JLAB JBuds J4M Review

Review: The JBuds J4M earbuds from JLAB hit the $50 sweet spot, but they don't quite stack up to competition in their highly contested price range.

Those looking to upgrade the stock earbuds that come with phones and portable media devices are now confronted with an almost ridiculous number of options. You can get some entry level ‘phones with the change in your pocket at the grocery store or pharmacy (ex: JVC Marshmallow) or for a few bucks more you can step it up a notch and grab a slightly more comfortable pair at the electronics department of your big-box store (ex: Sennheiser CX215).

Then there’s this segment that sits right around the $50.00 mark that, in our opinion, should start to offer better features and noticeably better sound quality than that of the entry-level bubble gum ilk. JLAB’s J4M JBuds, along with a slew of others we’ll be reviewing over the coming days fit right into that category. Let’s see how they stack up.

Out of the Box

One shouldn’t expect to be met with a bunch of extras when cracking open the box of a $50 set of earphones. You’re just not likely to get cord extensions, airline adapters or ¼” adapters at this level. The J4M don’t issue any surprises in this regard. What you do get is a pair of earphones and just about every eartip size under the sun. In total we counted four sizes of single flange silicone tips and three sizes of double flange tips. The J4M also come with a rugged, if not entirely attractive, carrying case that JLAB points out offers enough extra space to hold an iPod nano or shuffle as well.


JLAB touts that the J4M may be the most rugged earphones ever made. We’re not sure we’d go that far, but we will concede that these earphones look and feel pretty tough. We’re not feeling gutsy enough to run them over with a car, but if we had to place a bet, our money would be on the J4M surviving the hit and run. It isn’t just the ear-pieces that feel tough, every contact point that the cord makes is reinforced by a thick, fairly flexible strain relief. Even the microphone and control unit located 4 inches down the left earphone cord is made of impact resistant plastic.

The J4M cord is flat and said to be tangle free. It may be tangle free, but it still gets twisted with the best of them. The cord is also a little on the stiff side, and as we’ll soon disclose, we think this contributed to a problem we had with the J4M popping out of our ears.

These canal phones are meant to work with all sorts of phones and portable devices. There’s just one button, so plan on learning the “code” of clicks for skipping tracks and don’t plan on changing the volume without grabbing your device.


We tested the JRM using a Headroom Micro DAC, Headroom Micro Amp, and iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, and a Dell N5110 Laptop. Some of our test tracks included Marcus Miller’s “Panther” and “Mr. Pastorius” from the album The Sun Don’t Lie, “Uptown Up” and “Advanced Funk” from Maceo Parker’s Roots and Grooves” and “Babylon Sister” from Steely Dan’s Gaucho album.

The fit of a canalphone like the J4M is crucial. Fit has implications on comfortability, security and sound quality. Unfortunately we had trouble getting the J4M to fit well, which is a little ironic since almost every size of eartip imaginable is included with the earphones. It turns out the problem wasn’t finding the right size (we did ok there), the issue was getting them to stay put.

We have to point to three factors that we believe caused the J4M to wiggle out of our ears. First, the rugged design, while great for keeping things from breaking, ends up placing weight in the wrong places. There’s enough ballast on the backside of the J4M that they tended to wanted to move out of our ears rather seat securely inside. Then there’s the issue of eartip texture. While soft, the eartips have no grip to them, so there’s little to keep them sliding against the skin. Finally, the stiffness of the cord that we mentioned earlier exerted enough force on the earphones as it moved around that there was no keeping the little buggers in place. Granted, everyone’s ears are different and we’re sure there are folks who haven’t had or won’t ever have problems keeping the J4M in place but, folks, we test a lot of earphones and we rarely have this problem. We’re pretty sure others will too.

In terms of sound quality, the J4M didn’t do a whole lot for us. There was some bloat around the mid-bass region, a noticeable bump right in the vocal region and some harshness around the sibilant sounds of the letter ‘s’. We can usually look around one audible oddity, but there was too much going on with the J4M for us not to say that we just didn’t enjoy their sound very much.


The J4M get points for achieving a durable, rugged design and we appreciate the effort to provide a wide range of eartips for proper fit. However, the lack of grip on the eartips along with heavy earphones and stiff cable made it tough to keep these earphones in place. That, along with sound quality with more than just a couple of quirks, keeps us from recommending the J4M.


Rugged design
Mic and control switch included


Underwhelming sound
Insecure fit
No built-in volume control

Dr. Dre Beats Studio Gold Headphones

You might think twice before walking down the streets with these custom made, gold-plated Dr Dre Beats Studio Headphones from Crystal Rocked.

