As earphone technology and manufacture improves, the ranges and variations keep expanding, from high-end to budget devices. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK highlights four very different options.
The choice of earphones available nowadays is as bewildering as that for smartphones, but the same rule applies: look for options that suit your budget, your needs and your preferred look and feel. No one option is best, or even best value for money, as it depends entirely on the user’s preferences, needs and circumstances.
Earphones are used in a variety of settings, from highly active exercising to deeply passive music enjoyment. However, increasingly, they also have to cross the boundaries between activities. While there is no one-size-fits-all earphone, the four devices selected here are versatile enough to ensure they won’t gather much dust in a drawer somewhere:
Jabra Elite Sport earbuds
The most pricey of this batch is also the most function-rich. The Jabra Elite Sport is a set of in-ear wireless buds that link to a smartphone via an iPhone or Android app.
It is designed specifically for runners, with four features that set it apart:
• Three-hour active-use battery, and a small, chargeable carry case for another two recharges.
• Sweat-proof, with a three-year warranty against “failure due to the effects of perspiration.
• External microphone that can be switched on to pick up ambient noise, so that the user isn’t oblivious to traffic, for example.
• In-ear heart rate monitor and analyser.
• In-ear audio coaching.
The last is the possibly the most valuable. Specialised coaching is increasingly available via fitness bands, but rarely in an earbud package. The Sport Life companion app includes coaching, planning workouts and testing fitness levels, making it the ideal device for getting new year’s fitness resolutions on the road.
If those aren’t good enough, it is compatible with most independent fitness apps, like Strava, Runtastic and Endomondo.
Of course, excellent sound quality is a given, and it comes with an astonishing array of wingtips for a wide range of sizes. This will probably allay fears of the buds being dislodged and even getting lost. If not, there is always its wired cousin, the Jabra Sport Pulse.
- The Elite Sports are available for R3 499 from Circuit City here.
Jabra Sport Pulse
The Jabra Sport Pulse is not exactly the wired version of the Elite Sport, as it has a link connecting the two earpieces, but that is where the wired connecting stops: it still uses Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone. It’s also intended for fitness and running enthusiasts, but with slightly lower tech and at a somewhat lower cost.
Its most compelling features are:
• In-ear heart rate monitoring
• Sport button with voice prompts
• VO2 Max tracking, meaning it measures “maximal volume of oxygen” that the body delivers to the working muscles, and is one of the best measures of physical fitness.
• Sweat-proof, with the same three-year warranty against “failure due to the effects of perspiration”.
• Five hours talk time.
The earphones are charged via a concealed Micro USB charging port in the one earbud, which then also charges the other bud. It also comes with a set of foam ear tips and has built-in active noise cancellation.
It’s a great option for listening to music while having a serious work-out.
- The Jabra Pulse is available for R2 499 from Circuit City here.
House of Marley – Smile Jamaica
Without a doubt, the coolest brand in sound equipment, House of Marley is best known for making its products from sustainable materials, and for donating a portion of the proceeds to 1Love (www.1love.org), the Marley family’s charitable foundation.
It makes beatboxes, headphones and in-ear headsets, among other audio merchandise, typically with the signature reggae colours and designs associated with Bob Marley. The earphones are the most affordable of its products, and make a great festive season gift.
The Smile Jamaica in-ear set offers the following key features:
• High-quality fabric cable.
• In-line remote with microphone and button to take or end calls, as well as pause, play and skip tracks.
• Enhanced bass.
• Great build quality for a low-cost device.
The package only includes one extra silicon ear tip, and may not be comfortable for non-average ears. For the price, though, it is as comfortable as an earphone is going to get.
There is one feature, however, that truly sets apart the Smile Jamaica earphones
they use wood in the earpieces, and it’s a wood that brings the device close to home: sapele, a sustainable African wood. The wood is combined with an aluminium cap, the better to connect to the earbud.
In short, it is economical, tough, looks good, serves a cause, and is “mindfully” made. What’s not to love?
- Smile Jamaica earphones are available from Accessory Lab for only R279-R299 here.
Meizu EP52 Sports magnetic neckband Bluetooth earphones
High-end Bluetooth earphones tend to be excessively expensive in South Africa, running to three to five thousand rands. As a result, the final choice in this selection is an import, via the Chinese site that is fast becoming a go-to site for South African gadget buyers, Gearbest.
The highlight of the product is the unboxing: a minimalist cover sleeve is pulled off to expose an elegant red box, which folds open to reveal a beautifully presented headset, charger holder and box of eartips to match various size requirements. Certainly, the unboxing does not add to the quality of the earphones themselves, but provides a quality experience that is then carried over to the device.
The main features of the earphones are:
• Six-hour battery life.
• Three-button remote on the arm, with microphone, to control volume and answer calls.
• Magnetic earpieces that clip together when the set is worn round the neck while not in use.
• Machined aluminium ends.
• Four extra wingtips and four eartips.
The sound quality is superior to that of any earphones that come with smartphones, including Samsung or Apple variants, and includes noise cancellation.
