|Mon Oct 8, 2007 - 11:37 AM EDT - By Harv Laser
Note: click any photograph to view it full-sized in a new window..
Okay, so you're probably asking yourself, after glancing over to the right at the price, why in the world is this strange-looking wired headset priced at three hundred dollars?
The new UmeVoice theBoom "E" (for the rest of this review, I'll just refer to it as the "E") is, without a doubt, expensive. No, it's not made by Swiss watch craftsmen in the Black Forest out of unobtainium, but there are things about its materials and construction that push it up into that price range, and yes, people ARE buying it.
Based only on its price, this is obviously not a product everyone can afford.
I've used and reviewed a lot of headsets with my Treos. Regular readers will know that I'm not a huge fan of Bluetooth models. I find them too fussy. They have to be charged and kept charged. They (usually) have multiple, tiny buttons, flashing lights, Morse Code function tones and light flashes one has to learn, and due to its very nature, voice transmission over Bluetooth just breaks up when you get some feet or meters away from your phone. Yes, they're getting better, smaller, and more capable.
But.. "Hello? I can only hear every other word, you're breaking up. Are you using a headset?" If there's a single person reading this who has never heard that during at least one conversation while using a Bluetooth headset, I'll eat my hat. It's just the nature of the beast.
Some perform a lot better than others. Sometimes price equals performance factor, sometimes it doesn't. It's a complex technology and either it works well, or it'll drive you nuts.
So my favorite headsets are those that are based on the simpler method of just jacking a wire into the Treo's audio port. No batteries, no flashing lights, no sequences of bloops and beeps and lights and tiny buttons to learn, and the Treo's Bluetooth radio isn't tied up paired with a headset, so you can't use it for something else, like a GPS receiver. I don't mind the wire at all. You may feel the opposite way, and that's fine.
If you buy a new Treo, you know that a "free" pair of wired earbuds is packed in the box with the phone. With those, you get what you pay for.
But third party wired headsets come in all flavors and in a pretty wide price range too. A Five dollar Jabra will get the job done, and costs less than a hot dog at a computer convention. Maybe this is all you need. Maybe five bucks is all you want to spend. But hot dog money buys you a pretty basic wired headset. And certainly no noise-cancellation.
Regular readers will also know I have a love affair with the much more upscale wired headsets made by UmeVoice . Last year, I reviewed their three popular "consumer" models, the ear gel and ear loop style theBoom, and the over-the-headband style theBoom "O" together in one review, followed a couple weeks later with my take on their spectacular, full-range Stereo headphones with Active Noise Cancellation and exactly the same mic, theBoom Quiets in a separate review.
TreoCentral's store still carries all three of those models, and they haven't changed in design. No reason to change them. They work and they work superbly.
As a small company, UmeVoice is the antithesis of a mega-corporation where getting support means sitting on hold listening to Muzak until you turn into a skeleton. Some companies care about their customers. UmeVoice is one of those companies.
They're also a fascinating company. Located in Novato, CA., (SF Bay area), in the vast sea of consumer electronics, they're hardly a house-hold name, like Motorola, or Bose, or Sony.. but in many specialized fields, their products are legendary. And what they're most famous for is the utterly spectacular noise-canceling mic, identical on all their headset and headphone models.
Their products are not only stylish, in a futuristic retro way, but I have yet to try ANY Bluetooth headset that makes claims about noise cancellation that can remotely approach what any of theBooms' mics can do.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
..said Arthur C. Clarke in his three laws .
Using acoustic wave shaping instead of electronics, developed in their own anechoic chamber, a room so quiet, if you're standing inside of one, you can literally hear your own heart beating, UmeVoice's motto is "whisper and be heard." Their products live up to that claim.
At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, I'll say it again � I have NEVER used any headset of any kind, made by any company, with the noise-canceling abilities equal to theBooms. So when I learned they had a new model out, and it was $300.00, I had to know more. I had to try it for myself, because I'm sure some of you have spied it and wondered about it.
As with my recent review of Kinoma Producer, the Web site info about the "E" didn't tell me the whole story. Nor did examining them as I took them out of the box. This lead to an interview with UmeVoice's President, to get some answers. I like to sweat the details. I wanted to know why the "E" is so expensive, and what makes it different than the other theBoom models, and who better to ask than the man who runs the company? So before we get to that, some basic info about the "E"'s physical configuration.