In the market for gold plated headphones? Aren’t we all? Well, if you are looking to drop 25 C-notes ( $2,500) on a pair then look no further than these 24-carat gold plated Dr. Dre Beats Studio Headphones by Crystal Rocked.

Apart from the gold-plated aesthetics,  not much has changed  from the standard edition of Dr. Dre’s signature headphones. These bad boys will come in a custom-made walnut box (walnut screams gangsta) with each set being authenticated with a serial number, certificate, and two-year warranty.

Only 50 of these will be made, which gets reduced to 40 considering famous London department store Harrods has called dibs on ten already.

Nocs NS400 Review

Review: The Nocs NS400 use a lightweight titanium housing and driver to achieve some of the most revealing sound we’ve ever heard out of a headphone, at a price that’s almost too good to be true.

Every couple of days or so, we pick up another pair of earphones and are often surprised to learn they come from yet another company we haven’t heard of before. How many headphone companies can the world sustain? It’s kind of like watching the headphone version of the U.S. housing bubble and, if the simile plays out, that means the industry could soon see some unfortunate collapses. Sad as the situation could turn out to be, we’re having plenty of fun testing all of these earphones.

Next on our seemingly endless docket of headphone cases: The Nocs NS400. NOCS is one of a handful of new Swedish headphone companies making a play at the booming headphone market. It makes just four products: Three earphone models and a “street” style on-ear headphone. With a list price of $99, the NS400 sit in the middle of Nocs’ earphone line-up.

Out of the box

The NS400 are short on accessories. In the box, we found the earphones and a white paper pouch labeled “accessories” which amounted to two pairs each of small, medium and large silicone ear tips and a small cable clip. We’d really like to see even a rudimentary pouch included, or at least a resealable bag to contain the little ear-tips. We had to resort to a zippered sandwich bag just to keep them from scattering about our desk.


The NS400 use titanium-coated 8.0mm drivers. The earphone housing is also made of titanium. The rest of the earphone, including the ear-tips, cord and mic is available in either white or black. Total cord length measures in at just over three feet, barely long enough if you intend to use it with anything other than a personal media player.

Sensitivity is rated at 95db, impedance at 16 Ohms (@ 1 kHz) with a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. Pretty standard stuff.

The NS400’s iPhone mic offers three-button control, allowing for convenient use of all the basic phone and iPod controls.


To test the NS400, we used an iPhone, a Dell N5110 laptop, a HeadRoom Micro DAC, HeadRoom Micro amp and a NuForce uDAC-2.

It is our standard practice to break headphones in for at least 20 hours prior to doing any formal listening. The NS400 are a great example of why break-in is such a crucial process. Straight out of the box, the NS400 sounded hard, brittle and without much depth. As we’ll soon discuss, about 24 hours of constant playing changed the NS400’s response drastically. So, a little DigitalTrends PSA: Whenever auditioning or purchasing a speaker or headphone, please make sure they have been broken in or are given the time to break in before making passing any judgment. If you don’t, you could be missing out on something great.

We found the NS400 to be plenty comfortable. They’re small and light enough to almost forget you’re wearing them. The seal they provide is excellent and lends some significant passive noise isolation. The iPhone mic and control buttons don’t add much weight to the right earphone, though it can be clipped up to relieve any strain. Really, our only complaint is that the cord (aside from being a little short) transfers plenty of sound any time it is touched or moved — a common issue we’d like to see go away forever so we can quit complaining about it.

Anyone who has read audio reviews has heard about this, and some of us are fortunate enough to have experienced it: That moment where we “hear things we had never heard before.” It’s one of those widely used, accessible listener descriptions that seems universally understood to imply a revealing piece of audio gear. Well, once we started our listening tests with the NS400, we were treated to another one of those moments, but at a level much more grandiose than we’re used to.

“Blue in Green” from Russell Gunn’s Plays Miles album is one of our favorite test cuts because it’s got a little bit of everything we like to use when gauging audio performance. It opens with uncompressed solo acoustic piano accompanied by some creaking noises from the piano bench and some heavy breathing from keyboardist Orrin Evans as he tickles the ivories. Later, Gunn comes in with some electronically processed trumpet. The effects add some artificial body and warble to Gunn’s tone. It’s distinct and fun to listen to. Next, bass player Mark Kellye alternates between quick, percussive finger picking and long sustained notes which run up and down the entirety of his five-string bass’s range. There’s some really deep stuff in there, which tips us off to how low a headphone will go. Then there’s the well-recorded drums… honestly, we could go on and on.

