Category Archives: Gear Review
My experience with the Kinvara dates back to version 1 (ViziPro version), the 3, and 2 pairs of the 5 (the Runshield as well as the regular version). You can say that I’ve a pretty good idea on how far the K has come since the early 2000s. Since major changes are put into the odd numbered (1, 3, 5) Kinvaras, I’m in a unique position to have experienced the enhanced editions. Since I’ve ran my best marathons in the 5s, I’ve a soft spot for the Kinvara.
The Kinvara has always been positioned as a low drop (4mm), conventionally stacked (23/19mm) lightweight trainer/racer. Its DNA have been that of simplicity, although the shoe has seen its ride qualities alternating between soft and firm. When v7 was announced last year, I was already enthused, bugging Frank when the release dates would be. The thought of a new midsole material, new upper and a rocking look only added to the impatience! Having used the Ride 8 as a slow-burn trainer, and the Zealot ISO the ultra versatile shod, I was eager to bed in the K7 quickly in preparation for the 3 marathons I’ve committed to this year. Through the help of a friend, I secured the Tokyo edition (¥9000) and promptly got down to seasoning it. The brand had a large presence at the Tokyo Marathon expo, from the looks of the photos here.
Aside from the Sakura-motifs, the Tokyo edition certainly lives up to the visual aesthetics of Toshikazu Nosaka, a pro skateboarder and artist. There’s a bit of Zen in the understated black and white colorway punctuated by the green Saucony logo. It’s been awhile since I wore a shoe with this much white and I’m torn between dirtying it and giving the shoe its due (i.e. putting many miles and getting them dirty and soiled)! #firstworldissues. A consolation is that the entire range of K7’s are lookers themselves, and replacing this pair eventually will not be as painful a thought. The regular colorways that we will see in Malaysia (3 for men, 2 for the women) will no doubt appeal to many, what with the anything-but-boring dark-to-light cues. The Boston Green Line edition which is due out in time for the world’s second oldest marathon has a simpler all-green take.
The upper is an improvement over the K5 in several ways, from the greater use of Flexfilm overlays. The sleeker logo, relocated to a more forward position, is now a thin strip which means it no longer presses down onto the top lateral side of the forefoot when flexed at push-off. The mesh looked ever more refined on the K7 as well. Apparently the position of the Pro-lock has been moved back a little for better midfoot support, but the feature isn’t something I particularly needed.
Moisture-wicking RunDry lining continues to be used on the sockliner and collar. The padding around the collar is just nice as on the tongue. The tongue is semi-gusseted which means sliding will be kept to a minimum. What would be nice though, is for the Kinvaras to have a slightly longer tongue – just 2cm extra just so that the laces have a bit more room to secure over.
Moving along to the SSL EVA midsole, there are changes to be had as well. There are now horizontal grooves on the medial side and a concave impression on the lateral side, possibly to promote a smoother transition. The use of Everun isn’t visible in the case of the K7, unlike the Hurricane and Triumph ISO 2 where the molded PU material can be seen on the topsole as well as in the heel section. Instead, the implementation is much subtler for the K7, with the Everun layer inserted into the heel.
Tri-Flex configuration for the outsole replaces the triangular lugs. While this may seem like a design decision, I notice a subtle change in how the shoe feels. More of that when I cover the wear experience. There are sufficient IBR+ material used to ensure durability doesn’t take a drastic hit. I’ve worn enough shoes over the last 10 years to state that IBR+ is the most durable blown rubber material I’ve experienced. The heel plug remains the dependable XT-900 carbon rubber variety.
I’ve logged close to 80K in the K7 and thus have a better idea on how the shoe rides. Runningwarehouse rate the K7 as firm and responsive, and that would be pretty much my take as well. It has a performance feel to the toe-off phase, not hard but more of a fast and firm bounce, resulting in a very engaging experience. The Tri-Flex configuration makes the midfoot to toeoff transition snappier and urgent than before – I can’t explain how or why, just that it feels that way! Heel cushioning is there but it’s not what anyone would call plush (for that, look to the Ride 8 or Triumph ISO 2) since the Everun layer is placed deeper into the midsole. I like the furrow in the midsole, which extends from the heel to the midfoot area. Besides being a weight-saving move, the longitudinal groove will provide some “center-of-the-pressure” cushioning during the impact-loading phase.
