories

Why call for the 3.5mm headphone jack to be replaced on mobile devices

Article

Intel Thinks USB-C Should Replace the Headphone Jack | Gizmodo

My Comments

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Could this be the new audio connection for your smartphone?

Intel has raised the possibility that the common 3.5mm headphone jack not exist on a smartphone or similar audio device. Here, they would rather that the USB Type-C connection serve as the phone’s audio connections.

There was a similar outcry when Apple proposed this idea for a newer iPhone design by requiring the use of their proprietary Lightning connection as the audio connection.

The problem is that the 3.5mm phone jack has been established as the common way to connect mobile devices to headphones and audio equipment.

The Intel approach requires the use of the USB Type-C connector which implements standards accepted by all of the industry. It is different to Apple’s approach because the Android and Windows platforms place a high expectation on the concept of “open-frame” computing where there is a preference for hardware and software standards and specifications accepted by many different vendors rather than the one vendor.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

High-end headphones like these noise-cancelling headphones could be powered by your smartphone or laptop

Firstly, there is the USB Audio Device Class which has allowed for USB sound modules and USB DACs to exist without the need to add extra drivers. This can allow for a high-grade digital-analogue converter to be integrated in a high-quality USB headset or supplied as a phone-powered USB sound-module accessory that you plug your high-quality headphones in to.

For headphones, this could lead to ideas like surround-sound processing such as to use hardware to convert Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound to Dolby Headphone surround sound. It could permit the headphones to implement sound processing such as equalisation or echo cancellation so they sound their best in all situations. Even when you speak in to the phone, the newer technology will provide some benefit such as using a microphone array to catch your voice better.

To the same extent, a USB sound module that works with high-grade microphones could open up paths for your smartphone to make good recordings for your podcast or video.

Technics Grand Class G30 hi-fi system with media server press image courtesy of Panasonic

You may soon find amplifiers and stereos equipped with a USB Type-C connection on the front so you can play our new smartphone through the speakers

Another path is to use the Multimedia Transport Protocol that operates over the USB connection to play music through your car stereo or home stereo system, using the music system’s control surface to navigate your audio content while the currently-playing music details show up on the music system’s display.

Intel’s idea also investigated the possibility of an analogue-audio connection via the USB Type-C connection to cater to the budget end of the accessories market. This is to allow for headsets and audio adaptors that have no digital-audio functionality to exist.

Another common device class is the USB Human Interface Device Class which is used primarily with mice and keyboards but there is a subset of “called-out” control types that highlight consumer-electronics and business device control applications like transport control or call control. This could open the path for USB headsets and adaptors to have full control for calls and music like the full AV transport-control quota or two-button call control.

The power-supply option that USB Type-C offers allows for the phone to power active-noise-cancelling headphones or headphone amplifiers. Similarly, an audio accessory like a stereo system or an audio adaptor that has a high-capacity battery could provide power to the phone.

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – one of the Bluetooth adaptors that may be necessary for newer smartphones

Bluetooth will still exist as a wireless audio-accessory connection alternative as long as the phone and accessory still work to the established Bluetooth Profiles for their applications.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headset USB adaptor

This USB audio adaptor could be considered as a way to connect existing headphones to your new smartphone

The idea that we will lose the ability to use our favourite audio systems and headphones that depend on the classic 3.5mm phone jack when we get a newer handset can be nullified when we use a USB sound module for a wired connection to our smartphones. As I mentioned before, those of us who appreciate the high-quality sound could end up benefiting from this kind of accessory especially where it is optimised for that kind of sound. An example of a USB sound-module device that I had dealt with was one that came with the Kingston Hyper-X Cloud II gaming headset that I previously reviewed, which presented itself to Windows as a USB Audio input and output device. If we want the wireless link, we could look for that Bluetooth audio adaptor typically sold with a pair of intra-aural earphones and connect our favourite headphones to this device like I do with the Sony SBH-52.

If this proposition is to work properly, the sound-processing circuitry need also to be power-efficient so you don’t end up draining your smartphone’s battery or depending on external power supplies to use your smartphone. Similarly, other accessory vendors may need to add USB Type-C hub functionality to their accessories like USB battery packs so that these headphones can work while the smartphone is being powered from the battery pack. Or the smartphone vendors may have to concede to having 2 USB Type-C ports on their phones to support USB headphones and USB external power supplies for example.

