Anyone at the gym can tell you the difference that music makes in their ability to push through their personal strength thresholds. Working out to the beat of uptempo music has been scientifically proven to increase performance in athletes helping them to push their limits beyond their ordinary levels. Yet, not all headphones are designed to withstand the particular demands of the working human body at athletic levels. Many in-ear headphones sacrifice sound quality for comfort or vice-versa. In this review, I will introduce our best in-ear headphones that offer a balance of comfort and sound quality. The models highlighted include the Monster iSport Immersion, the AKG 326, and the Sony MDR-AS40EX.
iSport Immersion SportClips
Most impressive in our line-up is the iSport Immersion Seriesby Monster. These headphones are specifically designed with an athlete’s unique needs. Each feature of the iSport series is engineered to provide superb comfort to users as well as precise and accurate music reproduction. The iSport Immersion have so many great features for athletes that it is difficult to chose a place to begin. Nonetheless, one of the most distinguishing features of the iSport Immersion is the patented SportClip design. The exclusive SportClip design comfortably fits the inter curvature of the ear to provide stability to the earbud and limit the
earbud’s movement within the ear canal. Unlike most earbuds, even those intended for athletic use, the iSport Immersion are extremely unlike to fall out of a wearer’s ear during exercise activities. But comfort is not the only concern for athletes. The interaction between a sweaty body and headphones does always result in a pleasant experience, particularly for those concerned about cleanliness.
To solve the problem of gross and sweaty earbuds, Monster designed the iSport to be completely washable. The iSport can be washed–with water–without being damaged either by the moisture of sweat or a stream of water. Moreover, for individuals who wish to listento music while practicing a water sport, the iSport can be used in swimming pools, while surfing, jet skiing and other relatively “surface” water sports. It is this water submersion feature that really distinguishes the Monster iSport Immersion from other in-ear headphones. But if water submersion ability isn’t enough, the iSport Immersion even features an in-line microphone and volume controls for complete power over the tracks and phone compatibility.
Not far behind the iSport Immersion in features, the Sony MDR-AS40EX offers lightweight comfort and exceptional sound quality. Generally priced at about a quarter of the price of the iSport Immersion, the Sony MDR-AS40EX is a great low-budget alternative. While lacking the in-line control and microphone for phone compatibility, the MDR-ASS40EX is moisture resistant and will not be damaged by the moisture produced when working out. Although the Sony MDR-AS40EX are probably not the very best choice if you are into intense water sports, they can reliably be used for intense workouts because they allow moisture to pass through the chamber without the threat of destroying the electrical components.
Like more conventional in-ear headphones, the Sony MDR-AS40EX are better suited for land use. They include pleasantly comfortable and stable ear hangers in three sizes. The hangers are removable, in case you prefer the earbud to sit in the ear without support. When used with the hangers, the MDR-AS40EX are securely held in place and are not jostled when jogging or running. Overall, the sound quality is respectable and they limit ambient noise for a focused and clear reproduction.
Finally, the AKG 326 boasts superior sound quality and functionally. As usual, the AKG brand provokes a sense of admiration among those familiar with the name. And, satisfying those expectations, the AKG 326 delivers stunningly accurate sound for headphones in our athletic category. If sound quality is your main priority from your workout audio gear, the AKG 326 are a great choice without caveat. Although far more of a traditional design approach, the AKG 326 do feature an in-line volume control and microphone for integration with a phone.
The construction of the AKG 326 is simple yet sturdy and reliable. When jogging the
AKG 326, Sound Quality for Athletes
comfortable earhooks hold the driver unit fast within the ear and do not allow the driver to be jostled by a users movement. The comfort and stability of the AKG 326 is further enhanced by the rubberized ear pads which also function to limit interference from ambient noise.
Overall, the AKG 326 are a straight forward answer for to-the-point athletes who demand quality sound reproduction.
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At the most subjective level, headphone amplifiers might make a pair of headphones sound louder at lower volume levels. More specifically, a headphone amplifier does much more to the physics of a headphone’s drivers than simply produce more sound. Most importantly, a headphone amplifier gives the drivers the power necessary to control its motions in a precise manner and thus increase the quality of a headphone’s sound reproduction.
Portable Headphone Amplifier Solutions
The AKG K240 MKII
For music lovers seeking to ditch the white buds, it is important that the headphones are adequately matched to an appropriately potent power source. Assuming the highest quality sound files, pairing a set of new AKG K240 MKII to a standard iPod would be much like filling a Formula One race car with standard unleaded fuel. While the AKG K240 MKII might perform better than standard Apple earbuds, the full potential of the AKG K240 MKII will not be fully reached without a portable amp such as the FiiO E11 to compensate for the lack of power from the iPod. The increase in sound fidelity and volume when a higher impedance headphone is properly powered is attributed to the fact the the headphones have enough current being fed to them to respond to the demands of the high and low frequencies in a timely and responsive way, reducing overall distortion.
