Tugo Wireless MP3 Headphones

Tugo Wireless MP3 Headphones
Koss Corporation

Price: $300
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Don’t let the similarity between Tugo and Yugo prejudice you. Instead, think: “To GO!” Tugo is a clever, if less than perfect, way “to go” anywhere, anytime, with any music. If you can conjure a generic iPod shufflesque player embedded within a pair of premium over-ear stereophones, you are heading in the right direction. Keep reading.

But first, study or skim the marketing info and specs for Tugo, located here. This official product description is accurate, especially “deep bass and a balanced midrange.” Treble output is somewhat lacking, meaning Tugo is consumer non-audiophile gear for on-the-go listeners with deep pockets to match their passion for deep bass response. The “specifications” chart is not helpful, because it only says Tugo’s audio delivery is dependent upon the quality and compression of your original tracks, transferred to Tugo from your Mac or Windows computer.

Here’s a full explanation given to MyMac.com by the Acoustical Engineer of Koss Corporation:

The sound of the Tugo is biased toward the low frequency, though not excessively, only a “touch.” Add to this the poor treble (high frequency) response of the typical MP3 files and the sound of the Tugo will appear “bassy.” I have never had a problem with the treble level when the Tugo is used with a high quality audio sound file.

High frequencies can sound so bad on heavily compressed MP3 files as to be unlistenable and the Tugo was developed to adjust slightly for the fact. Depending on what type of headphones speakers and sound system you listen to and are familiar with the sound of the Tugo can be either too bass accentuated or too midrange/high frequency accentuated. It becomes a matter of personal taste.

You may experience the perceived reduction of treble due to the slight bass frequency lift. If you record a good, clean, high bit rate music file, of something you are familiar with on the high frequency content and then listen to it through the Tugo, you will find that the treble response is adequate.

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I hate to be a party pooper, but the circular logic in the statement above is insufficient to address our most pressing question: with 512MB capacity, why should people pay $300 for dedicated MP3 headphones into which serious listeners must load space-hogging high bitrate files that severely limit Tugo’s playing capacity? Am I missing something obvious?

On the positive side, Tugo’s battery charges quickly via its lengthy, heavy-duty custom USB cable; battery trickle power loss is negligible; playing time is substantial; right-earcup controls are convenient and easy to master; headphone construction is durable, flexible, and comfortable; noise isolation is decent; and Tugo’s semi-rigid carrying case is high-quality. Eyeglasses are a minor inconvenience that you will eventually tolerate inside Tugo’s tight-fitting temple areas.

Tugo is NOT an iPod, so get over it if that is your only criterion for evaluation of a new class of product. When connected to your Macintosh, Tugo appears on the computer Desktop as a generic “No Name” volume having 493.5 MB capacity. A few MP3 and WMA songs are pre-installed. The easiest way (remember, you are NOT using iTunes to communicate between Mac and Tugo) is to create a folder in the Finder with up to 490 MB of MP3 audio tracks, and select/drag all of them into the Tugo “No Name” volume. I currently have 70 songs on Tugo, consuming 300 MB. Unprotected $1.29 songs purchased from the iTunes Store may play on Tugo, and I’ll test that within the next week or two, now that it’s finally available.

The very best attribute of Tugo is that it is fully wireless, once it’s charged and loaded with music. Don’t give me a hard time by grumbling, “Hey, Nemo, that’s faint praise after your recent reviews of Koss Cobalt and Etymotic Research ety8 wireless headphones.” Fine, except both of them require an iPod to generate audio output, while Tugo is its own music player.

Tugo’s listener experience is an immersive audio environment. With good fit and comfort, you are completely in tune to the music within your head, not just entering your ears. I’m trying to write now while listening, and it’s very difficult. Do not not not! try to drive or operate heavy machinery while under the influence of Tugophones. The outside world is far away, and you may be able to smell the roses, but twittering birdsong is beyond your delight. Washing the dishes is probably a safe toe-tapping task.

Tugo is expensive. Notwithstanding its booming bass and potentially inadequate treble, Koss needs to provide more than 512 MB capacity for $300. Flash “thumb” drives and camera storage cards are getting cheaper daily, and 4 GB capacity would not adversely affect Tugo’s manufacturing cost or Koss Corporation’s profit. They would sell many more! MyMac.com hopes Koss wakes up to the realities of high-end listeners who want to be able to place more than 100 songs on their non-iPod devices.

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I conducted triple-blind listening/comfort/controls testing on a dozen different music students and their parents last week, and EVERY PERSON rates Tugo between 4 and 4.5 out of 5 for ease of use, audio quality, and fit. Nobody complained about excessive bass or weak treble. When I’m wrong, I admit it, and I’ll keep my opinion to myself on that matter from here onward. But when I asked all twelve adults and teenagers how much they would pay for Tugo, prices ranged from a low $60 from one thirteen-year-old to a high of $150 from another, and a couple of the parents, without any of them asking or caring about Tugo’s capacity. At $300, not one person thought it was priced fairly. I’m a little easier on Koss, placing Tugo’s value closer to $200, because I know what goes into engineering, developing, and marketing premium headphones.

I am not a market research guru, but I wonder if Tugo’s upscale target purchasers would prefer a full-spectrum sound instead of a hip-hop heavy bass. No too many teenagers are ready to plop down $300, when they could buy nearly four iPod shuffles for the same price and have full control over their equalizer settings, earphone cables notwithstanding.

If our listener panel awards Tugo a generous 4 out of 5, your reviewer takes exception to audio capacity for the price. Due to high cost and small storage, the MyMac.com rating is a balanced 3 out of 5, rapidly ascending when 512 MB for music storage is ancient history and 4 GB is reality.

Tugo is currently for sale directly from Koss Corporation and from Amazon.com.


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