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Plantronics goes into noise cancelling, cuts cords in the process

We’ve seen plenty of headsets from Plantronics in the past, and now the company that has sent headphones into space is cutting noise from your overseas plane trip, with its first active noise cancelling cans.

It’s a new area for Plantronics, which has certainly dabbled in more than just a headphone or two here and there. We’ve seen fitness-friendly headphones, gaming headphones, Bluetooth earpieces for the business folk, and earphones for the casual listen as you wander through the streets.

This week, Plantronics is taking it a step further by engaging people who hate noise, or specifically, people who want the constant drone and hum of an aircraft or train to disappear, to fade into the back of their minds and amplify the sound considerably, letting the music overtake and dominate their ears.

To do this, the company has been hard at work on a pair of headphones that can kill the noise, and do so wirelessly.

The headphones are the Plantronics BackBeat Pro, and these rely on two microphones to do their noise cancelling bidding, listening to the sound outside the headphones and cutting it from the equation, while working with a Digital Signal Processing system to improve the sound on top of the removed noise.

Helping the sound are two 40mm drivers made from the commonly used neodymium, with support for Bluetooth 4.0 and AptX, streaming music to the handset wirelessly, though you can rely on a corded connection if you so choose. If you don’t choose, the Bluetooth is rated for Class 1, which Plantronics says should provide around 100 metres of wireless range, possibly more.

The headset can also connect to two Bluetooth devices simultaneously, part of the multipoint technology, and even offers as much as 24 hours playback of wireless streaming.

The Plantronics “DeepSleep” technology is also here, used in the BackBeat Fit headset as well, which the ability to switch the headset off for as much as six months and keep the same amount of battery (roughly) until you switch it on again.

And there are other things we’re keen on seeing, as well, such as the OpenMic button which will let you shut off the audio and hear what’s going on around you, controls on the side with a jog wheel included for ease of use, circumaural design for comfy ears, Near-Field Communication (NFC) pairing, and sensors in the headphones to pick up when they’re on and off you’re head to switch off the music when you’re not wearing them, the latter of which was previously seen only on one headset made by Parrot.

“Aussies love their music and want to be able to enjoy it on-the-go without any distractions,” said Peter Petrides, National Retail Sales Manager, Australia and New Zealand at Plantronics.

“We created the BackBeat Pro so that users can immerse themselves into their music and block out the noise whether they are travelling, working, or simply relaxing. With up to 24 hours of continuous wireless use and active noise-cancellation, the BackBeat Pro can be used not only for music but also movies and calls.”

Testing them briefly, we’re relatively impressed, with a large amount of sound on offer from the headphones and a solid supply of bass. The headphones appear comfy, and the cans even rotate so that they’re comfortable to wear when you’ve removed them from your head and have left them around your neck.

The look isn’t as simple as we normally like, but we could end up warming up to it, and are keen to give them a good flogging with the GadgetGuy Sound Test when they come in.

If you can’t wait, however, Plantronics will see these aeroplane ready headphones in stores from October 15, coming in with a recommended retail price of $349.

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Big headphones on the way from Audeze with an eco-friendly angle

Larger headphones are often considered luxurious not just because they have big drivers and equally big sound, but high grade materials like wood, leather, and more, but what if you want something a little more ecologically friendly and equally luxurious?

For that you have to turn to something a little unusual, and a lot more unique, with a use of sustainable and animal friendly materials relied upon for construction.

In that category, a new pair of headphones has arrived from Audeze. Called the LCD-2 Bamboo, they’re a unique looking pair of headphones made from bamboo and sustainable wood — among other things — and there’s even a wood care kit included in the box to keep the headphones looking their very best.

No cows were harmed during the making of these headphones, either, with leather-free ear pads relying instead on micro-suede which despite the name is a form of polyester. From the looks of things, these will be circumaural and large, and should be as soft as leather, making them quite comfortable.

The most important part of the headphone is the sound and the technology driving that, and for this section, Audeze relies on a layered diaphragm with several planar magnets that it calls “Fazor,” which at the moment is patent-pending. According to the company, this technology “helps to guide and manage the flow of sound around the magnets” providing a smoother audio for ears.

We’re also seeing 6.5mm headset jacks, which means these probably won’t be ideal for your iPhone, and will probably prefer an amp to drive. You could do it, mind you, but until we play with them, our expectation is that these will be made with high-end audio in mind, which is something the $1299 price tag seems to speak to.

High-end audio enthusiasts are where you’ll find the Audeze LCD-2 Bamboo headphones, with availability in the weeks to come.