Home and Studio Solutions
Headphone amplifiers in home and studio settings often serve a similar purpose as their portable counterparts, but in a slightly different way. For instance, most computers and home stereo systems feature sufficiently powerful sound cards to drive higher impedance headphones of up to approximately 250 Ohms. In the case of home and studio sound systems, power is not the issue; the issue is quality. Most often, the quality issue is characterized by an annoying hiss. A desktop amplifiercan function as an external sound card, bypassing the internal sound card of lower quality and delivering an equally powerful signal with added clarity.
Whether at Home or On the Road
A headphone amplifier can be a great step in the direction of high quality sound. While an amplifier alone cannot itself make listening better, with a proper set of headphones and quality sound files, you will be on your way to a listening experience that will make you fall in love with your music all over again.
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In the first Demystifying Microphones blog entry, we focused on two of the most common types of transducer principles of microphones: dynamic and condenser. In this blog, we’ll be learning about the various “polar patterns,” of microphones.
First of all, no; polar patterns have nothing to do with cold temperatures or the North/South Poles, so feel free to toss that idea out of your head right now. Polar patterns are simply directional measures of microphones’ sensitivity to sound. Not simple enough? Okay, let’s break it down some more.
It should be noted that the diagrams below are relative to the “address type,” of the microphone. Fortunately, those aren’t difficult to understand, as there are only two: side address and top address, which just mean microphones pick up sound from either the top or the side. Easy, right?
Anyway, as of now, there are 7 main types of polar patterns:
An omnidirectional microphone, as you might infer, is one that picks up sound from all directions (hence the prefix “omni”). Technically, such a thing is physically impossible because the microphone’s body itself gets in the way of sound pickup. Try picking one up and recording something with the capsule facing away from the sound source and you’ll hear what I mean. Regardless, the idea is that it picks up sound from all possible directions, which can be fantastic for recording natural ambiances for use in post-production or video games.
If you were to do a Google search on “subcardioid microphone,” (as of the date of this blog) you’d find one Audio-Technica microphone in particular (the AT808G) and a few separate microphone capsules. The idea with this polar pattern is to combine the advantages of both omnidirectional and cardioid patterns; specifically, a fuller low-frequency response but less “proximity effect” (which is just an increase in bass that occurs when the microphone is placed close to the sound source), and clearer, more accentuated side and rear sound pickup than a cardioid. The usefulness of this polar pattern is debatable due to its relative scarcity.
Cardioid, plain and simple, is the most common unidirectional microphone, and is named such because of its heart shape. This pattern is most common due to its rejection of sound reflections (or “reverberation,” or “echoes”). It serves to reduce feedback (which can be terrible if it gets out of control, believe me), and can be particularly useful for picking up a specific sound amidst noisy environments. However, they are susceptible to “plosives,” (popping wind sounds that occur with “P” and “B” words) and the aforementioned proximity effect. Despite its shortcomings, the pros of this polar pattern certainly outweigh the cons.
You know, it seems like whoever came up with the names for these polar patterns probably should’ve given it a bit more thought. Rather than having 5 variations (that I know of) of “cardioid,” it seems like these other patterns could’ve had more descriptive, or at least more creative names. Anyway, I digress. The “supercardioid,” is a slight variation of the cardioid pattern, as you can see in the diagram. It does well to capture direct sounds and it has a little lobe in the back to pickup more natural reflections; great in situations where you want a little more environmental sound in the mix.
Hypercardioid is pretty much the same thing as supercardioid, but with a slightly larger lobe in the back to capture a little more environmental sound.
Bi-Directional or Figure 8:
Now, we have the bi-directional – or Figure 8 – pattern. Microphones with this pattern pickup sound equally as well from either direction. Most often, you’ll find this pattern in ribbon microphones. You’ll usually see bi-directional microphones used in headsets and broadcast microphones due to their natural, uniform sound quality.
At last, we have the shotgun polar pattern. Unlike their ammunition-filled counterparts, microphones with this pattern are highly directional. Due to their slim frames, shotgun microphones are often used in film and theater in order to pick up sound while remaining relatively out of sight. Shotgun microphones have a unique design that has the pickup capsule located behind an interference tube with tiny slits on the sides. This interference tube significantly diminishes sound from the sides because of phase cancellation. In short, the longer the tube, the tighter the pattern, thus greater sound rejection from the sides and greater focus in the front.
So, that’s that! For now, at least… I hope you all enjoyed and learned something valuable from this.
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Properly micing your drum set can make or break the success of your performances or recordings sound. Improper mic placement can result in an amateur sound at best. So here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your microphones and drums.
The majority of microphones to be used on a drum set will be dynamic microphones. This is because dynamic moving coil microphones feature a faster transient response. That means they they are better at picking up the initial attack of the drums. As with all bass instruments it is better to go with a larger diaphragm microphone. So on the kick drum a large diaphragm dynamic mic is the obvious choice such as the AKG D112 or the Shure Beta 52. There are a few things to consider regarding the placement of the microphones on drums. The closer the mic is placed to the center of the drum thicker and creamier tone may result. This may be a desired effect for funk and rock n roll sounds but what if you play in a jazz trio and you’re looking for a more natural sound. Try placing the mic closer to the rim of the kick drum to pic up the ringing shell, or try and off axis placement where you may place the mic near the center of the drum but aim the mic toward the shell or vice versa. In this way you can dial in a combination of the two desired sounds. For you metal guys try miking the other side of the kick by the beater. I find an off axis technique aimed right for the point of contact works the best. For even more attack tape a quarter to the beater to give you enough attack to cut right through those muddy guitars and basses and really articulate blast beats.
