Gizmos and Gadget Review: Audio. Jawbone Big Jambox and AKG K495 NC Headphones Review

Gizmos and Gadget Review: Audio. Jawbone Big Jambox and AKG K495 NC Headphones

Good morning to all on this sunny and hot Wednesday (at least in AZ it is steaming HOT at around 113 degrees). Today I am supposed to post the top 10 selections in the B&W photo contest but I have delayed this to Friday because I have had over 1000 entries and looking over them all is taking me longer than I thought. I did not expect so many entries for the Wotancraft bag!  So what do I post today instead? How about something new and different? Many of you know of my love and passion for cameras and photography but you may not realize I also love technology and gadgets, especially audio gadgets. Many many years ago I built up a home stereo system that eventually ended up costing me over $25,000. It took me 7 years to build it up but just when I finally did  (2 months after it was completed) I went through a divorce and was forced to sell it all to pay the mortgage for the house I was left with. That sucked..but the good thing is life goes on and things like that are really not needed nor are they necessary to be happy in life.

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So that was about 2 years ago now and these days I have decided to NOT go down that audiophile road again as

A: It is much to expensive and I am not a rich guy…

and B: It can get crazy and take up too much of my time…

and C: There are much more important  and meaningful things in life.

Nope! These days I keep it simple with only a couple of things around the house that can stream my music and I also have some headphones I use for travel. So today I thought I would change it up a bit here and post about these little gadgets that I love and live with every day.

The Jawbone Big Jambox

I am sure many of you reading this are also gadget guys and gals so if you are then I am sure you know about the Jawbone Jambox. The original jambox is basically a small (but very well constructed) bluetooth wireless speaker that you can take anywhere and have your music streamed from your phone or even iPad/Laptop. The only issue with the jambox, for me at least, is that I find the volume incredibly low. So low in fact that when I bought one I thought I had a defect, so I exchanged it for another. Same thing though. The original jambox can NOT fill ANY room with sound as Jawbone advertises but it does work well when used with the “Jamchain”, lol.

When Jawbone released the BIG JAMBOX I decided to try it out and let me just say that this guy is LEAGUES better than the original in “real world use”. The Big Jambox WILL fill a room with sound, even my living room. It also comes loaded with “Live Audio” which is absolutely incredible when you have the speaker close to you. While in bed I heard the singer right in front of me, a guitar plucking to my left and a cymbal crashing to the far right – filling my whole bedroom. The effect is astonishing if you are in a quiet space with the Big Jambox really close to you (within 2-3 feet).

The Big Jambox comes in at only $100 more than the small jam box at $299, which may seem pricey for a bluetooth speaker but this one sounds good, and is close to the B&O Beolit that comes in at $800. The battery lasts for 15 hours, it has a bluetooth range of 33 feet and it has loads of volume.

You can see a video demo I did of the small jam box and big jam box below…

Basically, if you want a great and portable nice sounding bluetooth speaker I can highly recommend the Big Jambox. Great design, build, controls and sound for $299. It is all wireless but you can also plug-in a device as well. I use this in my bedroom at night and sometimes in my office and even when I shower. It delivers where the small jam box chokes. I bought the Graphite Hex version but it is also available in a cool RED color as well as White. Great device.

Noise Canceling Headphones: AKG K495NC or Bose QC3?

Headphones seem to be making a comeback as I remember they were pretty big in the 70’s and 80’s but in the 90’s and early 2000’s it seemed earbuds were more in style. These days it seems that everywhere you look you see a teenager with some “Beats by Dre” around his neck or head like it is more of a fashion statement and they are trying to fit in with the crowd..the masses who buy these things called headphones. The fact is though that those “Beats by Dre” headphones are simply awful when it comes to sound quality with even the $199 Solo’s sounding like they are made of cardboard. Muffled highs, muffled mids and bloated bass rule the Beats line. In other words, they suck for sound but the teens like the way they look so they buy them and like them but they really have nothing to compare them to besides the $3 earbuds that came with their iPod.

I have had MANY headphones on my head over the years ranging from $20 KOSS models to $1600 Sennheiser models (HD 800) as well as some pretty snazzy headphone amps but all I keep around these days are a cheap pair of Bose OE2 (and I am NOT a Bose fan) DUE TO THE EXTREME COMFORT and a pair or noise canceling headphones. A year ago I bought a pair of Bose QC15’s as everyone said they were amazing for noise canceling. At the time I was traveling constantly and I found the Bose to be a lifesaver on the plane because I would just use them to shut out the noise so I could sleep. That was the cool thing…you can use them without a cable and you do not have to have music playing. The noise canceling on those QC 15’s was scary good.  Only problem was that they were $300 and the sound quality when I wanted to listen to music was AWFUL. Very laid back..no dynamics, no slam, no good bass, soft treble and recessed mids and even distortion if turned up with some high energy music. For $300 I was  hoping for good sound but did not get it, so I sold them after a year and planned to find something better.

