By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Headphones for listening to portable audio have rapidly caught up with the high-quality consumer electronics products they are designed to accompany.
Hand in hand with technological advances in portable CD and MiniDisc players, headphones have moved from early small and light open types that lose low-frequency bass notes, to ear bud models and closed units that encircle and fit snugly on the ear.
As headphones continue to evolve, the latest devices tend to be closed and semi-closed models aimed at portable audio enthusiasts, extremely compact models and those that utilize electronics to block out extraneous noise.
At the high end of the headphones category, with benefits for both the home enthusiast and professional, is the Pro4AA Titanium Stereophone from Milwaukee-based Koss. The unit offers closed cushions that seal tightly around the ear, eliminating ambient sound and maximizing bass performance. The product offers an adjustable headband and extra-durable, single-entry coiled cord that improves signal transmission and conduction for accurate and precise sound reproduction. Suggested retail is $99.95.
In line with promoting strategic models directed toward the trends and developments that drive the business are headphones said to overcome the frustrating problems associated with existing products on the market.
"Music providers are forcing technology to embrace music delivery formats that will increase the number of portable systems available to the consumer in the future and raise the demand for the replacement and upgrade of headphones," said Stuart Perriam, senior product manager at Jensen, a Recoton company.
"The consumer is becoming more sophisticated and is demanding more fashionable and functional products with attention to looks, ease of use and quality," said Perriam.
Lake Mary, Fla.-based Jensen is featuring an innovative design in its JB9 Ear Buds. Its storage case uses a rubber cup which opens up like a cable turtle and when closed looks like a yo-yo. The case consists of two opposing rubber panels that completely flip up for ear bud storage on one side and cord storage on the other. Designed as a travel accessory, the JB9 has a suggested $9.99 retail.
Also from Jensen is the JF31 Folding Fullsize Headphone that sports a compact folding design and emphasizes advanced ergonomics, with fully adjustable headband hinged at the center to allow the unit to fold in half for ease of portability. The headband folds completely over the ear cups for the ultimate in compact convenience. When completely folded, the headband acts as a clip, permitting the JF31 to be worn on a belt. Suggested retail is $29.99.
To complement active, traditional and high-tech lifestyles, Sony Electronics has introduced a headphone series with three design variations, called MDR-Q55SL or Elements of Style. These include A.I.R., or Air, which offers boosted sound that enhances hip hop and rock; L.Q.D., or Liquid, which is perfect for jazz, soul and rhythm and blues; and S.L.d., or Solid, which delivers straight sound in full force.
"Not every music lover is the same and their headphones shouldn't be either," said Phil Lubell, director for accessory products at Park Ridge, N.J.-based Sony. "People express lifestyle choices through fashion, food and cars, and their listening styles and music preferences echo these choices. We developed the Elements of Style headphones to complement these different lifestyles, as well as to enhance specific types of music, while providing excellent sound quality and performance."
The A.I.R., L.Q.D. and S.L.d. headphones are available in blue, gold and silver, respectively, and offer an open-air, clip-on design that is headband-free. Headphones feature a spring-action ear piece designed to comfortably cradle various-sized ears, with a snug fit that minimizes sound leakage. Each unit, at a suggested $30 retail, also features a gold-plated mini-plug, adjustable cord and tangle-free cord slider.
When it comes to onboard automobile listening, the Whitefire wireless headphones, from Unwired Technology, allows users reception of high quality uncompressed digital sound in a defined space, in up to four stereo or eight monaural audio channels.
Perfect for autos, home living rooms and other enclosed environments, the after-market system carries a $599 suggested retail. This includes a digital encoder box, LED transmitter and two four-source digital headphones.
"Unwired is working on using Whitefire technology for multi-driver headphones (drivers are speakers) for real surround sound capabilities," said company president Larry Richenstein. "Several companies are developing headphones with Dolby, or similar algorithms, that simulate surround sound using only two drivers (one on each ear).
"Because of the ability of Whitefire technology to transmit up to eight monaural signals, it will be easy for us to put two drivers in each ear piece for a total of at least four drivers," continued Richenstein. "These would do an excellent job of providing a real surround sound experience for the user."
The headphones system gives car, truck, SUV and van passengers the ability to individually select from a variety of onboard entertainment alternatives such as DVD or CD players, radio or video game systems, according to the Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Unwired.