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Review: Bose QuietComfort 25i (QC25/QC25i)

If there’s one company that tends to do well in the field of noise cancellation, it’s Bose. We’ve seen its headphones used by so many on overseas trips, and now we’re about to see a new model on the heads of people who love sound, with the highly portable QC25i.

Features

An update to the long-running Bose active noise cancellation range that is the QuietComfort series, the QC25 and 25i headphones offer some improvements in cancellation, boasting the ability to play the music when the power is switched off, and some portability that noise cancellation cans don’t often have.

Inside the headphones, Bose is taking a powered equaliser it calls Active EQ and pairing it with its TriPort technology to provide balanced sound across the various ranges, though it isn’t saying how big the drivers are or what they’re made of (we assume neodymium).

Two microphones are included on each ear, one on the outside and one on the inside, with a chip taking the information and cancelling the sound by duplication.

Power isn’t required for the headphones to work, however, so you can get audio through the headphones without if you need to.

While the inside of the headphone is no doubt the most important part and makes up the sound, the outside is just as important for some headphone makers, and Bose is no different in this regard, providing a casing made from plastic and aluminium, with a stainless steel frame keeping it together. Some soft fabrics protect the headband, as well as the inside of the each can, where a designation of “L” for left or “R” for right is marked in large letters, surrounded by a leather-like material — we’ll go with a pleather — wrapped around a soft foam to make those ears relaxed.

Bose’s QuietComfort 25 headphones also have several hinges, with the headphones able to be pressed flat or left open facing, while one hinge also allows the cans to be folded up for portability.

The Bose QuietComfort 25/25i headphones run on a single AAA battery, providing as much as 35 hours of use when switched on using the switch located on the right can, which is also where the battery compartment is.

A hard case is included in the package, useful for keeping the folded-up headphones in good condition, and with a spot to keep a spare battery and an included airline adaptor.

One cable is included in the box, with a microphone and remote, and three buttons, which on iOS devices will work for volume, pausing and playing, answering calls, and skipping tracks.

Editor’s note: The QuietComfort 25 and 25i are slightly different models, but only due to their remotes, with the 25i supporting iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, while the 25 will handle other phones and devices. The Bose QuietComfort 25i will work on Android, Windows Mobile, and other devices, but the remote may not function the same way due to differences in the remote design across other platforms.

Performance

With the year wrapping up, we’re sure plenty of you are thinking about taking a holiday, with an overseas or even interstate flight possible.

If that’s the case, you’ll probably need a pair of headphones that take away the constant hum and drone of the engine, and possibly for a regular walk around town, and for that, we’re testing a new pair designed for people who aren’t afraid to spend big in this area, with the $399 Bose QuietComfort 25i (or 25, depending on the remote package you get).

An update to the previously released QuietComfort 15s, these come with a new style more in line with the headphones Bose is releasing today, as well as some updates to the technology.

In the hands and on the ears, and the Bose QuietComfort elicit the feeling that Bose generally brings to the table: well designed, easy to store thanks to that portable hinge, and very comfortable, with a circumaural design, or “around the ears” for those of you at home not familiar with the lingo.

We could spend a few hours with these on and not be bothered, and we suspect that’s part of the intended use, especially since travelling is pretty much the domain of noise cancellation headphones.

Build quality also felt quite good, and with a cold material on the outside, we get the feeling that the aluminium mentioned in its design is being put to good use on the outside of the headphones.

Over to the sound test, which is the most important part, and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones are pretty much excellent all around, provided you have them powered.

With power switched on, the Active EQ can do its best to keep the sound balanced and consistent, all the while running power through the headset and microphones, taking an audio sample from the outside world and doubling up, cancelling what is around you in the process.

We haven’t tested the QC25s with an airline for this test, instead taking them around town and using the headphones to cancel out regular street noise, as well as transport, and for all of these examples, the new QuietComfort cans do a pretty good job, ditching some of that background noise, while keeping in some of the deviating and modulating sounds of people chatting, though with less structure to voices.

Overall, it’s a solid reduction in noise, and if you’re walking in the street, try not to walk into traffic realising there’s nothing around you.

With active cancellation switched on, we’re ready to take the QC25s for an audio test since this is how most people will listen to audio, so we’ll start the test the way we normally do, which is with electronica.

Here, Mooro’s “M66R6″ starts things off, which pumps the bass pretty hard with pulsating rhythm, while The Glitch Mob’s “Skullclub” shows a little more complexity, glitching out over the multi-layered tracks, which is part and parcel of how that artist plays its music. In both of these tracks, the instruments across the mids and highs were both easily picked up, clear and distinct, with really noticeable bass, warm in tone.