The Bose QC3 – Noise canceling really good..sound quality not the best

I tried demos of a Sony pair but found the treble harsh…tried a Sennheiser but it was HUGE and even some smaller Sennheisers but they were coming it at $499, too much for me to spend on NC Headphones. I eventually ended up with another set of Bose NC phones, the QC3..and to my surprise, I really liked them. The comfort level was amazing..the most comfy set of headphones I have ever had on my head. It was like the earpieces were made of pillows, lol. The QC-3 headphones are light, small, on ear style and come with a rechargeable battery that will last you 20-25 hours. Form factor is just right. Comfort is off the hook. Build is good but not “great” and they come with a case, a couple of cables, a charger and an airline adapter and even a 30 day trial period with a no questions asked return policy. Like I said, I am NOT a Bose fan but these headphones do what they say they do, and they do it well. They are quiet due to the excellent NC feature and they are comfortable as a headphone can be – so the name “Quiet Comfort” fits them perfectly.

The only issue is the sound is a bit on the mellow and laid back side, typical Bose style though I must say that the bass and treble is better than it is on the over the ear and much larger QC 15’s. To me, these have been the best sounding Bose set I have come across (and I have tried them all) with the small and super light OE2’s coming in 2nd (FOR BOSE, not headphones in general). The Bose sound is a little muffled as well..sort of dull but “pleasant”. NOT for Audiophiles.

At $349, the high cost of these headphones, I was hoping for a better quality of sound. I guess you can’t have it all (size, comfort, portability, noise canceling quality, superb sound quality and decent price).

Enter the new kid on the NC block, the AKG K495NC

About a week after I found and bought the Bose QC 3 I found the new AKG K495NC headphones. They are also noise canceling, also on ear (my pref) and have a built-in battery that lasts for 40 hours and recharges via USB. The build also looks (and indeed is) much more solid than the Bose. They come in at $349, the same price as the Bose but come with a cloth cable (two of them to be exact) and a wall charger and USB charging cable. They also have a case and they fold up nicely though they are larger than the Bose QC-3. As for sound and noise canceling, the AKG K495 NC’s actually  do a better job than the Bose 3’s in both of these areas.

I made a video showing both of these which will go into more detail…

So long story short, due to build quality, sound quality, volume of sound, longer battery life and AKG name I decided to stick with the 495’s and return the QC3’s to Bose (who give you a 30 day try out to see if you like them). The AKG’s are nowhere near as comfortable as the Bose but they are not bad at all. The issue I have with them is they clamp my head a bit and the cups are not as soft as the Bose. They are also heavier on my head but in reality I know they will loosen up a bit (all headphones do) and get more comfy with time.

Audio wise they do not distort at high volume like the Bose and they will play much louder and have more slam, dynamics and with much better treble and tighter bass. At the same price point it is a no brainer UNLESS you are one of those people who just LOVE the Bose signature sound which is a bit muffled, laid back, mellow and soft.

Either set would be a good choice but the AKG offers more for the money IMO. At $349 these are not cheap but compared to $1600 headphones (that can not be taken anywhere due to size and the open back designs) these are really not that insanely priced for what you get…which is silence on airplanes or trains when traveling. For that, both of these cans work extremely well and have given me much more peaceful flying time as well as pleasant dreams 🙂 One thing to note about the AKG’s is that you can also listen to them without having the NC turned on. You will lose Bass quantity but it is possible. With the Bose when you turn them off or run out of battery the headphones are useless. No sound. So there you go. Also, the Bose have much more sound leakage than the AKG as well so when you wear them the person sitting next to you may hear what you are listening to with the Bose – not so with the AKG’s.

BTW, I am well aware there are MANY NC headphones out there and I have demoed MANY of them. The best of the NC bunch for actual NC have been the Bose sets and now this AKG set. The others never stacked up when it came to NC, Sound or portability (which is a big one for me and traveling).

For all of you wondering why I posted this to my camera blog don’t worry! I will not be writing much at all about non-camera gear but since I put up the youtube videos this week on these gizmos I decided to make a post about them while I work on this B&W Photo contest. Besides I know many of you may be interested in these things anyway, so thank you for reading!

Steve

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20 Comments

  1. Great review, thanks!
    Now, I’m strongly considering the AKG 495NC. However I’ve heard and read that some NC headphones including the AKG 495NC amplify sounds produced while going over a rough patch during bus rides and that it’s so bad the headphones were “unusable” while NC was on. What is your experience?

  2. Great reviews. I absolutely trust your camera reviews and am glad you took “time out” from camera posts to post these reviews. I hope to see more of them every now and then. I am certainly going to checkout the big Jambox. This is a great site and gets better all the time.