The Snare and Toms
The same principles apply to the snare drums as kicks. Thicker, fatter sounds can be found toward the center of the drum while more natural shell sounds can be found on rim. The glaring problem with this is that you will need the mic out of the way of the sticks so for the snare and toms an off axis placement is implemented. The preferred mic of choice for snares and toms are also dynamic microphones however in the case of a snare drum a smaller diaphragm top address instrument mic is preferred such as the Shure SM57.
Now that you have all of the drums mic’d up you can shift you attention to the cymbals.
Rather than using dynamic microphones on cymbals you should use condenser mics. You wont need as much transient response so you can feel free to take advantage of the added clarity and detail offered by condenser microphone. The over heads will be placed on boom stands and as you can imagine elevated over the drummers head. The most common techniques call for the use of two mics to be mixed in stereo either in coincident, where the mics are placed close together and aimed in different directions, or spaced pairs where the mics are placed further apart and aimed at specific cymbals. In both cases the mics are typically aimed at the ride and hi-hat. To simplify the overhead set up a stereo microphone can be particularly handy. My personal favorite is a stereo ribbon mic like the AT4081.
So say you have you have your drums mic’d up and you have a few extra condensers available. To cover your bases you can add a few accent mics to your cymbals. Typically the first choice for a spare mic will be on the high hat or the bell of the ride cymbal. Cymbals have similar properties to drums in that micing closer to the edge of a cymbal will result in mid range washy sound while micing the center or bell of a cymbal will yield a tinny higher pitched tone. Another popular technique using a small diaphragm condenser mic is to pair it up with a small diaphragm dynamic mic on the stare maximizing the best of both worlds and combining fantastic transient response with clarity and detail. Phase issues may result in the combination so it may be necessary to make some adjustments on your preamps or physically manipulate the two mics so that the sound arrives at both mic capsules at the same time. Placing a mic on the underside of a snare drum may give you some extra sizzle.
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Last week we kicked-off our list of top five in-ear headphones and got off to a great start. This week we continue with some very prestigious companies like Grado, AKG, and the infamous Monster Cable who are widely known for their over-the head Beats by Dr. Dre. This is our conclusion from last week’s blog so make sure to read the first part to get the full effect of this list. You can read the part 1 of 2 by following this link: Sonic Electronix’s Top 5 In-Ear Headphones Part 1 of 2. To all our Facebook fans feel free to leave us some comments on what you think of our list, something we might have left out? Or what your list would have looked like.
The Grado iGi in-ear headphones use a proprietary bandwidth dynamic design that provides a very warm and precise sound that is unrivaled by any other ear-bud in its price range. The small medical-grade silicone earphone tips allow for a tight and comfortable fit that nestles within the ear canal. This tight fit produces superior noise isolation and improved bass reproduction. These Grado ear-buds offer a full-bodied range of vocals to really bring out the best in your music listening no matter what genre of music you are listening to. The Grado iGi also feature a raised Dot side indication so you will never have to confuse the right from the left and to make sure you are using your headphones properly and to their full potential.
AKG is known for manufacturing some of the best pro audio and personal audio listening devices. These AKG Q350-Black special edition Quincy Jones Signature Line in-ear headphones provide that quality that comes with the name AKG. The closed-back dynamic design reproduces deep and rich bass that is not found in your standard pair of headphones. The sound reproduction is clean, crisp with amazing highs, mids, and lows. These headphones really and truly do offer a full range of sound that gives a complete listening experience every single time with just about any genre of music. Their ultra light-weight design ear-buds offer extreme comfort for long listening sessions a long with high-quality noise-isolation for increase quality and performance. The in-line microphone provides complete music control while on your iPhone. AKG provides three different size silicone sleeves to get the most perfect fit that better suits your ear-canal. There really is not much to say about these in-ear headphones when someone like Quincy Jones puts his name on a brand like AKG the name really does speak for its self.
Monster Cable iBeats-BLACK
Last but not least are the infamous Monster Cable iBeats-Black by Dr. Dre in-ear headphones. These ear-buds offer the iconic Beats style and bass producing sound in a more compact design than its predecessor. The sealed in-ear construction and multiple design offer unsurpassed external noise blocking and improved bass and sound reproduction to truly enhance your listening experience. The single-billet machine-precision metal housing reduces vibrations to decrease interference and provide the best possible sound without interruption or cord brushing static. A hard chrome earphone finish provides rugged durability making them perfect for travel or when on the go. A built-in Control Talk Mic allows for hands-free calling and online chatting, and also offers track seeking capabilities without the need to touch your listening device. The iBeats are specially designed for iPad, iPhone, and iPod but will provide deep bass, enhanced highs, and clear mids on any listening device. With a company like Monster Cable and a name like Dr. Dre you know that you are getting some of the best stuff on the market.
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