Anyway, we’re listening to this track we’ve heard countless times and something suddenly leapt out to us at 1:36. Plain as day, we heard what sounded like a “ghost trumpet” haunting the song. What we think we heard was a trumpet performance track that didn’t make the cut and was essentially “killed,” to be replaced by another track. The thing is, the trumpet track in question seems to have bled through the mics of another instrument on the recording. The drums, bass or piano mics must have picked it up. We suppose it’s possible the sound is intentional, but we think it is just as likely that the producer and engineer thought that it would go unnoticed, assuming the track that picked up the bleed didn’t need to be re-recorded. A fair assumption, considering we’ve been using this cut for almost two years now and never caught it. That is, until we listened to it with the NS400.

Once we were aware of the anomaly and knew exactly where it came in, we decided to listen to the same section with various other headphones in our review queue. With the JLab J4M, the ghost horn was audible for less than a second when, suddenly, the headphone’s booming mid-bass came in, overshadowing anything else that was happening in the music. With the B&W C5, (which had the least bass of all the headphones in this little shootout) the ghost was so far back in the mix that we felt a little better for not having noticed it before. With the large, circum-aural Sennheiser HD598, the track was more pronounced but still not nearly as exposed as the NS400 made it.

In a way, the mini-shootout, inspired by this studio recording phenomenon, gave us all the information we needed to make our evaluation. It turns out, the old trumpet track is audible on and off for the duration of the song. But we’d never have known it if it wasn’t for the NS400.

The NS400 aren’t just a one-trick pony, though. Sure, they’re revealing, but there’s plenty more going on here. We changed our listening tracks over to the “man with the horn” himself, Miles Davis, and his Live Around the World album. The bass response was fantastic. We got round, deep, poignant bass accompanied by open, airy trumpet tone that carried more weight than most of the similarly sized headphones we’ve tested. While they don’t deliver the body of an on-ear or over-hear headphone, they get you closer than most in-ears can. Treble is a little on the hot side in general (no one will accuse the NS400 of being “laid back”) and, on our brightest tracks, perhaps a little aggressive (Jason Mraz’s “Mr. A-Z” was borderline unlistenable). But we felt ok with the occasionally hot highs considering that, 90 percent of the time, the treble was right where we like it.

While the NS400 sound as good as any earphone can when being powered by an iPhone, they really came alive when connected to gear that had some decent output. Both our HeadRoom Micro Amp and NuForce uDAC-2 took the already great sounding NS400 to truly fantastic levels of performance.

When we first looked up the price of the NS400, we were straight-up shocked. We’ve seen these little titanium gems available for anywhere from $100 right down to $65 from reputable online retailers. Even…Sears? We don’t want to set off any alarms over at Nocs, but the NS400 could sell for more, given how great they sound. It’s rare to find an earphone so small and light, with such solid, revealing output.


So, as it happens, Nocs is a small Swedish company that really seems to know what it is doing when it comes to making earphones. It’s been a real pleasure discovering the beauty that is the Nocs sound, and we can’t remember the last time a set of headphones turned out to be such a pleasant surprise. We keep thinking: if the NS400 sound this good, then how good must the dual-armature NS800 sound? We’re requesting a sample and hope to let you know all about that.

There’s no doubt that the NS400 are a tremendous value. Sure, they’re short on accessories, but who cares when every cent of the purchase price pays off with premium performance? We suggest you do yourself a favor and snatch these up before someone in Sweden gets wise and the price goes up. If you do, though, be prepared to re-listen to your entire music collection. The NS400 have a way of compelling you to just…listen.

Because the NS400 “nocs” us off our feet (sorry, couldn’t help it) and can be had at a very attractive price, we gladly bestow them our coveted Editor’s Choice award.


Balanced, accurate sound
Incredibly revealing detail
Deep bass response
Lightweight and comfortable

Short cord
Occasionally aggressive treble
Few accessories

BodyGuardz Earjax Lyrics Review

Review: The Earjax Lyrics headphones from BodyGuardz offer plenty of punch and rumble while remaining balanced at the same time.

The battle of the $100 earphones here at Digital Trends rages on. Stepping into the ring this time are the earjax Lyrics, a headphone brand now offered by the folks at BodyGuardz. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, that could be because it has only functioned as the company’s name for a handful of months. Though it has been around since 2002 producing screen protectors, skins and other personal device protectors under the name NLU, it wasn’t until March of 2011 that the company took on the name of one of its products and re-branded as BodyGuardz.

