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Review: AKG K845BT Over-Ear Bluetooth Headset

Synchros S300i is effectively a fully wired version of the wireless S400BT. While the designs aren’t completely identical, they have a lot in common: plasticky circular earcups that straddle the line between “on-ear” and “over-ear” by using soft padded cushions to isolate your canals, held together with a padded steel headband that has 12 ratchet-locked steps of adjustability per side. This model’s JBL branding is thankfully much smaller than S400BT’s, but the combination of metal and plastic components is otherwise highly similar, albeit here with four different color combinations — red or blue with black or white — to choose from. (JBL’s site claims six color options but doesn’t show the other two; we would suspect they’re all black or all white, which would be better than the somewhat cheap-looking colored accents on the other models.) An accent color-matched detachable cable includes a just-slightly-too-high three-button remote and microphone unit, as well as a detachable shirt clip. S300i’s zippered carrying case is much like S400BT’s, as well.

Our review of the then-$300 Synchros S400BT had one primary complaint: we mentioned that the sound was bass- and midrange-forward, with respectable rather than pronounced treble, and no major distortion issues. Although we described the sound as “quite good,” we noted that it was on par with and therefore not worthy of a $100 premium over a rival pair of Bluetooth headphones from Scosche. That problem has effectively been resolved with Synchros S300i: you’re getting the same basic sonic performance at half the S400BT’s original price, and losing only Bluetooth functionality in the process. While the audio drivers in Synchros S300i haven’t been ideally optimized — they open up their mids and highs only above the 50% volume mark — they sound good enough for $150, and will be appreciated by fans of bassy music.

AKG’s K845BT is a different story — it’s effectively what the Synchros S400BT should have been for $300. While the basic design elements aren’t terribly different between those models, AKG’s little implementation details are better: K845BT makes good use of metal, has fewer and cleaner lines, and the earcups are larger. While the size difference isn’t night and day, AKG’s earcups do actually surround your ears fully rather than resting the “protein leather” pads on your outer ears, reducing pressure and discomfort during longer listening sessions. The AKG branding is far less conspicuous, and you still get the micro-USB recharging cable and 3.5mm audio cable in the package. All you give up relative to S400BT is a carrying case; K845BT’s earcups swivel inwards to fold flatter, but aren’t designed to further compact or really be carried around. This lack of travel-readiness is really the only way in which AKG’s version falls behind JBL’s.

That’s something of a shame, because K845BT is otherwise really fun to use on the go. The wireless range we achieved between the headphones and an iPhone 5s was remarkable — we were able to walk four rooms away, complete with obstructions, before we noticed any breakup in the audio signal. On the other hand, K845BT’s controls are somewhat limited; AKG has dispensed with the gimmicky gesture controls found on S400BT in favor of simple volume, play/pause, and power buttons hidden underneath the right earcup. There are no Siri or track controls, which might be an issue if you plan to walk far away from your iOS device with the headphones on. Although the adjacent integrated microphone does work for phone calling, callers described us as a little muffled by comparison with the neck-mounted mics in Apple’s cabled earphones — not bad, just not as clear.

Sonically, K845BT delivers a better wireless experience than S400BT: rather than skewing bass-heavy, AKG’s audio is balanced, with cleaner and more obvious treble offset by ample but more controlled bass. The 50mm drivers inside K845BT are larger than S400BT’s 40mm drivers, and the extra size actually helps here, reducing the dynamic range strain we sometimes hear when little speakers try to do more than they’re capable of. By Bluetooth headphone standards, the audio is most noteworthy because it sounds clean; only when audio goes completely silent will you briefly notice a tiny amount of amplifier noise. Imperfect though it may be, AKG definitely has static under control.

Both Synchros S300i and K845BT merit our strong general recommendation, but for different reasons. Synchros S300i is a pretty close to right-priced over-ear/on-ear wired headphone, with good sound, solid remote and mic performance, and travel convenience all on its side. While it’s not the best headphone of its type we’ve ever tested — Scosche’s RH656m/md still stands out in this regard — it’s a solid option that some users may prefer on comfort or bassy sonic balance. By contrast, K845BT sells for twice the price but delivers a markedly better experience in a variety of ways — superior sound quality, comfort, and some of the best wireless performance we’ve found in a Bluetooth headphone.

