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I’m enough of a dinosaur to have witnessed the birth of stereo sound as a popular consumer medium. It was one of the biggest landmarks in the history of home audio, one that I felt would be permanent. Everything should be in stereo, right? Well, yes -- until Bluetooth speakers and miniaturization came along. Then we began to be presented with very small speakers that produced sound bigger than we ever expected -- monaural sound. This seemed to me a step backward -- though not nearly as bad, or as retrograde, as the virtual abandonment of surround sound.
Now, in an effort to make things right, HMDX has come up with the little Jam Plus wireless Bluetooth speaker ($59.99 USD), two of which can be paired to deliver . . . stereo.
Munitio, based in Woodinville, Washington, is not a company with which I was familiar before beginning this review. Now, having heard their Pro40 headphones, I’ll be tuned in the next time they release something new.
In the box
The Pro40s ($299 USD) come inside a hard carrying case, along with a braided microphone/control cable with a 3.5mm miniplug and three buttons, a carabineer, and a quick-start guide and warranty declaration.
The plastic carrying case is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s very solid, and should protect the Pro40s quite well. Inside is a mesh-covered compartment for carrying cables and accessories. It tucks easily under the arm, or could be thrown into a backpack or travel bag, or hung by the carbineer from a belt.
The Pro40s are a fairly standard design with adjustable arms that have minuscule detents: they can be adjusted to fit almost any size head. The earcups swivel slightly, using a technique Munitio calls Coda Axis in-line gimbal technology, to “allow a natural range of motion without disrupting speaker driver performance,” but the headphones do not fold. The Pro40s are nongloss black, except for a raised white logo on each side at the bottom of the headband, and a gold (or silver) ring around the exterior of each earcup. There’s an embossed logo on each earcup, though this is black and doesn’t stand out nearly as much as it does in photos. Markings on the inside of the headband connector indicate the left and right channels. It strikes me that silver might be more effective than gold for the earcup bands. I was sent the gold ones, but the silver ones sure look sleek in the product photos! They also come in all black.
Wireless Bluetooth speakers have become the rage, and ever-inventive Logitech has come up with a new model that is distinctive in a number of ways and has only one minor flaw.
The appearance of the Z600 speakers ($149.99 USD per pair) is bold and striking -- they look like miniatures of the mammoth cooling towers of a nuclear power plant. They stand 9.5” high, with a diameter of 4” at the bottom and 2.75” at the top. The left tower weights about 21 ounces, the right tower 23 ounces. Both seem solidly built.
Except for an exposed white strip at the back, the white plastic bodies of the speakers are covered with a silver-gray fabric that complements Apple’s Mac computers and laptops more than it does the average PC. On the white strip on the back of the right speaker is a column of what appear to be four buttons. From the top: a Bluetooth pairing button, a power button, and then what look like two more buttons, but are actually covers for a USB port and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack. (These need to be pried off with a paper clip.) The only other control is one you don’t see at all: to change volume, you run your finger around the top of the right Z600. A flat, no-tangle power cord protrudes from the bottom rear of each speaker -- though the Z600s get their music signals wirelessly, they need to be plugged into an AC outlet.
I’ve reviewed several headphones about the size of JVC’s HA-M55X Xtreme Xplosives, and most of them came with bells and whistles: carrying case, detachable cables, inline controls, and more. I wondered what it might be like to save money by buying a pair of basic over-the-ears headphones and using the controls of my iPod Touch rather than any on the headphones themselves.
The HA-M55Xes are packaged in a box that’s black except for the bright-red XX Xtreme Xplosives logo; through a wraparound plastic window, you can see the earcups. The simple hype on the box is for the 50mm drivers and an extreme-deep-bass port.
Inside are the headphones, bright red cables already permanently attached, with a warranty card and a page of warnings. There’s no user manual (you can get one online), or plug adapter for making the 3.5mm iPhone-compatible plug fit an older 1/4” jack, and no case. You do get a low price. The HA-M55Xes cost $49.95 USD, but for slightly more you can get the HA-MR55Xes, which have an inline remote control. Or double the price and get the larger HA-MR77Xes, which have 57mm drivers and the inline remote control. The XX line also includes two in-ear models.
Sometimes, when I’m not inundated with review samples, I go browsing in stores to see what’s new. This month’s expedition turned up G-Project’s G-Go wireless speaker. I was interested primarily because the box claimed it to be “water resistant,” and while I’m very happy with Grace Digital’s waterproof ECOXBT Bluetooth speaker, I’m always looking for something better.
In the box
The G-Project G-Go ($69.99 USD) comes packaged with an AC power cord, a 3.5mm cord for connecting accessories, and an instruction manual. The speaker itself, made of plastic and a rubberized material, weighs 2.4 pounds and measures 10”H x 5”W (at the base) x 4”D. It comes in black, white, or metallic blue, and looks and feels quite rugged. The two drivers are in the front, giving the G-Go the look of a miniature tower speaker. The drivers are exposed, but each is protected by two strips of solid, clear plastic. Above the top driver are two LEDs: the one on the left is white; a steady glow indicates that the G-Go is powered up, and it flashes when the battery is low, the music has been paused, or a volume button has been pressed. This LED also indicates which of the EQ button’s four settings has been selected: EQ1 (Flat), EQ2 (Rock), EQ3 (Pop), or EQ4 (Jazz). You can tell which you’ve selected by the number of times the white LED flashes. The blue LED on the right flashes during pairing with a Bluetooth device: it glows steadily when that process has been completed.