Six months ago, BodyGuardz acquired the earjax brand from its original maker, Truaudio. In fact, the entire line of earjax earphones now being sold under the BodyGuardz name was designed and manufactured by Truaudio, an organization with decades of of experience in audio and well noted for its architectural speakers. But now that BodyGuardz owns earjax, it has its own plans for the earphone line. Come CES 2012, BodyGuardz says it intends to unveil the a whole new line of earjax products which will feature some of the company’s unique design approaches. We’re told, however, that the guts involved in making sound will remain more or less unchanged.

You can buy the Lyrics at the BodyGuardz website and, as a philanthropic bonus, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Starkey Hearing Foundation. Otherwise, the existing earjax line is getting difficult to find at the retail level. So, why are we reviewing an earphone that is soon to be replaced and increasingly difficult to find? Because we’ve been assured that the sound of the prodcut is one of the key attributes that will stay the same as the earjax line goes forward and, based on what we’re hearing now, we think this fresh face in the earphone marketplace might just have a bright future.

Out of the box

When we get to the $100 earphone level, we expected more to be in the box than just a pair of earphones and a handful of replacement ear-tips. That was our only real gripe over the NOCS NS400, which sounded fantastic but didn’t include something as basic as a carrying pouch.

Thankfully, the Lyrics do come with some useful accessories. We found a wide assortment of ear-tips including one set of foam tips, two set of graded tips and 6 pair of silicone tips-three pair black and three pair white.

We also found a carrying case, a cable wrap, a carabineer, some decals and a 36-inch extension cable.


The first thing that grabbed our attention about the Lyrics’ design is its driver housing. It looks a little funny-something between an egg and a cartoon speech balloon comes to mind-but it feels fantastic, both to the fingers and to the ear. The rounded surface is covered with a soft, rubbery substance that provides a warm, secure and comfortable fit. Because the housing is on the larger side, we were concerned it might bite or pinch the outer edge of the ear canal, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that it fit just right and managed to fill up the better portion of the outer ear without any discomfort.

The two cords leading from each earphone are shielded behind clear plastic jackets which join inside a plastic hub adorned with the earjax logo. There’s no mic built into these earphones; a design point BodyGuardz mentioned would be addressed with the new 2012 line. The rest of the cord is cloth covered, which we just so happen to like not just because it looks and feels good, but because it minimizes drag on clothing and doesn’t conduct sound up to the earphones.

The stock cable is about 4 feet long and terminated with a silver ⅛-inch mini plug. If that isn’t long enough, tack on the provided 3-foot, cloth covered extension cable with gold-plated mini-jack. Why silver on one and gold on the other? We’re just not sure. Maybe that will be addressed in next year’s line, too.

And now for the technical stuff: The earjax are outfitted with 13mm drivers (pretty large for an earphone of this size) and are rated with a frequency response of 15Hz-20kHz, an impedance of 24 ohms and a sensitivity of 105 db@1mW.


To test the earjax Lyrics, we used an iPhone, a Dell N5110 laptop, a HeadRoom Micro DAC, HeadRoom Micro amp and a NuForce uDAC-2. We listened exclusively to digital music files ranging in quality from 128k mp3 to WAV and 96kHz/24bit FLAC.

That our evaluation of the earjax Lyrics came immediately after our review of the NOCS NS400 could be considered a difficult circumstance for the Lyrics. The NS400 blew us away with their remarkable clarity, separation and detail and thus became our reference standard for earphones in the $75-$150 price segment. However, the situation actually worked out well for the Lyrics because, as it turns out, they are one fine earphone in their own right.

Having been broken in for a good 30 hours, our listening session quickly became a head-to-head challenge between the Lyrics and the NS400. We went back and forth for hours comparing subtle details because the performance variations were extremely tight. When all was said and done, we could crown neither earphone as “top dog”, per se. They are both excellent sounding, comfortable earphones that are a lot of fun to listen to. They just have different ways of going about the job of faithfully reproducing music.

What the NS400 lack in the deepest bass region, the Lyrics have in spades. The Lyrics’ robust response in the lowest bass octave has a way of making bass resonate inside the head-an attribute we think a lot of listeners will enjoy.