Also in wireless technology, Berlin-based Amphony has introduced what it calls the world's first audiophile wireless RF headphones that provide audio transmission at full CD quality.
The company has unveiled its 2.4GHz Digital Wireless Headphones, Model 2000, that offers fully digital audio interfaces at the transmitter, eliminating unnecessary analog-to-digital or digital-to-analog conversion. This achieves what Germany-headquartered Amphony calls unprecedented signal-to-noise ratio, without any distortion.
Model 2000, at a suggested $249, targets the audiophile and audio pro, both of whom expect the same sound quality that corded audiophile headphones provide, without having to be tied down to home or studio equipment.
With quality sound a critical selling point, Jasco Products is offering its GE-brand 5.1 Surround Sound headphones. These come equipped with six built-in driver units and two vibrating devices, resulting in true 5.1 theater surround sound.
The headphones, which come with a 5.1 amplifier box with built-in hi-fi amplifier, also offers two headphone outputs and an in-line volume control on the amplifier box. The volume control allows the user to independently control front, center and rear channels.
Jasco's Surround Sound headphones come optionally equipped with a noise canceling boom microphone that is well suited for use with voice recognition software, online gaming and other voice applications. Units from the Oklahoma City-based company are universal in their usage with computers, stereos and home theater systems. Suggested retail is $49.99.
Travelers on planes, trains, buses and subways who want to upgrade the quality of their audio sound can benefit from Noise Canceling Stereo Headphones from Clifton, N.J.-based Gemini Industries. The noise canceling circuitry in the HN100 diminishes noise in any environment, namely engine hum or other ambient noise.
The Philips-brand unit, HN100, is lightweight to wear, foldable for portable convenience and comes with a complete set of universal adapter plugs that enable travelers to enjoy superb sounds even while watching airplane movies. The in-line volume control with on/off switch allows for convenient and personal sound adjustment as well as activating or deactivating the noise cancellation circuitry.
Suggested retail is $69.99, and the headphones are packed with AAA battery, airplane adapter, 1/4-inch stereo adapter and soft carrying pouch.
Pointing toward sound quality and comfort, Fair Lawn, N.J.-based Maxell Corp. of America is offering its HP-550, a full ear cup headphone that combines the comfort and sound quality of a full cup with a foldability feature that makes packing for travel easier.
Maxell's digital headphone features a volume control and mute button, and has a fully adjustable and lockable headboard. Suggested retail is $16.99.
A professional studio-quality headphone from Coby Electronics is designed with dual pivot joints on the ear cup, so a listener can hold one ear cup against the ear completely flat. This enables users to do quick sound checks without completely placing the unit on their heads.
Called the CV790, the headphones use the highest quality speaker elements available, according to Maspeth, N.Y.-based Coby, and are available at a suggested $59.99 retail.
Eliminating excessive background noise is the primary objective of the Sennheiser PX250, top-of-the-range dynamic stereo mini headphones for portable players. The unit features sealed ear cups and snug, comfortable ear pads. It offers switchable NoiseGard active noise compensation to diminish ambient noise.
The PX250 delivers a powerful, punchy base, while adaptive baffle damping ensures a smooth, detailed sound across the frequency range from 10Hz to 21kHz, according to the Old Lyme, Conn.-based company.
Sennheiser said the improved fit of the soft ring ear pads and closed ear cups offers excellent passive attenuation, thus reducing undesirable ambient noise at frequencies above 1,200Hz by 15dB to 25dB.
For frequent flyers, the PX250 comes complete with airplane adapters to 1/4-inch jack and 3.5mm double mono jack connectors. The collapsible, light mini headphones, at 2.3 ounces, lock into an open or closed position and are supplied with a soft belt pouch that can also accommodate a small portable player. Suggested retail is $129.95.
EarHugger is offering top-of-the-line performance, at what it calls an unbelievable price, with its new noise-canceling stereo headphones, EH-1420NC. The unit, from the Lindon, Utah-based company, cancels out 15dB of sound, at a suggested retail of $49.99. Headphones of comparable quality routinely retail for two to three times this amount, according to EarHugger.
The EH-1420NC brings "unprecedented price performance to the active noise-canceling headphones marketplace," said Steve Jaynes, president.
Lightweight and comfortable, the unit comes with an airline adapter and leatherette carrying pouch. Its design allows for ease of portability, while it features an in-line volume control and gold-plated plug. An AAA battery is included. It is scheduled for April availability.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.