Reporting from Pepcom: Weird Headphones, Too Much Bluetooth, and Something Completely Different

Pepcom is an event organizer that brings together a smattering of technology companies, members of the press, and various forms of the grilled chicken sandwich. Here are the products from the world of audio and its extended fingers that intrigued and appalled.

RadioShack

The 25-watt RadioShack Cordless Soldering Iron ($19.99) runs on four double-A batteries, includes a built-in LED to shine a light on your handiwork, and heats up to 900-degrees Fahrenheit. It comes with a proprietary ceramic Split-Tip, is RoHS compliant, and utilizes an automatic shut-off feature in case the device overheats.

Products from the RadioShack exclusive Auvio line included the 60 Watt HBT6000 Bluetooth Boombox ($199), the 30 Watt PBT1000 Bluetooth Boombox ($129), the cute 10 Watt Bluetooth Cube Speakers ($39.99), the useful Auvio Music Receiver ($39.99), and the entry-level Auvio headphones ($29.99). The Auvio headphones had boatloads of wooly bass and colorations all over the place. The Auvio Music Receiver acts as a Bluetooth receiver that connects to your system via RCA or minijack connection. We were unable to connect my phone to both the HBT6000 and PBT1000 so I didn’t get a chance to hear the Bluetooth boomboxes with familiar material.

Creative:

In their brand new line of EVO headphones Creative has done something, well, creative.

The EVO ZX and ZXR headphones host a built-in DAC based on their Creative Z-Series soundcard. The $229 ZX has 40mm drivers. The $299 ZXR has 50mm drivers and adds active noise cancelling. Both headphones can connect to the source via USB, Bluetooth, and minijack connections. One can even use the EVO as a standalone DAC by routing the audio signal into the headphone’s USB input and output the sound from the four-pole minijack into a set of powered speakers.

Also, they look outrageous. Their see-through panels and multiple layers of red angular casework reminded me of Sektor from Mortal Kombat III.


Sektor is on the right

Listening to the EVO ZXR prototype was a mixed experience. There was deep and sustain-filled bass and surprising clarity in the mid treble but a serious suck-out in the midrange that made Javelin’s “L’Ocean” sound hollow and vocal-less. In addition, there were random spikes in volume causing distortion while listening. I spoke with the Creative rep and discovered the sound was being manipulated by the Crystallizer function in a partnering app, which boosted the lows and highs “to compensate for their absence in over-compressed music.” We turned off the Crystallizer but before I started listening to music, the headphone emitted intermittent and distorted bleepity-bloops. Hopefully, the kinks are sorted by the EVO ZXR’s release next month. The EVO ZX is available now.

Ultimate Ears:

When Logitech acquired Jerry Harvey’s Ultimate Ears headphone brand, the brand names sandwiched around a vertical line creating the multi-syllabic “Logitech|UE”. Per PR representative Andrea McDonald, Logitech is repositioning the brand with “a deeper dive into the music”. They have reverted back to the name Ultimate Ears.

The $199.99 UE Boom is a cylindrical water-resistant Bluetooth speaker perfect for portable listening. The Boom provides 360-degree sound via two 1.5" full range drivers and two 2" passive radiators. It is wrapped in a stain-proof acoustic skin and can be dropped in the pool (for just a second). A more recommended near-water use for the Boom is bringing it into the shower. The device can be charged for up to 15 hours worth of battery life. Two UE Booms can be “Doubled Up” using the accompanying mobile app to convert the speakers into a two-channel system.

I reviewed a Logitech Boombox earlier this year and was disappointed by its propensity to distort at moderately high volumes. Boomboxes are made for social situations and should thus go loud—the clearer the better. I asked McDonald to turn the UE Boom all the way up. On the Foster the People track “Helena Beat” maxed out I didn’t necessarily hear clarity, but when turned down, I noticed nicely defined lines around the instruments and an agreeable balance. The UE Boom is available now.


Boom.

