Tech, Autos, & Gear in Layman's Terms Since 2006

January 30, 2008 • Reviews

Review: The AirDrive Hybrid Stereo Earphones — Shattering the Cone of Silence

I have reviewed a number of different higher end headphones, both here and at Just Another Mobile Monday. For the most part, these headphones have involved cramming a small speaker as deeply into your ear as possible, in order to a) block outside noise, and isolate you within the music; and b) get the music as close to your ear drum as possible. Given this background, you can imagine why I was a bit skeptical of the AirDrives. After so much time cramming things into my ear canals, it was strange to find earphones which instructed, “if the earphone blocks the ear canal in any way, the placement is not correct.”

These were going to be an adjustment for sure. Not only would I have to change my wearing patterns, but also my expectations. Not only was I used to cramming earphones deep into my ear canals, but I was also used to intentionally blocking outside noises. So, I was a bit perplexed when I read the AirDrive box, which brags about allowing you to hear outside noises and interact with others while listening. Huh?? Why would I want that? Typically, I put on my headphones in order to intentionally seal myself off from the outside world, wrapping the music around me like a cocoon. Then again, I started thinking about all of the times when I want to listen to music, but I can’t because I have to be aware of outside noises…like my children. OK, I thought. This is starting to make sense. I can listen for the kids (who are supposed to be sleeping) and hear the music at the same time. Let’s give them a try.

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Well, that is, we will give them a try just as soon as I free them from their vacuum sealed, blister pack prison.

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I have no idea why we still need to use these finger slicing packages. But we do. OK. A few swipes with the scissors (and only one swipe from my finger) later and we are ready to roll.

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The headphones themselves are an over the ear design, similar to most common Bluetooth headsets. They are connected via a standard headphone cord, with a sliding junction. This means, you can slide the junction up the cord until it is snug around your chin, or loosen it until it is comfortable. The cord will always be set perfectly for you.

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Further down the cable is a volume slider (above). I found that in order to hear through the headphones, I almost always had to crank this volume slider all the way up “to 11“. As a result, the volume slider rarely got used. Finally, the cable ends in a 3.5 mm standard headphone plug, meaning it will work with just about any portable media player. Also in the package is a small pouch style case.

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The cable itself is just a standard headphone cable. Nothing special here. I did find, however, that the cable, along with the over the ear design meant constant entanglements. No matter how careful I was, even if I used the included case, the cables ended up in a tangled heap, meaning I had to spend a significant amount of time untangling them before they were ready for use. This is a real irritant for me. The headphone industry (if there is such a thing) as a whole seems to have become increasingly more aware of cable tangles, and had seemed to be making great strides in preventing this from occurring. The AirDrives seemed to make no effort to even acknowledge that this would be a problem. I was extremely disappointed by the amount of time I had to spend untangling this cable. In fact, these would do well to eliminate the cords entirely, and connect wirelessly via Bluetooth to your media player.

OK. Back on track. I think I spent more time than I meant to on the cable tangles. Sorry about that. The phones themselves are what makes the AirDrives so unique. As I mentioned, unlike most earphones which could double as ear cleaners, these never actually enter or even approach your ear canal. To use them, simply tuck them over your ears. The back of each stem is flexible and can be bent to secure it on your ear. The front of the phones, where the speaker is located will rest just OUTSIDE your ear. Yes, you heard that right. It rests outside and in front of your ear. So, it does not cover, enter, seal, or otherwise come anywhere close to your ear canal.

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By way of comparison, on the left are a pair of standard in-ear headphones. On the right are the AiDrive earphones. You can see how the ear canal is completely exposed. Call me skeptical, but I simply do not see how this can work. I mean, the music is sitting outside your ear. Surely, the music will be drowned out as every noise around you zips right past it, like a bully in the lunch line, making a beeline for your ear canal. Right? Well, not so much. I was extremely surprised and impressed to find that the music was not completely drowned out by outside noise. At the same time, I was impressed that I could hear outside noises extremely clearly, even with the music a little louder than recommended. It was almost as though these earphones found a way to make the music and noise co-exist. The best way I could describe it is to think of anyone who has music playing in their office. You enter their office and maybe you notice the music in the background, but it does not overpower the situation. And even though it is easy to be heard over the music, you are always aware of it it in the background.

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So, now it was time for the real test. I wore them while walking through the mean streets of Washington, D.C. Traffic moving, horns honking. People yelling. The works. While these headphones did not create the musical cone of silence that the in the ear variety would have created, I never lost track of the music. I did find, however, that it is difficult to carry on a conversation with while listening to music with the AirDrives. While I could clearly discern that someone was talking to me, the music was too close to my ears and too distracting to really be able to hear individual words. Still, a small price to pay.

Overall, despite my skepticism, I was extremely impressed by the AirDrives. In fact, I can see them forcing me into a two headphone situation. Keeping the in-the-ear variety for those times when I want to completely zone out of my surroundings; but also using the AirDrives on the train and at times when I need to be more cognizant of the people around me. And, of course, most of the people around me appreciate that as well.

What I liked: Comfortable fit. Great sound quality. Allowed outside noise and environmental sounds in without blocking the music.

What Needs Improvement: They need better cord management or a wireless (Bluetooth) design. Blister packs have got to go.

Where to Purchase: www.airdrives.com

Price: $99.00

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