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S. Thomson (UK)

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Etymotic Research HF5 Portable iPhone and iPod In-ear Earphones- Colbalt
Etymotic Research HF5 Portable iPhone and iPod In-ear Earphones- Colbalt
Offered by UTM Inc.
Price: £110.00

50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For noisy commutes these are excellent., 5 Jan. 2011
I purchased these in-ear-monitors (IEMs) about 6 months ago, but waited until now so I could review them based on more long-term impressions, since I feel that's always more useful when considering products that people may well be using every day. I'll start with everything not relating to how they sound, and then finish with my opinions of the audio quality - but bear in mind that's a very subjective topic.

I didn't used to be a fan of IEMs, but the HF5s have converted me. The isolation they provide when fitted correctly is superb, making them perfect for my noisy commutes (bus, train, occasionally coach). I'm also confident that they would be more than enough for use when travelling by plane. They are particularly good at blocking out the low frequencies, with higher frequencies being *slightly* more audible. This isn't necessarily a bad quality, though, as it means that voices can be heard when needed, though you'll have to remove them if you want to have a conversation. The isolation is so great that I would not recommend them for running/waling around town etc.

In spite of the deep insertion, I find them to be a very comfortable fit. The triple-flange design is made of quite soft silicon, and compresses nicely when inserted, but still provides plenty of resistance and friction to keep them in place. Several other tips are included: a smaller triple-flange set, some rather unusual-shaped `glider' tips (I don't really know how to describe these, but I found them both less comfortable than the flanges, and to decrease the sound quality), and a set of foam tips. The foam tips were the most comfortable, for me, but get dirty relatively quickly and only stand up to so much cleaning, as well as being rather pricey to replace when you consider that it's just a little bit of foam.

Microphonics (noise due to the cable/headphone casing catching and knocking against things) is moderate; I do not find microphonics to be particularly distracting, but if you are sensitive to it I would not recommend these `phones. When sat still, with the cable-clip attached to my top, the cable is more-or-less prevented from knocking and rubbing against closing, eliminating the problem.

Build-quality seems at least acceptable. At first they felt rather flimsy, but having stood up to six months of fairly regular use I have to say that they are sturdier than they appear. There are as-yet no signs of wear, though I have heard of people having the cables detach from the driver module; I suspect that this is due to the headphones being removed by the cable - don't do that, remove them by holding the driver casing instead.

And onto the sound quality:

Bass: bass is precise, and extension is good (they can hit the low notes) but they are a little lacking in impact. A good seal makes them far better, but still slightly anaemic (I'm not a bass-head, either). The bass is quick to respond and rarely does it feel that the HF5s are incapable of keeping up with rapid changes in the low notes.

Mids: the mids are probably the strongest point of these `phones, being well detailed although perhaps slightly forward relative to the bass and treble, but largely well-balanced. (Male) Vocals are definitely more prominent in the mids than in the bass. I find tonality to be fairly poor here, with unamplified instruments and vocals often sounding quite unnatural (more on that below).

Treble: again, the treble is well balanced and accurate. Detail is also very good here, and I am still noticing things in tracks that I never knew were there (though this is probably due in part to the excellent isolation). With female vocals I often find them to be uncomfortably shrill, despite the headphone sounding relatively neutral overall. As an example, I rarely listen to Florence and the Machine with these because I find it an almost painful experience, but then again, her voice is quite shrill naturally.

Overall, these are precise, balanced and neutral sounding. Unfortunately, this leads to a more analytical sound than a musical one, so it depends what you're after. Listening to music on these makes it sound a little dead, as if it's being played in a padded room. You can hear everything very clearly, but they are not going to make you want to dance. I also find the timbre to be quite unnatural, especially with classical music. I know how a violin is supposed to sound, and this is not it. There seem to be both low- and high-end harmonics/overtones missing, which is especially noticeable in string instruments. I'm sort of on the fence about sound quality, because while they don't appear to do very much wrong, the sound just isn't quite right. That said, I really enjoy listening to electronic music with these `phones, despite their slightly lean bass (they respond well to a low-frequency boost from a decent EQ.)

Sound stage is larger than I expected, but still quite small. They certainly don't sound as closed-in as I had expected, given their deep-insertion. Instrument separation is also minimal, but enough not to find everything lost to a muddy, unclear jumble of sounds.

