Headphone News: April 29, 2013

Oculus Rift Coming
Wow! The buzz is deafening on this soon-to-be virtual reality gaming product. The product was launched on Kickstarter, they were asking for $250k and got a whopping $2.43 million! The current product is for developers and is getting raves. ifixit took one apart, and it looks very nicely conceived. 500 developer's kits have been shipped with another 2000 shipping currently, and another 2000 units will be shipped soon, with a total of 10,000 kits planned. This thing is going to get a big intro with lots of games when it starts shipping to consumers.

Fast forward to 3:50 to see the Rift in action (though the first two products in the segment are cool as well).

So, I'll admit I'm not a gamer, but I used to have Microsoft's Flight Simulator, and I'd be sorely tempted to get a machine set up for flying again if it had Occulus Rift support. Talk about an escape!

Heres the weird thing though, gaming is just the beginning for this device. For example, battle veterans suffering from PTSD are already being treated with "Virtual Reality Therapy" where clinicians expose patients in a very controlled manner to combat scenarios in therapeutic sessions. Results have been good, but the Rift will bring costs down and allow for much more widespread use. Article here.

Bottom line: people are thinking that the time has finally come for widespread, affordable virtual reality, and these are the guys that will do it. Twenty year old company founder and designer Palmer Luckey is on a rocket ship straight up into fame and fortune, me thinks.

For more info visit the Oculus Rift website, and don't miss their blog.

I Think Therefore It's Me

In the March 25 edition of Headphone News I brought word of of a brainwave headset that picked music for you based on your current state of mind. This month newsfeeds were all a twitter about an app and headset that would read a "Passthought" instead of having to remember or safeguard passwords as you travel through secure sites. That sounds pretty cool as you'd only need one passthought for everything as no one could duplicate your thoughts and brainwave pattern. ('Course I wonder if you were pissed off at your bank when you tried to get into your account if it might disturb the EEG (electro-encephalogram) signal and block you.)

At any rate, all sorts of cool and weird things are being done with this technology, everything from experimental music to fake ears on your head that telegraph your emotions to others. But there are more serious applications as well like being able to dial a phone or drive a wheelchair for paraplegics.

The company behind a lot of this technology is NeuroSky, which have developed sensors and sophisticated signal discriminators that allow them to readily detect brainwaves in a relatively noisy environment. You can read about it here. Their MindWave Mobile product is available for $99 that allows you to observe your own brainwaves, and gaming and other apps are available that are controlled by your thoughts.

Yeah, I know, it's not audio and headphones, but I wouldn't be surprised if 10 years down the road headsets started appearing with this technology bundled in. And, well, I just thought it was pretty cool.

Golden Ears Accudio
130429_HeadphoneNews_Photo_Accudio Oh baby! This is something that I'd love to do with InnerFidelity's measurements someday. Until then, I'll encourage you to have a look at Golden Ears Accudio app for iOS products. Basically, this product applies a correction curve derived from the headphone measurements to equalize your cans. The full description of the compensation is here. Golden Ears has a LOT of headphones measured and the list of supported headphones is quite extensive.

From what I could tell this is a player app, so you'd have to abandon your current music playing app to use it, but man, this is a solution I can really get behind. I'll be loading the app into my iPhone sometime soon and will report back, but I've had people email me that it worked just dandy for them.

SubPac Shakes it Up!

With the relentless clamoring for MOAR BASS in headphones it was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to make a portable subwoofer for your personal listening pleasure. Yes, you have to strap it to a chair, but it is portable---you can use it on a plane, for example.

Much of your very-low frequency acoustic sense comes from bone conduction and chest and nasal cavity compression. You really can't make up for that with the bass from headphones hitting your eardrums. I think that's a lot of the reason for so much desire for more bass in headphones, which just can't be satisfied properly through the ear canal only.

With your back against the SubPack, low frequency sound (5Hz to 130Hz) is pumped against your body simulating the experience you get in a room with a good sub. I've heard of people using subs in a room while wearing AKG K1000 headphones to great effect, but I bet the wife and kids trying to sleep wouldn't appreciate the thump. Well, this certainly looks like a legit answer.

It's another Kickstarter initiative (ain't Kickstarter cool?) and the price for units there were around $350...no idea what the retail price will be. But I sure as heck will be calling these guys to see if I can get a demo unit.

You can read more about it on their site, and here's a nice article.

Skullcandy Skullcrusher ($99)

Here's the alternative to the SubPack above: putting the sub in the headphone. Again, the Skullcrushers are brand new and I haven't had a chance to give them a listen, but I'm curious. As I said above, I think the right approach is to get some chest compression, but you certainly might be able to get some skull bone conduction from the headphone. And $99 puts them in the sweet spot for a youthful audience.

I'm most certainly going to get a pair to play around with. I've spent some time with Tetsuro Oishi, Skullcandy's chief acoustics engineer, and have a good feeling about his work. I'm actually quite excited to get my hands on these as I'd love to have a good alternative to Beats for the kids out there. We'll see.

Bang & Olufsen Announces New Headphones

I reckon B&O may be the oldest audio fashion brand. And thankfully they've done it a lot more tastefully than the rappers. B&O have just introduced two new headphones: the in-ear H3s in black, red or silver for £199, or on-ear the H6 in either black or natural leather for £320. Not sure what US pricing will be.

I'll be going to the High-End Show in Munich next week, and I'll be sure to stop by their booth for a listen and will report back. Until then, you can read this article, and if you're interested, B&O has an initial web page set up where you can register to have them email you when available.

New KEF Cans

Long time British audio gear maker KEF is getting into headphones. And I'm glad it's taken them so long---I reckon it's a sign they spent some time in design. The two new models are the on-ear mobile headset M500 ($300 expected) and the in-ear M200 ($200 expected).

