I Forgot How Bad Apple’s EarPods (not AirPods) Sound

EarpodsAs you may know, Apple announced their new wireless AirPods on Wednesday. You can read my thoughts by clicking that previous link. Yesterday, Doug Adams and I were recording an episode of your podcast The Next Track, where we discussed Apple’s new product announcements, and the removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone. Before the show, I went to my storage room to pull out a pair of EarPods. I haven’t used these for years, and, in fact, I haven’t used them at all, since they don’t fit in my ears. I tried them when they were first launched, and put them back in the box.

But I took out a pair yesterday, wondering how they sounded. Back in the day, I did use Apple’s earbuds when I went out walking, and I recall that they were weak, but acceptable for a small, lightweight headphone to listen to on the go. But after a while, discovered the excellent Sennheiser PX 100-II i headphones. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) These small, light, on-ear headphones have an inline remote and microphone, and I use them often, when walking, when recording podcasts, and when making phone calls at home. They also fold, so they’re practical for listening anywhere. They have excellent sound, and even decent bass response.

But back to the EarPods. They sounded horrible. Like AM radio, but worse. Even the cheap headphones I used with a Walkman in the early 1980s sounded better. I was truly surprised how bay they sounded.

This is interesting, because, while Apple touted the pairing abilities of the new AirPods, they didn’t say much about the sound quality. Pairing is important, but sound quality should be the benchmark by which they are judged.

Christina Warren, writing for Gizmodo, tried them out, and said:

Let me put it this way: AirPods sound way better than wired EarPods. I know that isn’t saying much, but it’s worth noting when you consider that the design is very, very similar.

Sounding “way better” is probably not good enough for something at this price. I’m curious to see what others say about these AirPods. We won’t really know for a while, since they won’t be released until October. But given the poor quality of Apple’s EarPods, I guess the bar isn’t set very high.

Apple just demonstrated why people hate the tech industry – Yahoo Finance

No, the headphone jack is not the new floppy disk. Or the new CD or DVD, the new 30-pin Dock connector or the new FireWire port.

Excising the headphone jack from its new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus isn’t like those other rounds of enforced obsolescence. Apple (AAPL) killed a technology that’s worked fine for decades and left you with solutions that are costlier or more complex and work no better at the core function of delivering sound to your ears.

The new models are no thinner than last year’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, so it’s not as if Apple had no choice here. The company would like you to think of this deliberate downgrade–to quote marketing vice president Phil Schiller’s facepalm-inducing remark at Thursday’s event–as “courage.”

The correct word is “arrogance.”

Rob Pegoraro sums up the technical reasons for removing the headphone jack. In short, there are none. And he reminds us that, in the end, this is all about money:

Lightning headphones from third parties will also carry the hidden Apple tax of the company’s “MFi” licensing and certification program. The Cupertino, Calif., firm doesn’t disclose how much it collects from the sale of each Lightning device, but past reports have put it at $4 a pop.

Yep.

Source: Apple just demonstrated why people hate the tech industry

Apple’s AirPod Mistake

AirpodsYesterday Apple introduced AirPods. What a mistake.

While I appreciate the uniqueness of these headphones, I predict that in a year or two, they’ll have gone the way of the gold Apple Watch Edition.

You know how you’re walking or running and one of your earbuds falls out? You grab the cord, reel it in, and put it back in your ear. And then you go on walking or running. With AirPods, one of them will fall out, and you’ll watch as someone steps on it, or as it falls down a subway grating.

I can also see that, as you get on a bus or subway, someone grabs at one of your AirPods to snatch it, and you’re listening only to one channel of music for the rest of the day.

It is admirable, nay, courageous, to introduce a product this unique. But it simply won’t work. There is an advantage to having a wire between the two ends.

A lot of people are criticizing the 5-hour battery life. That’s not really a problem, since the case contains a battery, and brings to total battery life to 24 hours. I have a Bluetooth headset (one ear only, for calls) that works like that; its case has a battery, giving it several days of battery life. It’s a good idea.

No, the real problem is the fact that they’ll be so easy to lose. I can’t understand why Apple would release a product like this. Unless it’s just because they can.

Apple: Jacks Off iPhone 7

“Courage.”

That’s what Apple’s Phil Schiller said was behind Apple’s removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone 7.

We’ve been talking about this for more than a year, and I had pretty much resigned myself to accepting the company’s boneheaded decision, and living with yet another dongle (though I hadn’t planned to buy an iPhone 7, and I still don’t plan to do so).