The red cables combine with black neck rest to provide a deeply aesthetically pleasing look, making for one of the best looking earphones around for both sport and leisure.
When shopping on Gearbest, look out for discount codes or vouchers that can reduce the cost of a device by up to a third.
- The Meizu EP52 is available from Gearbest at $89.99, excluding shipping is available here.
YouTube Music announces Smart Downloads, SA playlists
The service has introduced Smart Downloads which takes allowing users to store and play hundreds of tunes offline, automatically.
The latest updates from YouTube Music, for subscribers of its Music Premium and Premium services, include a new feature that allows users to switch seamlessly between a song and its music video for an uninterrupted experience.
It has also introduced Smart Downloads which takes the work out of downloading music, allowing users to store and play hundreds of tunes offline, automatically. YouTube Music has also announced new playlists for South Africa.
The updates all reflect features that are popular on the global leader in music streaming, Spotify, and that have been key to its growth.
YouTube said in a statement on Friday: “Imagine listening to a new track by your favourite artist in the YouTube Music app and having the ability to seamlessly switch over to watch the music video – no pauses, no interruptions, just a simple tap that keeps the music flowing. This standout new feature from YouTube Music allows YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium subscribers to make a seamless transition between a song and its music video for uninterrupted listening and/or watching. Whether you’re in the mood for listening or watching (or a little of both)… it’s all here – no app switching required.”
With Smart Downloads, YouTube Music automatically saves music at night, when connected to Wi-Fi, helping subscribers to use less mobile data, enjoy a smoother updating experience and save up to 500 songs offline using Liked Songs playlist as well as other playlists and albums.
Previously, music lovers could use the Offline Mixtape feature to download up to 100 songs, specifically chosen for them based on what they listened to most on the platform. Now, with Smart Downloads, they select the number of songs they would like automatically downloaded by toggling their YouTube Music Settings. This means YouTube Music Premium subscribers with Smart Downloads enabled on their mobile devices can now access hundreds of tracks regardless of connectivity.
This feature is currently available on Android, with plans to bring it to iOS in the future.
Click here to read more about YouTube Music playlists, and find out what is inside them.
Make cars, not waste
Jaguar Land Rover is trialling an innovative recycling process which converts plastic waste into a new premium grade material that could feature on future vehicles.
It’s estimated that the amount of waste plastic is predicted to exceed 12 million tonnes globally by 2050*. Today, not all of this plastic can be recycled for use in automotive applications – especially in vehicle parts that are required to meet the most exacting safety and quality standards.
Working in conjunction with chemical company, BASF, Jaguar Land Rover is part of a pilot project called ChemCycling that upcycles domestic waste plastic, otherwise destined for landfill or incinerators, into a new high-quality material.
The waste plastic is transformed to pyrolysis oil using a thermochemical process. This secondary raw material is then fed into BASF’s production chain as a replacement for fossil resources; ultimately producing a new premium grade that replicates the high quality and performance of ‘virgin’ plastics. Importantly, it can be tempered and coloured making it the ideal sustainable solution for designing the next-generation dashboards and exterior-surfaces in Jaguar and Land Rover models.
Jaguar Land Rover and BASF are currently testing the pilot phase material in a Jaguar I-PACE prototype front-end carrier overmoulding to verify it meets the same stringent safety requirements of the existing original part.
Pending the outcome of the trials and progression in taking chemical recycling to market readiness, adoption of the new premium material would mean Jaguar Land Rover could use domestically derived recycled plastic content throughout its cars without any compromise to quality or safety performance**.
Chris Brown, Senior Sustainability Manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Plastics are vital to car manufacturing and have proven benefits during their use phase, however, plastic waste remains a major global challenge. Solving this issue requires innovation and joined-up thinking between regulators, manufacturers and suppliers.
“At Jaguar Land Rover, we are proactively increasing recycled content in our products, removing single-use plastics across our operations and reducing excess waste across the product lifecycle. The collaboration with BASF is just one way in which we are advancing our commitment to operating in a circular economy.”
This is the latest example of Jaguar Land Rover’s commitment to addressing the challenge of waste plastic. The company has collaborated with Kvadrat to offer customers alternative seat options that are both luxurious and sustainable. The high-quality material, available initially on the Range Rover Velar and Range Rover Evoque, combines a durable wool blend with a technical suedecloth that is made from 53 recycled plastic bottles per vehicle.
Jaguar Land Rover has already met its 2020 target for Zero Waste to Landfill for UK operations. This includes the removal of 1.3 million m2 – equal to 187 football pitches – of plastic from its manufacturing lineside and replacing 14 million single use plastic items in business operations.
Together, these efforts are driving towards Jaguar Land Rover’s vision for Destination Zero; an ambition to make societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner. Delivered through relentless innovation to adapt its products and services to the rapidly-changing world, the company’s focus is on achieving a future of zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion.
** All Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles tested have achieved a Euro NCAP 5* rating.