But whatever happens, this could open another path for innovation to take place when it comes to the supply of accessories for portable audio and video equipment.

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The 3.5mm digital-analogue audio socket is still relevant for today’s portable computing equipment

Laptops like the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 could benefit from a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio output jack for an audio connection

Laptops like the Toshiba Satellite Radius 12 could benefit from a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio output jack for an audio connection

Increasingly, there has been the rise of portable audio equipment associated with computers and there are opportunities to exploit what this all about for better sound.

Most of this equipment is implementing a 3.5mm tip-ring-sleeve phone socket for analogue line-level audio input or output connections. This is because the socket type is considered to be a “low-profile” connection that allows the equipment to be designed to be slim and neat. The same connector even appeals to the traditional PC expansion cards where the socket can easily exist on the card’s bracket.

Sony MZ-R70 MiniDisc Walkman image courtesy of Pelle Sten (Flickr http://flickr.com/people/82976024@N00)

One of the Sony MiniDisc Walkmans that implemented a 3.5mm digital-analogue audio input jack

Some devices, namely video projectors use the 3.5mm phone jack for this purpose, whether as an input or an output while this connector is also used as a so-called ad-hoc “walk-up” audio input or output connection on amplifiers or stereo systems such as an auxiliary input. This exploits the ability associated with the “phone” sockets where they can survive being connected and disconnected repeatedly thanks to their original use on the old telephone switchboards.

Sony took this connection type further during the MiniDisc era by equipping some of the CD Walkmans with a line-out jack that also had an LED in it and equipping their MiniDisc Walkman recorders with a mic/line input jack that had a photodiode in this socket. Then the user would connect a fibre-optic cable with 3.5mm fibre-optic connections on each end to provide a digital link between the CD Walkman and the MiniDisc Walkman to digitally copy a CD to MD with the sound transferred in the SP/DIF digital domain.

Economy data projector with VGA input sockets

HDMI-equipped projectors could even exploit the 3.5mm digital-analogue output connection for use with sound systems that have a digital input

You would still be able to connect the portable device to a normally-sessile device like a digital amplifier by using an adaptor cable which had a Toslink plug on one end and a 3.5mm fibre-optic connection on the other end or use a Toslink-3.5mm adaptor with an existing Toslink fibre-optic cable.

A few other companies exploited this connection beyond the portable realm with Pace implementing it as a digital audio output on some of the cable-TV / satellite-TV set-top boxes. The set-top application implemented this connection just for the digital-audio application while the analogue audio connection was facilitated through the multiple-pin SCART connection.

This same single-socket connection could be easily implemented for a video projector that uses an HDMI input and a 3.5mm audio-output jack so you could have a digital connection to a sound system rather than an analogue audio link. This can also apply to laptop computers which are increasingly being purposed as party jukeboxes by younger people along with “mini-DJ” accessories pitched at iPod/iPhone users who want to play DJ.

Conversely, TVs and stereo systems could implement the same digital/analogue input for the auxiliary-input connection that is reserved on a TV for computer equipment or on the front of a stereo system for “walk-up” connection of portable digital-audio players.

But lately, Creative Technology, well-known for their Sound Blaster sound cards since the dawn of DOS/Windows multimedia computing in the 1990s, have implemented this approach for their Sound Blaster X G3, G5  and G6 USB external sound modules. These games-focused sound modules use the 3.5mm analogue/optical jack for their line-level inputs and outputs, thanks to recent games consoles and home-theatre equipment having SPDIF optical connections.

As far as equipment design is concerned, the single socket for a SPDIF-optical-digital or analogue audio connection saves on designing and budgeting for two sockets if you want to facilitate both a digital and an analogue audio connection.  This is more important if the goal is to design equipment that has a low profile or is highly portable. The same approach can also appeal to providing for an ad-hoc digital/analogue input or output where the connection exists on an “as-needed” basis rather than a permanent basis.

Personally, I would like to see the 3.5mm digital-analogue audio jack that Sony valued during MiniDisc’s reign as something that can work with portable computing equipment, video projectors, smartphones and the like for transmitting audio in the SPDIF digital domain.

Update:

I have revised this article on 5 July 2020 due to subsequent research about Creative Labs Sound Blaster X G series USB sound modules with most of that product range making use of the 3.5mm analogue/optical phone socket for their line-level connections.