New feature allows Google Glass users to read iPhone text messages

Apple Loop: iOS 7.1 Adoption, SXSW, Smartwatch Patents, Japanese Marketshare, and Flappy Bird

Mar 15 2014

Keeping you in the loop on a few of the very many things…

Google Glass now displays your iPhone's text messages

On the heels of last week’s KitKat update, Google Glass nabbed up two more notable improvements today. First, iOS users can now have their text messages displayed on Glass, after a quick toggle of the Bluetooth settings. Here’s the catch: “due to some limitations with iOS,” you wont be able to reply to those messages directly from the headset. There’s also a new Calendar Glassware that situates an agenda to the left of the home screen. Tapping a card in that timeline will allow you edit title, time, location and even RSVP. If you’d rather just skip those festivities altogether, you can delete events or hide them from view. Both of the new features are said to be rolling out to early adopters “in the next few days,” so keep your eyes peeled.

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Google Glass to get iPhone SMS support later this week

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New Calendar Glassware will display upcoming agendas

People pairing Google Glass with an iPhone will get promised SMS support “in the next few days,” according to Google. Because of the closed nature of iOS, iPhone owners won’t actually be able to send texts from Glass. They will, however, be able to receive notifications on their headset. To enable the option people will have to go into an iPhone’s Bluetooth settings, and turn on “Show Notifications” for the paired hardware. Android users already have full SMS support.

On Glass itself, Google says it will soon add new Calendar Glassware, which will be enabled via the MyGlass app for iOS and Android. Toggling it on will display an agenda to the left of the homescreen. Tapping on a calendar card will let people edit event details — such as name, time, location, and RSVP status — or delete an event entirely.


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Smart headphones could be the smartglasses for the rest of us

What if your headphones were smart enough to know where you are, which direction you are facing and could play 3D sounds capable of giving you directions – without the need for a screen or glasses strapped to your face?

The Intelligent Headset from Danish audio specialists GN can do just that using built-in sensors that relay information to a smartphone or tablet and allow the headset to know where and what you are facing at any time.

“It took us under two years to develop the headphones, which are based on our sister company Jabra’s Bluetooth headphones, upgraded with a gyroscope, GPS and compass integrated into the top band,” said Lars Johansen, one of the developers of the Intelligent Headset.

Wearable technology, hidden in plain sight

The headphones do not obviously look like a piece of wearable smart technology, unlike smartglasses like Google Glass. The only sign that they are more than Bluetooth headphones is a small lump in the headband that contains the extra sensors and electronics.

Intelligent Headset
Intelligent Headset Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

“They connect via Bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet and allow us to use 3D positional audio to give the wearer real-time audio feedback on their actions or location – they’re like an audio version of Google Glass,” explained Johansen.

Like Google Glass, the Intelligent Headset has a lot of potential for all sorts of innovative uses in audio and gaming, but also in navigation and support for blind people.

Gaming, walking, touring and talking

While GN has opened up the Headset to developers, and is currently seeking “killer apps”, its in-house developers like Johansen have already come up with some very interesting applications.

Intelligent Headset Zombie X game
Intelligent Headset Zombie X game Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Johansen has developed an iPhone game called Zombie X, which uses 3D-spatial audio to simulate an immersive zombie attack in a 360-degree space around the wearer. Players have to pinpoint the direction of the attack using audio alone. As the player rotates, the direction of the audio source changes, and once the zombie is right in front of them hitting a button will fire a gun and take the beast down.

Other applications being demonstrated included an audio tour of a museum, which explained to the wearer what they were looking at with the touch of a button. Some exhibits emitted sounds associated with their function, like the sounds of water pouring for a fountain or the puffs of steam for an engine, allowing the wearer to pinpoint the attraction’s location by the direction the sound source.

Intelligent Headset audio tour
Intelligent Headset audio tour Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

GN’s 3D-audio technology also allows immersive music listening experiences. Wearers can walk through an orchestra, for instance, and hear the individual instruments pass them by. The headset could also recreate a concert, where it sounds like the user is standing in the middle of the crowd.

‘Something smaller, more discrete’

Besides entertainment, GN sees applications for helping blind or partially sighted people with navigation, using directional audio cues to indicate which way they need to move or where a building is, like an audio version of satellite navigation.

The headset is still in development, but pre-orders are available now costing $420 and shipping in July this year.

• Google Glass – wearable tech, but would you actually wear it?

Sound World Solutions introduces first Bluetooth Series personal sound amplifier, CS10

Sound World Solutions announces the availability of the CS50, the company’s second model in the technologically advanced Bluetooth Series of personal sound amplifiers. The CS50 features an Apple iOS 7-compatible customizer app, enabling users to adjust sound performance from an iPhone.