The Lyrics’ high frequency response is a little more laid back than the NS400 right up until the highest frequencies when the curve seems to bounce back up a bit. These non-fatiguing highs allowed for extended listening sessions without any desensitization and kept brass instruments sounding sassy while naturally capturing the etching sounds of a bow across stringed instruments.

Midrange is satisfyingly open and un-muddled considering the meaty bass response the Lyrics are capable of. Male vocals never sounded chesty or nasal – just honest reproduction of the original with just a bit of boost at the bottom. Female vocals sound lively without the fake shimmer that we often hear with earphones that try too hard to sound “crisp”.


While the Lyrics don’t exhibit quite the same level of clarity or generous amount of detail as our reference earphones, they do offer some entertaining punch and rumble which, thankfully, doesn’t stomp on anything else. The Lyrics have a special way of being extremely entertaining while remaining accurate and balanced-which is a pretty tough trick to pull off, apparently. While one can always pick up a pair of these fine earphones from BodyGuardz now and support a great cause in doing so, we think the story here is about the potential for the earjax brand to go far, so long as BodyGuardz doesn’t do anything to futz with the sound. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Open, lively sound
Robust bass
Quality construction
Cloth covered cord

No mic/control
Scant availability

Marshall Major Review

Review: The Marshall Major headphones tap into the brand’s distinguished history for a unique design, but fall short of the sound you might expected from the fabled amp manufacturer.

It seems like everyone and their cousin’s brother is making headphones now. It also seems like we’ve made a similar comment in almost every headphone review we’ve published over the last couple of months. In fact, both statements are true and we think we’ve deduced why. It’s all based around a concept we’ve decided to call “bandwagon headphones.”

Bandwagon headphones are headphones that come along because a company, often not even related to the audio industry, suddenly decides it wants to tap the cash cow that is the mobile device accessory market. It would seem, on the surface anyway, that our headphone maker du jour, Marshall, would fit in that category.

At least Marshall has a storied history and legendary reputation in guitar amplification. As such, the British company has been and continues to be involved in sound and music in a very prolific way. With that said, we have to point out that Marshall, in its nearly 50-year history, has never made a headphone before.

And, in fact, it still hasn’t. All of the permutations of what are essentially two Marshall headphone models are made by the Swedish headphone maker Zounds, (which, by the way, also makes cans for Urban Ears).

That Marshall is branding another company’s product is not necessarily an indication that the Major headphones are just an off-the-shelf product with a Marshall makeover. In fact, based on some sonic differences between the Marshall Major and the Urban Ears Plattan, we’re pretty sure at least a little custom voicing has been applied.

In our Marshall Major headphone review, we dig into what makes these headphones distinctly Marshall, dissect their sound quality and determine whether these ‘phones do the Marshall name justice.

Out of the box

The stylized box for the Major headphones looks as if it might contain a mini Marshall amplifier inside. To get to the goods, you have to lift the top portion of the box as if uncovering a huge crate. Inside the base of the box are nestled the Major headphones. Accessories include a ¼-inch (6.3mm) headphone adapter. Marshall didn’t include a carrying pouch or storage case, but based on the rugged feel of the headphones, we don’t think one would be necessary for anything but the sake of convenience.

Design and specs

Marshall’s excellent branding efforts are replete throughout the Major’s design. The vinyl covering on the headband is the same stuff Marshall uses on its guitar gear and has the same texture as well. The earcups are intentionally square, built of some seriously tough resin material and bearing Marshall’s telltale script logo. On the black Major and Major FX models, the logo is in white. On the newly released white models, the colors are inverted.

The roughly four-foot-long cord, which is fixed on one end to the left earcup, has a small in-line mic with one-button control located just four inches below the cord’s termination, placing the mic in very close proximity to the jaw. Just below the mic, the cord is coiled, which allows a generous amount of strain relief and flexibility of movement — perfect for those times when your phone or media player needs to be tucked in a bag, backpack or purse.

The Major’s gold-plated, ⅛-inch mini-plug looks just like an older guitar cord with a metal coil strain relief. Plenty of cool factor at play here.

The ear pads are hinge-mounted, like an old-school set of studio headphones. To size up the headphones, the mounting hinges move up and down through pieces mounted at the end of the headband. This design approach also allows the earcups to be collapsed inward for more compact storage.

While the headband’s padding isn’t particularly plush, the padding in the earcups is more substantial and covered with a very soft, leather-like material which had us thinking the cans would probably stay comfortable over longer listening sessions.

