I get a ton of audio gear here at Ask Dave Taylor and I’m definitely not complaining. From headphones to speakers, we have enough gear that there’s a separate audio system in every single room in our office. And we have a lot of rooms. Much of it proves uninteresting once I put it through its paces, like little external speakers that sound tinny and are way too quiet to work in any but the most tomb-like of spaces to headphones that miss all the nuances in good music (our test music is usually classic jazz vocals like Ella Fitzgerald, in case you’re curious).
Still, there are areas of audio tech that are new and worth exploring, and both of the products reviewed in this article fit that bill. The first, dblogic earphones, are earbuds designed specifically to max out at a reasonable sound pressure level, helping avoid any hearing loss, particularly in younger music fans like my kids.
The second device seems more magical, though it might be a bit less practical: iFrogz Boost is a near-field audio amplifying speaker which lets you put any audio source on top of it and have that audio play through the device too, louder and usually with better audio fidelity. That’s right, put any cellphone on the gizmo and suddenly it sounds way better. Even speaker phone calls.
Read on for my hands-on experience with both…
I have three kids who love all the gadgets in the office. They listen to music constantly and while it’s not what I would prefer they enjoy, I realize that it’s part of the job of kids to pick music their parents don’t like. I did it too. Remember, Dad, when I’d listen to Aerosmith? Then again, I did mix it up with jazz and bluegrass, so it wasn’t too horrible. But that’s another story.
I prefer my kids — who are 15, 12 and 8 — never use headphones or earbuds, actually, because I believe that they put up a mental barrier between the child and the world they’re in, so there are lots of iPod docks around the house, easily utilized for a soundtrack while studying, reading or painting fingernails.
Still, sometimes private listening is appropriate, and that’s when I’ve really hated the fact that they like to listen to music pretty darn loud (as I did as a kid too, I admit). Yes, there’s a volume limit in the iPod but it’s easy to defeat. Instead, I was very curious about the dblogic earphones because there’s no switch, no adjustment, nothing visible that indicates it’s a special parent-approved ear bud that actually doesn’t get super loud.
But if my kids wouldn’t use them, that’d defeat the purpose. So I worked out a nefarious plan with the dblogic team to simply give the earphones to my two older children without any explanation other than “got you some new earbuds!”. Would they like them? Turns out that they love them and even after having read the packaging, didn’t cotton onto the fact that they were volume-limiting. My son’s quote was best: “Beast! And nice bass too.”
dblogic earphones are $34.95 and are available through Amazon.com and various consumer electronics retailers. If you’re a parent, they might just be the smartest accessory you ever buy for your children’s audio devices.
I tried to keep count while at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, but gave up after I figured there were at least 300 different portable audio speakers available, from over 75 vendors, all with the intent of giving you better audio than the tiny speakers built in to iPods, iPhones and other mobile devices. It’s a completely saturated market.
That’s why the iFrogz Boost is so interesting. Roughly the size of four or five iPhones stacked atop each other, it really does just magically pick up the audio of whatever’s placed atop it and amplify it. No wires required.
Better yet, it actually sounds good.
However, I wasn’t hugely enamored of this product for two reasons: first off, it really doesn’t get that loud so it only works in a quiet environment (like a hotel room). Anything where there’s any meaningful ambient noise and it’s going to be just barely more audible than your device itself.
More importantly, even after playing with it and leaving it on the kitchen counter for my friends and kids to play with, no-one really knew what to do with it after that first ten second “that’s cool!” moment. If you can figure out when it’d be nice to just lay your iPhone atop the Boost so you can have somewhat louder audio, this could be a slick little product — goodness knows the wireless aspect is pretty magical — but there are so many different portable speakers on the market, I just can’t recommend this as the best investment for your hard-earned dollars, even at it’s quite reasonable price point.
The iFrogz Boost has a retail price of $39.99 and ironically has an audio-in plug on the side. It’s powered by a microUSB connector or 3 AA batteries.