The CS50 is designed for consumers who need occasional help hearing but don’t want a hearing aid. Also functioning as a high-quality Bluetooth headset for mobile phones, it will operate up to 15 hours on its rechargeable battery. In addition, it can stream a variety of audio sources including music, audio books and podcasts. The CS50 features improved directionality for listening assistance in noisy environments, such as restaurants.

“Directionality is the only way to improve intelligibility in noisy environments,” said Dr. Stavros Basseas, co-founder and president of Sound World Solutions. “We are very pleased with how much background noise the algorithms of the CS50 can attenuate. It is dramatically better than even our previous product.”

Out of the box, users can adjust volume and access settings designed for specific environments. They can also toggle between three preset amplification profiles. The device allows even greater personalization using a free app for Apple iOS 7, Android, Windows or Mac OS X. The app walks users through a short personalization program to create a customized sound profile. The app also has an equalizer that allows users to adjust treble, mid-range and bass frequencies to further personalize their sound.

Sound World Solutions Introduces New CS50 iPhone-Compatible Personal Sound Amplifier

PARK RIDGE, Ill., April 17, 2014 /PRNewswire/ – Sound World Solutions announces the availability of the CS50, the company’s second model in the technologically advanced Bluetooth Series of personal sound amplifiers. The CS50 features an Apple iOS 7-compatible customizer app, enabling users to adjust sound performance from an iPhone.

The CS50 is designed for consumers who need occasional help hearing but don’t want a hearing aid. Also functioning as a high-quality Bluetooth headset for mobile phones, it will operate up to 15 hours on its rechargeable battery. In addition, it can stream a variety of audio sources including music, audio books and podcasts. The CS50 features improved directionality for listening assistance in noisy environments, such as restaurants.

“Directionality is the only way to improve intelligibility in noisy environments,” said Dr. Stavros Basseas, co-founder and president of Sound World Solutions. “We are very pleased with how much background noise the algorithms of the CS50 can attenuate. It is dramatically better than even our previous product.”

Out of the box, users can adjust volume and access settings designed for specific environments. They can also toggle between three preset amplification profiles. The device allows even greater personalization using a free app for Apple iOS 7, Android, Windows or Mac OS X. The app walks users through a short personalization program to create a customized sound profile. The app also has an equalizer that allows users to adjust treble, mid-range and bass frequencies to further personalize their sound.

“Regardless of how comfortable the user is with technology, they can get benefit from the CS50,” said Basseas. “All of the settings can easily be accessed from the controls on the device. Users with smartphones can achieve a deeper level of programming and control with our optional app. The product is capable of being as simple or as sophisticated as the user wants it to be.”

The CS50 is available for purchase at www.soundworldsolutions.com in right- or left-ear versions for $349.99, backed by a no risk 30-day money back guarantee. Each kit contains two rechargeable batteries, a charging station, carrying case and a variety of ear tips for customizable fit.

Sound World Solutions introduced its first Bluetooth Series personal sound amplifier, the CS10, in February 2013.  This revolutionary product garnered widespread media attention from CBS News, National Public Radio and the New York Times, and was named a finalist in the 2013 Chicago Innovation Awards.

Sound World Solutions

Sound World Solutions designs, manufactures and sells premium performance consumer products that help people rediscover the power of connection, recognizing that sound and clarity are an integral part of human interaction. In 2013, the company introduced its first product based on a design platform that brings affordable functionality to millions of people who require occasional hearing assistance. Sound World Solutions also collaborates with organizations providing hearing health studies and services and on–the–ground solutions in developing markets throughout the world.

Photo – http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20140416/75372

Get your ears on, old school

cb-radio-smart-phone-handset

Instead of a Bluetooth headset or one of those old-fashioned telephone handsets, attach the CB Radio iPhone Handset to your smart phone for some Smokey and the Bandit fun.  It has a mute button that silences the other side like a real CB radio handset, so it’s not going to qualify as a hands-free device and probably won’t be legal to use while driving in all states.  There’s a microphone built into the cord, and a dial on the side to turn it on/off and adjust the volume.  The handset also works as a speaker for listening to music.  It’s battery powered, so it won’t drain your phone’s battery.  Although it specifies iPhone in the name, it will actually work with any phone with a 3.5mm headphone jack.  (The answer and hangup button won’t work with all phones.)  It’s currently on sale for $9.99 at ThinkGeek – a 50% savings.

Latest gadgets ease the cruelty of travel

I don’t often quote poetry in this column, but indulge me a bit of leeway when I steal from T.S. Eliot when he wrote, “April is the cruelest month” (first line of “The Waste Land”). If he were around today this might be a reference to the technology trade show travel schedule, in which conferences seem to hit particularly hard in April once winter doesn’t have its hold on flight delays.