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Having trouble with Apple or similar headsets and your XBox One controller?

Article

Use Apple Earbud Headphones with Xbox One Controller Without the Buzzing Feedback Sound | OS X Daily

My Comments

JBL Synchros E30 headphones

Not all headsets may work fully and properly with all devices due to different wirings

The article showed a compatibility issue when it comes to using different wired stereo headsets with different communications devices, whether they be computers, smartphones or games controllers.

How are the headsets wired?

There are two ways of wiring a stereo headset’s plug where both of them use a 4-conductor 3.5mm phone plug. The tip and first ring in both wirings are for the stereo sound to the headset speakers but how the second ring and the sleeve are wired differ between the wirings.

XBox One games console press photo courtesy Microsoft

You could set the XBox One to work properly with your Apple or similar headset courtesy of a workaround

The CTIA wiring that Apple, Samsung and Sony uses for their phones and a great majority of headsets implement wires the second ring as the common or ground and the sleeve for the microphone. Conversely the OMTP wiring that Microsoft uses for their XBox One controllers and manufacturers like Nokia and a few Android handset builders has the second ring used for the microphone and the sleeve for the common or ground.

This problem can cause headsets that observe one of these wirings not to work properly with phones or other devices that observe the other wiring, such as with excessive noise or the microphone not working.

There are some ways to work around the problem. Firstly, you could purchase an OMTP / CTIA headset adaptor which is a plug-in jack adaptor that reverses the wiring so that an OMTP headset can be compatible with a CTIA device and vice versa. This can extend to having the headset’s plug wiring modified by a knowledgeable electronics technician to suit your device, something that could be done for “beer money”. If you have headphones that come with a headset cable, you could purchase another headset cable and have that modified to work with another device.

When I review headsets, I have raised this issue when it comes to headset connectivity and have suggested that headset manufacturers either supply a CTIA/OMTP adaptor plug or integrate a changeover switch for the affected connections into their headset or microphone pod designs. Similarly, device manufacturers could design their devices to work with both CTIA and OMTP headset wirings, something that can be facilitated at software level such as through a setup-menu option or auto-detect routine; or on a hardware level through a changeover switch on the device. The recent Lumia Windows smartphones have answered this problem by implementing a “universal headset jack” design.

There were other compatibility issues raised between headsets targeted at Apple devices and headsets targeted for other devices even if they were wired to CTIA specifications. This came in the form of the microphone’s impedance or how the buttons on the microphone pod send control signals to the host device.  But most of the other device manufacturers are answering this problem through the use of microphone-input circuitry that adjusts itself to the needs of the microphone that is connected to it. Similarly, the headsets are being required to effectively have their main control button short the microphone and ground (common) connections to signal the device for call-flow or media play-pause control.

Dealing with your XBox One’s controller

The headset jack on the XBox One’s controllers happens to be wired for OMTP which is also a common wiring method for regular computers, especially laptops. But, as highlighted in the OSX Today article, the Apple headset was wired up to CTIA standards.

But the author recommended a workaround to this problem by disabling microphone monitoring through the XBox One’s configuration menu. This is to reduce the buzzing associated with an electret-condenser microphone wired the wrong way, but may limit the headset’s functionality as a chat device when you play an online game for example.

Here, you have to enter the XBox One’s setup menu by double-clicking the XBox button on the controller, then select the “gear” icon to access the “Settings” menu. Then you have to turn the “Headset Mic” setting off and turn the “Mic Monitoring setting down to zero” to achieve this goal.

Personally, I would look towards purchasing a CTIA/OMTP adaptor online or through an electronics store and use this with the XBox One’s controllers so you can use the microphone on your Apple or other CTIA-compliant headset when you game online.

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Product Review- JBL Synchros E30 headphones

Introduction

JBL is best known over a long time for loudspeaker systems, especially PA/commercial-audio and hi-fi speakers. Examples of these speakers include the JBL hi-fi speakers that were designed the same way as in-studio monitor speakers and known for their tight bass response; and the JBL EON speakers which were one of the first active-design PA / sound-reinforcement speakers to use biamplification in that class of speaker.

But as for headphones, they haven’t been known much for this product class. This is because brands like AKG, Audio Technica and Sennheiser have dominated this product class when it comes to good hi-fi or monitor-grade headphones.