Since the Urban Ears Plattan are made by the same company as the Marshall Major, we decided to make a bit of a comparison, both in terms of build and sound quality. As for build, we noticed that the earcup mounting hinges, internal wiring, in-line mic and headband components are identical. The headband wrapping, earcup padding and, we suspect, drivers are different — they certainly sound worlds apart.


Our test bench for this Marshall Major headphone review included an iPhone, Dell N5110 laptop, NuForce uDAC-2, Headroom Micro DAC and Micro Amp and a variety of music sourced directly from CD or digital music files including 192k-320k mp3, FLAC and WAV files.

Straight out of the box, the Marshall Major sounded like they needed some serious break-in time. In fact, the headphones as a whole benefit from some working over. Like a brand new baseball glove, the Marshall Major comes out of the box feeling and sounding stiff. Allowing them some play time on their own (we ended up giving them about 40 hours) and working them around in our hand, stretching the headband a bit to loosen it up, made for a much more comfortable listening experience all around.

Our initial impression of the Marshall Major was that they were far too midrange intensive; so intensive, in fact, that we found ourselves having to take them off for some rest periods. Generally, this is a bad sign. However, as the headphones got some play time, the sound improved dramatically. Things became more balanced, with bass rounding out the bottom end with better presence, and the highs achieving a more realistic and much less compressed sound.

Still, the Major’s sound is clearly intended to be in your face. No one will ever accuse the Major of sounding laid back. Vocals come across rich and full of body, even at very low volumes. High frequencies are bright and full of texture, but stay well under control under normal volumes. Bass response is accurate — if it’s on the recording, you hear it and feel it. The sound never seems artificially bloated; a problem we run into often, particularly with supra-aural (on ear) headphones like the Major. If we had to pick a single word to describe the Major, it would be “live.” In fact, we felt the headphones sounded best when reproducing live recordings.

The Marshall Major certainly benefited from some quality amplification. The headphones sounded much less compressed when driven by our NuForce uDAC-2 and Headroom Micro Amp than when played directly off of the iPod. This came as a surprise, considering the Major seem relatively easy to drive. Also, as we turned up the volume on our iPhone, we heard a fair amount of distortion, which was most evident around the upper mids and lower treble. This effect was minimized with better amplification, but still present, albeit to a much lower degree.

Compared to the Urban Ears Plattan, the Marshall Major headphones sounded livelier and open for a closed-back headphones. Ironically, they were also just a tad more comfortable. Compared to the SOL Republic Tracks headphones, the Major again sounded livelier, and had more accurate bass, but the SOL Republic ‘phones were far more comfortable to wear and listen to over long periods of time.

Of course, sound quality is only half the battle. In order for a headphone to be truly great, it needs to be comfortable for long-term wear. This is an area where both the Marshall Major and the Urban Ears Plattan suffer. Something about the headband and mounting structure applies an amount of force on the ears and crown that initially comes off as a “secure” feeling. But the longer they are worn, the more the pressure wears on you. The ear pad material doesn’t help things either. While it was great at providing passive noise isolation, it led to some problems, eventually. After about 45 minutes or so, we felt the heat building up and experienced the urge to let our ears breathe for a while.


The Marshall Major headphones offer an aesthetic appeal that is uniquely Marshall and bring with that look a very live sound that we think many listeners will appreciate. However, their tendency to compress sound when driven with lower quality sources and the long-term comfort problems we experienced hold us back from making them a recommended product. These ‘phones might best suit listeners that enjoy music in shorter spurts and don’t necessarily need to crank the volume to enjoy it.


Brilliant, live sound
Accurate bass
Unique aesthetic
Well built

Uncomfortable for long term use
Upper mids compress at high volumes

Volkswagen Beetle R Concept

Check out pictures of the Volkswagen Beetle R Concept from the 2011 LA Auto Show.

The Volkswagen Beetle R concept is an interesting update to VW’s brand new overhaul of the classic bug. Designers started by widening the stance of the concept just a hair – by 1.2 inches – with new front and rear bumpers. Air intakes on the concept are also new, as are the unique brake calipers, new front and rear spoilers, and 20-inch wheels. Inside, you’ll find bucket seats that seem borrowed from a racing car, a new instrument cluster and gauges, brushed aluminum pedals, and new upholstery.

