Sunday, December 16, 2007

Product Review: AirDrives Headphones

One of the more enjoyable aspects about being an experienced contributor in the running blogspace is the occasional invitation to test and review products that apply to the running lifestyle. I have been asked to trial energy supplements, hydration products and now audio accessories.

This post is dedicated to a review of AirDrives audio heaphones.

I’ll admit that I’m not a running purist. Music gets me through most of my solo training runs. High-energy tunes can often inspire me through some tough miles and soulful tracks can help me explore my thoughts during my runs. However, I do adhere to a very strict no-Ipod policy for races. With training mileage eclipsing 50 miles right now, I was excited to give a new pair of headphones a try.

It is noteworthy that I am fairly brand-loyal to a pair Sony lightweight, in-ear headphones model # MDR-W08 that I use during my training runs. I have replaced them a few times in the past few years for a retail price of $10.99. This product provides an outstanding value.

The Sony MDR-W08 design is lightweight, flexible and provides a decent sound output to last me through even the toughest of twenty-milers, as last Saturday’s run would demonstrate. The balance of treble and punchy bass is really impressive for the lightweight, flexible design.

And should the Sonys break through all of my miles, travels, abuse and wear-and-tear? I trek the 0.3 mile journey to my local target and cheerfully shell out another $10.99 for a replacement pair. My current Sony headphones is my benchmark to which I compared the AirDrives.

The concept of the AirDrives headphones is innovative and well-intended: Create high-quality, lightweight durable personal headphones that allow the user to listen to tunes, while providing increased sensitivity to loud noises or hazards while out on the road. For runners and other athletes, this means improved hearing which would help avoid accidents, reckless vehicles and careless bikers. The design is also intended to protect hearing by not blasting right into your eardrum.

The design is somewhat similar to other headsets in the market that have ear hangers that hold the audio bud against your ear. What’s different is that the AirDrives design places a speaker near, but not “in”, your ear canal and direct the sound across.

First, I found that the plastic “ear hang” approach is not stable enough for a pinhead like me whose ears do not have much girth to fill out the clips. While I did read the instructions carefully on how to position the earphones, I did find it a challenge to find the best placement for the earphones to remain secure. Once you fiddle with them, you can get them to stay in place, but it’s not a convenient as throwing on other, more intuitively designed earphones. As a result, I will admit that I did not log too many miles with the AirDrives.

Second, the unit I received seemed to have an issue with the volume control switch. The volume coming out of each earphone did not seem to be consistently equal. Whenever I fiddled with the volume switch and gave it a gentle squeeze, the earphone with the lower volume would immediately perk up with more sound. After messing with it, I could eventually get them to equal out at peak volume. Maybe I got a bum pair? Whatever the case, this minor annoyance gave me an impression of a lower quality product.

Third, forget about using these things if there is any ambient noise around you whatsoever. To put the AirDrives to an overly extreme test, I tried them on a flight from New York to Chicago. Any audiophile would be appalled and even the casual user would be frustrated. With its open-ear design, the product basically has the opposite of the noise-canceling feature high-end headphones that are so popular among air travelers.

While I realize the designers did not intend for the product to be used in loud environments, the fact is versatility is important for many consumers when buying headphones. Even in a relatively quiet environment, I could not get the sound quality that most people would want. It sounded like I was listening to two mini transistor radios set next to my ears.

Finally, I wrote most of this review before I knew how much I would have had to shell out at Best Buy to get a pair of the AirDrives on my own. When I learned the MSRP is set at $99, it was easy for me to decide that I would not be recommending these to friends. I’m hopeful the next model will deliver higher quality and performance for this kind of price.

Bottom Line: The maker of AirDrives needs to significantly improve its design, audio and hardware quality and overall performance to be a viable competitor at the $99 price point. In its current design, I do not feel there will be a high rate of repeat purchase or recommendations to other consumers.


LeahC said...

hey! the things that go over your ears have a flexible wire in them so you can squeeze them down onto your ears so they stay on. I have *very* small ears and so over the ear headphones never work for me. I think this would help with any ambient noise as I used them on busy city streets and had absolutely no problem, and once they are kind of squeezed down you can hear things much better.

Tom said...

I own a pair of airdrives and they work as advertised. I also use a product called lobie from Same basic features but lobies only cost $12, come in lots of colors including clear, some with glitter and you can use your ipod earbuds with them or any other earbud.


I actually LOVE LOVE LOVE mine! I have had them for a year and finally killed them (by accident) by running them through the wash...I'm getting a new pair, though. I love the volume control and the sound quality. I don't know what kind of ears the guy who made the orignial post has, but he may have some problems with any earphones..:)

I run with mine all the time. They are a bit on the expensive side, but all good earphones are. If you want good quality, you need to pay more than $10.95. I have paid more than this for others. I think they are great. Never heard of them, and then just saw them at an Apple store, I think....

kimberly said...

I like to listen music every time, I usually wear my headphone. Actually, I want a house close to the camp and listen loud music, that’s why I think costa rica investment opportunities is a great option for me and for another ones.