From the last few paragraphs I may have painted quite a negative picture of these headphones, but I am just being overly-critical. You will get used to their tone after some mental burn-in, and I am yet to find anything else that offers such good isolation in a similar price bracket. When on the move they are probably my best-sounding set of `phones, because the awesome isolation means you lose so little to unwanted ambient noise.

So yes, for the price there are better sounding IEMs, over-ear headphones, etc, but none of them will sound this good when your sat at the back of a noisy bus. I bought them for commuting, and in that respect they perform excellently and are relatively good value. Oh, and well done if you made it this far.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 14, 2013 6:27 PM BST

Grado 15CM Headphone Adaptor Lead
Grado 15CM Headphone Adaptor Lead
Offered by AudioVisual Online
Price: £14.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but a little pricey, 1 Jan. 2011
I got this after trying several cheaper adapters, all of which fell apart within a few days, or simply did not work in the first place. In this case I am happy to say it works exactly as it should. The cable and jack design is the same as for Grado headphones, as you'd expect, so it looks pretty good with a set of Grado headphones, but the plain black design probably won't look out of place with anything. Durability-wise I can't say yet, but since it appears to be the same as the cabling on Grado headphones I expect it to last pretty much indefinitely. The whole thing feels very secure and well constructed.

This sounds like a 5-star review, but good as it is, I don't feel the price is justified. Grado equipment is expensive in Europe anyway, even when you consider the generally high price you pay for decent audio equipment, but it's only 15cm of cable and two jacks; really, these should be included with the headphones.

World of Data� 3.5mm Jack Plug to 6.35mm Socket Adapter - Premium Quality - 24k Gold Plated - Male to Female - Audio - Adapter - Stereo
World of Data� 3.5mm Jack Plug to 6.35mm Socket Adapter - Premium Quality - 24k Gold Plated - Male to Female - Audio - Adapter - Stereo
Offered by World of Data Ltd
Price: £3.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly adequate, on the occasion that it works, 25 Dec. 2010
Like many of the other 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapters I have tried, getting a proper connection with this thing is almost impossible. The left channel regularly cuts out or crackles; I've found that the only way to maintain a clear signal for both ears is to hold the adapter the whole time. After about two days of use the inside of this thing had worn away slightly such that my 6.35mm plug no longer even clicks into place, so it needs holding during use regardless.

After trying several of these cheap socket adapters, I've gone with the Grado adapter instead (Grado Prestige Mini Adaptor Cable 6.3mm - 3.5mm). You get some cable between the two ends with it, which puts far less stress on the poor little 3.5mm jack, but more importantly, it actually works properly.

You might get lucky if you order one of these and get one put together properly (they must exist), but my advice is to just spend a bit more cash and save a lot of your time on something more substantial.

The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music
The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music
Price: £4.69

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For £3 this is an excellent collection, 23 Sept. 2010
If you're just getting into classical music I highly recommend this as an introduction. You'll probably already recognize 80% of the pieces in here, but also probably have no idea who wrote them (a lot of these are used in films or as part of TV ads).

The sound quality is a little poor in some places, at least to my ear. I'm not sure if this is the fault of the original recordings or the mp3 compression (with a decent recording I do not usually notice compression artifacts in 200kbps+ mp3s unless I am listening for them - at least not from my iPod, which is what I have been using for listening to these. It only gets worse when run through my home set-up, which isn't audiophile-grade, though sounds better than your average all-in-one hi-fi, I guess). That affects a minority of tracks, though, and is not too severe. Most of the pieces are performed excellently by the LPO, too, but that is what you expect from any orchestra at their level.

Problems aside, for £3 this is an absolute bargain. There's over 4 hours' worth of music here, and I'm finding it very enjoyable for my long-ish commutes. Go on, buy it.

Sennheiser PX 200-II Foldable Closed Mini On-Ear Headphone - Black
Sennheiser PX 200-II Foldable Closed Mini On-Ear Headphone - Black
Price: £65.72

76 of 82 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good headphone, but (bus) commuters look elsewhere, 23 Sept. 2010
I was looking for a set of headphones for commuting purposes, but am not a fan of IEMs (in-ear-monitors), so closed back cans is the best I could hope for. Full-size headphones do tend to look a little ridiculous in public, but these relatively small, supra-aural (on-ear), closed-back Sennheisers looked to fit the bill. I will start, then, with isolation (where they were, sadly, not enough for my needs).