Over to rock, and it’s hard not to rock out with the Bose QC25s, which provide solid highs of vocals and screaming guitars in Closure In Moscow’s “A Night At The Spleen,” with emphasised bass pounding through on Muse’s “Supremacy” and Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls On Parade,” both of which kept the vocals in tact and clear over the instruments and drums.

Volume is loud provided the sound has been amped up with the power switch, and we’re pretty impressed by the balance all around, not wanting to take them off.

Modern pop and RB all sound very good too, with some strong balance across all the spectrums, evident in Jessie J’s “Bang Bang” and Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” with no sections getting drowned out or overtaking one another seriously, which makes for a good soundtrack all around. In fact, depth was very noticeable as well, with drums and synth not overly shallow, and providing a warm sound overall.

Hip-hop is also good, and we had no problems with heavy bass or thumping drums from either of the test tracks from Kanye West (Jesus Walks) and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (Can’t Hold Us), with soul also providing some strength in the instruments, evident in both the synthetic and actually performed, with “It’s Your Thing” from The Isley Brothers being warm like vinyl and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” resonating loudly and making us want to dance.

In jazz, there’s a consistently strong set of highs, mids, and lows, with the high saxophone of John Coltrane ringing out over the vibrant and resonant bass in “Blue Train,” while the drums and rest of the horns sound just as definitive and balanced. Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” is also equally good, with a balanced section of mids and highs, with the percussion still noticeable in the background.

Classical and highly instrumental music is also solid here — Thomas Newman’s “Define Dancing” was whimsical with distinctive string plucks, while Freddy Kampf’s “Fantasie Impromptu” provided enough cancellation in background noise to plunge us into a room where only a single pianist was dancing over keys for us — showing that Bose’s QuietComfort cans are more or less solid across all classes of music, which makes it ideal for pretty much any type of audio, whether it’s loud and booming to quiet and subtle.

But that’s with power running through the QuietComfort cans. Without it, you’ll find the audio is a little flat. It’s still well defined, but the definition feels held back, removed from some of the power that makes the things shine, with overemphasised notes and ranges that just don’t blend as well.

At least it works, but it doesn’t provide quite the same balance.

Thankfully, the hard case the QC25i comes with even includes a little spot for a spare AAA battery, so you’ll always have something ready to throw in, or at least always have the option for something. It even lasts a good 30 or so hours, and warns you when you’re five to seven hours out from being out of battery life with a blink, so you’ll always be aware just ahead of time.

Line volume could also be better, with two notches under full being level for us, well over the fifty percent mark that louder headphones normally sit with. It’s not going to be bad, and frankly, if you have to pump these all the way to ten, you probably need to get your hearing checked to begin with, but people who have gone a little deaf won’t likely be terribly thrilled.

The use of dual microphones is also an interesting inclusion, not just because it provides a more thorough cancellation process, but because areas where there are immense amounts of vibration — say that of a bus sitting at the lights — can come back in your music almost as if the sampled sound is reoccurring in the music, creating a tremolo or vibrato effect for some music.

We certainly picked it up in some of the jazz we were listening to, and while it’s unlikely to bug you, it is something that annoyed us in our tests, and didn’t occur with other headphones.

One final thing, and this appears to be a recent Bose thing: 2.5mm cables.

In the 2014 range of Bose headphones, the company has moved to a 2.5mm headset jack on the headphone cans, keeping the standard 3.5mm headset jack at the cable’s end for smartphones and media players. That’s different to the usual 3.5mm to 3.5mm cables most headphones rely on because 2.5mm is less used, and makes the cables harder to replace.

There are probably good reasons why Bose has done this: it keeps it in-line with its other 2014 headphones, it means the cable can be smaller at the headphone end and minimises electronics just a little, and Bose can make a few extra quid from you when you need to replace it.

That said, whatever the reason, it’s still a touch annoying, and given that Bose hasn’t included an extra cable in the box, is a touch disheartening, and won’t be as easy to quickly fix if you’re not within reach of a Bose store when your cable begins to die.

Conclusion

Portable, comfortable, and fairly well built, it’s not hard to like Bose’s QuietComfort 25i headphones, providing balanced sound for those times when you don’t need noise, like on a plane, bus, or a train.

The cancellation appears to be strong, and while the internal and external headphone microphones can modulate sound just a little, these do a pretty good job, living up to the Bose reputation for excellence and providing an experience most will be delighted with.

If you’re in the market for a pair of noise cancelling cans — and honestly, we wouldn’t travel without active noise cancelling headphones — and portability is a big factor, you’d be wise to check out Bose’s QuietComfort 25/25i headphones.

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