Published on June 15th, 2011 | by Greg0
Personal Audio From NuForce and Plantronics
There are plenty of ways to add music to your life. We regularly check out the latest songs and albums on TrulyArts, and have looked at many different speaker systems and home audio setups. But three of the fastest ways are more personal in nature- improving your wired earbuds, adding a small portable speaker for times when earphones won’t do the trick, and maybe even upgrading to a wireless headset. Today, we’re looking at all three.
If you have a smarthphone or personal media player, you probably already have passable earbuds. But they get worn out, and often aren’t stylish, not to mention their sound quality is often less than stellar. If you are are need of a new pair, take a look at the perhaps lesser-known NuForce NE-700Ms. Not only are they a pretty sexy smoky copper color, but come with three different sizes of ear tips. The built-in mic was pretty good- better than the default Apple white pair, but offering minimal cancellation of wind noise.
They were comfortable, if a tad bit heavy. We tried them jogging and found that they came out a bit too easily, even with some adjustments, and needed a fair bit of readjustment during wear- which hurt a bit, as the external edges are a bit rough. But for normal use, we were impressed by the sound quality more than anything- these sounded amazingly crisp and clear. It’s hard to do a blind test with non-earbuds- these have a distinctive feel- but every tester liked these better than the stock models and often better than anything else sub-$100. There are downsides though, even beyond the weight and merely OK microphone. For starters, the cables were nothing special, and the controls don’t work on our iPhones. And then there is the price- at $75, they outperform on sound (8mm titanium drivers create sterling bass) and win points for style but lack a bit in other areas.
Portable speakers, though, require a little less- audio quality and size and style matter more than some other things. The only other major factor is battery life- and so we’re happy to say that the Podio PS-106 wins points in every major area of concern. For starters, it’s tiny- weighing only 120 grams. It looks pretty cool, available in several colors, including blue and black. They are mono-only, as are many small speakers in this price point, but are powered by an internal rechargeable lithium battery that allows them to put out a fair bit of volume. Battery life was quite good- up to ten hours or so at mid to high-volume- plenty long enough for a fair bit of use, and easily recharges via USB. We dropped the Podio with no ill effects, and it felt pretty solid.
Audio quality was actually surprising- everyone who was listening had about the same positive reaction of grudging respect at the sound. It certainly won’t win awards compared to larger sets- bass is muffled, highs are a bit muddled, and the overall effect is more FM than HD. But for a speaker of this size, it rocked, and sounded best with rock and pop (more than warmer jazz or classical). Our only major complaint was the lack of an easy stand- the tubular device tends to roll around and you can’t stand it up on edge. At $40, the Podio is a good bargain for a cute, small, simple speaker.
Finally, we’d be remiss not to mention a solid Bluetooth headset option- this time, the Plantronics Savor m1100. Last time we checked in with Plantronics, it was to review a gaming headset. But we’ve also tested a variety of other Plantronics gear, and were happy to see the m1100 live up to their past reputation. In fact, it’s the best of the bunch.
It isn’t the sexiest headset we’ve seen, nor the lightest. It doesn’t boast any super-premium features. But what it does, in spades, is deliver excellent call quality on both ends, with decent battery life, and also manages to be quite comfortable. We kept it in our ear for a few hours, something rarely possible. And the three microphones appear to make a difference, as this one even beat out a couple of corded headsets, and easily won in noisier or windier conditions. A2DP-enabled, you can also listen to music, and there are some interesting extras like the ability to have your emails read to you- we didn’t try all of these features, which a bit oddly require a subscription (one year is included).
The three sizes of tips were varied, but the added earloop meant that even folks with smaller ears were able to use the Savor. Four hours of talk time is decent- we usually wish for five or more to get us through more than a day without requiring charging, but it was sufficient. Setup and pairing are simple, as with most newer Bluetooth devices, and the light weight of this one was nice. Our only primary issue is the buttons and placement- they were a bit difficult to use. Overall, though, it’s a strong contender in it’s class, and at $67 or so a pretty good bargain.