In short, they do not isolate well enough for general commuting. On the train (at least, on a more modern, better insulated train), however, they are perfect. They isolate well enough to listen at reasonable levels and not lose detail to background noise. I suspect, though cannot be certain, that they would also be suitable for using on a coach. With music on you will likely not be able to hear enough to have a conversation, but you will be able to hear if someone requires your attention (you can hear voices, but not enough to make out words). Unfortunately, the majority of my commuting takes place on the bus, and here they do not block out enough of the engine and tyre noise. On the rare occasion I catch a double-decker, they were good enough to use on the top deck, but if it is very busy/there is a lot of chatter they are again not really enough. I like to be quite sealed-off from my surroundings, though, so they may be enough for some. If you're on the fence on this, I think it's worth a shot. On the bus you'll lose some low-end detail (unless you have them dangerously loud), but the music is still 'listenable'. I have not had the opportunity to try them on the plane as yet, but I don't think they would block out enough noise there for you to have the volume particularly low and still hear your music clearly. They'd certainly be better than any of the in-flight 'phones, though, in every respect including isolation. On the plus side, they leak very little noise to the surroundings. As I said earlier, I think they were excellent when on the train, and I know that the person sitting next to me won't be annoyed by my music.

The sound quality has already been covered here and elsewhere, and I agree with most other reviewers. For their current £50 price they are very good. At original RRP I would certainly not have been unhappy, but probably less impressed. Compared to the usual warm Sennheiser house-sound, these are more neutral. I find the highs to be rolled off slightly (emphasis on slightly there), giving a smooth sound which is great for longer listening periods. Despite the roll-off, I don't feel that it has taken away too much detail at the top end. I am a bit of a Grado fan, and they are known for being bright headphones, but I still enjoy these. The mid range seemed to me to be pitched just how I like it - not put forward or recessed relative to the highs and lows, but in balance with them. There's a reasonable amount of detail there, too, though these are by no means an analytical sounding headphone; I find them to be rather enjoyable to listen to in a non-critical manner. The bass is punchy, tight, and not at all boomy, but still definitely hitting those low notes. This matches well to my preferences, and so I had no need for bass-boost functions, however, they will take an increase in bass without distorting if you want it. Bassheads should look elsewhere, though. The soundstage is remarkably good for a closed-back headphone, and they sound far more open than I was expecting. Obviously, it's not up to the standards of open-backed, full-size headphones, but it is more than enough for me not to feel at all cramped-up. I mostly listen to rock, classical and jazz and they hold up well in each. Their smoothness lends itself to the sort of jazz I listen to. I can't comment on the burn-in period, as whenever I get new headphones I always let them do 24-hours or more of playback before I put them on. It saves me from the occasional disappointment of a headphone the sounds poor out of the box. This review should be taken as burned-in.

Build quality is good, with some minor concerns. The strain relief at the jack end is stiff enough not to provide all that much relief, in my opinion. At the headphone end, the relief is very short, again leading to the same problem. The cable is thin enough to bend freely, but feels pretty strong. Only prolonged use can really tell with that one. The headphones themselves are very light, but the steel(?) through the headband makes them feel a bit tougher. I am not convinced that the plastic will stand up to being chucked into a bag every day, but if you take care of them they should last. The collapsing mechanism is excellent, as is the arm-length extender, though I am worried that these clock-into-place parts might wear down and no longer function over time. When folded up, these would almost fit into a shirt pocket! There is a supplied travel bag, though I don't see it offering any protection other than keeping them clean since it is a soft case.

Comfort wise there is not much to say other than that they are comfortable. I've worn them for periods of a few hours and only suffered mild discomfort, what with the plush ear and head padding. I think I would prefer it if the head padding went all the way across, rather than just being at the sides.

These are easy to drive from something like an iPod, though I find I need the volume a bit higher than I do with e.g. my Grado SR80s to get the same volume. The in-line volume control is a bit of an oddity; it doesn't feel like it will break at all, but I don't ever use it, just leave it at full.