Now I am reviewing the JBL Synchros E30 headphones which are positioned more or less as “all-round” stereo headphones for personal-audio applications. These are a headset with an in-line microphone designed for use with your smartphone or tablet or as headphones for use with your MP3 player or laptop.

JBL also offers the Synchros E40BT headset which is a Bluetooth wireless variant of this on-ear headset which may be handy for those of you who value wireless connectivity with your smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.

JBL Synchros E30 headphones

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$129.95

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Supra-aural (on the ear)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position In-line – detachable cable
Source Device Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm four-conductor plug
Adaptors None

The headset itself

Connectivity

JBL Synchros E30 headphones - detachable cable

Detachable cable

Like an increasing number of headphones that are coming on the market, the JBL Synchros E30 is equipped with a detachable headset cable which has an integrated microphone. This will most likely be wired for CTIA (Apple) applications and may not operate properly with OMTP applications.

The advantage of this is that you can repair or replace the cord if it breaks which is something that can easily happen with personal-audio headphones as you use them a lot. As well, you could have one or more headset cords made up for different applications very easily, something that can be done if you or someone you know is handy with a soldering iron.

Comfort

JBL Synchros E30 headphones - earcups

Hinge-style anchor for earcups

The hinge design that JBL uses for the Synchros E30 headphones makes it easier to store the headphones flat but it can take a while to get the headphones to fit properly on your head for best sound response.

The “over-the-ear” earcups have a vinyl ring that doesn’t absorb sweat but is very confusing where headphones that have a similar ring encourage you to have this wrap around your ear.

Once these headphones are adjusted properly, you can wear them for a long time without them being too uncomfortable.

Sound

The JBL Synchros E30 headset has the kind of efficience that you would expect for headphones that are to be used with battery-powered equipment. This means that they can sound loud therefore you may be able to run them on lower volumes to save on battery power.

Music

The JBL Synchros E30 does well on the bass response by being able to “reach down there” but it needs the use of equalisation at the source if you want to bring this out. This may be achieved by implementing a “bass-boost” function or a player that uses tone controls or a graphic equaliser. The high frequencies are still there and come out clear.

Video and games

I have watched some video content with these headphones and the dialogue does come through clearly. The effects may not have the punch unless there is some form of equalisation along the way.

I also tried these headphones with an iPhone that a kid was using to play a motor-racing game and noticed that the sound effects associated with that game came across very sharply. But as I have said with music, there still needs to be some equalisation to bring out the bass which is important for some sound effects like motor-vehicle noise or gunfight.

Communications

I have made and taken a few phone calls and the caller’s voice had come across intelligible and clear. The frequency range that these headphones offer could also make them suitable for HD Voice applications like Skype, Viber and VoLTE so you can hear your callers better.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

I have used these headphones up the back of a transit bus and found that the JBL Synchros E30 headphones do reduce the ambient noise from the bus’s engine somewhat. As well, you can still hear the program content if you run the volume hard on your portable device.

Conclusion

I would recommend that one buys the JBL Synchros E30 as a baseline “all-round” headset for most users whether they listen to music, watch video content, play computer games or use them for online communications. This comes across more where users place emphasis on durability with such features as a detachable cord or a strong hinge design along with a sound that can come across as being “authentic”.

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Gibson releases high-quality fun-looking mics to go with your computer

Article

Gibson Wants Your Desktop Mic To Sound Better and Look Sleeker | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Neat Mics (Gibson)

Product Page

My Comments

Gibson, associated with making and enjoying music in many ways has brought out a colourful high-quality USB microphone which is pitched as a companion to your desktop or laptop computer or Android tablet.

This company, known for the Les Paul electric guitars has encompassed many music and audio brands like Baldwin pianos; TEAC, TASCAM, Onkyo and Integra audio equipment, Epiphone guitars and Wurlitzer juke boxes. They also integrated Neat Microphones who focus on microphones pitched for computer use.

The Neat Widget range of desktop microphones are built around a stylish retro-future look but are also about a high-quality sound for that podcast or Skype videocall. These microphones implement pop filters to handle sudden volume jumps and connect to your computer via a USB cable or your Android phone or tablet via the USB cable and a USB OTG adaptor, presenting itself to your device as a USB Audio device. This avoids the need to mess with many different preamps and cables to get them running.

