I admit it. I ignored this company and its monthly “Retire the wire” advertisements, for as long as they have appeared in the print Macintosh magazines. I thought Bluetooth (BT) wireless headphone technology was not ready for prime time, based on prior evaluations of Koss and Etymotic Research products. In spite of high ratings for both of the above, I don’t use them as my regular headphones, due to their limitations, and in spite of their strengths.
Wi-Gear is a small company with a modest product lineup. MyMac.com predicts you’ll hear a bigger noise from them in the next couple of years, as good news circulates about their approach to portable audio.
I’m a personal fan of behind-the-neck headphones. With all controls on the right earpiece, iMuffs intrigued me enough to request them via Dr. Bott, their major distributor.
You must charge your iMuffs prior to first use, which requires several hours, but is worth the wait. Then plug the small, lightweight BT transmitter into your iPod/iPhone dock port, get your music rolling, switch on the iMuffs, and begin listening. You can pause/play, forward/reverse tracks, and adjust volume on the right earpiece with ease, once you memorize what is where.
Physical placement of iMuffs on your head is simple, but comfort is not instantaneous. Allow a few hours of relaxed or active listening until you and these headphones are in headgear harmony.
Subsequent charging takes less time, and iMuffs play for many hours between charges (see below). Included in the packaging is the BT transmitter, a second of ear cushions, a USB cable and AC power charging plug, an informative printed User Guide, “Some Frequently Asked Questions,” and the one year warranty card.
Good news: unlike the Etymotic Research earphones, iMuffs have no annoying low-level audible buzz. And unlike the Koss Cobalt ‘phones, there is no high frequency cutoff bias. Audio spectrum delivery is clear and consistent from iMuffs’ high end toward the top of their bass range. I didn’t expect booming bass from iMuffs, because no behind-the-neck headphones have it.
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In an email Q&A with Wi-Gear’s CEO, MyMac.com was informed:
MYMAC: Your headphones are somewhat flimsy and awkward when not on a head. Is there a case available that can contain iMuffs and transmitter, with or without their plug or accessories?
WI-GEAR: No, there isn’t a case for the headphones. Although they’re very flexible, they’re also very durable. I personally just throw them in my backpack and don’t worry about it. They won’t break that easily. We did toy with a customized case for the iPod that covered the iMuffs transmitter as well — you may have seen them at Macworld — but we don’t currently offer anything for sale.
MYMAC: What is the typical nonstop time for playing from fully charged until fully discharged? Ditto for full discharge to charge time via either/both USB and/or AC power? Are the numbers in the manual accurate from real world experience? Is it best to let a charge run down fully before recharging, or is that not crucial?
WI-GEAR: In lab tests, we’ve gotten up to 24 hours of playing time out of the headphones. We usually say 16-20 hours so the 16 hours quoted in the manual is very conservative. A full charge usually takes around 5 hours, but can take longer when they’re right out of the box. Charge time doesn’t depend on where it’s plugged in. You don’t need to worry about fully draining them before recharging. They use the same battery technology that is in modern laptops so they don’t have that old NiCad memory problem.. That said, even new laptop manufacturers say you should do a complete discharge once in a while to keep the battery in optimal condition.
MYMAC: What percentage of people (for any reason) are not comfy wearing behind-neck headphones?
WI-GEAR: Hmm… that’s a good question. It would be hard for us to really give an accurate number. Certainly we’ve had people say they just don’t like behind-the-neck headphones, but since that’s the only style we sell, it’s a self-selecting audience and I couldn’t guess what percentage that would be. We’ve also had a ton of customers tell us they love the iMuffs specifically because they hate earbuds.
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I’m conducting a real-world listening evaluation session as I write this part of our review. Here are my observations:
BLUETOOTH WIRELESS RANGE — Don’t believe *any* claims of 30 feet, because they are *always* exaggerated, from my experience in my brick house with plaster walls. You can expect 15 – 20 feet, without any breaks in the sound.
BALANCED AUDIO — iMuffs have consistent sonic and tonal delivery throughout their primary range. Bass is heard clearly, but not felt, and midrange-through-treble are very pleasant in all genres of music, if occasionally a bit thin at lower volume due to the inherent design and position of behind-neckphones.
iPOD VOLUME AND EQUALIZATION — Select your favorite EQ setting, and iMuffs will respond, but your onboard iPod volume control is overridden by the headphones’ volume control.
SCRAMBLED BRAINS — You can damage your hearing when playing top-volume audio on iMuffs for endless hours, but they are not designed to send you straight to the hearing aid shop. Sensible volume levels are iMuffs’ strength.
AMBIENT ROOM SOUND SPILL — Above low volume, other people in a quiet room will be annoyed by your audio pollution. Trust me on this one. iMuffs are NOT noise-canceling headphones.
COMFORT AND FIT — Try before you buy, or purchase iMuffs where you can return them if they don’t fit your head and ears. But give yourself a week or two of listening sessions before you make a negative decision.
TRANSMITTER COMPATIBILITY WITH EXTERNAL iPOD OR iPHONE CASE — Probably not.
RIGHT EAR CONTROLS — Easy and effortless after a couple of hours using iMuffs.
BLUETOOTH CELL PHONE PAIRING — Easy, with middle-of-the-road phone talk/listen quality.
VALUE FOR MONEY — Good, especially in comparison with Koss’ $300 Cobalt.
BIGGEST COMPLAINT — It’s illegal to use iMuffs while driving a car in most states and countries, but I wish I could listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks on the phone while wearing them behind the wheel.
BEST BENEFIT — Being able to wash the evening dishes wearing iMuffs with volume fairly high, singing to the soap suds, with my iPod safely across the room. When the original recording quality is high, iMuffs can deliver an immersive listening experience without immersing your iPod in the kitchen sink.
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MyMac.com Rating: A hearty 4 out of 5 for these best BT earphones we’ve ever reviewed at MyMac.com. Give us a carrying and storage case, Wi-Gear, and we’ll give you a higher score.