Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Able Planet Headphones Have An Edge

The biggest holiday gifts this year were clearly Androids and iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, and iPods). More than 6.8 million devices (combined) were activated on Christmas Day, up from the 1.5 million activations a day during the rest of December. Apple alone saw 12 times the number of activations over the holiday weekend.

While it is almost impossible to guess how many of these activations are new devices or upgrades, one thing is for certain. Those little buds, as good as they are, tend to create ear fatigue over the long haul.

Headphones are a better choice for more comfort and clarity, especially for people who love music. And Able Planet is worth consideration.

Able Planet provides a richer, fuller sound.

Sure, there are dozens of headphone makers vying for attention. And many of them support celebrities or athletes like Ashely Fiolek, one of the toughest Motocross competitors out there. But when you narrow the field, there are only three names worth mentioning and one of those has the edge with music (it also makes gaming headphones).

Able Planet knows something about the way we hear music. Originally, it made hearing aids before headphones. But when it made the move to the mainstream, Able Planet brought its patented Linx Audio technology along too.

Linx Audio technology was specifically developed for people suffering from hearing loss, but you don't have to suffer to benefit from the tech. It focuses first and foremost on higher frequencies, which is usually the first range of hearing lost. Losing these frequencies is what causes certain letters or letter combinations to drop off or make music sound less lively and flat.

What Linx Audio does is add harmonics that open up higher frequencies, making music sound richer and fuller without having to increase the volume to drown out any white noise (which ear bud users usually do). The setback to drowning out background noise with volume, of course, is that it causes more distortion (and can eventually cause hearing loss). So Linx Audio enables you to turn it down.

Clear Harmony NC1000 is the company's premium headphones. 

While the retail price is steep at about $300, Clear Harmony is one of the better headphones on the market. The reason it sounds better is because it combines Audio Linx with advanced noise canceling technology (white noise, but not all noise).

It's this unique combination that makes them compete so well, along with other features like a detachable cord, in-line volume control, and a long battery life (it also takes two AA batteries that do not require a special charging unit).

Even better, if the batteries do run down, Able Planet headphones still function. While there is an impact to sound quality without noise reduction, most other headphones won't operate at all.

Two other names you are likely to hear while shopping for headphones. 

Sennheiser and Bose also make great headphones, but I still think the edge belongs to Able Planet. It comes down to specifics. Whereas the best Sennheiser models do compete or beat Able Planet in terms of frequency response and sound quality, Able Planet blocks out more white noise. And while Bose matches Able Planet on noise cancellation, Able Planet has better sound quality.

There is still that question of a higher price. So if price is important, it might be worth checking out the more stylish Extreme Foldable XNC230 (about $100), which comes in black and plaids.

It has many of the same features, but there are three noticeable differences. The construction is lighter, which is meant to add portability along with folding. The comfort is a noticeable compromise. And the battery is limited to one AAA (the company says about 50 hours of play time).

The Extreme does lose some sound quality when compared to the Clear Harmony, but not nearly as much as one would think. Considering the price and portability, the Extreme works well enough as an everyday workhorse or traveling companion. And, like all Able Planet headphones, the price includes two adaptors: one for airplanes and one for professional stereo equipment.

A few people might wonder why I didn't mention the recently-made popular Beats to the mix. To be honest, they really don't compare to any of the other three, except maybe in style. Even then, if style is your biggest concern, it might be better to find some earmuffs. They are more comfortable.

Clear Harmony Headphones Chime In At 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

When comparing consumer reviews or reviewers, you may notice some people giving higher marks to Sennheiser or Bose (or even Sony). That makes sense to me, but many of them miss the point.

Generally, reviewers compare headphones at the same levels of volume rather than optimal volume. I make the distinction here because Able Planet headphones sound better at a lower volume (as they were designed), well before any bass distortion. I will, however, concede to some audiophiles who don't appreciate the idea of adding harmonics via Audio Linx. So keep that in mind.

While the premium headphones generally list for about $300, you can find Clear Harmony NC1000 on Amazon for around $170 (the price fluctuates). There are other models are available for under $100, including the Extreme Foldable (about $70). Barnes & Noble carries Able Planet too, including a Sound Clarity mode bundled with an 8GB iPod Nano and the Extreme Foldable (about $100). Prices for Able Planet headphones from start at around $60. Just pay careful attention to what model you order. Generally, the higher the number, the better the sound.
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