Sunday, May 18, 2008

Headphone Quest

I'm not having good luck with portable audio lately. My 160 GB Archos player's drive started making "bad disk" noises, and then wiped itself out. Drive's dead.

My new Sony noise-cancellation headphones let off a whine in the left ear. It goes away if I tap the outside of the speaker, but then builds up again.
I was travelling and didn't want to be without an MP3 player, so I rushed out to Best Buy and bought their house brand, an Insignia 8 GB drive-less player. It works pretty well, actually. The sound on it is pretty good, and I don't get that "disk spinning up" electronic noise that the Archos used to feed me in its last days.

But the player needed a friend - Bluetooth stereo headphones. I poked around the Best Buy site, and found a couple. Insignia makes one. So does Sony.

I went to Best Buy to look at the Insignia model. It's $49.99 at! In the store, it's either $54.99 or $69.99. Yes, they have the headphones out in two places, with a $15 difference. I wanted to compare them to the Sony, so I picked up both packages. Dynamic range for the Sony was pretty good: 14-24K. Dynamic range for the Insignia, however, was...uh...not on the package anywhere. I looked a couple of times to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

A blue-shirted helper happened by. "Hey, would you know the dynamic range on these headphones?" I queried. "No, man. Sorry, I got two customers I'm helping" came his plaintive response.

An older woman came up to me. "Can you help me in the TV section?" I looked at her to figure out what she meant. "Do you work here?" Aaaaaah, I see. When I'm wearing a multi-colored striped Oxford shirt, it's pretty easy to confuse me with someone wearing a bright blue Best Buy shirt and a yellow name tag! Idiot.

I popped open my phone and searched the Web for the Insignia NS-BTHDP specs. didn't show them. couldn't say. I went over to customer service.

"I just have a question about these headphones before I can buy them. What's their dynamic range? It doesn't say anything on the package."
The helpful clerk took the package, rotated it around to read the fine print a few times, brightened slightly, and looked back up at me. "Up to 30 feet!" she chirped.

Alas, you're rather simple. I asked again, rephrasing my question. "No, I need to know their dynamic range. You know, the frequencies of sound they carry." She referred herself to the helpful folks at the Geek Squad, who had no idea either. Because this information is not published anywhere. I even looked at the product manual on their Web site. It has all sorts of specs about the unit's Bluetooth capabilities, but nothing at all about the actual sound that would be coming from the speakers.

I put them back and bought the Sony model, which feels about as sturdy as a plastic popsicle stick. But I know its dynamic range.