Need Affordable Headphones? You OTTO Check These Out
By Jim Bray
They may make you deaf if you misuse them, but headphones can also have real benefits in a variety of situations.
I cut my headphone-wearing teeth with a set of Koss over the ear phones back in the 1970's, using them for listening to fine stereo music when I didn't want to bother others with what they'd undoubtedly consider excessive volume.
Headphones are still a wonderful way to listen to stuff privately, and the onward march of technology has allowed them to do this in many ways, including ear buds, over the ear phones, and units that can even cancel out exterior noise.
A company that offers a wide variety of choices is OTTO, which makes everything from a wireless MP3 headset player to noise cancelling phones. Intrigued by their press release, I asked to review some of their units and they were kind enough to indulge me.
So I took delivery of their Bluetooth Cellular Car Kit, a set of surround sound headphones, noise cancelling phones, and their digital gaming headset with boom microphone and USB connector.
The first ones I tried were the $50 OT-8 Digital Gaming phones – well, I tried them and then passed them on to my son's fiancée so she could test them with her Skype service.
The first thing I noticed, and this is important to me, is that they're comfortable. The head band is padded nicely, as are the over-the-ear cups. Having worked in radio for many years, I appreciate a comfy fit and, though these aren't the lightest I've used by any means, they're comfortable enough.
The phones include the Sound Retrieval System (SRS) which is supposed to give you surround sound. In reality, it gives you somewhat of a surround effect, but it's hardly Dolby Digital 5.1. Still, it's a neat enhancement and it works well for gaming. But I preferred shutting it off other times.
The audio is nice and clear, and my eventual daughter-in-law said the person at the other end of the Skype calls could hear her just fine. Another guinea pig thought the phones a tad heavy on the bass, but I didn't notice that.
Our Skype user wasn't too happy with the over-the-ear aspect, but that's personal preference, and I happen to disagree. I like the isolation because it helps me concentrate on the task at hand (and so what if I miss my wife calling me for supper?).
One thing on which we both agreed was that the positioning of the volume control, on the back of the left ear cup, leaves something to be desired. I found it hard to reach by feel (insensitive person that I am) and ended up taking off the phones to find the up/down buttons visually, which was a bit of a pain: I had to use trial and error rather than just listening to it.
Once it's set you shouldn't have to reset it much for that same source – and you can usually control the volume at the source, which I prefer anyway. But it would be better for everyone if the controls were a little more accessible.
You may find the phones a tad bulky for leaving lying around on your desk, too, though on my desk they were just one more thing on the pile….
The OT-2 Bluetooth Cellular Headset ($99), is a horse of an entirely different color. If you have a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, it'll give you hands-free speaker phone capability in your car – a wonderful feature.
The sender and receiver are nice and compact; you can clip the receiver onto your sun visor or mount it on the dashboard and put the earpiece, not surprisingly, in your ear.
The rechargeable unit (via USB), is claimed to give a talk time of up to six hours (200 hours on standby), and recharges in 2.5 hours. It comes with a USB adapter for either a home wall socket or a car's "cigarette lighter" socket. Depending on where the socket is on your car, you may find the recharger cable a tad short if the speaker/receiver's on the sun visor, but that should depend on your particular setup.
You can hear the person at the other end either via the speaker or the earpiece and the sound quality is good both ways. The earpiece is good if you have passengers and want to have a private phone conversation they can't hear. On the downside, there's no "over the ear hanger" and that can make the ear piece want to fall out – usually at the most important moment in your conversation.
The controls are a bit awkward. The "charge" light looks as if it should be a button, and we had to actually resort to the manual to figure it out.
The $40 OT-4 Surround Sound stereo headset has a lot in common with the Digital Gaming headset, except it uses a conventional mini headphone jack instead of USB and it doesn't have a microphone attached to it. It's also an over-the-ear setup that's quite comfortable and which sounds good for the price.
The OT-4 also includes the SRS technology, which you can switch off if you prefer the unadulterated signals. I preferred the regular stereo sound, but perhaps that's because I have an excellent 5.1 system and it's hard for any "digital fudging" to match it.
Some companies dabbled in "real" surround sound headphones back in the days of quadraphonic sound, but the few I tried didn't impress me that much.
But for forty bucks, it's hard to go wrong with the comfort, sound and build quality of these phones. OTTO says they use "neodymium speakers" to deliver maximum bass – but in my experience that didn't mean the bass was overpowering; in fact, I found it quite good without being boomy or making my skull bones rattle.
The cord's too darn short for serious listening if your audio system's across the room from your listening chair, so be prepared to buy an extension if this is your planned use.
The OT-9 isolating ear buds are a cool way to hear your MP3 tunes – and they even come with a carrying case for themselves and your player. These $70 buds feature "specially designed comfort-tip ear tips" to ensure long term comfort. They're also available in a variety of colors, if that's important to you.
Finally, I got to try the $50 OT-5 Noise Canceling Travel Headset. I love noise canceling headphones when I fly. My airline of choice offers seat back TV's you can barely hear over the low thrumming of the plane – but flip the switch on the phones and it's amazing how much that background crud disappears. It makes listening worthwhile. OTTO says they reduce noise by 13 dB.
I haven't tied the Bose version, which are probably the most famous if only because of their advertising budget and high price, but I've tried a system priced similarly to these OTTOs, and OTTO's versions stands up well against them.
The phones cover the ears, are padded nicely, and this time they have a volume control you can actually find and use by feel!
They don't fold as flat as the others I've tried, which is a real drag when carry on space is at a premium. OTTO's blurb says the ear cups rotate to lie flat, but I couldn't figure it out without risking breaking them, so I gave up.
Still, they do work well at cleaning up audio crud, so I "OTTO" end this piece by acknowledging they're part of a decent line of "hearing aids" sold at decent prices.
Copyright 2008 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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