The Neat Widget microphones come in green, red and blue and sell for US$99 from the “usual suspects”. They can be of benefit of you are wanting something better than a laptop’s or tablet’s integrated microphone or want to kit out your traditional desktop computer with a microphone other than the condenser microphone built in to that Webcam.

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Product Review–Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven Mira which is a small single-piece portable Bluetooth speaker that is designed for use in the bathroom or kitchen. This circular speaker is designed to be water resistant so it can be used in the shower or near the sink and has a kickstand that can double as a hook to hang over the showerhead or something similar.
Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$129

Form Factor

Single-piece speaker

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth
Network
Bluetooth A2DP and Hands-Free Profile with NFC setup

Speakers

Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 2 full-range drivers
1 passive radiator

The unit itself

The Braven Mira is a circular portable Bluetooth speaker pitched for use in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry or pool area. This is due to it being water-resistant to IPx5 standards which means that it can survive water splashes or rainfall. But you have to make sure nothing is plugged in to it and that the cap covering the sockets on the side is closed properly.

Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker with kickstand

The C-shape kickstand that doubles as a hook

It also has a C-shaped kickstand that allows it to become a hook so you can hang it on a shower head, a tap (faucet) or door knob. This allows for versatile positioning options that suit your needs perfectly.

Like other Braven Bluetooth speakers, the Mira has four main operating controls with two that double as volume / track navigation controls. To make the speaker discoverable for pairing, you have to hold the PLAY button until the speaker makes a repeated beep tone. It doesn’t support NFC “touch-and-go” paring for “open-frame” (Android and Windows) personal-computing devices.

A feature that is very common on this class of speaker is that the Braven Mira can serve as a speakerphone for whenever you want to talk hands-free on the phone or engage in a videocall.

I have used the speaker with my phone and when I have run it at the maximum level, it sounds very similar to a small radio. You wouldn’t expect high-quality sound from a speaker like this one or any of its peers but it is loud enough to fill a small room.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would like to see Braven add two extra buttons to the Mira for track selection rather than you holding down the volume buttons to change tracks. This can avoid operational mistakes when you skip a song when you intend to turn it down. As well, the controls could be embossed more distinctively so you can identify them at a touch especially if you are having to contend with shampoo in your eyes.

Like with some of their other Bluetooth speaker products, Braven could offer variants that have an integrated broadcast-radio tuner so they can serve as ordinary portable radios.

Conclusion

I would still see the Braven Mira earn its keep as a multipurpose utility speaker that you can use with your phone, tablet or 2-in-1 especially if these devices don’t put up much in the way of sound output for your needs.

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An add-on microphone is available to turn existing headphones in to a headset

Article (Product Review)

Audiophiles Like Games, Too: Hands On With Antlion’s Detachable ModMic 4.0 | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

Antlion Audio

ModMic product page

My Comments

There are situations where we want to purpose a pair of good headphones like hi-fi-grade headphones to become a stereo headset with microphone. Here, you may want to use these “cans” for gaming or communications and they have a captive cable so you can’t install a microphone cable to use them as a headset. Similarly, you may have a wired stereo headset that has a broken mike but works well as headphones.

Antilion Audio has supplied an add-on boom microphone that clips to an existing pair of headphones using a magnetic clip that you fix to your headphones. The ModMic uses a long microphone cord to connect to your computer which would have to have a separate microphone jack. It can be adjusted to suit best sound pickup as with other boom-capable headsets.

If you deal with a laptop, tablet or other increasing number of devices that uses a four-conductor headset jack, you would need to purchase a headset Y-adaptor from an electronics store so you can use this same jack to connect your headphones and the ModMic to the device. Personally, I would like to see Antilion Audio offer a headset jack adaptor so you can use this mike and your cans with devices that have headset jacks.

At least this is a way to add another usage case to your good headphones whether for gaming or for communications setups that support HD Voice sound quality.

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Product Review–Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset which is my first attempt at reviewing a headset equipped with two key features: Bluetooth wireless connectivity and active noise cancelling.