The ride characteristics change as you put in the miles in the K7. Having inched closer to the century mark, I notice a mild midsole softening which should stay the same for the life of the shoe. The wear and tear signs are not as pronounced as expected, a sign that version 7 will most likely outlast my ageing K5 . The traction offered by the K7 is exceptional, which is surprising, given the understated appearance of the outsole. The K7’s hold on the wet tiled and brick surfaces felt superbly assured as I ran at pace during one rainy day.
So what of the supposed narrower toebox? I don’t notice it at all, maybe because my choice of socks tend to be that of thinner material. The upper is still a little stretchy, no different from the previous version. That said, if your favorite socks are as thick as those traditional Thor-Lo’s, you may want to first try out the shoes in the stores before committing to a size.
You can surmise then, that the K7 is more suited for uptempo sessions than long easy runs, at least for me. For the most parts, the Kinvara 7 continues its tradition of providing a fast and lightweight ride. The fit remains true and if you’ve been a Kinvara faithful over the years, you’ll recognize it the moment you slip the it on. The slight bump in the weight department doesn’t slow the shoe down. The converse is, in fact, true. An enhanced midsole and a re-tweaked outsole config ensures that all you need to worry about is whether you can keep up with it.
The Saucony Kinvara 7 is available from today at Running Lab – Tropicana City Mall, Stadium and selected Royal Sporting House outlets, and retails at RM429.00.
Thinking of running your best marathon on a scenic and flat course? Well, entries for the 2016 Gold Coast Airport Marathon is now open and early bird rates valid till April 28! With public holidays slated at that time of the year, join a record number of Malaysians and I in Gold Coast this July where you and your family can run and then enjoy what the world-famous holiday destination can offer. For details, please refer to my blog post here where I’ve shared some important info for you to plan your travel and race!
Every shoe company out there has one or two designated work horses that are durable enough for daily use. For Saucony, the role is filled by more than 2 actually – Triumph ISO 2, Hurricane ISO 2, Ride 8, Guide 9 and Zealot – with the Triumph, Ride and Zealot serving those with neutral gait. Let’s take a look at what the Ride 8 (R8) brings to the table. R8 takes over from the well-received 7 as the brand’s midrange neutral offering. I wanted something with a little bit more structure yet softer than the Zealot, which I love for those speedier sessions, for the long and easy days as my PF heals up completely.
The Ride and I didn’t quite start off on the right footing. I found the ride stiff and firm the first 30Ks but as the shoe gradually broke-in, the greater my liking for it. With 120K logged, it’s definitely the one for those long fat-burning runs and recovery days. Weighing 10.55 oz (301 grams) and with a 26mm/18mm (heel/forefoot) stackheight, for a 8mm offset, the R8 isn’t exactly what you’d call a performance trainer. In fact, it feels clunky coming off something like the Kinvara. However as mentioned, the out-of-the-box feel isn’t a finality. Put some miles in them and the midsole softens up.
The upper isn’t overly-engineered unlike how a typical high mileage trainer is. Other than a few PU strips on both sides of the lateral and medial side panels and in front of the toebox, the upper has a number of thin FlexFilm welded overlays. Unless and until an ISO version is released in the future, wearers will have to contend with this traditional setup. Not that it’s an issue, mind you. The mesh design on the R8 is a little more refined compared to the 7, at least visually. I’ve yet to develop any hotspots from running in them and neither have I ended any runs wearing sweaty socks, which can only mean that the upper’s breathability is good. Toebox roominess isn’t as spacious as that of the Zealot’s but still provides adequate wiggle room for the toes. As can be expected of a cushy trainer, the Ride’s tongue and collar are very well-padded. I found myself lacing up tighter to get a snugger fit. Even with the greater all-round padding and bulk of the shoe, the fit of the Ride 8 surpasses that of the other shoe in the same category, adidas Supernova Glide Boost 7 in that it hugs my better. Needless to say, it fits true to size.