The M500 seems rather like a large B&W P5 with an earpad that has an array of holes. This is an aluminum framed unit with 40mm driver, detachable cable, in a sealed configuration. Earpieces fold inward for storage, and the headphones come with a clamshell case. The product page is very informative, and don't miss the animated exploding 3D model. Very cool.

The M200 in-ear is a dual dynamic driver (DDD they say) design with the 5.5mm tweeter in front, and the 10mm low end driver behind. A very interesting design. And again, the animated illustrations on the product page are worth a look.

I'll be on the lookout for these at the High End Show as well.

Printing Headphones

My prediction for sometime in the next 5 years: Some one, or some many, members on Head-Fi will design an open source headphone capable of being printed out on a Makerbot, and I'm betting it could be competitive with the major maker's cans at a fraction of the price.

It's been done before here and here, but I don't think those are really serious attempts. With the knowledge of the DIYers and acoustics geeks in the hobby, I'm sure it could be done.

Let's get with it boys, I totally volunteer to measure all the prototypes.

Anybody got a Makerbot?

Audioaddict's picture

I'm really interested to see how the new Crusher turns out. And i believe there was another skullcrusher headphone before this new one. It used a tripple AAA battery in a in-line amp with adjustable bass for the driver in the headphone. The ergonomics were awful but for a pure bassy sound when bass boost all they way up they were pretty good. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Yupper. Snoop Dog Skullcrushers.

I thought they were pretty horrible. Bandwidth of the 'shaker' was very narrow, and centered at 85Hz.


Phos's picture

Those B&O H6's appear to have the cord exiting on the right side similar to the UE headphones.  

Tyll Hertsens's picture


Limp's picture

From what's said in the article Tyll linked to it might seem like the cord is removable, and there is a jack in both ear-pieces.

B&O haven't had much success with portable audio in the past, but seeing how their BeoLab speakers completely transformed their image from 'pretty, but naff' to seriously high end, I see reason to hope.

SoundTeck's picture

I had a pair of the old-style skullcrushers, and while they did have a lot of bass (which, as noted above, was really narrow) it sounded very echo-y (is that a word?) to me. But the real problem I had with them is they were, without hesitation, the most uncomfortable pair of cans I have ever owned.  I ended up giving them away because I simply could not get them to sit on my head comfortably.  I have a big head, and semi-large ears, so that was probably a factor, but I have never had a problem with any other cans.  Discomfort aside, the sound quality was decent, aside from the bass, which sounded like I was in a warehouse (I paid $30 for them, so I didn't expect much. I wouldn't pay $100 for them).  I think skullcandy have a novel idea there, but it still needs some tweaking.

Seth195208's picture

..is that it is too inconvenient. Won't do radio stations like mog and will shut off when it comes across a drm track. It can also be fatiguing on "flat" for long term listening. Besides that though, it is fun to experiment with. 

RPGWiZaRD's picture

Any chance you will be ever looking at the new Audio Technica's solid bass flagship WS99, it's been getting some serious love on the head-fi thread, it's a bit less bassy than expected but still packs a great deal of punch but what suprised the ppl there was its great balanced detailed sound, especially the midrange is there in full force, not recessed and very exciting. I believe 2 out of 2 people having tested it against M100 for example preferred the sound of WS99 and holds its own very well against the significantly expensier ES10 as well (WS99 is less bright with slightly more bass), not bad for a significantly cheaper headphone (street price about $200 or a little north of it).

Can be a new plausible king candidate for category "basshead with quality" (if it can even be labelled as basshead, probably among audiophiles, possibly not among mainstream).

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I been hearing a lot about it.  Guess I need to give them a call.

Seth195208's picture

..have a 12ohm  impedance. Pretty low.  

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Be interesting to see what the impedance looks like. Should swing around less than balanced armatures, but there's still a cross-over in there. Yeah, 12 Ohms is pretty low.  I don't know why there such a drive to very low impedances on headphones, it really doesn't make them easier to drive---more current, you know. People should keep it up at around 50 Ohms IMO, and then just make them efficient. Ah well, we'll see what it measures like one of these days.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

Ive got a pair of their older A8 earphones and im not impressed.     The build and look is nice.   The fit is mediocre (swing arm with earbud and around-ear-hook),  there's no real closure around the earbud so its open air in ear.   The sound is depressing...virtually no low end, nor much of a midrange to speak of.   I suppose the high end is crisp but honestly with such limited range, i dont use them for music...i use them for speach-only situations such as podcasts or computer teleconferences.    Hopefully the new ones shown here have more attention paid to sound quality.

Peace .n. Living in Stereo



DS-21's picture

If you're looking at iOS EQ apps, Audyssey amp is also worth a look. Their EQ doesn't do much for Senn 580s or ADDIEMs, but it does massively improve the treble of AKG K550s. It also includes some loudness compensation I think.

Also, the KEF 'buds do look interesting, even though they're probably too big for my ears. I'm a big fan of recent KEF speakers, and the DDD is an interesting micro-riff on their Uni-Q driver. (Wonder why they didn't try to tie in their Uni-Q trademark.) I wonder though, what kind of amp do you use to test devices with relatively low impedance? 

ultrabike's picture

I liked the Accudio app for the price. It does forces you to use their own player and it is restricted to Apple stuff.

IMHO it does improve the sound quality of certain headphones.

firev1's picture

Never found Accudio to do what it was advertised to do, give the sound of neutrality(a peak at 3khz?), probably because of the measurement system they used. Music management is still a little of a PITA for those with large libraries. Maybe you could get something going on with Jriver's/Foobar's folks!