Review: LiveWires in-ear headphones

Custom made earphones for a reasonable price.'' (July 5th, 2007)

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Product Manufacturer: EarPeace Technologies, Inc.

Price: $249 US

The Good

  • Excellent fit. Comfortable. Noise isolation. Price. Replaceable cables.

The Bad

  • Cables. Could use more instructions.

I am very picky about what I put on or in my ears, not because of sound, but because of fit. I've tried a number of pairs of earbuds, over the ear headphones, and Bluetooth headsets, and many of them become uncomfortable after as little as a half-hour of use. When I met CEO John Diles of EarPeace Technologies at Macworld Conference & Expo, I had to try out his product, because they are custom made for your ears. You can order the earphones through the LiveWires web site.

Creating the Mold

John shot cold silicone into my ears, with a plug of cotton stuffed in first so that he could pull the silicone out. He used RTV, or room temperature vulcanizing silicone, which meant I had great impressions of my ears in just a few minutes. The reason silicone works so well is that it isn't affected by heat or cold, making it ideal to ship without worrying about expansion or contraction of the original shape.

For those of you who don't have Macworld on your horizon, you can obtain a list of audiologists to make your ear impressions on the LiveWires web site.

About six weeks later, a small rectangular plastic box arrived. It contained a cable, two ear pieces shaped like my ears, with my name and order number embedded in the plastic, and a small booklet. immediately plugged in the cable and inserted them into my ears.

Comfort

These earpieces fit as you would expect: Like they were made for me. I can wear them for hours and hours without discomfort.

The booklet, which I did read first, should have a warning in it. Other headphones I use require turning the volume up to about 75% to hear the audio, but with the Livewires earphones, I blasted my ears at that level. I was afraid that too much volume had damaged them. Seriously, do not connect these earphones to an iPod or iTunes without turning the volume down first, then press play, and slowly raise the volume. Blowing out your ears is no fun.

Sound and Volume

After recovering from the initial loud volume, I ran tests to check the sound range these earphones can actually produce. I am impressed and do believe the LiveWires have the widest range of sound I've heard on any head or earphones.

I tested 20Hz, 27.5Hz, 55Hz, 110Hz, 220Hz, all the way on up to 14080Hz, and 20000Hz. The short version is, 27.5Hz to 11080Hz is perfect, with even volume, and easily heard without distortion. 14080Hz was lower in volume, while 20Hz and 20kHz were problematic. 20Hz was also lower in volume, but still free of distortion. I couldn't hear 20kHz at all. Still, this is very impressive, and far better than anything I've ever heard in a headphone.

Other headphones I tested stopped at the bottom end around 75Hz, with anything lower suffering from silence or distortion. They also tend to kick out around 9000 to 11000Hz, never reaching the high end that LiveWires reach.

I also played some mono pink noise and some out of phase pink noise, and determined that the cable was wired properly. There's no easy way to tell Right from Left when connecting the cable to the earpieces. I used the two audio files I made in Sound Studio that separate the right and left channels, which allowed me to determine that I originally had connected the earpieces to the wrong cable ends, swapping left for right.

Noise reduction

I should mention that I wore these on several airplane trips, where I normally wear over the ear noise reduction headphones, the sort you see advertised frequently in magazines. The LiveWires go into the ear deeply, so I really didn't ear much of the airplane noise, and it didn't intrude on my listening at all.

The cable

The cable is a twisted trio arrangement, with a nice plastic jacket around the line coming from the earpieces that allows a 360 degree rotation. This allows you to shape the cable so you can put it over the ear and behind your neck.

It connects to the earpieces using an MMCX connector, similar to the one commonly used in RF applications, like some TV adapters, or airport WIFI antennas. This connector can be a bit fragile. Fortunately, EarPeace makes replacement cables readily available.

I wish that the cable had a more robust construction. I want to take a set of Nokia HS-3 stereo headsets and put the EarPeace MMCX on the end, and adapt the phone end to work with the iPhone. The Nokia HS-3 has a tangle-free cord that should prevent cord failure. That's the beauty of the MMCX connectors that EarPeace uses; you aren't limited to the shipped cable. This is a good thing, as we all know how cables can fail.

Value

The price for making the molds and shipping the EarPeace headphones is comparable to non-custom premium quality headphones, about $249, which is much less expensive than other custom molded earphones. Given the choice between custom and non-custom headphones, I have to recommend EarPeace. They fit perfectly and their sound is fantastic.

LiveWires come with a 30-day refund policy and have replaceable cables. They isolate 25dB of outside noise and come in a choice of blue, red, black, clear, hot pink, white, tan, and dark brown. It's hard to say anything bad about them.

Minor Omissions

The only things EarPeace could do to improve the LiveWires is to advise people to turn down their audio sources before connecting the earphones to avoid blasting their ears, and offer some cleaning advice. There really is no better value available today, when you take into account what you get and the amount of money you pay for it.

by L. Victor Marks


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