Saucony relied on the usual sandwich combo for the midsole. The ingredients? PowerGrid layer and EVA with a dash of softer Special Rebound Compound (SRC) on the lateral heel side. The new Everun compound will only make its appearance on the Ride 9 sometime end of 2016. The full-contact outsole is holding up well at this point with scuff marks on the XT-900 carbon rubber and mild wear on the iBR+ blown rubber on the forefoot. Do note that I’m not the most efficient of runners so I reckon this pair can easily go 600K, more if you’re a “glider” .
As mentioned, the initial feel of the shoe felt a little off but once they’re broken in, they felt great. So much so that I find myself reaching out for it a couple of times a week. For a neutral shoe, the Ride 8 feels remarkably stable and smooth even towards the end of my recent 29K. Unsurprisingly, running quick miles in them poses a challenge somewhat (that’s where the Zealot and Kinvara come in), what with it built like a tank. You will feel the weight after some miles. That said, at 10.55oz, the R8 is still lighter than the Asics Cumulus 17 (11.5oz), adidas Glide Boost 7 (11.25oz), Brooks Ghost 8 (11oz) and even the adidas Ultra Boost. Make no mistake about it. The Ride 8 is and remains an utility shoe. It can do most of the tasks out there and do it pretty well. There’s no single element that stands out or define the shoe. Rather, it’s a sum of many things that work well together. It may not be the lightest nor responsive Saucony out there but at RM399, the Ride 8 is a darn value-for-money utility shoe for the long haul.
Thinking of running your best marathon on a scenic and flat course? Well, entries for the 2016 Gold Coast Airport Marathon is now open! With public holidays slated at that time of the year, join many fellow Malaysians and I in Gold Coast this July where you and your family can run and then enjoy what the world-famous holiday destination can offer. For details, please refer to my blog post here where I’ve shared some important info for you to plan your travel and race!
Just when I thought 2015 was a wrap, along came a text from Skechers Malaysia announcing that the GOrun Ride 5 (GRR5) just hit their warehouse. The news was a huge surprise since I was expecting the updated versions of the GOMeb Speed or GOTrail. Fellow shoe geek and GCAM Alumni Nick was kind enough to help with the pick-up and within a few days, I was already logging some miles in them. If you’re expecting the GRR5 to be yet another same old shoe, you’re in for a surprise.
If the GRR4 saw a brighter colorway, the GRR5 upped that factor a bit more. Some may opine that the look is anything but exciting but I quite like the snazzy looks of the 5. The next thing you’ll notice will be the somewhat tapered look of the updated version. I’ve always found the GRR4’s fit to be somewhat sloppy in the forefoot. There’s just too much space up front and my toes had acres to spare even when compared with the Altra Torin. I’m happy to report that version 5 has the forefoot fit issue corrected by trimming excess areas. Visually, the GRR5 looks to have a constricted fit up front but fret not – your toes won’t be packed together like sardines with this one. How did they do it? The answers can be found in the photo below.
- Move the first row of the laces backwards -
- Widen the gap between the laces – nearly 50% more across
- Remove the 2 rows of stitching on the vamp
These tweaks ensure that while a narrower last may have been adopted, the shoe remains adequately roomy.
Elsewhere on the upper, 3D printed overlays are now widely used and an additional lace eyelet was added, increasing the count to 7. Be advised that you’ll find the laces too short to fully secure all the 7 eyelets through double-knotting. Nevertheless I find the added set of eyelets to be redundant personally. If that addition is important to you, you may need to swap out the stock laces for a longer variety. The Quick-Fit Portal (QFP) is not only retained but it appears to be 50% larger on the GRR5. The downer is that the 2 large reflective strips on either side of it have been dropped, making the empty spaces appear rather awkward.