The unusual-looking theBoom "E" takes the form of a totally smooth (no seams) quarter inch, permanently shaped, non-adjustable (you can't stretch it out, shrink it down, or bend it).. plastic headband tube that rests atop your ears and circles around the back of your head. The whole "E" weighs about an ounce and a half total. A third of the way across this tube is mounted a tiny black box which houses the actual earpiece speaker. From that little box hangs a clear, hollow, very flexible, coiled tube that looks and feels like it's made of silicone rubber. This terminates in a soft, squishy, transparent ear piece, or "gel", backed by a half-inch diameter "saucer" of the same material. The earpiece is sublimely comfortable, not irritating, as the soft material conforms to the shape of anyone's ear canal, and that little saucer-shaped shield behind it blocks outside noise from entering the ear. The whole earpiece assembly almost looks like a miniature baby pacifier, to be honest.
At one end of the headband is the famous theBoom noise-canceling mic, identical to the mic on the other three models. The mic is covered by a foam wind screen and is mounted at the end of an extremely flexible, ultra light-weight Magnesium stalk. For optimal use on calls, once you've put on the "E", you bend that stalk so the mic is about an inch away from the corner of your mouth.
From the other end of the head band hangs a three foot long thin, black wire, in the middle of which is the same little silver plastic control box you'll find on theBoom and theBoom "O". That little box houses a volume wheel, and a push-and-hold mute button. In fact, those are the ONLY controls on the "E". There are no lights, no other buttons or switches, it has no battery, needs no charging. But it also has no facility at all to hang up a call, put a call on hold, or re-dial the last number. The other models don't either.
A female jack at the end of the cable receives another cable with a male jack on both ends. The "L"-shaped jack at the far end plugs into your Treo's bottom audio port.
To "install" the "E" on your head, just slip it around the back of your head and rest its curved areas atop your ears. It only fits one way. Plug the jack into your Treo, and press the soft ear piece into your ear. That's it.
This headset is so light, and so comfortable, you barely know you're wearing it. It won't interfere with a hat, and if you have long hair you can wear it over or under your locks. The cord is long enough to reach your Treo whether you carry it in a jacket or coat pocket, your pants pocket, or in a case on a belt clip. The "E" looks strange; it feels like nothing at all. That was the design goal, and UmeVoice nailed it.
When off a call, thanks to its springy, coiled tube, you can just pull out the ear gel and let it dangle. Treo rings? Just reach up, snatch the ear piece, and ease it snugly into your ear. I've tried a lot of different headsets' ear "gels" - some are stiff, some go in so far they're irritating, but due to its soft, squishy, pliable material, this is easily the most comfortable one I've ever worn. However, it does tend to attract a build-up of ear wax inside it, but the end piece easily pops off and you can clean it out with a toothpick. The holes on both ends of the ear gel are too small to get a Q-tip into. Some people get more ear wax build-up than others, so this may or may not be a problem for you. The ear gel shown in these publicity shots is pink. The one that came on my review unit was clear / transparent /colorless. UmeVoice could be a bit more generous and include a couple of spares, because if you pop off this ear gel to clean it and it falls down the drain, you're hosed. The "E"'s speaker tube design prevents it from being used with any other kind of ear gel than the one that comes installed on it.
The "E" is not a shelved stock item, but each one is made to order, just like Vaja custom builds their cases when you order one, except when you order an "E", you get it in about a week, not a month.
The "E" can be configured and ordered eight different ways, depending on which side you prefer the earpiece, the mic, (they are NOT reversible, since the plastic headband has those curves that rest atop your ears, so you can't flip it over and use it the "other" way).. and whether you have a big or small head. Follow along with me here, and do the math � you can order one via UmeVoice's Web site or over the phone, with the ear piece on the left side or the right side, the mic stalk on the left side or the right side, and two different sizes of head bands are available.
So: left-left, right-right, left-right, right-left, (that's four), and big or small headbands for any of those configurations (times two, that's eight). Once it's built, these components are permanent, and you can't pull them off and switch them around, so think about the way you want yours and be sure of it before you order.
Although the famous theBoom noise-canceling mic is identical to its sister models, UmeVoice sought out and sourced an incredibly efficient speaker for the ear piece. I've read some complaints in TreoCentral's Forums from owners of theBoom and theBoom "O" that their ear speakers simply didn't put out enough volume, even when cranked up all the way (remember, you have both the volume rockers on your Treo AND the volume wheel on theBooms' cords). I don't think anyone will have that complaint with the "E". In fact, at full volume, it's painfully loud. Without a decibel meter, I can't scientifically quantify it for you, but I'd say it's at least three, maybe four times louder when cranked to the max than the original theBoom or the "O". And the sound is crystal clear.