2013 Hennessey Venom GT Spyder poisons your wallet for $1.1 million

You're wallet will be substantially lighter once you plunk down the 1.1 million and add the 2013 Hennessey Venom GT Spyder to your garage.
It would appear that million dollar cars are en vogue at the moment, and why not, sometimes you need to get where you’re going really fast and cost is of no concern. So if that’s the case,  the speed demons over at Hennessey have just the set of wheels for you.
Similar in price to its million dollar Danish counterpart the Zenvo ST1, the 2013 Hennessey Venom GT Spyder is a roofless 1,200 horsepower, sickeningly fast beast on-wheels. It packs a mid-engine V8 capable of top speeds of 275 mph. It’s comprised of a lightweight carbon fiber body, carbon fiber wheels, and weighs in at 1200 kilograms.
You probably won’t mind getting caught in this Spyder’s web, but if the price tag doesn’t cause you concern maybe this will; the Hennessey Venom GT Spyder will come in an extremely limited run, with Hennessey Performance Engineering stating they will only produce five for the year 2013, two of which are already spoken for.

Incase Sonic Review

The Sonic headphones from Incase represent the company's first foray into the headphone market and they don't disappoint. Check out our full review.

To be perfectly frank, we rolled our eyes a little when we first learned that Incase, perhaps best known for its iPhone and iPad accessories, would be dipping its toe in the headphone marketplace. We get that designer headphones are a hot ticket right now, but too often we’ve found that headphones designed for fashion often come up short when it comes to doing what headphones are intended for: producing good sound.

So here we have Incase, a company noted for its well-designed accessories, jumping into the audio space with, ostensibly, no expertise whatsoever in audio engineering. What could possibly go wrong with that scenario?


What we expected from Incase was a set of cans that looked and felt like a 2011 Audi but sounded like the stock speakers in a ’75 VW Rabbit. As it turns out though, Incase did pretty well with its first headphone offering. The Sonic headphones, sitting at the top of Incase’s audio lineup, sound far better than we expected. In our Incase Sonic review, we go through both the finer and not-so-fine points of these headphones and rank them against the toughening competition.

Out of the box

Incase’s marketing tagline is: A better experience through design. Given the company’s reputation is staked on design, we expected a pretty outstanding out-of-box experience. Incase delivered big time.

Around the same time we received our Sonic headphone review sample, we noticed Incase’s new headphone line taking up residency (in a big way) at our nearby Apple store, so we expected something distinctly “Apple-esque” from the de-boxing experience too, and that’s exactly what we got.

It starts when you touch the box. No kidding. The exterior box has a soft, almost rubbery feel to it that we would later learn mimics the finish of the headphones themselves. A grey ribbon fixed to the side of the interior box makes extracting it that much easier. Atop the interior box is a semi-circle tab (very Apple) which, when pulled, lifts the lid and reveals…another lid. From here on out, the box material matches the accent color of the headphones. In our case, that color was bright orange.

After peeling back the fourth layer of packaging, we finally got to the Sonic headphones and the included accessories. As soon as we touched the headphones, we liked them. Everything about them feels great. The exterior is a soft, rubbery, anti-scratch material that is extended to the headphone cord and the supple memory foam in the earpads and headband is covered with a luxuriously-soft suede material.

The Sonic come with two 3.5-foot cables separated only by color. One matches the headphones’ exterior color; the other matches the accent color. Both offer an in-line mic with three-button control and a right-angled mini-plug which can be stepped up with the included ¼-inch adapter.

Not surprisingly, the Incase headphones come with a case. What was a surprise was the type of material Incase chose for the outer portion of the circular pouch which stores the headphones. It’s a thin, metallic looking material akin to Mylar that looks a lot like an old astronaut space-suit. Weird.

Incase makes up for the case’s exterior weirdness with an exceptionally soft micro-fleece interior that is so tactilely pleasing that we kept reaching into it just for fun. Someone needs to make a blanket out of this stuff, people.

Specs and Design

We’ve made it pretty clear that the Incase Sonic felt great in our hands. It turned out they felt great on our head, too. The Sonic are absent any unneeded pressure on the ears, yet they stay put effortlessly. The cushioning at the headband is extremely effective and the ultra-soft suede-covered earpads made wearing the Sonic so pleasant, we didn’t want to take them off. The oblong oval shape of the earpads added to the comfort quotient as it fit right around our ears without making them feel boxed in.

Don’t let all of our talk about luxuriously soft this and that mislead you, though. The Sonic are a rugged and resilient pair of cans. The rubbery exterior we mentioned also resists scratches and fingerprints extremely well and the amply-padded headband is extremely pliable. The headphones’ only likely weak point, the pivoting mount where earcup meets headband, seems plenty strong as well. In short, it is not likely that these headphones will break if inadvertently sat upon or otherwise crushed.