The changes are also extended to the Resalyte midsole. Firstly, the squishy feel of the earlier versions is gone, replaced with a firmly-tuned foam. The firmness is very obvious as you press down on the external midsole area with your fingers. It almost felt like the GOMeb Speed 3. The 3D design elements on the lateral side is a matter of preference, though. I thought it looks pretty neat, flashy even.
Moving on to the outsole, the GRR5 now bears an uncanny resemblance to the GOrun 4 (GR4), right down to the the midfoot cluster. Just like in the GR4, the lugs are deeper with 14 rubber plugs (the GRR4 had 11) adding a bit more durability to the high wear areas. Elsewhere, you can expect the exposed foam to wear out just as quickly. I can spot several nooks and crannies that will snag some small rocks. Have a look at the next 2 photos where you can see how different GRR5 is from the previous version and the similarities it shares with the GR4.
As a result of the tweaks, the GRR5 now wears a different persona. It now has an palpable performance feel to it even if the weight sees a nudge upwards (GRR4’s 8.65 oz vs GRR5’s 8.80 oz ). The denser midsole foam and the closer fit both conspire to change the character of the shoe. It still offers a cushioned ride except that it’s much more responsive than pillowy. I’d go as far as calling it a cushier version of the GOMeb Speed 3, instead of a cushier option to the GOrun. Needless to say, the GRR5 now feels great for uptempo sessions and Half Marathons. Efficient runners will be able to take it all the way to the Marathon distance.
I’ve not logged many miles in the GRR5 as I’m nursing a stubborn PF brought about by the Adios Boost. A smattering of 5 to 8Ks are all I can manage in firmer shoes for now as my base building continues. But as I wrap up this quick review, I wonder that with the new firmer take on a cushioned model, where is Skechers going with this series? There’s very little that separates the GR4, GRR5 and GOMeb now and the shopper would be advised to give all 3 a try at the stores before deciding. Give each a good skip-around in the store and let your feet be the judge.
Disclosure: The Skechers GOrun Ride 5 is a media sample provided by Skechers Malaysia. The GRR5 will be available very soon in Skechers stores in the country and retails for RM439 and RM399 for the men and women models respectively.
Jabra, one of the world’s leading producers of headsets and earbuds recently added the Jabra Sport Coach Wireless (SCW) to its range of great-sounding, tough-wearing Bluetooth earbuds. Having put it through some sessions, I can now share some of my experiences with you. It helps if you’re familiar with their Sport Pulse Wireless and Sport Rox Wireless but if you aren’t, you can read about them by following the links provided. With that, let’s get going.
The SCW is optimized for cross-training and indoor workouts when paired with the smartphone but it works perfectly fine as standalone Bluetooth earbuds should you work it with your other Bluetooth enabled devices such as the iPod. The SCW rides on the Jabra Sport Life app on the smartphone, the same as what the Sport Pulse Wireless works with. But because the SCW is geared towards indoor workouts and drills, you’ll be prompted to update the app the very first time the SCW is paired with the smartphone. The update presumably includes additional voice prompts and programmed workouts.
The SCW shares the same design queues and battery life (5.5 hours) as the Sport Pulse Wireless (SPW). It’s lightweight, comes with different sets of EarGels and EarWings for a custom fit. Likewise, a FitClip is bundled for the wearer to secure excess length of cable behind the head such that the cable doesn’t flop around at the back. Once you’ve found your fit, the earbuds stay put – I can’t emphasize how important this requirement is, given how the SCW is intended to be used. A flat unit charges up to the max in 2 hours and this is done via a micro USB cable. The charging port is cleverly hidden away under the right side earbud. Connectivity with the smartphone or media player is made either via Bluetooth or NFC and like any sports earbuds worth mentioning, the Sport Coach is IPX55 certified for water and dust resistance.
