With all the noise made lately over Creative’s new X-Fi sound cards, it’s easy to ignore an important fact. The quality of your audio is dependent not only on the card that processes it, but also on the output you choose. Your choice of headphones or speakers will have a dramatic effect on the sound you hear.
Today, we’re going to look at a couple of higher-end headphones from Altec Lansing to go along with your high end sound card. After all, would you put a Ferrari engine in a Fiat Punto?
You can find out more about these products at alteclansing.com
Altec Lansing InMotion Noise Reducing Earbuds
The first pair of headphones we’re going to look at are earbuds developed in conjunction with Etymotic Research
. For those unfamiliar with Etymotic, it has been a huge name in the music business for years, and has developed some of the world’s best hi-fi headsets. It’s no surprise, then, that Altec Lansing hooked up with them when designing the InMotion iM716 earbuds.
The packaging itself is rather innovative and very protective, certainly something to set the headphones apart on the shelf. It is (thankfully) not blister packed, and opened easily. Inside I found the headphones, a somewhat bulky carry case, foam surrounds, and instruction pamphlet/warranty information. Also included is a little tool to change the filters/surrounds on the earbuds, as well as a spare pair of filters.
The earbuds ship with a three-flanged surround on them that should suit most people. It is a bit unusual at first, but when inserted into the ear it will create two separate air chambers to further silence the noise, and the thin rubber used to make each flange makes the whole assembly fit very comfortably. This can be changed to the foam-cored surround if you prefer, but I found no reason to do this. Under the surround is a small red filter to help prevent earwax from clogging the speaker mechanism, which is replaceable (albeit with a little difficulty).
Where the individual earbuds meet is a small volume control that has a clip built onto the back. The clip allows you to attach this control to your shirt while jogging or doing other activities, which not only keeps you from feeling the weight of the control pulling from your ears, but helps keep all cords closer to the body instead of dangling free. I found that in use, the control was far enough down to attach to a shirt pocket comfortably without the earbuds pulling as I turned my head right or left.
The earbuds were tested in the noisiest environment I could find: a four hour plane ride home from CES, with a screaming infant in the seat directly behind me. These babies were about to get baptized by fire, I thought. As the plane started to take off, I put on the new Rolling Stones album on my PocketPC and pressed play…
First, I must mention something. Installing these things about your person in public makes you look like a monkey learning a new stretch. Their recommended way of inserting them in your ears (which I highly recommend, after testing) involves putting the opposite arm of the ear you’re going for behind your head and tugging the ear back while inserting the earbud. The process actually takes a 5-picture diagram in the instructions. Sound stupid? It looks it, too… but doing so makes an incredibly tight and comfortable seal with the flanges, enough that I did not notice them in my ear after a second or two. More importantly, I also didn’t notice the plane...or the screaming infant, or even the stewardess, who had to wave a hand in front of my face to get my attention for the drink order. After four hours of use, they were still comfy in my ears. Sound isolation: score.
The audio quality of the earbuds is bar-none the best that I have listened to. The work that Etymotic has put in to these buds is evident. That firm makes some of the best-sounding phones around, and these are no different. There is ample bass, and the fact that the sound is being delivered straight into the ear is a real plus point when it comes to overall quality.
In fact, the only thing that I really have to complain about is the awful attempt at a carrying case. I find the included one not only bulky, but actually deserving of the seven picture diagram for use. At the hotel in Las Vegas, one of our staff called me an idiot for not being able to operate it, but then threw his hands up in frustration after five minutes of his own fiddling with it. Finally, Wil showed us who was the real daddy and got them in the case, after a couple minutes of his own cussing and fussing. It may be awkward, but the case is good at its job, though, as it is sturdy and protects the earbuds from any possible damage while in use without unnecessarily crushing the flanges.
Such quality does not come cheaply, however. These headphones retail at Altec Lansing’s online store for a whopping $199.99. However, if you have just recently spent close to $350 for a sound card, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not pick these up. They are also particularly worthwhile for travelers, who may listen to music a lot on a laptop, PocketPC (like me), or portable MP3 player. The case wouldn’t be so wretched for a traveler, either, who would probably greatly cherish its indestructibility. Some of our readers might even consider it a wardrobe investment, as the shiny white looks (they do not come in black) and excellent sound quality will go great with your iPod, too. Assuming, that is, you encode all your music losslessly, not in atrocious MP3. You do
encode your portable music in lossless, right?