The Box and Goodies -
The box is very similar to what we saw with the Redemption Song headphones (well really headset as they have a microphone in them too). The material used for the box is recycled cardboard and the ink is also not the same acetate based ink that we are used to seeing. This means it is less toxic to the environment and is also easier to strip off when the container makes its way to the recycling facility.
As you can see the packaging is attractive and more than capable of conveying the quality of the headset inside.
Speaking of inside; you do get the same canvas bag that we found inside the Redemption Song box. This is one of those nice touches that add a perceived value to the product while not really increasing the cost.
The Stir it Up Headphones -
As we have told you before the House of Marley uses either recycled or renewable material in their products. With the Redemption Song that meant quite a bit of beach wood, metal and leather. In the Stir it Up headset we find more beach wood (the entire outside cap of the earpiece is wood), recycled aluminum leather and canvas.
The Stir it Up are quite heavy compared to many other headsets of this style (on the ear). This weight does not make them uncomfortable. In fact the way they are balanced they end up feeling more comfortable than headsets that are much lighter.
The ear cups are made of tanned leather (House of Marley says responsibly tanned) with foam padding inside. These are comfortable and do breathe just a little to help keep your ears cool. They also help to block out noise from around you and to channel the sound to your ear drums. Unlike the Redemption Song these can rotate 90 degrees to make storing them in the bag easier.
Past the ear cups there is a bezel of beech wood that connects to the aluminum outer ring. Between these two are thin strips of metal that boast the Red, Yellow and Green colors that are often associated with the Reggae culture.
The two ear pieces are connected to each other via a head strap that features a padded canvas covering (for comfort of course). Of course you can adjust the length of the crossbar for the best fit. This adjustment is not too difficult to do and is also not too lose. You have enough resistance to make things tight and to keep the ear pieces in place.
Like the Redemption Song the cable that connects the headset to your audio or video player is removable. This is a handy little feature that can help to prevent damage to the connections when in the bag, but we do have to worry about wear and tear to the socket.
Since most of the House of Marley products are designed with Apple in mind you have a three button controller situated part of the way down the braided cable. This holds volume controls and a button to allow you to answer phone calls while listening to music. The call answer button works on any smart phone, but the volume controls are Apple only (although we wish this were different). Inside the controller is also a microphone that is fairly typical in its specification. The fabric coating on the cable also helps to reduce outside static noise (and also helps prevent breaks and kinks). Both ends are gold plated (which looks nice, but in reality does not have much effect on the audio quality). One end has a 90-degree angle (the end that goes into your audio/video player) which will help with the longevity of your cable.
Now that we have covered the outside and the aesthetics we can cover the technology that delivers the sound to your ears. Inside each ear piece is a 40mm moving coil driver. If you are not sure what that means it is the same style of driver that is used in most speakers. You have a coiled electromagnet that sits around a larger magnet. As sound information in the form of current hits the voice coil this causes the speaker to move. This style of driver is pretty common (although more are much smaller than 40mm) there is a move to using electrostatic drivers as the cost of manufacture is coming down.
The 40mm drivers in the Stir it Up headset are capable of reproducing sound between 15Hz and 22KHz which is a very good range for on-ear headsets. So far it looks like the Stir it Up headset is very much on par with the Redemption Song headsets that we tested earlier.
With audio gear it is hard to be objective. After all different people like different music and even people that like the same music might like to listen to it in different ways. To make sure that I cover the audio products that we get here at DecryptedTech I like to have more than one opinion. Usually I gather 5 other people to listen to different audio types (gaming, movies, MP3 and CD-Audio). I then ask for a rating of one to five with one being the worst and 5 being the best for each category. As an added item I also ask for a single word to describe the audio quality. I then follow up with my personal feelings and observations. The HOM Redemption Song headphones are meant more for music reproduction. We also wanted to try them out in our other environments so we will cover them hear, but will focus on their performance with music and in particular digital music.
Music (MP3 and CD-Audio) -
For Music I have a few favorite tracks that I like to use. These are not always other people’s favorites but they serve as a baseline and have some impressive audio features to them that can distinguish between good audio and bad. One of them is Stevie Ray Vaughn’s rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing. It is an amazing track. Others are A Day in the Life by the Beetles, Are you Experienced by Jimi Hendrix, and Cage the Elephant’s Ain’t no Rest for the Wicked. To this listing we added some jazz, funk, and of course Reggae (Bob Marley’s Stir it Up of course).The numbers for this along with their corresponding one word comments are below.