Checking out the technical specifications we noted that Incase claims the Sonic’s 40mm diaphragm driver is capable of a 20hz-20kHz frequency response with a rated SPL of 103 db (+/- 3db) @ 1kHz and an impedance around 32 ohms, give or take 15%. The total harmonic distortion rating is 3% which, honestly, is a big red flag that had us concerned about audio quality. To put things in perspective, the Sennheiser HD598 come in with a 0.1% THD rating, which is more in line with what we’re used to seeing and hearing from $200 headphones.


For this review, our test bench included an iPhone, Dell N5110 Laptop, NuForce uDAC-2, HeadRoom Micro DAC, Headroom MicroAmp and an assortment of music files ranging from 128k-320k mp3 to 96kHz/24bit FLAC files and WAV files.

We gave the Incase Sonic a good 40 hours of break-in time before we put them on to do any serious listening. Once we were ready to listen, we plugged the Sonic straight into our iPhone, pulled up a playlist and hit the random button.

The first notes reproduced by the Sonic came by way of “Fire Woman” from The Cult’s Sonic Temple record. The opening layers of guitar licks are kissed with the effects of a chorus pedal, a little distortion and some sort of phaser. The Sonic headphones did a good job of keeping the guitar layers separate while enunciating each pick of a string. Later in the track, the drummer and bass player build the intro with a static eighth-note pattern that starts quiet and grows ever louder. Here, the kick drum has a good amount of snap and just a touch of low end while the bass’s tone is clean and round. The Sonic did an admirable job of faithfully reproducing the recording by not adding in sub-bass that isn’t actually there. We did, however, hear a little more high-end snap on the kick drum than we’re used to.

Moving forward, we had a listen to a live performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” from the group’s The Dance album. On this cut, the kick drum has much more body, providing a realistic boom with a controlled decay that, if pulled off right, sounds very live. The Incase Sonic kept nimble, bringing in the extra low end without sacrificing tone. We even heard some of the audience cheers deep in the background as captured by the on-stage microphones. Later in the same song, as the band hits the chorus, the background vocals bring the song to life. The Sonic treated us to realistic vocal tones that were uncongested and uncolored with layered vocal parts that were easily distinguishable. Again, though, some of the guitar strumming and hits from the snare drum seemed a little harsh.

Next on our musical travels back in time: Tom Petty with “You Don’t Know How it Feels” from his 1994 release Wildflowers. On this track, a few seconds of organ crescendo is followed by the band’s entrance. The moment we heard the drummer’s hi-hat and the shrill sound of Petty’s harmonica, we understood what was bothering us on the previous tracks. The high frequencies were simply blown out of proportion relative to the rest of the frequency response. Not only did the treble seem unnaturally hot in the mix, but it bordered on screeching at times.

Recognizing that the iPhone’s headphone output often exacerbates poor quality audio issues, we switched to our laptop, which was running through our HeadRoom Micro DAC and Amp, both of which do wonders to take the digital edge of particularly hot tracks. Playing the same track, we noticed improvement but the hi-hat continued to grate on our ears. Time to turn to a track we know really well.

We went back to Russell Gunn’s “Blue in Green” for something fresh and familiar. The opening piano sequence sounded lush and spacious, just as we’d hoped. But as soon as the percussion came in, we began to wince. The high frequencies were just too much, especially as the percussionist strummed across a set of chimes. Each high frequency ring reinforced the next, creating a cascade of unwanted ring in our ears.

We spent plenty more time listening, hoping with each track that the high frequency goblin wouldn’t show up and sometimes he didn’t. It really depends on the music and the mix. Eventually, though, we were reminded not too get too comfortable because, at some point, that little bugger was sure to show its ugly head.

At the end of the day, we wound up frustrated by the Incase Sonic. Acoustically speaking, we’d say they get it right 97% of the time but the 3% of the time they get it wrong can be excruciating, especially when running directly off of an iPhone.


Incase’s first go at the headphone business is a pretty strong one. The full-size Sonic headphones are so well designed, they make you want to love them; but some occasionally shrill treble could be a deal breaker for some picky listeners. On the whole, we think Incase did a great job. The company has shown that it is every bit as capable of superior headphone design as the folks behind those celebrity endorsed models. If Incase can tame its trouble with treble, it will become a major contender in the exploding headphone marketplace.


Soft, Luxurious feel
Extremely comfortable
Open, spacious sound
Solid bass response

Excessively sharp treble
3.5 foot cord plays a bit short