So far, everything that has been covered is pretty much the same features you’d find on the SPW (minus the heart rate monitor) and Sport Rox Wireless. Now comes the feature-set that’s unique to the SCW, and that’s the audio coaching features. The SCW comes with the TrackFit motion sensor which measures distance, pace, steps, cadence and calories burned. Geared towards the fitness crowd, the SCW has more than 40 exercises built-in, catering to beginners and advanced enthusiasts.
The workouts are grouped into several circuits, 5 of which – CardiCore, TakeOff, BellyBurn, PushPerfection and MadCore – comes preset with the Jabra Sport Life app. Since I’m the curious type, I poked into the MadCore circuit just to see what’s in there. You can see from the screenshots below that it consists of a single set of workouts based on timing and reps, with 10 seconds’ rest in between.
If the preset is a bit much or still too mild for your liking, you can go ahead and duplicate the preset and then customize it according to your needs. You can tweak parameters such as number of sets, rest time, and add additional workouts. In the example below, I duplicated the MadCore circuit.
And since MadCore didn’t sound badass enough, I went ahead and created a circuit called Get Hammered. Just because I could
Thankfully I checked myself before I got started and promptly changed my workout to CardiCore, albeit the modified version. I kicked things off with a slow jog, drills and some ROM routines. I selected Running as the activity and had the Jabra Sport Life app playing from my iTunes playlist. It was just a short run on the warm sunny morning yet I was sweating like I had just completed a 10K. The SCW performed as expected – it sounded just like any Jabras that I’ve worn, which is a good thing. The ROM routines didn’t dislodge the earbuds as I bounded here and there. Ending the warm up will bring up the summary screens. You can add a photo and share your session on several social media sites, no different from the usage experience as the SPW.
Then, it was time to get down, literally, to the circuits. Press the Sports button located on the left earbud to call up the Sport Life app on the phone. Then on the phone, just select the desired circuit. I kept things relatively straightforward but over-estimated my fitness! In the course of performing these workouts, I also discovered that overall strength was unevenly distributed – something not surprising since running is just about the only sport that I do on a regular basis. Therefore the 20 reps of lower body routines were QED since squats and lunges are already part of my weekday post-run regimen. The push-ups are another thing, though
Now comes the part where my rating of the SCW drops a couple of notches. Conceptually the on-board TrackFit motion sensor should allow automatic tracking, progression and guidance for the athlete. It should be able sense how many reps have been executed and therefore knows when to move along to the next phase. The SCW, however, didn’t realize that potential. For example, it was able to track the time-bound routines but found itself at sea with the repetition-bound ones. What this means to the user is that she will need to count the number of push-ups, crunches executed and upon completion of those tap on the phone to progress the workout to the next routine.
Try doing that when you’re huffing and puffing, and trying to get into the zone and you’ll understand how frustrating the user experience can be. On the other hand, the transition screens were functional. Enough visual cues on your routine and the remaining time till the next one will keep you apprised. As will the audio announcements, inter-playing with your music playlist. However, since the SCW is unable to track certain types of routines, slowing down when completing a particular routine (for example, as you’re tiring) will not trigger a motivational message. It’ll be nice if the voice could scream out, “C’mon move it, you slug!” in full Dolby quality sound when you’re struggling 3/4 into your session!
Once you’ve completed the required sets (I only managed 3), you’ll be able to get a snapshot of what you’ve just accomplished. I seriously doubt that what I did burned only 55 kcal even though I rarely pay any attention to that measurement.
I’ve since used the SCW without the Sport Life app a number of times, pairing it with the iPod 7th Gen and the iPhone 6+ with no problems. In fact, switching between previously paired devices seemed easier with the SCW – I just needed to hold down the multi-function button for 5 secs till the blue light comes on for a new acquisition.
So is the SCW for you? It depends on the type of athlete you are. As a runner, I can see incorporating it as part of an overall fitness or post-run regimen. It works well as Bluetooth earbuds and if Jabra can work out the kinks in the tracker (not sure if it’s sensor or firmware related), the SCW will present a good buy for those seeking their first wireless earbuds. The other option is of course the cheaper Sport Rox Wireless, which is a solid alternative.