The former feature links to mobile devices and laptop computers via Bluetooth wireless technology while the latter detects noise associated with transport or fans using microphones and applies a “counter-noise” to this noise through the headset’s speakers. When you listen to program content or take a call, the sound from the external device such as the music or your caller’s voice is mixed in with the aforementioned “counter-noise” so you can hear that sound more clearly.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

Price

RRP:  AUD$349 (Street price AUD$299)

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (over the ear with sound-containing foam wall)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position Integrated microphone
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm headset socket wired for Apple (CTIA)
Bluetooth
– A2DP audio with aptX
– Headset Profile
– Handsfree Profile with HD Voice
– Multipoint for 2 devices
Adaptors 3.5mm four-conductor headset cable

The headset itself

Connectivity and Usability

I was able to pair the Plantronics BackBeat Pro headset with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone very quickly – this supported NFC-based pairing which is currently implemented in Android only. But with devices that don’t support it, you can start the pairing process without needing to hold down a button on the headset.  There is support for multipoint use with a simplified call-handling experience where you just touch one button to answer calls from any phone.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset - right side earcup

Right side earcup with volume control and call handling button on earpiece

There is a 3.5mm four-conductor headset jack which connects to your device via a supplied cord that is wired for CTIA / Apple setups. This overrides the Bluetooth headset functionality so you can use the Backbeat in an airliner.

It is powered via an integrated rechargeable battery that lasts a long time – you could get a day or more out of the headset’s battery life when you are using it as a Bluetooth headset or as an active-noise-reduction headset with another device.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset - right earcup

Left-side earcup with track navigation toggle, play-pause button on earcup and noise-cancellation switch

The controls are easy to discover with a large ring on the right earpiece to adjust the sound volume, a large ring on the left earpiece to move between tracks, a large button on the left earpiece for playing and pausing music and a large button on the right earpiece for handling calls. The power and noise-cancel slide switches are easy to discover and locate with the former on the right earpiece and the latter on the left earpiece.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro headset - sockets

Connectivity options – USB charging socket and 3.5mm headset input jack (wired for Apple / CTIA)

There is a motion sensor that starts and stops your music device when you put the headphones on and take them off. But this can be very erratic in some situations such as a rough road or rail ride or sometimes even putting them on a table and subsequently picking them up has me find that they start playing too early. A supplied configuration program can be used to adjust this function but I would prefer a hardware switch to enable and disable this function.

Comfort and Durability

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro has the same kind of comfort level expected for most circum-aural headsets and could be worn for a significant amount of time. You could feel that they were there without it feeling as though they are crushing on your head and the padded headband provided that feeling as if they were just there.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset

Cloth speaker grilles assure comfortable long-time use

The ear surrounds even didn’t come across as something that could end up being sweaty. As well, your ears rest on foam cushioning with cloth lining the earpiece areas so as to allow for increased comfort. Here you even have the sides that each earcup represents written on the cloth lining itself. The only comfort tradeoff you may find with the Plantronics BackBeat Pro and its peers is that due to their hard construction, they may feel uncomfortable to use when you are sleeping if you sleep with your head on your side.

As for build quality, I would expect them to last a long time. This is through the use of durable design practices like thicker plastic and placing a plastic conduit which houses the cabling between the earpieces against an aluminium strip.

Sound

I was able to run the Plantronics Backbeat Pro headset at lower volumes while the sound is still audible which makes for a headset that is designed with efficient drivers. This would then allow for the headset to run on its own batteries for a long time yet be useable.

Music

The music came through loud and clear and with that desirable amount of bass response. I even disabled any equalisation curves in my media player and any in my phone to identify whether the bass response was there without the need for added equalisation and found that these headphones still delivered the punch in the music.

Video and Games

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro has come up trumps with video content in that it was able to yield clear dialogue and give punch to those effects. I was even keeping an ear out for effects like gunshots or vehicle moment while watching Kurt Wallander because they are the kind of effects used in some of the games liked by “core” gamers and they came through with that desirable punch.

Communications use

I have made and taken a few phone calls using the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headset and have noticed that the conversation came through clearly for both myself and the caller. I also tried the headset a few times with Google Now and the voice assistant could parse what I was saying easily. The headset call button worked as expected with the ability to tap twice to call the last number or tap and hold to invoke Google Now or Siri depending on your mobile device.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

I used the Plantronics Backbeat Pro headset in the back of a transit bus and had noticed some level of noise reduction when the bus was at speed and was able to hear my music content more clearly.

Active Noise Cancelling

The Active Noise Cancelling function is available when the headset is switched on and can work either with a wired connection or the Bluetooth connection. Here, you then enable it using a slide switch on the left earpiece and can notice the difference.

