HEADPHONES WEEK: Plantronics Audio 655 headset

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Hello you. Welcome to Day 3 of the Tech Digest Headphones Week where we’re reviewing a whole bunch of different head speakers to give us all a bit of an idea what it’s worth slapping our dollar down for. Remember, came-with-your-MP3-player headphones are the disease. Headphones week is the cure.

Today’s a little different. Today I’m taking a look at a set of on-ear head-grabbers that you can’t plug into your music machine – unless it happens to do audio-out via USB. Ladies, gentlemen, this is the Skype-certified Plantronics Audio 655 headset and it comes with a microphone too.

The Short Version

Name – Plantronics Audio 655

Type – On-ear closed cup PC headset

How much£39.99

How much should they cost - £59.00

Should you buy them – If you use VoIP, play PC games and don’t mind being tethered to the computer – yes, definitely

The Long Version

Sound Quality

Let’s not beat around the bush here. The Audio 655s sound superb. They really do. They’re a fantastic example of all round balance. Just the one set of 40mm drivers but they deliver good clear treble, confident mid-range and highly competent, if not heart-pounding, bass.

In fact, that’s probably my only criticism. There’s nothing wildly special about the sound here. The Audio 655s aren’t going to make you rediscover your music collection but then who cares, you’re probably not going to be using these listen to music. They’re designed to transmit the human voice as close to the real thing as possible and that’s exactly what they do.

Build Quality

There’s no two ways about it. The Audio 655s are plastic. They’re backed up with cushioning in the right places – top of the bonse and round the ears – but they’re completely plastic. Admittedly, it’s good, thick plastic but there’s something a little clacky about the build. It’s a touch on the loose side.

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That said, it’s nice and flexible. You’re not going to break them unless you get all the weight of one of your computer chair legs right on top of one of the cups or you hand it to a proper tough little toddler in the mould of a future Geoff Capes. My advice would be to do neither and I’m sure they’ll last you.

The cabling’s thick enough and they’ll adjust to all head sizes, including the most extreme, but it’s probably the microphone arm that’s the best put together. It’s really solid with hardly any lateral movement, it’s telescopic so you can adjust it to the position of your mouth and it stows neatly out of the way when you’re not using it. What’s more, it’s largely made of rubber so you’re not going to be snapping it off by accident. There’s handsome devil below modelling them.

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Phones

The Plantronics website claims the ear pads offer “pillow-soft” comfort. That’s probably taking it a bit far. I don’t think I’d have much luck using them to sleep on but I’d say they’re close to the quality of your least favourite sofa cushion. The point is that they’re thick enough not to hurt your lug holes and they’ve got a snazzy red lining too. No skull strain issues here at all. Guarantee.

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Usability

Largely positive in this department. The USB connection means that there’s no faffing around with two 3.5mm plugs and that you’ve probably got a lot more port choice depending on what suits you best. Mercifully, there’s no irritating software involved and my only gripe is that, from time to time, I had to unplug them and plug them in again to get them going – usually when I’d been sticking things in the dedicated audio socket at the same time.

The other neat little trick these Plantronics have up their sleeves is that you can fine tune the volume at the left ear – the same ear as the mic arm. There’s perhaps not enough adjustment at your fingertips as you might like but it’ll certainly make the difference between a good, clear level and losing your hearing.

Lastly, the mic itself works a charm with fully operational noise cancelling tech. Functions as it should. What more can you say.

Conclusion

Buy them. Quite simple. If you’re looking to spend more than a tenner and less than £50 on a PC headset, then look no further. I can bitch and whinge about this and that, as is my want, but, when it comes down to it, these little darlings offer value beyond belief, reason and probably manufacturing sense too.

More from Headphones week over here with Day 1 over here and Day 2 just beyond.

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Daniel SungHEADPHONES WEEK: Plantronics Audio 655 headset

HEADPHONES WEEK: Shure SE115 in-ear buds

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Welcome to Headphones Week on Tech Digest. I’ve been getting a little wound up with rubbish sound quality of late. It’s bad enough listening to squashed up music files but doing it through came-with-the-player headphones is even worse. If you’re not up on this already, then I’ll give you a very quick version of why you need to spend money on them.

Free headphones neither isolate nor cancel ambient sound and most likely don’t fit very well in your ears. So, that means you have to turn the volume up loud in order to get the immersive experience you’re after which then distorts the quality of the music. Add to that the fact that the drivers inside basic headphones are rubbish anyway and you’ve got the equivalent of AM audio in you brain. Understood?

So, the next question is what to buy? How much do you need to spend to get decent sound and at what point is it the Emperor’s new airwaves? So, I’ve picked five sets of headphones fairly new to the market and I’m giving them a little low-down each afternoon this week. I believe they call it a review. If it’s useful, let me know and I’ll do some more.

The Short Version

Name - Shure SE115 in-ear headphones

Type - over the ear sound isolators

How much£66 plus postage

How much should they cost – £45

Should you buy them – no

The Long Version

Build

I’ll start with the positive’s here because there aren’t many and I’ll feel like I’ve achieved something once I’ve got them out of the way. First, the build quality is really good – probably the best out of all the headphones I’m looking at this week.

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They’ve got proper thick cables, the kind you could garrotte people with without them breaking. They mean that what you’re buying is as close to “for life” as you can get with these things. The leads also come in two parts with a nice, chunky 3.5mm connection in the middle. I’m not sure what it is I’m supposed to insert in between my ears and my mp3 player but I feel very safe that these Shures would do whatever that job is very well.

Buds

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The buds themselves aren’t too bad. You get the choice of six different sets – three of some disappointing grey rubber nothingness but the others made of squishable memory foam type material that you roll between your thumb and forefinger and jam into your head before they have time to expand.

The look a bit nasty once you’ve bullied them into submission – rather like greasy Mediterranean olives; doubly so when they come out of your ears pitted with wax.

The effect is that they pretty much fit to fill your aural canal and block out quite a lot of the ambient noise – not all, but good enough to give the drivers a chance to work their magic.

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Packaging

Yeah, this is probably the last good thing I can say about the SE115s. The packaging is ok. For a £66 set of ‘phones, you do get set up alright. What I’m referring to is the small black canvas zip bag complete with metal carabiner because, obviously, we’re all about quality audio while we’re trying to tackle the next overhang.

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The Shure SE115s may actually be targeted at extreme sports enthusiasts but the point is that the bag is ok. It may even be slightly waterproof. Probably isn’t but the promise is good.

Sound Quality

Here’s where these headphones really fall down. They sound rubbish – admittedly, better than a free pair but, if they’d been any more expensive, I’d be absolutely panning them. It may be the choice of material for the ear bud foam but all punch of the sound is lost. It’s like listening to £10,000 stereo system with hiking socks shoved in your ears.

You can tell that someone somewhere has done their job but that another bod down the line has totally ruined their work. It’s soft, muffled, rich but completely unexciting, and there can be no more damning word for audio equipment than that. They’re just plain lifeless.

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Conclusion

The Shure SE115s offer a reachable step up in audio from freebee phones but, if I were you, I’d reach a little higher, or, at least, in a different direction.

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Daniel SungHEADPHONES WEEK: Shure SE115 in-ear buds