One way to have music everywhere you go is with a laptop computer. The only problem is that laptops’ tiny speakers are embarrassingly inadequate for listening to music. This is fine in a coffeehouse or café, where most people use headphones of some sort to respect the privacy of others, but it’s not fine if you’re on a picnic and there are no other laptops around. Or perhaps you’re stuck in a motel room overnight and just can’t watch another TV show. In such situations, you need speakers.
But decent-size rechargeable speakers can be too heavy and cumbersome to be easily portable, and they must be plugged into an AC outlet and charged. UltraLink’s new UFi UCube speakers ($149.95 USD per pair) provide a good solution: They plug into and play through a USB connection -- no AC outlet needed! The host computer will provide the necessary power. The UCubes are small, weigh very little, and easily fit into an overnight bag or medium-size camera bag.
They are also just so darned cute and stylish. Fastened to the included stands, they stared up at me like Pixar’s Luxo Jr. I almost expected them to speak on their own.
Last month I kicked off this series devoted to personal stereo and music on the go with a review of the Sony DR-BT21G Bluetooth wireless headphones. These headphones use earcups with miniature fabric-covered speakers that play into the ear without being actually inserted in the ear canal. This month we have Motorola earphones with earbuds that insert into the ear canal. There are advantages to each type of sound delivery. Since they’re less invasive, headphones are likely to be more comfortable, though that’s not always the case. Earphones, properly seated and sealed, can block out noise in the wearer’s surroundings, allowing music to be predominant over extraneous sounds. Earphones also call less attention to themselves in a fashion sense, should that be of any concern. I’ve found that headphones can be quite a bit warmer than earphones over a long period of time, which is why I have lately been leaning toward the latter. Whichever type you choose, I must emphasize my conclusions from last month: Bluetooth and wireless are the only way to go for those pursuing sports or other vigorous activities who want to take music with them. It’s appalling that so few manufacturers have realized this, so sets like the Motorola are very welcome.
The Motorola S10-HD earphones ($79.95 USD) come attractively packaged in a compact plastic box 5.25" by 5" by 2.25" high. The earphones themselves are easy to see through the clear plastic top, while accessories are out of sight under the white plastic bottom. These accessories are a cord and transformer for charging the earphones, an instruction booklet, and four different-sized sets of ear cushions. The instruction book is unusual in that it’s only 2.5" by 3" and quite thick, as it’s presented in English, Spanish, and French, with large sections of legal facts and warnings in all three languages.
Unboxed, the ‘phones are 5" by 5.5" by 1.75" and weigh a scant 1.6 ounces. The unusual one-piece design is made of some sort of memory plastic and has been mixed with a substance more like rubber. There’s a status light and a power/pairing button in the neck band; the other controls are placed on the arms in the inch above the actual earbud. Volume up and down and phone buttons are on the left arm, and the play/pause and skip forward/skip back controls are on the right. The neckband also contains a light that indicates the current function of the earphones, and pulling aside a small flap will reveal a USB port for charging.
At the gym the other night, I counted the number of people using headsets. About two-thirds of exercisers were using some form of iPod or other portable media player, and, of course, earbuds, headsets, headphones, or stereo back 'phones. The delivery of sound to the ears of the sports-inclined is a huge business, and the proliferation of so many different types of devices to deliver sound directly to the ear canals indicates that the purchase of a headset is a very personal transaction.
I've tried a baker's dozen of wired headsets in the past four years -- and, now that I've discovered Bluetooth, at least a half-dozen models from them. I'm not alone in my inability to wear earbuds. I have to have a headphone or headset that's connected to a frame -- for me, a headband that goes behind rather than over the top of the head. In this article, I don't discuss headphones for home use, where an over-the-head band might be acceptable. Though some people do wear them for sports and exercise, they're not for me, being too hot and too much in the way.
I've concluded that, for the gym, wireless Bluetooth is the only way -- that way, I can concentrate on my biceps curls or treadmill time without getting tangled up in wires. I believe that, once you've experienced the freedom of wireless Bluetooth headphones for exercise and running, you'll be hard-pressed to go back to wired units. That said, even Bluetooth is not quite ready for prime time. This Sony pairing of headphones and transmitter, then, came as a relatively good way to enter the realm of Bluetooth without spending too much, while eagerly awaiting a set of headphones, from Sony or elsewhere, that will eliminate some of the current problems with Bluetooth.