Oh Canada! Land of infinite, lush wilderness, abundance of health care, friendliness on every corner, and now… science-rebelling earbuds. That?s what the Ontario audiophiles of ClarityOne Audio claim, with their patented ?PureSound? technologies that will deliver the best performance possible on their new ClarityOne Earbuds.
At CES 2012, Dean Kurnell, president of ClarityOne Audio, greeted us with beaming confidence, doing his best to explain the technologies behind this flagship product, but excitedly wrapped up with ?you guys just have to check these out!? And so, for the past two weeks, starting with the long bus ride home from Vegas, I did just that. Here?s what I?ve found:
They presented me with a simple, similar feel to most IEMs (in-ear monitors) of its class. The packaging also includes two smaller and two larger earbud tips, a warranty notice, an instruction booklet, and a neat protective carrying case with an attached carabiner. The literature jokes that I should stop reading, and invites me to immediately try them on.
The buds themselves have a solid construction, with what appears to be an aluminum casing, and come in an assortment of color options. It?s sometimes hard to tell which bud is which, since both look streamlined and identical, with the ?L? and ?R? labels barely visible on each casing. Other manufacturers would somehow color-code one of the buds, such as a Red dot or Ring on the Right side. While this is not a deal breaker, it may be jarring the first time around.
Both buds grip onto a hard-lined, equally firm cord, with a microphone and control unit anchored underneath the left side. The cord also has an extra plastic lining to it, allowing for more durability. The cord joins together down to a TRRS plug, allowing for stereo audio plus microphone input. Most current smart devices will recognize this connection.
Despite its minimalist aesthetics, ClarityOne wants to push their technology first and foremost.
Simply put, these ear buds are bright and punchy. They handle a broad mid-range with ease, although at times the performance of its lows and highs may seem inconsistent. It?s not exactly accurate sound, but it does deliver very well for its form factor, with tech jargon to back it up. That being said, I think this pair offers a more prominent low to medium-low end compared to other models I’ve tested.
It’s very important to note that the ClarityOne Earbuds only spec 8 ohms of resistance, which means much, much less energy is required to push a wider spectrum through its drivers, compared to other 20 ohm or higher models. This technological feat is the most likely reason why first-time listeners and reviewers will ?hear the difference? on their mobile media players, which typically sacrifice output power to accommodate battery life.
But too low of resistance may lead to distortion. Radiohead?s ?Codex? is a good test song that, on Yorke?s prolonged mid-frequency high wails, will eventually start distorting on a medium or format that is compressed or colored. On a FLAC track on both the iPhone 4 and Samsung Galaxy S2, with a flat EQ, and even the disc itself on a CD player, Thom seemed to sometimes clip away at higher than ?medium? volumes.
To test the acoustic ?crispness? of this pair, I loaded up tracks by Rodrigo y Gabriela. With their fluttering classical Spanish strumming, and more rock-influenced palm flicking and muting, there could have been many opportunities for clipping, but these ear buds handle it with ease, at comfortable listening levels.
Finally, electro music. While I don?t dabble in this sub-genre much, it does offer a similar pop-like listening experience. Both have a reputation for mastering with heavy compression, but with the first option, I would have to go through the pain of listening to pop music. The driving, booming bass of some Digitalism and Justice tracks are more prominent on these buds, but mostly because of how the music was produced.
In general, these phones offer an enjoyable sound stage, but the output of guttural lows and very sibilant highs may widely vary. Speaking to other headphone enthusiasts, some agreed that a burn-in period may be necessary. One thing is for sure – these buds are built specifically for mobile devices. The science behind this magic is a whole different story…
How Do They Work?
Magnetic fields. Magicians love ?em, sound engineers – not so much. Speakers by nature can create unwanted rebound forces that can find their way back into the signal, creating distortion. ClarityOne believes their PureSound technology will eliminate this problem by combining elements of a traditional speaker, allowing for more efficient flow from coil to cone.
Their website summarizes their processor system, saying it ?connects the speaker as part of the amplifier circuit so that its two way coil moves back and forth in unison with the signals in the amplifier. In essence it ?couples? the speaker to the amplifier?.
At CES, Kurnell briefly explained how their custom technology creates opposing magnetic fields that would effectively cancel each other out, resulting in an undisturbed signal. When asked if he could elaborate a bit further on how this is achieved, he replied that this is a patented technology.
Comfort & Lifestyle
I wore these in-ear headphones for many hours straight, mostly during bike or bus rides around the city, with minimal discomfort. They barely sit in my ear canal, with the tips pushing up against the outer opening of my ear. The tips offer great isolation from my surroundings, even in very noisy environments. (Always remember to check both sides of the road)
But its sleek design can sometimes lead to a loosening grip if the cords are jolted around. On the treadmill, or any quick vertical movement, like running or jumping, the heavier cords can bounce the bud out of my ear. The cords are advertised to be ?tangle-free?, but I have yet to see exactly how. I can tell that they are heavier duty than ones on other models, but I usually practice safe cord wrapping anyway.
The in-line controls are basic at best, when compared to those anchored onto other popular models that can at least raise and lower the volume of media, and even manipulate menu navigation. A ClarityOne rep mentioned functionality on Android, Windows Mobile, and other devices may also be possible.
The single clicker can answer and hang up calls, pause and unpause tracks, and houses a mic. Nothing more, nothing less. My Samsung Galaxy S2 recognized a long-press (3 seconds) as launching the default Music app, but I wonder if there?s way to change this action. The iPhone didn’t react to the long press. With the growing mobile lifestyle and gesture controls, I hope this feature is more scrutinized in a future revision.
ClarityOne Audio?s attitude, from their booth to their website, continues to be an aggressive invitation for listeners to hear ?the difference?. While their target audience of mobile consumers will most likely hear this difference on their lower output devices, the type of music they listen to, and how the music is mixed, will be the key factor in how this model performs. Some EQ fine-tuning may be necessary to get the experience just right.
At an MSRP of $129 USD, it?s difficult to pronounce the ClarityOne Earbuds as the best of its class, when there are other fine models I?ve tested that still hold their ground, at lower price points. However, they are the first buds I?ve used that feature this technology, and spec such low impedance. Under the right conditions, these in-ear headphones will offer a fresh perspective to any listener.