Luckily, gadget-makers understand the cruelty of travel, and are always creating new devices that help the mobile worker/road warrior ease the pain of a hotel room with few outlets, or expensive in-room Wi-Fi. Here are three gadgets I’ve recently tested that can help you on your next trip:

The scoop:Trek (N300) Travel Router and Range Extender (model PR200), by NETGEAR, about $60.

What is it? This small box acts as a miniature travel trotter that can connect to hotel wireless and public Wi-Fi hot spots, providing a bridge connection for multiple devices via Wi-Fi. When you return home, you can use the device as a Wi-Fi range extender (to fill in any wireless holes you may be suffering from), or even as it’s own router (if you don’t yet own one). The unit comes with a built-in power plug, two Ethernet ports (one for a WAN, the other for a LAN), a USB port for attaching a storage device, and a USB cable (if you want to power the unit from a USB port instead of the wall outlet).

Why it’s cool: The multiple functions of the Trek make it more useful than a single-function travel router, extending its value. But the main reason you’ll love it is to extend wireless connections for multiple devices (PC, phone, tablet) when you travel. With hotel Internet service costing $15 per day or even higher ($20+ per day in some cities), this router can help you maximize that connection by allowing Wi-Fi to multiple devices. If you tried to connect three devices, for example (PC, phone and tablet) to the hotel’s wireless, you might end up paying three different charges for that access.

Having tried several travel routers in the past, I was a bit skeptical with the Trek, mainly because hotel wireless setups usually involve browser authentication (you can’t get to the wider Internet until you pony up the cash). However, I was very pleased to see that the Trek device and NETGEAR Genie software could easily set itself up for the multi-device sharing. After plugging in the device to a power source, I flipped the switch on the Trek to “Wireless”, then connected my computer to the Trek’s SSID (both the SSID and the password are on a sticker on the unit). This triggered the Genie software to scan available wireless signals, letting me choose the hotel’s wireless network. Once the Trek connected to the hotel network, it opened up another browser window/tab to let me authenticate, at which point additional devices could connect to the Trek without having to worry about additional charges. As long as any new device connects to the Trek instead of the hotel network, you should be fine.

Some caveats: It’s likely that you’ll only be using this device as a travel router, as you probably already own a home router. You might want to use this as a wireless range extender if you don’t yet have/need one of those, but then it could cause some worries if you then have to grab it for your next trip. If you really need a wireless range extender, the best bet is to buy a separate one. At least NETGEAR is giving users the option for the additional features, so it’s hard to ding them too much for this.

Grade: 5 stars (out of five)

The scoop:Voyager Edge Bluetooth headset, by Plantronics, about $130.

What is it? The latest Bluetooth headset for mobile phone users, the Voyager Edge is smaller than the company’s more professional Voyager headsets, yet maintains many of the modern features we expect to see these days in a headset. This includes voice instructions for pairing, a slider power button, and easy-to-reach buttons for call activation and volume control. The Voyager Edge also includes a carrying case that doubles as a power charger, so you can recharge the headset while keeping it in a laptop bag, purse or in your car. Lights on the charger indicate power levels for both the headset (when it’s docked) and charger.

+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD 12 Bluetooth gadgets for geeks +

Why it’s cool: I liked the smaller design – while I enjoyed using the company’s Voyager Pro headsets (including the UC models for taking calls at work or using them for VoIP calls), I can see how the smaller version would appeal to people who are out and about more and don’t want to constantly wear their headset. Pairing the headset to my phone (it supports iOS and Android) was simple – just put the headset on and listen to the instructions.

In addition to making voice calls with the headset, you can keep it on your ear and listen to streaming music or podcasts while you’re commuting. I wouldn’t use this while exercising – the fit inside the ear is pretty tight (it’s designed that way to stay on your ear, with three ear loop sizes and a plastic hook for more stability). The comfort on the ear lasts for about the time of an average commute – after about 30 to 45 minutes, you’ll want to take it off.

Some caveats: The Voyager Edge comes with a mini-USB charging cable and a car power adapter, but nothing that plugs into the wall – if you need to recharge the unit, you’ll need to find a USB port or head to your car. It’s not a huge deal, as most mobile workers will have one of those two options available, but I found it odd that a wall adapter was not included. Also, if you like using the plastic hook in order to get more stability on your ear, you have to detach it when recharging the unit via the docking charger, giving you a greater chance of either breaking the plastic hook, or losing it (like leaving it on your office desktop or home office).