Here, the rumbling associated with trains and the like is cancelled out using so-called anti-noise. There was a noticeable difference when I used it on the train in Melbourne’s City Loop because I heard very little of the rumbling associated with through-tunnel train travel but could have my music at a decent volume. The experience was also the same when I used this headset in a few different transit buses and the noise from the engine was significantly reduced. As well the noise-cancelling function had no effect on the BackBeat Pro’s bass response. In some situations, I could hear the destination announcements that were called over the train’s intercom or a radio station played over a rail-replacement charter bus’s sound system more clearly and intelligibly even if I had my music going.

The only problem with using Active Noise Cancelling is that if you want to simply just run that functionality without the headset working with another audio device, you have to plug something in to the 3.5mm jack to override the Bluetooth transceiver. This may be of annoyance for those of you who are trying to sleep on the overnight train or that night flight or use the Active Noise Cancelling to effectively mute out the air-conditioner’s noise while trying to go to sleep..

Limitations

The active noise cancelling function  could be set up to run independent of Bluetooth operation or having the headphone cable plugged in. This could be handy when you are in a noisy environment without needing to deal with a cable that can entangle you. An example of this could be to claw some sleep when you are in the plane or in a motel room where there is a noisy old air-conditioner.

The microUSB charging socket on this headset could be set up to work as a way to connect the headset to a computer and have it serve as a USB audio sound device for that computer. The controls could also be mapped through as USB Human Interface Device controls for multimedia and telephony use. This would earn its keep when you are on the plane and using a laptop which is set up for “flight mode”, or are using the headset with a desktop computer for online communications and gaming, especially as traditional “three-piece” desktop computers don’t necessarily support Bluetooth.

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro could benefit from a hardware switch to enable or disable the sensors that allow it to play or stop the music source if you take the headset off. This can be of importance where the ride is bumpy and this function could be susceptible to false triggering.

As well, the headphone cord could benefit from a switch which selects between OMTP / Apple (CTIA) headset wiring mode. This is because not all mobile phones and communications devices are wired for CTIA (Apple) mode and you may want to make sure that your BackBeat Pro could work with anything your present to.

As for adaptors, the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headset missed out on an inflight-entertainment adaptor which is considered abnormal for a noise-cancelling headset that would be typically used in an aeroplane.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Plantronics BackBeat Pro for those of you who value a Bluetooth noise-cancelling travel headset that excels on usability especially when you use your smartphone as a music player when you are travelling on public transport. As well, it would earn its keep with those of you who aren’t necessarily after the fashionable headset brands but are really after something that does the job.

If you do need to use this headset as an active-noise-reduction headset without the use of any program-source device, you could use a 3.5mm plug which you could purchase from an electronics store and plug this in to the audio jack on the headset.

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Integrating a Bluetooth headset in to a beanie

Article

Get Your Hipster On with Bluetooth Beanie | Bluetooth Blog

From the horse’s mouth

TRNDLabs

Bluetooth Beanie

Product Page

Video

My Comments

I was surprised to come across a beanie-style hat that doubles as a Bluetooth headset for your smartphone. The copy in the Bluetooth SIG article highlighted it as being part of the hipster’s image including being able to shift around that trendy inner-urban area like San Fran, Newtown or Fitzroy on a bicycle.

But what was interesting was how the headset was integrated in to something that would normally be knitted. Here, the Bluetooth receiver module had one of the speakers and the microphone along with a group of buttons as its control surface and was connected to a secondary speaker which served as the other speaker for the stereo headset. These were inserted in to pockets knitted in to the beanie so as to allow one to remove them when they wash the hat – avoiding any damage to the electronics while it is being soaked in water and Wool-mix.

This device, which can be charged by a USB charger, can run for six hours on talk / music activities and works according to Bluetooth 3.0 with Handsfree (communications) profile and A2DP / AVRCP (music playback) profiles. It has an operating range of around 10 metres (33 feet), effectively ticking the boxes for essential Bluetooth headset functionality.

It is an example of how one can design mobile electronics for integration into clothing and footwear but making sure you can remove it when you want to wash the clothing. The Bluetooth receiver and speaker could be offered as a separate “short-form” accessory for those of us making our own headgear to convey our own identity or for those of us making and selling such headgear.