The sonic specs for the "E" as quoted from UmeVoice's site are:
What follows are some segments of an interview I had with UmeVoice's President to nail down some details about this new model.. why they decided to make it, and why it's so expensive.
ME: Why did you decide to add this product to your line-up?.. at $300.00 it's triple the price of theBoom "O" and even more expensive than theBoom Quiets..
UmeVoice: It's so expensive because each one is "hand made" to order, and we used some very costly components, like the speaker.
ME: If / when you go into mass production and can ship from stock, will the price come down?
UmeVoice: The mic's stalk is magnesium. The headband is seamless plastic, molded in-house and fused into the metal, bendable boom. The materials of the ear tube and ear-gel are expensive. Why we decided to add it to our line up is based on our customers saying they wanted something that was very comfortable to wear all day long without feeling it was even there.
ME: I think you succeeded. When a regular customer orders an "E" one from your Web site, how long can they expect to wait for delivery?
UmeVoice: About one week, though they're currently on back order (as of late Sept., 2007).. because we've run out of one of the parts and they'll be back on the one week timeframe from October 15, 2007, if not sooner.
ME: my review sample came in a box wrapped in bubble-pack but there was absolutely nothing else inside the box.. no carrying pouch, no instructions, nothing.. is that how these are shipped to retail customers?.. if not, what else do you include in the package?
UmeVoice: retail customers also get a one page instruction sheet. The "E" doesn't come with a carrying case, but this will change in the future probably in about 3 months or so.
ME: how are you achieving so much more volume from the ear piece than the other two models?.. is it due only to the way the ear gel fits in your ear, or is it due to the speaker in the ear piece?
UmeVoice: We sourced the loudest miniature speaker drivers money could buy. The driver is hooked onto the back of the headset with a plastic coil that curls down away from it to the ear. The combination of this speaker driver, and an ear-gel that is really more like an ear-plug that goes into your ear makes the sound very loud. It also blocks out noise from around the ear you are listening in.
(of course, you can easily adjust the volume up or down with the wired volume wheel and / or your Treo's volume rockers.. don't mis-read this and think the "E" is ALWAYS very loud)..
ME: you offer the "E" in two head band sizes.. how is a retail customer to know which of the two to order?.. if you ask someone if they have a "big head" or a "small head".. it's rather vague..
UmeVoice: Currently, we're only doing the two headband sizes, and we generally have a quick conversation (with the customer).. and decide whether they need the standard size or the smaller one. Later, I can see us increasing the number of options, perhaps related to a person's hat size etc.
ME: Would you generally say that women should order the small size and men should order the standard size?.. would the size they order correspond to hat size? should they put a tape measure around their head?.. what do you recommend, since the head band is a solid piece and not adjustable..
UmeVoice: small women should order the small size.
ME: Tell me about the idea of the coiled sound tube going to the earpiece. Is this designed so that one can just pop it out of one's ear and keep the "E" on your head, if you don't want the gel in your ear all the time, and it conveniently hangs nearby your ear so you can quickly insert it?..
UmeVoice: Yes.. I recommend pulling it out and putting it back in when needed. Imagine doing this in a convertible car, it would be just great.
ME: When a retail customer orders one, they specify ONE jack which automatically comes with it, right?
UmeVoice: The cost of the "E" is high for two reasons: 1 - everything is custom (made) and we hand make them here, and 2 - the speaker driver is very expensive. It comes with one jack / adapter. We charge for extra adapters like we do for any of our other products.
ME: Besides 2.5mm jacks for Treos, and 3.5mm jacks for laptops and other phones, how many different jacks are available.. and maybe someone wants multiple jacks, so if a customer wanted to order one of these, is the first jack included in the $299.00 price, and then each extra jack is additional money, and if so, how much?..
UmeVoice: Razr jack $13, iPhone jack $15, PC jack $15, and we offer a few others, six or seven, on our site, but when you order, you get one jack of your choice along with the "E".
ME: Do you have any time frame for when you plan to go into mass-production, or will you be selling the "E" on a custom-order basis for some number of months yet?.. and is it "hand made to order" simply because it can be configured eight different ways, or is there something special about its construction that requires them to be made one at a time?..
UmeVoice: The "E" is not going to be mass-produced for at least six months, but we have tons of very satisfied custom customers.
ME: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
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