Reading this you might be wondering why they haven't got 5 stars, since isolation is my only real problem and they are not marketed as a block-all headphone by any means. I like to reserve 5/5 for things that really are flawless (or as flawless as they can be). Taking into account RRP and my build-quality concerns I can't put a 5 down just yet. If they're still going strong in 2 years' time, I'll come back and change it to 5 (if I remember, and they are still in production).
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2011 1:55 PM BST

Price: £11.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As a Dance Gavin Dance fan, I love this album, 6 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Emarosa (Audio CD)
Being a Dance Gavin Dance fan, recommended Emarosa to me (same vocalist), and after listening to some previews I decided to purchase this album. Music is very subjective, so I find writing a long review difficult and it would probably not be of great use to anyone; all I will say is that fans of the lighter end of post-hardcore should probably get this album, and fans of Dance Gavin Dance should definitely buy it. The style is similar, and has the same amazing vocals. They're a bit lighter on the screamo, but for me that works. I'm limiting it to 4 stars because I reserve 5 for musical masterpieces, of which very few exist. If it was out of 10, I'd probably give this a 9.

Leeds, Harrogate, Wetherby and Pontefract (OS Explorer Map Active)
Leeds, Harrogate, Wetherby and Pontefract (OS Explorer Map Active)
by Ordnance Survey
Edition: Map

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just like any other OS map, and the lamiated cover is perfect, 6 Sept. 2010
Got this for finding new local (off-road) cycling routes, and it has been perfect. The laminated cover ('active map') means it's still usable in the rain, and being able to mark on and rub off routes using a whiteboard pen is a bonus. Amazon also sell these substantially cheaper than their usual sale price. My only criticism is that the laminate makes it somewhat harder to fold up into a different position.

Apple M9321G/B Mini DVI to DVI Adapter
Apple M9321G/B Mini DVI to DVI Adapter
Offered by TriStar Electronics Ltd
Price: £24.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says, but is expensive and large, 6 Sept. 2010
Firstly, I should state that I have had zero problems with this device performing its intended duty. I do, however, take issue with Apple charging me £15 for this adapter. It should also be noted that this is DVI-D (digital) only, so a passive DVI-to-VGA adapter on the end of this thing will do nothing. If you want to be able to hook your Mac up to a VGA port as well, you will also need to get the VGA equivalent of this.

Secondly, the size is not ideal (though unavoidable). While the small amount of cable is needed to get the bulky DVI end away from your USB and ethernet ports, it makes the whole thing rather big, which on my short desk can be a problem. Often, not being able to rest the whole adapter on the desk, it starts to bend or pull its way out of my Mac's Mini-DIV port.

These negatives aside, you don't really have any choice. If you need one, this is the only thing you can use, and like I stated at the beginning, functionally it is perfectly competent.

Belkin DVI Flat Panel Replacement Cable
Belkin DVI Flat Panel Replacement Cable

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect, but only if it's going to stay in one place, 6 Sept. 2010
Quality-wise, this cable is excellent. Very sturdy and I have had no problems with signal transmission. I'm using it to connect my MacBook to my monitor, when I have the laptop at my desk, and my only complaint would be that the cable is so thick as to make positioning it somewhat awkward. Now it has settled into place, however, that is no longer an issue. It still gets 5 stars, though, since it is such a minor niggle.

If you're looking for something to take around with you, I would try and find something thinner and probably shorter. For anyone wanting a decent, digital DVI cable to connect computer to screen, this is it.

Cable Mountain 3m Gold Plated Fibre Optic TOSlink Optical Cable with Gold Effect Casing
Cable Mountain 3m Gold Plated Fibre Optic TOSlink Optical Cable with Gold Effect Casing
Price: £5.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No need to spend more, 6 Sept. 2010
Just another one to add to the list of satisfied customers. I needed to connect my PS3 to my amp, since sound over HDMI with my set-up is unreliable. Optical was the next best thing, and I have to say that on my meagre equipment and with my layman-who-appreciates-some-quality hearing, I can only occasionally tell the difference between DTS-HD MA/Dolby TrueHD (which you need blu-ray and HDMI for) and the (usually higher bitrate than DVD) DTS/Dolby Digital tracks on my blu-rays. I'm sure there are those of you out there to whom the difference is night-and-day, but the jump from the lower bitrate you normally find on DVDs and the higher bitrate you get on blu-rays, thanks to the increased space, is about as much as my audible acuity will allow me to perceive.

With digital transmission, (audible) signal degradation/interference is essentially impossible. It either works like it should, or it is terrible/doesn't work at all (anyone with poor Freeview/digital radio reception, for example, will know what I am talking about). More important, to me, is that despite having been moved around a fair bit and been plugged in and out of several devices, the cable is still like knew. Particularly, there are no signs of wear at the plug ends.

If you want a decent 3m S/PDIF optical cable, look no further.

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