- Retains the good stuff that Jabra is known for – build and Dolby sound quality, lightweight construction, custom fitting courtesy of EarWings and EarGels.
- Less finicky pairing and repairing process in a multiple device environment compared to the Sport Pulse Wireless and Sport Rox Wireless.
- Conceptually good, catering to the fitness crowd and the cross-training athlete.
- Customizable circuits with a wide variety of routines that the user can mix up.
- Tracking of repetitions is not quite there, resulting in a less-than-desirable user experience.
- Battery life is still constrained to 5.5 hours.
Disclaimer: The Jabra Sport Coach Wireless is a review unit courtesy of Jabra Malaysia. It retails for RM649 (including GST) and is now available at IT Hypermarket Sdn Bhd, Harvey Norman, Machines, Radioshack and Viewnet Computer Systems. Jabra is an official partner of International Triathlon Union events. For more information please visit: http://my.jabra.com/Products/Bluetooth/JABRA_Sport_Coach_Wireless/Jabra_Sport_Coach_Wireless
Thinking of running your best marathon on a scenic and flat course? Well, entries for the 2016 Gold Coast Airport Marathon is now open! With public holidays slated at that time of the year, join many fellow Malaysians and I in Gold Coast next July where you and your family can run and then enjoy what the world-famous holiday destination can offer. For details, please refer to my blog post here where I’ve shared some important info for you to plan your travel and race!
As I’m getting ready to catch some really long-overdue break, I thought I’d put out a quick post to recap the notable gear that I’ve had the chance to try the past 12 months. My running are done almost exclusively on roads, within sane distances and timeframes, making my gear needs rather simple. I’ve no need for hydration vests, 50-hour GPS watches, trekking poles, whistles and space blankets ! While it’s not surprising that the resulting list came out rather short, it was eye-opening to discover that my favorites were nearly all old releases! It is true that good stuff need not be the very latest gear to come out into the market nor be the most expensive.
You’ll see that all my favorite shoes, aside from the lime-green colorway preference, were released in 2014, with 2 arriving on our shores early this year. In no particular order, here they are…
- Saucony Kinvara 5 (Q2 ’14). Marathon PR shoe for 2 consecutive years. I didn’t review the regular K5 but did one for the Runshield version which you can read here.
- adidas Boston Boost 5 (Q3 ’14). Its forefoot fit is a little narrow and rides firm up front but I’ve enjoyed my races in them. Reviewed here.
- Nike LunarTempo (end ’14/early ’15). Looks like the Lunaracer but it’s not the Lunaracer. An all-round shoe for speedwork, long runs, Half and Full Marathons. This is one of the best shoes of the year and I rank it higher than the Zante for all the mentioned versatility. Plus the LunarTempo has a forgiving ride and even an accommodating forefoot! Reviewed here.
- NB Zante (end ’14/early ’15). Love it for shorter races. It just edges out the GOmeb Speed 2 due to its softer feel and sock-like fit. Reviewed here.
The observant runner will notice that the mentioned shoes retail between RM399 to RM450. With the price of goods ever soaring, that price range appears to be the sweet-spot for performance shoes nowadays.
I’ve worn the 405, 620, Fenix 1 as well as the Polar RCX5 over the years but where technological advancements progressively make better equipment can be seen on what we wear on our wrists. The Garmin Forerunner 225 is a simple watch, has no annoying bugs like the Fenix, easy to use, and has a built-in Mio-based HRM sensor which is accurate (as cross-verified during an ECG test). The sweetener was the fact that I bought it at the GCAM15 expo at a price that’s cheaper than in Malaysia (with a TNF backpack thrown in!) means this watch is a keeper. In case my wife reads this, I’d like to state that I’ve sold off all the older watches!
Sony Smart B-Trainer. I don’t think I’ve seen a single piece of gear which can do this much. Your smartwatch definitely can’t spin your tunes without a paired phone, can it? Well, this Sony can. It plays music, tracks your activities with a built-in GPS, measures your heart-rate, reads out your run metrics via a plethora of sensors, takes voice memos, works in the pool, connects via Bluetooth and NFC. That feature set alone warrants a special shout-out. Last I checked, the price has dropped to RM799. Reviewed here.
