On Bluetooth Headphones: The Case of Bose QC35

2016-06-28 11.45.18 (2)Enjoying music of all kinds home and on the road (and, at summertime, at the beach / in nature), I have been interested in mobile audio solutions (though not in any religious or “serious audiophile” manner, luckily for my wallet). At homes, my headphones are AKG K550, which are very analytical, crystal clean-sounding, closed-back German headphones, featuring 50 mm drivers and weight of 305 grams. I have attempted to travel with these things, but they are just not designed for travel, they are large and do not fold into any compact proportions. Also, long and thick cable is real hassle when you move from train to airport to bus, etc. Thus, to travel headphones.

In travel, everything is a compromise, in this case primarily between portability, size, weight, and features. Currently, I have settled into three-tier approach. In daily life, I always carry Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic: these are better than most light, in-ear headphones, but they do not isolate the user from the environment sounds, and they also play nicely with my iPhone 6 Plus apps for making phone calls and having those Skype meetings.

The second tier is currently occupied by Bose QuietComfort 20, which are a pair of in-ear noise cancelling headphones that are perfect for that short flight or other day-trip with only light hand luggage. It has well-designed “StayHear+” style silicone tips that happen to fit my ears perfectly (there are three sizes). These are the most efficient noise cancelling headphones I have tried. In everyday use they might even be a bit too efficient: the user is just enjoying blissful silence, even if directly addressed or discussed around you. You will not hear a thing. There is a specific “Aware Mode” button that you need to press, in order to get some ambient sounds through. Also, this is a wired system, so the cable will catch and occasionally tangle with the straps of your laptop bag and elsewhere.

And here comes the third tier, the more demanding mobile use and the solution provided by the new wireless, Bluetooth headphones by Bose: QuietComfort 35. These are bit on the larger size, so I would not probably always pack them with me on short trips, but on longer travels this is an excellent choice. The noise cancelling is very good, but not quite as efficient as that on QC20, since these are an on-ear model rather than a completely isolating in-ear ones – but in many situations that is even preferable. And the sound quality is excellent. There are probably some aspects that a real audiophile expect could criticize (there always are), but What Hifi? magazine reviewer for example gave them five stars. These have a rechargeable lithium ion battery that promises circa 20 hours of power, and after that it is possible to connect a cable and continue in wired mode, without noise cancellation. There is also the ability to connect to multiple (two simultaneously) Bluetooth devices, so that one can take that call from the work phone, while listing to music from the laptop or iPad (I have not tested this yet, I am currently on summer vacation). Pairing can be done with NFC, by touching, and there is a Bose Connect app for smartphones (iOS and Android) that can be used to managing paired devices, changing battery status, and setting sleep timer, for example. When power is turned on, the headphones use voice synthesis to speak aloud the battery level and device name they are currently connected with. Handy. The weight is 309 grams, so this is not the most light-weight option, but wearing QC35 feels comfortable. Testing with different music styles, I was particularly impressed how QC35 handled the “Silent Night” album by Tapani Rinne – with its mixture of deep-bass electronica and quiet, soft acoustic tunes, this is a very challenging recording, and the clear soundscape and powerful dynamics of QC35 really let this kind of music shine.

Luggage update

A travel gear note. As airlines and airports regularly lose or even destroy cargo luggage, I try to travel light, and having only hand luggage means also going faster. My old Samsonite must be now over 10 years of age, and even while it is still ok (it has a durable build), I wanted to check what kind of bags are these days.

There are interesting Bluetooth enabled, smart bags developed these days, but I decided to go for something cheaper and light, and then combine the bag with a Tile, a smart tracker that I can locate with my smartphone apps.

My choice was a new generation Samsonite bag, called Short-Lite Upright 55 cm model (quite a calling name). In the below pics you can see the changes that have happened in the manufacture and design, as well as in weight of these things. As there is often 8 kg (sometimes even 7, or 6 kg) limit to the weight of cabin baggage, every gram or pound matters. The size of this model is 40 x 20 x 55 cm, which falls within the regulated limits. It can hold 41.5 liter, and comes with 5 year warranty. Samsonite had a campaign with 30 % discount in price (€125, down from €179 – there are cheaper alternatives, of course).

Compared to my old bag, the weight difference is pretty amazing. Old bag is much smaller, yet it has weight of 3.2 kg, which is twice the 1.6 kg of the new, larger cabin bag. The structure is not build to withstand cargo treatment, but feels solid enough and this is after all a soft bag, that you take to the cabin with you. “Edistys edistyy”, as they say in Finnish: Progress Progresses.
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Clash of Realities, keynote

Next week, I will be in Cologne, presenting a keynote in the fascinating Clash of Realities conference. My title is “Playful Culture: Are We Undergoing a Ludic Turn?” Other speakers include e.g. Janet Murray, Jussi Holopainen and Rachel Kowert. More at: http://www.clashofrealities.com/.

Talk in London about Hybrid Playful Experiences

I will give a talk about “Hybrid Playful Experiences – Bridging the Physical-Digital Divide” this Wednesday in London, at the Innovations for the Benefit of Packaging and Commercial Printing event. This research is related both the the ‘Hybrid Media COST Action’ (FP1104) that we collaborate with several European partners, as well as research on playfulness and hybrid experiences, carried out in such research projects of ours as Hybridex, OASIS, Ludification of Culture and Society and others. The vacation period is July in Finland, but there is still some work to do – this will be my last work trip though, before the summer vacation starts. More information about the event: http://wcpcswansea.com/events/24-06-2015/Innovations-for-the-Benefit-of-Packaging-and-Commercial-Printing#agenda .

Paris keynote 

I am happy to be the keynote speaker in the “Game Studies – à la française!” conference that takes place in the University Paris 13, 3-5 June 2015. My talk is titled “Inter- and Multidisciplinarity of Game Studies: The Expanding Challenges”. You can access the conference program here: http://gsalf.hypotheses.org/edition-2015-les-supports-du-jeu-video/le-programme

SciFest, SciEdu

[I will be talking about play, games and new technology in the context of learning in Joensuu] Matkustan tänään Joensuuhun, missä on laaja SciFest 2015-tapahtuma 23.-25.4. Itse puhun tapahtuman yhteydessä toteutettavassa SciEdu-seminaarissa la klo 13 otsikolla “Leikkiä, peliä ja uutta teknologiaa: oppiminen ja kulttuurin muuttuvat puitteet”. Lisätietoja:

Three invited talks

I will be giving three invited talks on games and culture this week:

There is also a public video stream available online for the last seminar, accessible from the above linked seminar pages. See you at the seminar(s)!