Grade: 4 stars (out of five)

The scoop: DoubleUp dual USB charger for iPad, iPhone and iPod, about $40.

What is it? About the size of a hockey puck, the DoubleUp gives you two charging ports for USB devices (2.1-amp/10.5-watt) that can plug into a regular wall outlet. Small LEDs on the unit let you know when the mobile device is fully charged.

Why it’s cool: Power outlet space is often at a premium in hotel rooms, so any device that can give you extra charging capabilities is appreciated. In the case of the DoubleUp, you can basically get three devices charged instead of two (or even four if you use two of these units in a regular two-outlet wall port). If you need to recharge an iPhone and an iPod (or iPad), this handy device makes it slightly easier. While the marketing says it’s for the iOS world, you could certainly plug in another device via the USB cable (as long as the device supports that wattage/amperage). The unit is also small enough so you don’t have to bring one of those big power-strip extenders.

Some caveats: No cables are provided, so you have to bring your own. But at least you don’t have to bring along the power-prong brick.

Grade: 3.5 stars

Shaw can be reached at kshaw@nww.com. Follow him on Twitter: @shawkeith.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World’s Anti-malware section.

Technology makes hearing aids smaller, sleeker and easier to use

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As the first to market Made for iPhone hearing aid, ReSound LiNX is a completely customizable and discreet option for wearers. With this new device, wearers can stream high-quality audio into their hearing aids from their Apple device.

— ReSound LiNx

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As the first to market Made for iPhone hearing aid, ReSound LiNX is a completely customizable and discreet option for wearers. With this new device, wearers can stream high-quality audio into their hearing aids from their Apple device.
/ ReSound LiNx

When audiologists such as Dr. David Illich began practicing years ago, hearing aids were bulky. They were also designed to be removed at night or when showering or swimming, making the world of sound go dull to the person suffering from hearing loss.

But not anymore.

Like most technology in recent years, such as cellphones and computers, hearing aids have gotten smaller and sleeker, more advanced in what they’re able to do and easier for people to use.

“There (have) been more technological changes in the last three years than in the last 10 years,” said Illich, who serves as chief audiologist at Palomar Hospital in Poway.

In fact, he said hearing aid technology has evolved to the point where a patient recently told him that for the first time in decades he’s forgotten he has hearing loss.

Today, said Dr. Meghan Spriggs, a senior audiologist at the University of California, San Diego, hearing aids have improved in countless ways. They’ve evolved to the point, she said, where users can sync them with a Bluetooth headset for their cellphones and stream phone calls through the device.

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Hearing loss: 5 things to know

“Hearing aids aren’t what they used to be,” she said.

In addition, earlier this year, the first iPhone-compatible hearing aid — The ReSound LiNX — was introduced. The device, which is also compatible with iPads and iPod touches, lets users adjust features such as hearing aid volume, and bass and treble in each ear through an app. The device can also be used to stream music, listen to GPS directions and make phone calls through a Bluetooth. It also comes with a “Find My Hearing Aid” feature to help track down the hearing aid if it’s misplaced.

Illich said the device will also allow the iPhone’s personal assistant, Siri, to read emails to users through their hearing aids.

One of the features Illich said he likes best is that the model is “extremely user friendly.” He said a patient in his 90s recently came in for the phone-compatible hearing aid and knew how to use it within minutes.

“He took it over,” Illich said. “He walked out of the office (happy) like a little kid.”

In addition to working with phone technology, Spriggs said hearing aids are smaller and less noticeable than in the past.

She also said many people with hearing aids often heard squealing or whistling sounds, called feedback. But today most hearing aids stop that issue before it happens.

Connectivity is also better; there’s less fiddling with volume in noisy places because many automatically tone down unwanted sounds; and some have microphones that can identify speech while turning down background noise.

Illich said there are now hearing aids that can be worn 24/7 instead of being removed at night or in the shower.

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The Lyric hearing aid is worn for three months straight and users can sleep or shower with the device in the ear. It’s also hidden deep in the ear canal — just 4 millimeters from the eardrum — so it’s completely invisible. — LYRIC

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The Lyric hearing aid is worn for three months straight and users can sleep or shower with the device in the ear. It’s also hidden deep in the ear canal — just 4 millimeters from the eardrum — so it’s completely invisible.
/ LYRIC

He said the Lyric hearing aid is worn for three months straight and users can sleep or shower with the device in the ear. It’s also hidden deep in the ear canal — just four millimeters from the eardrum – so it’s completely invisible. When the battery dies after a few months, the device is removed and replaced with a new one. Instead of paying for a new hearing aid each time, patients pay an annual subscription fee.