'Inside' vs. 'outside' headphones: What's the difference?

The Velodyne vPulse is one of the best pair of $99 headphones I've ever listened to on the NYC subway, but it's not one I use at home or in any quiet space. Why's that?

The vPulse's overly generous bass turns me off at home, but it sounds perfectly balanced on trains, buses, cars, or planes. What those modes of transportation all have in common is lots of low-frequency rumble, and the vPulse's pumped up bass masks some of that noise. Headphones with more accurate bass response sound fine at home, but woefully bass shy on the go.

Worse yet, the very low frequency rumble on trains, buses, and so on can't be nullified by noise-canceling or noise-isolating headphones because those noises are felt through your entire body, not just heard through your ears. Bassy headphones may not be the perfect solution to the problem, but they can be surprisingly effective. … Read more

The founder of the Bose Corporation dies at 83

Amar G. Bose wore two very distinct hats, he founded the Bose Corporation in 1964, and was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor until 2001. He died on Friday at age 83. Bose was a visionary, an electrical and sound engineer, and he devoted his life to investigating our psychological and physiological responses to sound.

I remember when I heard the first Bose speaker, the 901. It was a revelation. Instead of just projecting sound forward, the 901 was designed to re-create the sound of instruments in a concert hall, where some of the instruments' sound is heard directly, but … Read more

How to set your Android ringer volume based on ambient noise

Have you ever adjusted the volume on your phone's ringer then forgot to set it back to normal? Subsequently, you either missed calls because it was too quiet or got startled because it was too loud. A new Android app called Intelligent Ringer aims to do away with the constant volume adjustments by setting the ringer volume automatically, based on ambient noise levels.

Launching the Intelligent Ringer app gives you the option of starting or stopping the app. When it's running, you'll see the icon in the notification bar. If you go to Menu > Settings, there … Read more

Woman kicked out of gym for using cell phone

A sweaty confession: I use my cell phone in the gym.

No, of course I don't talk into it. Who does that with a cell phone? But it's useful to have around, just in case someone needs you to urgently think about something -- or if you need to know what's happening out there somewhere. Texting and e-mailing are silent.

Some gyms, it seems, are very cell phone-averse. At Planet Fitness in Boston, for example, there is a very strict anti-cell phone policy.

You can only use your gadget in the lobby. Once you're on the … Read more

Listening in on Able Planet's new 'personal sound amplifier'

Now that I've spent the past week using Able Planet's newly released behind-the-ear "personal sound amplifier," I've learned that I don't hear as well as I like to think. Everything sounds crisper and perkier with the device.

Of course, that isn't necessarily what I want in every environment. I'll spare you the details, but you don't really need to amplify sound when you're going to the bathroom. Nor should crossing your legs in corduroys or pulling a slice of bread out of the plastic bread bag feel so... tingly. With the rather clumsily named PS1600BTE, sometimes the smallest background noises become so bright that it's downright distracting.

In the intended noisier environments, however, these amplifiers feel like magic, even to someone who likes to think she's got stellar hearing. What's interesting is that it wasn't until I removed the device from each ear that I realized how much duller and more jumbled the sounds in noisy environments were. The PS1600BTE is like icing on a cake I didn't know existed.… Read more

In Apple's iPhone 5 ads, everything old is new again

They often say that Apple never really invents anything. It only does things better than anyone else.

They also often say that making a call on an iPhone is as reliable as putting a bet on a sheep in a horse race.

So here's a new iPhone 5 ad that may confirm one of these alleged truisms, while defeating the other. For it features a revolutionary new noise canceling microphone on the iPhone 5.

Well, when I say "revolutionary," I might be prematurely full of Thanksgiving spirit.

I remember my fine engineer friend George offering that noise … Read more

Next-gen iPhones to spurn Audience noise-canceling tech

Audience, a company that has delivered noise-canceling technology to Apple's iPhones since 2008, thinks it might be left out of the fun in the iPhone 5.

Speaking to Reuters in an interview published last night, the company's CEO Peter Santos said that "the normal course of business led us to believe that our technology is not likely to be enabled in Apple's next-generation mobile phone." Santos didn't say what the "course of business" was. He also broke the news to the company's shareholders.

Apple and Audience's partnership was revealed earlier … Read more

Quieting the dinner din with a high-tech sound system

Besides bad service, too much noise is the biggest complaint people have about eating out, according to reviews site Zagat. And I agree. While a hip, happening place is fun for a single cocktail, it can be maddening, not to mention headache-inducing, when it comes to sustaining a dinner conversation.

Restaurateur John Paluska concurs: "Not being able to carry on a conversation in a restaurant that I was enjoying was really frustrating," he said, adding that it would be a conflicting experience. Even though he liked the place, he wasn't sure he'd want to go back "because I felt exhausted and had a really hard time carrying on a conversation when I was there," he said.

When Paluska decided to open his own restaurant in downtown Berkeley, Calif., designing a chitchat-friendly acoustic environment was one of the top priorities. "More and more restaurants are getting built in spaces that have a lot of hard, reflective surfaces, and there's not a lot of thought put into the sonic environment of the space," he says. … Read more

Apple hit with lawsuit over noise-canceling technology

Apple has been slapped with yet another patent-infringement lawsuit.

A California-based company, Noise Free Wireless, last week filed a complaint against Apple in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that Apple violated its noise-canceling technology patents. In addition, the company charged Apple with breach of contract and trade secret theft.

GigaOm, which was first to report on the lawsuit, also pointed out that a third-party, Audience, was included in the lawsuit.

According to Noise Free, it met with Apple in 2007 to discuss the potential of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company using its technology … Read more

Which of these Bluetooth speakerphones sounds the best? (comparison)

Most phones sold these days have a speakerphone mode. This setting is usually good enough for an impromptu hands-free call in a quiet office. However, when you get on the road in a noisy car, the phone's flaws are made apparent. For example, the built-in microphone can be less than ideal for canceling the levels of road and wind noise present in a car at highway speed, which leads to poor quality on the receiving end of your calls. I'm sure that you dislike repeating yourself to callers as much as I do, so let's look at how to improve call quality.

Visor-mounted Bluetooth speakerphones feature more sophisticated microphones with noise and echo-cancellation technology located closer to your head, which can dramatically improve sound quality. How much of an improvement should you expect? I've recorded outbound calls from five speakerphones (and my test phone's internal microphone) to demonstrate. … Read more