After being generally happy with the Logitech UE Smart Radio as a music player but unhappy with its performance as a clock radio, I thought I’d scope out the direct competition -- Grace Digital’s Mondo Wi-Fi music player and Internet radio. The two models share some common functionality, look very similar, and are priced identically at $179.99 USD, but each has its quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Unpacking and description
The Mondo comes safely cushioned with Styrofoam spacers inside an attractive box, along with a remote control (batteries included), an AC power adapter, and an RCA-to-mini cable for connection to an iPhone, MP3 player, or CD player.
The Mondo measures 9.75”W x 5.75”H x 3.5”D and weighs six pounds. Like the UE Smart Radio, the Grace is made of glossy black (or white) plastic. The left half of the front panel is a black grille that covers the two drivers and bears Grace Digital’s logo near the bottom. In the upper part of the right half is the 3.5” screen. Below this are buttons for various radio functions, and below them is a large control button, flanked on either side by the Back and Power buttons. Between all this and the grille is a column of buttons; from top to bottom, these are: Home, Now Playing, five Presets, and, at the bottom, a Shift button that gives you five more presets. All of these buttons are flush with the case. In one of the biggest departures from the UE Smart Radio, the volume control protrudes from the Mondo’s top edge. Next to it is a Snooze button.
The market for commuter headphones -- less than full size, but more substantial than earbuds -- continues to grow. Recently, Jabra has added two headphone models that can keep up with other leading brands due to innovative design and good craftsmanship. The Revo comes in wireless ($249.99 USD) and wired ($199.99) models. Here I review the wireless model.
The Revos’ plastic box promises “massive wireless sound” and ensures the buyer that the headphones within are “engineered with solid materials.” The box also contains a USB cable, a 1.2m audio cable with a 3.5mm plug, a quick-start guide, and a code for activating the Jabra app. There’s also a soft, flimsy case; headphones of this quality deserve better.
The Revos’ design is simple yet striking: black and gray with orange highlighting. The headband is of shatterproof plastic with steel hinges, and adjustable aluminum calipers that hold the solid plastic-and-foam earcups. The headband is comfortably lined, and the earcups are cushioned with memory foam. The finely braided cables have solid connectors at either end, and are orange to match the accents on the earcups.
Everything about the Revos feels solid, from the ’phones themselves to the cables. Jabra claims to have dropped the headphones from a height of 6’ 6”, fold-tested the hinges 3500 times, and bend-tested the headband 10,000 times. They also tested the cables to withstand a pull force of 33 pounds, and tested everything for resistance to dirt, temperature, and humidity. Built to last, the Revos felt as if they’d do just that. Jabra says they were “designed to be used and abused.” I’ll take their word for it.
Nearly two years ago, I was introduced to Grace Digital when I reviewed the company’s Eco Extreme powered waterproof iPod case and loudspeaker. I was struck by the attention to detail and the Eco Extreme’s user-friendliness. It not only did what it was supposed to, it was fun to use, and at an almost unbelievably low price: $49.99 USD.
Since then, Grace has introduced more items in what it now calls its ECOXGEAR line of products. The latest, the ECOXBT Bluetooth speaker ($129.99), can accompany you literally anywhere. It has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and is shock resistant and waterproof. It floats.
Logitech shocked its followers and fans some months ago by announcing its new Ultimate Ears (UE) line of products and the discontinuation of its Squeezebox models. Owners of the Squeezebox Touch were up in arms, even though Logitech has promised continued support of all Squeezebox models. The UE Smart Radio seems something of a peace offering -- it’s very similar to the Squeezeboxes in many ways -- but the biggest problem is that the UE models use a different operating system from the Squeezeboxes, making them largely incompatible with each other. The UE Smart Radio will more likely sell to new buyers than to returning Squeezebox customers.
One important fact: The UE Smart Radio requires a Wi-Fi network.
The boombox was introduced to the US in the mid-1970s, after enjoying great success in Japan. Boomboxes usually had at least two speakers (often more), AM/FM tuners, and played cassettes and, later, CDs. They operated on battery power or could be plugged into the wall, and were portable, though the ones we usually think of were very large and heavy. They became synonymous with “loud,” and were featured on TV and in many films. My favorite reference is in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, in which Spock subdues a bus passenger whose boombox is loud to the point of pain.
As physical media continue to die on the vine, one of the ways portable sound has transformed is into the combination of a speaker and a controlling device, usually an iPhone or iPod, that communicate via Bluetooth. Logitech has entered the race with the UE Boombox speaker ($249.99 USD), which arrives with equal numbers of pluses and minuses.