But when Phil Schiller said “Courage,” that flipped my bits.

Courage is refusing to move to the back of the bus, not removing a connector so you can force companies to pay licensing fees to use yours.

What Apple did is remove a technology that works very well, and has for some time, and replace it with something they control. Saying the technology is old, therefore not good any more, is puerile. They haven’t replaced the AC power plug, most likely invented by Thomas Edison. They haven’t replaced pushbuttons on the side of the phone. They haven’t replaced the keyboards on their computers.

Now, you’ll probably say “but the floppy disk…” And I’m tired of that comparison. The floppy disk was a storage medium that was inadequate. At the time, I recall often having to split compressed archives to fit them on multiple floppy disks, and I was already using Zip disks for backups. Everyone wanted a replacement for the floppy disk. I don’t know many iPhone users or music listeners who want the headphone jack to go away.

Yes, with a digital output over the lightning port you can allow headphones to do signal processing and offer better sound. Currently, there are so headphones that do this, at price points that rival those of the iPhone itself. But you can do that with the lightning port anyway; you don’t need to remove the headphone jack. And only the 1% of music listeners care about that kind of headphone. Anyway, if you’re listening to music on an iPhone outdoors, you won’t hear the difference between audiophile headphones and average headphones.

The headphone jack has one advantage: it’s very good at what it does. It’s a simple technology, and an adaptation of Occam’s razor says that the simplest technology is often the best. It’s also ubiquitous. You know that you can connect a headphone to just about any audio device in the world. The only exception is hifi amplifiers and receivers which still use the larger 1/4″ headphone jack; you do need a convertor for that, but if you have large headphones, they generally come with the smaller jack plus a converter.

So now “courageous” Apple bundles a dongle with the iPhone. Another little gadget that people will lose and have to buy again. (To Apple’s credit, it only costs $9.) But if they use wired headphones, they’ll be using that inadequate technology called the lightning connector. Because lightning cables are anything but robust. They split at the cable-to-jack connector, and the metal nib breaks off. This happens far more often than headphone cables breaking.

And you can no longer charge your iPhone while using its headphones. But, hey, Apple has their new AirPods.

The Next Track, Episode #5 – Headphones or Speakers?

The Next Track Blue Flat Button2 400pxIn episode #5 of The Next Track, Doug Adams and Kirk McElhearn take a quick look at the new features coming to Apple Music, and then discuss how we listen to music with headphones and speakers. What’s the best kind of headphones? When should you use speakers? Why not use both (not at the same time, of course)?

Listen to The Next Track: Episode #5 — Headphones or Speakers?.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at The Next Track website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast, to keep up to date with new episodes, and new articles from the website.

An iPhone without a headphone jack? No way!

Every now and then an Apple rumor takes on a life of its own. Websites start treating it as fact and speculation starts on whether the new product/feature/change is a good idea. Michael Simon did just that this week when he wrote about the current rumor that Apple may remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. He thinks it’s a great idea. I think it would be terrible.

This rumor is not new. It started in June 2014 when Apple released specifications for using the lightning port for audio. Back then, pundits imagined a future without headphone jacks. While Apple didn’t remove the jack, headphone manufacturers were able to create headphones with advanced features such as an onboard DAC (digital-analog converter). So far, there is one headphone–Phillips’ Fidelio M2L–that uses this technology.

It’s hard to imagine that Apple would remove the headphone jack…

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

On the Recurring Rumor that Apple Is Getting Rid of the iPhone Headphone Jack

The rumor is back again that Apple is getting rid of the headphone jack on the iPhone, to “make the iPhone thinner.” Based on a rumor on one Japanese site, every Mac and iPhone site is reporting that this is a done deal.

Remember last year, when Apple introduced specifications which allow headphones to use the lightning port? All the some websites ran articles saying how Apple was getting rid of the headphone jack. Turns out they didn’t. A couple of companies introduced headphones that can use the lightning port to grab digital music streams, and convert them using DACs in the headphones. But have you ever seen any of these? While it’s an interesting concept, it hasn’t taken off. (These are the only ones I’ve been able to find that are for sale currently.)

I doubt many people bought these headphones. Because, as I said last year:

Would you buy headphones that you can only use on Apple devices? I wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy such headphones. Why spend money on good headphones — because these specs aren’t talking about earbuds — and not be able to use them on other devices?

