Product Review: Timbre Pro Earbuds & CS40s Headphones From iFrogz
I could never understand how people could pay thousands of dollars on fancy sub-woofers, amplifiers, turntables and other audio equipment and then skimp on speakers. The first, and most sage bit of advice, I ever received when it came to buying audio equipment was, it doesn't matter what else you buy, but make damn sure your speakers are what you spend your money on. The sound a system creates is only as good as what your speakers can handle. What difference does it make if your amplifier can generate 500 watts per channel if your speakers are only rated for 100 each? You'll either end up with distorted sound or blowing your speakers the first time you turn the volume up.
When they started making portable stereo systems manufacturers tried compensating for inadequate speakers using technological advances. While things like Dolby might boost signals and make the music louder, or give the illusion of rich sound by what basically amounted to turning the bass up higher, it came with a cost. The slight differences in frequencies generated by different instruments were gradually lost and music became more a wash of sound than collection of individual notes coming together in harmony to create magic. However, those comprises are nothing compared to what's happened with the advent of micro personal players and listening to music through headphones rather than speakers.
As a music critic I've struggled over the years to find the best ways possible to listen to the music people send me. It's become even more difficult in recent years with so many record companies only making review copies available as downloads and forcing critics to use digital players. In order to appreciate the music you have to be able to hear it - and that doesn't just mean have your brains turned to mush by mega bass and the other bells and whistles some audio companies seem to think are what's needed to make music sound better. Almost as important has been trying to find headphones that don't distract from listening to the music. There's nothing more annoying than listening to music with something which causes physical discomfort.
So in setting out to gauge the performance of two of the many headphones offered by iFrogz, the Timbre PRO Earbuds with built in Microphone and the CS40s Headphones I've judged them on both audio fidelity and comfort. For those of you who are interested in the technical specifics of both pieces of equipment you can check their individual web pages at the links above as I've looked at them in terms of personal listening experience only.
The CS40s Headphones are an over the ear set modelled along the lines of traditional headphones, but with some subtle differences to accommodate portability and ease of usage. The first thing I noticed about them was not only were they easy to adjust in terms of fitting around your head, you could also adjust each ear piece independently. The CS40s allow you to place each ear piece for maximum comfort and sound quality. They even fit comfortably around the arms of glasses, which far too many manufacturers don't seem to take into account with their designs. Not only are the ear pieces so well cushioned you don't feel like you're wearing tin cans on your ears, they exert even less pressure than a pair of ear muffs. The only drawback when it came to comfort was the headband could have been softer. The addition of a little extra padding for across the top of the head would make the world of difference.
The sound quality was equally as impressive. First of all whether listening to music through my iPod Classic or watching video on my computer there was a richness to the sound I'd not experienced with headphones before. While some of that might have been accomplished by boosting the lower registers slightly, it wasn't at the expense of the over all quality. Both the mid and high end were still distinctive and it was easy to distinguish individual notes. From background sound effects on a television show to being able to distinguish each instrument as a distinct entity within a song, the CS40s offered a far wider range of sound than I would have anticipated from headphones made of metal. At a manufacturers suggested retail (MSR) price of $39.99 these are more than worth the price. With their ability to collapse in on themselves for easy storage and their light weight, they are perfect for both home and travel.
However, while headphones have always been known to have superior quality sound over earbuds and other more portable types of headsets, most of us prefer the latter for listening to music while walking or jogging. No matter how collapsable they are you still can't stick a set of headphones in your pocket like you can ear buds. Until now though, you've always had to sacrifice at least sound quality, if not comfort as well, for convenience. If that's been your experience in the past the Timbre Pro earbuds are going to change your world. Somebody at iFrogz seems to have remembered that materials matter when it comes to sound quality. These are the first headphone of any type I know of where the speaker, or whatever you want to call it, has been wrapped in wood.
The sound is the best quality I've heard from any set of headphones I've ever used. It has the warmth and range of tonal quality I've only ever associated with top of the line speakers before. You aren't normally able to distinguish between the individual voices singing five part harmony when listening to music through speakers let alone ear buds, but the Timbre Pro not only delivers rich sound the separation of the different ranges and frequencies is so clear you hear each voice as clearly as the lead vocals. The same goes for individual instruments, including some percussion you almost never hear because they are usually lost in the wash of sound. You could listen to everything from classical to hip hop on these with equal enjoyment
Like most earbuds they come with three different sizes and shapes of replacement buds for inserting into your ear. In this case however, they not only fit snugly into your ears without hurting they also successfully block out a great deal of surrounding background noise. This means you don't have to risk deafness by cranking the volume to listen to your favourite tunes while walking down a busy street. I tested them on a major street walking on the sidewalk right beside two lanes of traffic and didn't have to adjust the volume on my player once and was able to set it at half the level I had with other headphones.
While the Timbre PRO earbuds with microphone might seem pricey at $49.99 ($39.99 without microphone) as far as I'm concerned they are worth every penny. After years of having to listen to barely adequate sound through less than comfortable equipment, it's a joy to be able to enjoy the same quality of fidelity that I used to only ever associate with high quality speakers. As was the case with home audio equipment in the past there's no point in spending a lot of money on a music player if your headphones suck. If you care about the music you listen to the Timbre PRO earbuds are worth every penny.
(Article first published as Product Review: Timbre Pro Earbuds & CS40s Headphones From iFrogz on Blogcritics.)