Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hands On: Able Planet's Clear Harmony Headphones

My mother always told me I'd regret procrastinatng. For months I've had Able Planet's $349 Clear Harmony headphones sitting on my desk, waiting for me to get around to trying them out. Last month, I finally opened the package. I wish I'd done it sooner. The headphones use Able Planet's Linx Audio technology, which was originally designed for the hard of hearing; it not only reduces outside noise, it amplifies higher frequencies in the audio. Applied to headphones, the result is something that's useful for people with normal hearing as well. Think of it as preventive aural maintenace. When the ambient noise is so drastically diminished and the audio you're listening to is selectively boosted, you don't have to turn the volume up as high to hear clearly. In a few random tests where I switched between fairly good Sony earbuds and the Clear Harmony headphones, I was surprised to discover how much I'd turned up my iPod to hear music clearly on the earbuds. Keeping things at a lower volume with the headphones meant I was subjecting my ears to less stress, and incidentally reducing power demands on the iPod. I've been using the headphones in a variety of environments, such as mowing the lawn (the reason I finally put them on) and riding on trains, buses and planes. The large cans seal my ears in nicely, shutting out a lot of the ambient noise on their own; turning on the noise-cancelling circuitry -- the headphones are powered by two AA batteries -- takes care of almost everything else. I'd recommend the Clear Harmony headphones for anyone who regularly listens to music out of the house, needs a little peace and quiet in noisy environments (even without music playing, the headphones form a nice little audio cocoon), or just values their hearing. There are, however, two caveats, aside from the high price: one is that after a few hours, they can get a little uncomfortable; the second is that they do too good a job of blocking outside sound -- wearing them while walking down the street would conceivably be a safety hazard.

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