But the rumor is back again. Because removing the headphone jack can make the iPhone thinner. No matter that the iPod touch, which has a headphone jack, is only 6.1 mm thick (the iPhone 6s is 7.1 mm.) Or the iPod nano – yes, that’s still being sold – is a mere 5.4 mm thick. (Lets also remember that the iPhone’s camera lens sticks out from the case.)

This rumor makes no sense. Apple certainly isn’t planning to make the iPhone thinner than the iPod touch, if only because the iPhone needs room for a bigger battery. So if they can make an iOS device that’s 6.1 mm thick with a standard headphone jack, they won’t be getting rid of it any time soon. Because the inconvenience of requiring that people use an adapter, or buy new headphones, is just huge.

Also, I don’t think the lightning connector puts out analog audio. In other words, an adapter would be needed with a DAC (digital-analog converter). Perhaps Apple can create a way to use certain of the pins on the lightning connector to carry the analog audio, but I don’t know the specs of the lightning connector well enough.

Anyway, if Apple wanted a slimmer headphone jack, they already own this patent.

However, it’s not crazy to think that Apple is planning to replace the lightning connector with a USB-C connector. That won’t happen in the immediate future – lots of people already got burned buying docks using the 30-pin dock connector, and it’s not a good idea to shake up the accessory market again so soon – but it’s certainly in the cards, now that USB-C can handle Thunderbolt 3.

Note: a few people have suggested that this is no different from the removal of the floppy drive or the optical drive from Macs. That’s not correct; it’s very different. The floppy and optical drives were for reading and writing data. They involved using relatively inexpensive media for that purpose. Switching to a different form of media certainly had an effect, but it’s far different from telling people that their listening hardware, which could cost several hundred dollars (such as if it’s a Beats headphone) would no longer work without an adapter. And that if you did buy an accessory that works with the connector, then you wouldn’t be able to use it with other devices, such as amplifiers, mixers, etc.

Big Discount on Refurb Beats Solo HD Headphones

Beats solo hdI’m not a big fan of Beats headphones, but I know a lot of people like them. The company – well, Apple – is running a discount on refurb Beats Solo HD headphones. They’re only $99; check out the offer here.

The colors may not be exactly what you want: they’re available in light blue, green, purple, and white.

Here’s the manufacturer’s description:

Beats, the universal symbol for sonic perfection. The iconic reflective logo shines around the world, and beneath that flawless exterior lies superior sound down to every detail. These Solo HD headphones distinctly feature a matching cord, headband, and ear cups, and rock unique, bold, colors through and through. With a tri-fold design for easy portability, they’re truly best-in-class headphones for every day – you can’t beat it, don’t even try.

  • Features extremely high-definition quality, clear sound & deep bass
  • Includes titanium-coated driver technology for accurate music reproduction
  • Made of quality durable & flexible material for the perfect fit
  • Folds down to a compact, travel-friendly size w/ tri-fold design
  • Includes a built-in mic for on-the-go calls
  • Includes an in-line controller for adjusting tracks & volume
  • Cancels ambient noise w/ active noise control
  • Supports all-day comfort
  • 60-Day Defect Replacement Supplier Warranty

Three Alternatives to Beats Solo2 Headphones

Beats headphones have achieved a level of notoriety based on their style, but the sound they offer isn’t for everyone. Often touted as headphones for urban music–rap and hip-hop–the Beats sound doesn’t transfer well to all genres.

It just so happens Apple is giving new Mac buyers a free pair of Beats Solo2 headphones as part of its back to school campaign. But it’s worth investing in headphones that offer better sound quality. (Maybe you can sell the Solo2 headphones and use that money for a different pair.)

I found the Beats Solo2 to be comfortable, and to offer good noise isolation, but, as for the sound…while some music sounds excellent–Bob Dylan with an acoustic guitar, for example–most music doesn’t. The bass booms, overwhelming much of the music, in what sounds like an artificially equalized sound. It’s as though I pushed the loudness button on my amp, then turned down the treble. Sometimes these headphones make it sound like you’re in the bathroom of a club, listening to music through the walls. The bass can be so overwhelming that it drowns out much of the rest of the music.

I tried three other wired, on-ear headphones, at a similar price as the Beats Solo 2. I tested these headphones with a wide variety of music, from Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, to Miles Davis (both acoustic and electric) and Brad Mehldau’s piano trio, as well as with classical music, from solo instruments to string quartets and orchestral works.

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.