Middle-of-the-road headphones offer comfort and long battery life, but odd controls, sound (August 20th, 2014)
Product Manufacturer: Life n Soul
- Surround sound
- Plastic construction
- Wave feeling as a result of equalizing
When it comes to music on the go, consumers generally have some options to consider when looking for the best experience. While Bluetooth speakers are good in a large number of situations, in some places they just aren't practical. This leaves consumers to look away from speakers and toward their counterparts for sonic delivery, Bluetooth headphones. But not all headphones are created equal, especially when the boutique market for headphones is examined. One company, Life n Soul, hopes to grab attention with its 8 Driver Bluetooth headphones. Do they warrant some attention, or are they just another set in the middle of the pack?
The 8 Driver on-ear headphones (model BE501) take on a look not unlike some other models in the sub-$200 range, coupling rectangular ear cups with a slightly overextending headband. The band features hinges above the cups, allowing the headphones to fold inward with ease for storage. The hinges are easy to activate, and in most cases the ear cups don't flop around if they are swung about. Life n Soul offers the headphones in white and chrome color options. The chrome finish, while impressive, collects a lot of smudges and fingerprints. It's fairly resistant to scratches though, even when keys are used to try and create some.
Construction of the 8 Drivers is mostly plastic, outside of a few pieces of aluminum in the hinges and along the band extension. Ear and headband pads house a light foam that is covered in a thin leatherette. The headband has three pads, each of them open in the center. Initially it was thought that the pads wouldn't provide much comfort, since the padding feels significantly lighter than memory foam. However, the headphones were worn for stints of six hours and greater without comfort problems. Band extension from the center of each ear cup runs about 16 inches at the shortest, but extends up to 19 inches.
If there are some areas of opportunity in the 8 Driver headphones, most of them are found in the construction. It comes down to the way the headphones feel, as the plastic that was used feels cheap at times because of its light weight. The entire device weighs only half a pound. It seems like if they were thrown with minimal force against a wall they would crack; however, drops from five feet showed no effect. Most of the plastic in the band is hollow, including almost all of the upper part of the band above the hinges. The band can be generously bent, but it feels like it would snap well before it was made flat.
Controls are another issue on the headphones, as they seem tacked on as if they were an afterthought. All of the controls are found on the right side, with a large multifunction button in the center. All of the controls are mounted to the band, as the cups connect to the headband at the center of the cup instead of a bracket at the top. The multifunction button is used for Bluetooth pairing, pause/play and phone calls. It operates as expected, using a combination of holds and presses for each function. The multifunction button also allows for last call redialing with a double press.
While the multifunction button is fine, the buttons for power, track and volume control leave a lot to be desired. The volume and track buttons are actually one 0.06 x 0.62 piece of plastic that activates at the ends like a soft rocker switch. Track changes are done with a single press, while volume changes require it to be held down.
In most cases this wouldn't be an issue, but there are two things working against it. First, the button is in inconvenient place. It sits on the 0.25 inch edge of the band on the back, leaving users only their thumbs as a comfortable way to activate it. The other problem is that it seems like the track buttons are reversed. The lower part of the button is used to decrease the volume or skip to the next track. It seems like the next track button should belong on the upper half with the volume up trigger. The power button is actually a switch on the front edge. It's actually a tiny switch, so it isn't easily grasped or pressed. A fingernail is often the best way to click it into place.
Bluetooth pairing is easy with the headphones, as the 8 Drivers use traditional tones to indicate connection. The multifunction button also has blue and red LEDs that blink depending on the mode, with alternating red and blue flashes in pairing mode. Range was as expected, with the headphones cutting out at 30 feet. Some signal loss was noticed at the 25 foot mark.
Listening time for the 8 Drivers headphones is impressive, with its 625mAh lithium-polymer battery. Stated use time from Life n Soul is as quizzical as their website, though the packaging says 28 hours of music play time. Documentation states 16 hours on a wired connection, or 25 hours on Bluetooth. Over the course of three days, a little more than 20 hours was witnessed for music playback, even with the unit left on over two nights. The battery took only three hours to charge, even though Life n Soul states it should be five hours.
Sound from the headphones is good, but it also comes with some quirks that users might not be able to get over. The aptly named 8 Driver comes with four neodymium dynamic drivers in each ear cup, three of which are 13mm and a single 50mm woofer. The arrangement creates an effective surround-sound experience that Life n Soul calls "dynamic surround sound." However, it only seems effective with some types of music. Modern orchestral arrangements provided the best immersion, as was noted with Hiroyuki Sawano's arrangements for Kill la Kill and Guilty Crown. The wearer can feel the sweeping changes in the strings and piano accompaniments in some of the tracks, capturing the movement and depth of the songs.
Rock and pop music sounds dull most of the time, as the mids in many songs seem nonexistent. Bass overtakes the mid range, leaving it to feel that there is a gap in the sound if there isn't enough bass present. According to the company, there are three equalizers set for sound variations depending on the bass. The problem is, users can't change them manually. As an effect of the processing kicking in, some songs feel "wavy" when listened to, as if the headphones are constantly trying to adjust to meet the model. In dynamic songs, like "Notorious," this is hard to miss.
Volume levels for the 8 Drivers left a little to be desired as well. At its peak on "Hunter," the headphones only hit 90dB, a figure that was slightly less than the higher-priced Velodyne vBolds. It didn't budge much during the four recorded source volume steps either, only decreasing four to nine percent from the 100 to 25 percent drop. "Notorious" acted a little different at the change from 50 to 25 percent volume, dropping from 82.7dB to 77.3dB. This is likely tied to the way the song is being processed as previously mentioned. Each of the songs performed consistently until that point.
Life n Soul produced an interesting pair of headphones with the 8 Driver. However, it's less about intrigue, and more about how features offset one another. While the comfort is good over long periods of time, the plastic the headphones are made from feels like it could snap, and the controls could be better. The 8 Drivers have great battery life and good surround-sound on some music, but songs feel like something is missing, while some have a weird wave effect. It feels that for every positive in the headphones, there is something working against it. For a retail price of $179, it seems like consumers should be expecting something better than mediocre. Even at Amazon prices, it's hard to recommend this rather middle-of-the-road product for a little more than $100.