Sugar Sync:

Sugar Sync is a cloud storage solution that differentiates itself from Dropbox by allowing users to sync their computer’s file hierarchy to their cloud storage rather than having an independent Cloud-only folder. This could help those who want constant access to their music folders regardless of device and don’t want to have to maintain a separate cloud storage folder.

Sugar Sync offers 5GB of free storage for basic consumers. Their first paid plan starts at 60GB of storage for $7.50/month, and they offer plans up to 1TB of storage if you really want it.

Sugar Sync has two data centers, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, each with matching data in case one of the centers is struck by natural disaster, rolling blackout, or ninja attack.

Main Gear

How could I not share a picture of this behemoth? Main Gear presented their water-cooled super-computer prototype. Water-cooling leads to a quieter system, lower temperatures, and a longer lifetime for the product.

The prototype you see here utilizes a dual pump system and reservoir that will last up to three years with out being refilled. Main Gear’s computers run on Windows 8 and are equipped with quick disconnects on internal cards for modification.


For the serious computer audiophile.

Vizio

The closest thing I saw to non-headphone and non-wireless audio at the show was the very affordable S4251 Vizio 5.1 system. For $329, you get an eight-driver three-channel soundbar, two full-range satellite speakers, and one 6" wireless subwoofer. The system was designed by Vizio in California and manufactured in China. The Vizio M801D TV seen in the image receives the 5.1 signal from a Bluray player via HDMI and outputs it via Toslink to the S4251. Vizio will also launch the S4221 2-channel soundbar on June 27th.


Vizio makes audio.

Brookstone

Guess what? More Bluetooth! Brookstone showcased their Big Blue Go prototype, a portable Bluetooth speaker that will cost approximately $129 and be released in a couple months. It will feature call capabilities and blah blah blah blah Bluetooth blah blah blah.


The Big Blue Go from Brookstone in a massage chair.

Korus

I approached the Korus representative and his assortment of boomboxes: “Let me guess, another Bluetooth speaker?”

“Actually, you’re wrong. We hate Bluetooth!” he boasted.

Korus’s new line of boomboxes utilizes a proprietary wireless audio protocol called SKAA. SKAA is transmitted on the 2.4GHZ ISM radio band. By connecting your device to a small Korus Baton, one starts transmitting audio immediately to the Korus device. Unlike the Bluetooth devices used earlier that evening, the connection to the Korus boombox was fast and without flaw.

SKAA promises high reliability, a 480Kbps rate of transfer, 40ms of latency in the transmission, 65-foot range, and the ability to connect to four different Korus speakers at once. The Baton is available in 30-Pin, Lightning, USB, and Micro-USB connectors. The only downside is that one constantly has to have the baton at-hand to connect.

Models in the line up range between $299 and $399.


The Korus team hates Bluetooth.

Siemens:

And now for something completely different. We get a surprising amount of requests at Stereophile for coverage on hearing aids. When I got an email from Siemens saying they’d be presenting their hearing aids at this summer’s Pepcom, I told them I’d be there. They were confused.

It was the most informative and enjoyable presentation of the event.

The hearing aid division at Siemens is a tiny part of their conglomerate, which normally focuses on energy, transportation, and healthcare infrastructure. Yet, the Siemens hearing aid division is the largest manufacturer of hearing aids worldwide.

The hearing aid division sources much of their technology from Siemens R&D worldwide. Developments include the use of a digital chip, noise-cancellation, and beam forming. Beam forming is the ability to focus on the source of the sound while damping the surrounding environment. Siemens hearing aids are designed to be “scene-to-scene” thus change intake format based on the volume of the surrounding environments.

Hearing aids offered by Siemens usually fall in the receiver in-canal category with a discreet piece that fits behind the ear. Siemens now provides a device to pair your device with your phone via Bluetooth connection. (There it is again.) They are fitted with Gore-Tex to last up to two hours submerged in water and range from $1200-$2400 depending on the amount of hearing loss.

Trends

Well that’s it! If you consider the companies at Pepcom a random sample of what is happening in consumer technology right now, one could draw that Bluetooth continues to be unreliable, not all headphones are created equal, and hearing aids rock!


A Siemens hearing aid submerged in water.

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