Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Now Hear This

Talking to Jonathan Levine, the founder of Master & Dynamic, about crystal clear sound, gorgeous product design and his appreciation for high quality audio products begins to sound like a symphony playing in peak performance mode. Levine isn't your typical audio company head. He can talk endlessly about his collection of vintage headphones and the impressive sound studio he built at the headquarters of Master & Dynamic.

While there are a lot of expensive headphones on the market that look cool, a lot of times the sound quality is lacking for true audiophiles. Levine, a man obsessed with quality, is on a mission to only prioritize sound and style in his products. Master & Dynamic is finding tremendous success by sticking to Levine's commitment at a time when an increasing number of companies, musicians and celebrities are churning out costly headphones for listening to music on airplanes or at the gym, or simply to wear as a fashion accessory.

I'm not a very musical person (you don't want to hear me sing), but I have a good ear for high quality audio and appreciate listening to music emanate through a speaker or headphones that makes me get the chills when the sounds is superior. One of my favorite things to do at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is to sample the different over-the-ear headphones and try to determine which companies have successfully figured out how to get the richest sound quality from different audio devices. I also enjoy being invited into private rooms to listen to great music be played flawlessly through high end speakers from companies like Bang & Olufsen, Thonet &Vander and Bose.

The legendary Neil Young famously laments that it's impossible to get truly high fidelity sound quality from MP3s in our post-vinyl music age, but audiophiles don't need Young's Pono player to be fulfilled today. There are countless options available for anyone looking for higher quality than the free white  earbuds packaged with all Apple products, but for those with discriminating taste in audio quality and willing to pay premium prices there are some truly impressive audio products on the market -- from wireless headphones to Bluetooth  earbuds and from dynamic sound bars to high powered sound systems.

Here are some high end products I had a chance to sample (check the Web for pricing).

Earin - If you appreciate the clear sound of music, but don't want to deal with the wires (even wireless Bluetooth headphones have a small wire) you will love Earin. The extraordinary high fidelity quality of these Swedish-made  earbuds will excite every audiophile. These earbuds are placed in your ears like ear plugs and are comfortable with a surprisingly high quality sound. The design is beautiful -- even the packaging -- and Earn won the 2016 iF Design Award. In terms of battery power, I was able to get a full 10 hours of use from a single charge. A bass boost is available by downloading the companion app for iOS or Android. https://www.earin.com

Bose SoundTouch 10 - At a time when everyone in the family has their own personal music player with headphones, I've begun to miss the sound of beautiful music throughout the house. Bose will bring that magic back with its wireless music system. The SoundTouch 10 is small, but able to stream millions of songs from music services including Spotify, which has partnered with Bose. Using your home Wi-Fi network and Bluetooth devices, you'll be able to play any sound imaginable and introduce your kids to new music. Your smartphone becomes the remote control with the mobile app. https://www.bose.com

Master & Dynamic MW60 - These are the headphones that sit next to my bed and make bedtime something to really look forward to. Listening to music through the MW60 headphones will honestly make you hear music differently. The sound quality is in a class by itself. When I recently walked around New York City wearing these I was stopped a couple times with inquiries. I gently explained that Master & Dynamic's headphones were the major leagues to Dre's minor league Beats. These wireless Bluetooth headphones are built with only the finest materials and provide a rich, warm sound with a beautiful stainless steel componentry. They are durable, stylish and worth every dollar. http://www.masterdynamic.com

Monster iSport SuperSlim - These are Monster's second version of a Bluetooth, in-ear headphones and athletes will love them. They boast a strong bass sound, are very comfortable and block out exterior noise very well. One of the features I appreciated the most is that they are very easy to clean. Like all Monster products, the sound quality is very crisp and 5 hours of battery life should be enough for a few runs around town and sessions at the gym. The SportClip earhook design adds comfort and makes it easier for these in-ears to stay firm without falling out. https://www.monsterproducts.com

B&OPlay H6 Over-Ear Headphones (2nd Generation) - B&OPlay is known internationally for its amazing, signature sound quality. These premium over-ear headphones with inline remote and microphone will please any audiophile. The talented engineers at B&OPlay put their magical touch on these products to create an authentic and well-balanced sound experience. In addition to the premium sound quality, the look and feel of these headphones is superior. From the lambskin leather to the lightweight aluminum, your friends will be envious of these headphones. http://www.beoplay.com

Thonet & Vander Ratsel BT - This high end European audio company claims the Ratsel BT is the most powerful 2.1 speaker ever created. And they're correct. Too often today people rely on the speakers from their television to produce adequate audio, but the native TV speakers just don't cut it. This high performance speaker is capable of playing the whole sound spectrum in detail and it will make you enjoy watching movies and television even more than you currently do. With its Bluetooth connection you can say goodbye to tacky looking cables and cords too. http://www.thonet-vander.us

Parrot Zik 3 - Parrot's Zik 3 wireless over-ear headphones are impressive for their topnotch noise cancellation and multifunction touch panel controls, but what is really noteworthy is their wireless charging ability. These stylish headphones will surely turn heads (my kids think my crocodile textured green pair look like the headphones the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles would wear). The Zik 3s are definitely the pair of noise canceling headphones you'll want to grab for long overseas flights because of the 18 hour battery life. For safety, a Street Mode setting allows you to listen to your music while also hearing outside sounds around you. Choosing from Concert Hall, Jazz Club, Living Room and Silent Room lets you fine tune your listening experience.

Samsung Wireless Soundbar - The slim profile of Samsung's soundbar is ideal for wall-mounting beneath a flat-panel TV. Available at Sears.com, this soundbar boasts 80 watts built-in amplification (160 watts for the subwoofer) with five different listening modes: Music, Voice, Sports, Cinema, and Standard. A convenient night mode prevents drastic changes in volume. The soundbar has both Dolby Digital and DTS decoding, and you can use the USB port to play digital music files from a thumb drive. http://www.sears.com

Cleer NC Noise Cancelling Headphone - The soft leather ear pads on cleer's over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones are beautifully designed and provide some crystal clear high-definition audio. The word silence keeps coming to mind as these are no doubt some of the best noise cancelling headphones you'll ever travel with on a plane. The active noise control isolates external environmental noise when listening to your favorite song or making a phone call by actively attenuating the external noise at a low frequency. Since our human ears hear less bass frequency at low sound levels than at high sound levels, the bottom–end bass frequencies tend to get lost when the volume level is reduced. To prevent this fall–out, cleer designed its PASC (Psycho–Acoustic Spectral Compensation) sound technology inside the digital signal processor to boost the bass levels by emphasizing low frequencies within the music. http://www.cleer.us

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