The audio reproduction on the Stir it Up is exceptional. The separation is great for a $200 set of headphones that are meant for use with portable audio players. The deep bass was evident in songs like Is This Love and Stir it Up while not taking anything away from the high clear tones of Bob Marley’s voice. The mid-range sounds were not left out either as you can hear the crisp sounds of the brass instruments in there as well. The left right balance was brought out in music like Cage the Elephant’s “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” which uses the left and right channels to blend music into a single piece (following in the footsteps of pioneers like the Beetles, Jimi Hendrix and Cream).
So for this test we did something a little different. As we have mentioned (and you can see from the box) these are meant for portable personal media players like the iPhone, iPad iPod and even other tablets. We decided that in addition to our normal gaming tests with a few choice PC games we would also throw in a couple of games on our EVO 3D just to see how good the audio reproduction is there.
In gaming on our smartphone (the HTC EVO 3D) the Stir it Up headset actually brought out some of the flaws in the audio for the games we tested. We heard his and pop long with what is obviously over sampled audio clips in games like Fruit Ninja and even in Spiderman 3D (hey it’s a 3D phone after all). It also highlights an issue that some may overlook. If the audio controller (CODEC) used on the device is not good then you will not get good audio even with a good pair of headphones.
On the PC our Asus Xonar was able to push the Stir it Up headset properly. In playing Medal of Honor we felt the explosions and the nearby gunfire. Although it can never be the same it was startlingly close to the real thing. The only thing missing was the feeling of the concussion in your chest. Other than that the sound reproduction really brought a new level to the game play even for older titles like Half Life 2.
Movies was an easy one also, I have several Blu-ray titles that are great for this including Pirates of the Caribbean. So I loaded up this title and then dropped in a couple of other movies that have good surround effects. The numbers and words are shown below.
The sound during video playback was solid with full and vibrant sound. What many felt was missing was a sense of surround sound. There was also a slight clipping effect on the iPad 2 (running the latest firmware) with movies downloaded from iTunes in HD if we were to try and put our fingers on it we would guess that the lower frequency range on the iPad is causing clipping on the high end frequencies. We also saw something of this in transcoded video if the AC3 5.1 was left as the audio choice. Again this appears to be more an issue with the audio CODEC on the iPad than the headphones as we did not see this on our Transformer or the Zune HD we have. Again moving to the PC the Stir it Up headset was very solid with good highs, lows and mids. The only thing really missing was surround sound.
The padded ear cups, head strap and the weight all combine to make wearing the Sitr it Up headset comfortable. We did have two people that reported that the left ear piece felt heavier than the right, but we did not get a sense of that during our time with them (which was about 8 hours). We can say that after 8 hours of having them on your ears do feel like they have been pushed back a little, but nowhere near as bad as most of the other on-ear headsets we have tried out.
Value is another very subjective topic. What is expensive to some might be a deal to others. You can look at this topic in multiple ways. One is raw price and the other is what you get for the money. Each is accurate and both are correct ways to look at price/value. We tend to look at features, performance and real-property when we discuss value. However, we also take into account the raw cash cost of the item. As we said before these are not cheap headphones; you can expect to pay $199.99 for the Stir it Up Headset. Still after checking around and doing some spec for spec comparisons we found that this was not only a comparable price, but in many cases was a better price than other headsets we found. Most of the other sets did not feature volume controls on the cable (for Apple or other) and did not have the same range or driver size that the Stir it Up has. So while $200 is a lot of money you are getting quite a bit with it.
We like the products put out by the House of Marley, but then again we have a fondness for good quality audio no matter the source. This is one spot in almost every industry the consumer electronics that is being seriously neglected. While people are working on higher pixel densities the audio is left to “good enough”. This does a disservice to the devices that people are buying. With products like the Stir it Up headset from the House of Marley we are seeing that this trend could be turning around. The improvement of the quality of audio in personal media players, smartphones and even on the PC is a big deal and the company that gets it right (and can market it) will find a nice foothold in the market. Still even with today’s “good enough” audio mentality the House of Marley’s Stir it Up headset rises above the crowd with its full and vibrant audio reproduction, quality of build and of course the use of renewable/recycled materials in their products. If you are in the market for a good (we mean really good) set of headphones for music, gaming or video then you will want to check out the Stir it Up headset, or maybe any one of the House of Marley’s products. At this point we would expect any of them to perform well.
For their combination of sound reproduction, build quality and price we are happy to award the House of Markley Stir it Up headset with our Gold Key Award.
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