  3. You are totally correct when it comes to those Beats by Dre’ headphones. They cut the mids and highs and boost the lows. Not sure HOW they could be a fashion statement, as they’re some of the ugliest headphones i’ve ever seen. If you want well priced, great sounding headphones, check out the Urbanears line of headphones from Urban Outfitters. The highs are lightly attenuated, mids sound untouched and the lows are very slightly boosted. It took me a few days to get used to the attenuated highs, but after that, they sound really good. And at $60, nice and cheap.

    Also, you can’t go wrong with the industry standard Sony MDR-7506s. I use these for my music productions when doing final mix downs. Pretty much flat across the entire range. And they last forever. I’ve had mine for 4 years now. I used to use them on my iPod as well, even in the rain. Now that i use the Urbanears, the Sonys stay at home.

  4. Yikes, high end audio AND photography, two things that can quickly bleed a bank account dry.

    I probably don’t need as many lens and cameras as I have to enjoy photography, and I don’t need my Blue Sky monitor system just to enjoy some music, but both are certainly nice to have

  5. This is going to sound strange, but it works, for me at least. I bought a pair of mid-range NC headphones made by Logitech. The sound’s pretty good, the NC is so-so, and they’re comfortable. What I found, by accident, was wearing them with the foam ear plugs in really helped the NC effect.
    Try it. Put in the plugs, put on the phones, adjust the volume to where you want it, and I think you’ll find the NC is more effective.

  6. For anyone who would ever hate on Leica for the cost of their finely made gear, you need look no further than Bose for your true enemy. Not only do they pass off mediocre at best grade stuff at premium prices; years ago they even defrauded the government out of money back before that became the norm in the defense industry. Still with headphones comfort is king if you are looking for noise cancellation. I typically use plain JVC headphones or Sennheiser, though the latter is not quiet what they used to be.

  7. Hi all

    A word of caution on noise cancelling headphones. I spent a few years flying helicopters and met a lot of interesting guys during that time – one of them was a headphones specialist (for the aviation industry). Anyway long story short, noise cancelling ‘phones can eventually case hearing to degrade – due to the frequency it shoots out at your eardrum to cancel the “noise”. Your eardrums subsequently thicken up and become less sensitive to sound.

    Personally I listen to JH Audio’s JH16s. Can’t beat those for quality. For noise cancelling? A pair of (less than $1) foam plugs. They work a treat and I’ve slept Singapore to Frankfurt numerous times with them in!

  8. Yes, Steve, the audiophile addiction can cost you a small fortune, as I know to my cost. I also built up a very nice high end system over a few years (mainly Naim equipment – a British audiophile brand), but due to financial problems with my business had to sell the lot at quite a loss – the depreciation on electronics is frightening and I vowed never again. The sound of a well balanced stereo system is a joy to the ears though, and I did enjoy the experience while it lasted.

    Well, back to iTunes and the iPod – nice and handy, but the sound, from an audiophile perspective, is crap.

    Happy listening!

  9. The Jawbone

    I have the small one…… I don`t like it any more…. always updates and the bluetooth quality is bad for phone.

  10. I was just looking into headphones for my travel to Europe and my nephew recommended AKG instead of Dr Dre. Great review at the right time. Thanks. BTW. Isn’t today the result day of your Monochrom contest? D!RK 😉

  11. Steve,

    I have to disagree with you on the Bose, at least on the over the ear (my preference) QC2 that I’ve had for a few years now. The sound is great and they’ve been doing a good job at making headphones long before headphones became popular again.

    Great sound quality unlike the “Dr.Dre’s” that don’t do a good job on the noise cancelling and just give out bass (truly for kids like you said.

    • Never tried the QC2’s only the QC 15s which were not good at all. They were extremely soft, muddy and distorted when the volume was turned up. They also created intense pressure in my ears/head due to the noise canceling. The 3’s do not have this effect and if I remember correctly, the way they did the NC was different on the 2’s. Many people say the 2’s were better sounding than the 15 and 3. Thanks for reading.

  12. Awesome review. The AKG’s definitely look much better, sound better. Might have to try them since Im planning on getting a noise cancelling headphones.

    Oh what lens is on the A57? it looks HUGE in the shot

  13. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the great review. Please, what’s the music you play on your Jambox ?

    Thanks !

    Ben

  14. Good advice on the headphones, I’ve started to travel alot and my Shure 425 in ear headphones are not the most comfortable on a 14 hour flights. I do this flight twice a month now with work. I too haven’t liked the Bose NCs so I will have to seek out and test the AKGs. I wish I could take my Grado’s but they stay at home, they’d be useless.
    BTW I picked up a Libratone wifi speaker that I’ve been very happy with. I’m no audiophile but it sounds good to me and they have an app so you can fine tune the speaker depending on where you place it in the room. You can also control the equalizer with the app. Worth a look if you want more volume.
    Cheers, as always great site. Its a daily visit for me. Ok who I am I kidding I check it out many times/day.

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