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Product Review–Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset

Introduction

Kingston HyperX Cloud II gaming headset - boom removed

The headset with a removable boom

The Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset is a traditional-look headset with a detachable boom microphone. Here, this allows you to use it as a pair of stereo headphones or as a “full-on” stereo headset. This includes using it in the plane thanks to an “in-flight-entertainment” two-plug adaptor so it can plug in to your seat’s armrest.

It also comes with a USB sound module so you can use the headset with your computer when playing games and this provides claimed surround-sound abilities as well as supporting the audio input and output required of the headset.

The headset is available with a choice of either red accents or grey accents to suit your style.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II gaming headset

Price

RRP: AUD$149

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (over the ear with sound-containing foam wall)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position Boom attached to headphone assembly
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm four-conductor phone plug
Adaptors USB sound module
Two-pin airline inflight-entertainment adaptor

The headset itself

Connectivity

The headphones that are part of the Kingston HyperX Cloud II come with a four-conductor 3.5mm phone plug which can work with most smartphones and stereo equipment.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headset USB adaptor

USB headset adaptor for your regular computer – separately adjustable input and output levels

But Kingston provided a USB-connected sound module that presents to Windows as a logical sound-output device and a logical sound-input device. This is done using the class drivers that were provided out of the box with Microsoft Windows and is something you would experience with your Macintosh or your Linux computer. This works properly and is more to allow you to have a separate communications channel for games while you have the sound effects coming through the computer’s speakers.

For Windows users, it is worth reading an article I have written about how you can manage multiple sound devices like headsets especially if you want this to be a private-listening or communications headset.

Comfort

The Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset does feel securely tight on your head and is comfortable to wear. This is thanks to the padded headband and the ear cushions which also don’t feel sweaty.

This means that you can enjoy wearing the headset for a long time without any fatiguing even on hotter days or intense gaming sessions.

Sound quality

Music

As far as the bass response is concerned, it is there but not overpowering. It doesn’t overpower the vocals nor does it overpower melodic or harmonic instruments in the mix. Here, this means that you still have that “kick” that is desireable for a lot of music but it doesn’t boom.

Video content

I watched some video-on-demand content using a review-sample laptop and have found that the Kingston HyperX Cloud II gaming headset does treat dialogue and sound effects very well. The headset even handles ambient effects clearly and gives bite to the “sounds that matter” like the aggressive engine sound of a vehicle used in a hit-and-run scene in the show I was watching. This gives it some worth when it comes to using the headphones with your laptop for watching video content or playing games.

Communications use

I have made and taken some calls with this headset and do hear the caller clearly and have used it with the microphone for a video call on my computer. Here, I had to raise the volume on the supplied USB adaptor to get my voice heard by the caller when I was making a Skype call.For portable use, you still need to run the Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset hard with some devices to obtain a decent loudness and this may also have an impact on your device’s battery life. With laptops, I could get a decent sound out of the headset without running it at a high level.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

I have used the Kingston HyperX Cloud II gaming headset as a travel headset and integrated a bus journey as part of my travels. Here, I sat up the back of a typical transit bus and used the headset there to determine whether the engine noise was reduced while I used it.Here, I noticed a significant amount of noise reduction while being able to hear the program material that I was listening to and concluded that you can benefit from this somewhat for bus or train travel but may not be effective for air travel especially when the plane is in flight.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One feature I would like to see for the Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset would be to have a detachable cable and the availability of replacement cables. This is because whenever you are engaging in heavy gaming, you may pull on the headset and this could cause the connection to become unreliable.

Similarly, the USB adaptor could be offered as a standalone accessory for use with headsets so you can connect a headset of your choice with your computer for gaming, videocalls or voice recognition. Here, it could be switched between the Apple configuration or the OMTP configuration so it can be used with headsets destined for the iPhone or open-standards devices. This is something that will be important for the Windows platform as Cortana comes to the Windows 10 operating system as a voice assistant or for businesses who want to use softphones as part of their IP-based telephony needs.I would also like to see the headset plug able to be switched between Apple and OMTP configurations to work with smartphones, along with a switch on the cable or headset for call control.

Conclusion

It is easy to think of the Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset as strictly a gamer’s headset but it can work well as an all-round headset you could use with your laptop or your smartphone. This is more so if you are on a budget but you still want some “kick” from your music or sound-effects.

As for value-for-money, I do find that this headset does offer that especially if you want to see it in use beyond your games console or “gaming-rig” computer, such as for Skyping friends, listening to music or watching videos using your tablet or laptop.

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