Hype can play havoc with your critical senses. Fuelled by a free drink or three, finger food and those lovely PR folk you can easily come away from a press jaunt thinking that the iPod dock skateboard combo you’ve just seen is what the world really needs. Of course in the cold light of the next day, what you thought all made sense is now pretty much nonsense. Good PR doesn’t always mean sound products.
Last week Macworld attended a rather wonderful press reception and party to hype, rather celebrate, the launch of a new custom fit headset service from Etymotic Research and Advanced Communication Solutions (ACS). Located downstairs from a recession debunking champagne bar in St Pauls, entertainment was supplied by The AllStars Collective, who conveniently all wear ACS customised ear monitors. Between them, the band’s band have backed some of the biggest names in the music business while raising substantial amounts for worthy causes in any free time.
An excellent evening was had by all then, not least because we got the chance to pick up our very own headphones after a custom fitting session a few weeks earlier. For the uninitiated, myself included, custom fit headphones, moulded to your ears, helps deaden the din from the outside world. The result is the chance to listen to music at lower levels, which has obvious ear related health benefits while ensuring you’re not broadcasting your collection of Norwegian death metal rarities to the rest of us. Not only can you listen quietly you can also hear or start to hear some of the detail lost in daily hubbub.
Well a week on and the hype is still ringing in my ears, not literally you understand, but I’m impressed. Early days yes, but the hf2 custom•fit headset, or headphones, has brought a new clarity to my endless hours listening to music, podcasts and radio shows on the move and at home. It’s been a pleasure to pound the streets of London mostly free of the chaos and clatter of travel commotion. Even a trip on the underground, where all but dance music is lost due to the sounds of the trains, has been bearable; with the ability to hear for once the quiet bits of favourite singers and bands. It’s not so quiet you feel isolated from your surroundings, which is a good thing, as you need to be mindful of approaching traffic and, in my manor at least, low flying police helicopters.
Something of a music snob, I’ve been a big fan of Hi-fi over iPod, vinyl and more recently CD over MP3 and ACC, but that’s starting to change. I love my Grado headphones particularly, but the Sci-fi retro styling, and open back design doesn’t suit travel well. The hf2 headphones, however, fit the bill for everyday wear, stylish without being to bling, musically appealing despite being in-ear.
The actual fitting itself, turned out to be more pleasurable then the anticipated trip to the dreaded school nurse. What looks like toothpaste or Polyfilla is gently squished into each ear. Wait a few minutes for the goo to firm and the results are bagged and sent away to be moulded into a pair of unique custom made in-ear monitors. These can also be custom fit to match your favourite headphones. The process feels a bit like being submerged underwater - in a good way - yet the temporary sound of silence may appear deafening for some. Now -wearing the headphones - I can sometimes hear the resonance of my own wheezy breathing and occasionally my feet on the pavement, which can be a little unsettling late at night.
We had the pleasure of having our impressions taken by ex-musician and owner of ACS Andy Shiach (pictured), who has spent 15 plus years banging the drum - quietly - about the need for noise reduction. Andy, a promising musician, saw his career suddenly end in the 1970’s when a “massive noise trauma” in a London rehearsal studio caused permanent damage to his hearing. He’s been on a crusade ever since. ACS, for instance, developed the world's first commercially available soft silicone in-ear monitor, and a dedicated team work with musicians and partners internationally.
It’s still early days, as I said, and this isn’t meant as a review, but for anyone who cares about they’re hearing and what they listen to then the hf2 custom•fit headphones are worthy of your attention. It took me some time to get them to fit, and stay in, but once I’d found a way to wear them in comfort they haven’t been far from my side. They aren’t cheap, but what price can you put on ensuring good life enhancing hearing?