Shoe geeks are already rubbing their hands in glee with the teasers coming out of the Outdoor Retailer expo in the US. But my wishlist is pretty simple. I’ve eyes on the Saucony Kinvara 7 and the Triumph ISO 2 which will be updated with the Everun material. If the K7 fits anything like the K5, my racing shoe of choice for GCAM16 is already a foregone conclusion! I’m also curious about the Skechers GOTrail Ultra 3 (moving away from the GOrun Ultra nomenclature) and other FitKnit models from the company.
What about you? Any gear in particular that you’re eagerly awaiting? What are your favorites of 2015? Let me know in the comments.
Thinking of running your best marathon on a scenic and flat course? Well entries for the 2016 Gold Coast Airport Marathon is open now. With public holidays slated at that time of the year next year, join many fellow Malaysians and I in Gold Coast next July where you and your family can run and then enjoy what the place can offer. For details, please refer to my blog post here where I’ve shared some important info for you to plan your travel and race!
Word of caution: Please exercise vigilance when plugging in during an outdoor workout. Be always mindful of traffic and other safety threats. The majority of my listening happen in the gym, at the KLCC Park (where there are high human traffic) and 1K loops around my housing area. I don’t recommend running solo with the ears plugged. Always use your better judgment and never listen at extreme levels of volume, nor for an extended period of time.
With more than half of my week’s running done in the gym, I’m pretty much plugged into my iPod whenever I’m at it. Stock earphones that come with the media devices and smartphones just won’t do it for me. They’re sonically harsh to the ears and don’t fit well, often dislodging from the ears as you get progressively sweaty.
While you can wear just about anything (including over-the-ear types provided you don’t care about the sniggers you get from others) when working out, it’s always more practical to go with sports models which are weather/sweat/shock/dust-resistant. Consider as well, those that come with multiple sized ear-buds and in-ear hooks (usually made of silicone, example here) for a customized and secure fit, or how some brands are supposed to be worn. Case in point, Shure’s recommended method of fitting (see here). As you can expect, there are a bewildering variety for which to choose from and much depends on your preferences and budget.
Since I’ve had experiences with IEMs of varying price-point and brands, from Sony, Yurbuds, Ultimate Ears, Shure, JBL, Bose, and Griffin to Jabra, I thought I could point out some obvious and not-so-obvious tidbits for you, what with the holiday shopping season coming up.
First, some pros and cons on each type.
- No-brainer connection – Stick the 3.5mm jack into the portable and you’re ready to rock and roll.
- Cheap to expensive – Prices can start from RM70 to RM450. Non-sports models can even sport a RM1,000 price tag, but you won’t be using those in the gym anytime soon!
Audio quality – You get what you pay for due to the components (e.g. drivers, cabling) used in the production of the IEMs. Since audio quality should always matter if you love your music, a general rule of thumb is to stay away from those sub-RM100 models.
- Pesky cords – You’re hard-pressed for time and want to just go but untangling those bits are a pain. These days, many manufacturers tend to put some attention to the design by using braided or flat cords to reduce tangling but it still happens to some degree.
- Fit – Cheap IEMs may not come with replaceable ear tips and the last thing you’d want is your IEMs getting dislodged due to sweat. Noise-isolating types will improve sound quality as well.
- Choices – There are a wide variety to choose from. Finding one that fits you well, provides good audio quality and yet doesn’t bust your wallet is often a maddening process of trial and error.
- Wireless! ‘Nuff said.
- One-time setup/pairing – In theory. In the case of Jabra, switching devices will require a reset on the IEM and a fresh pairing on the new device. This is regardless if the 2 had been paired previously, which is annoying. Other makers may have different setup.
- Audio quality – You get what you pay for, although in a critical listening scenario, a wired headphone will almost always trump a wireless one.
- Pairing – If you’ve multiple devices in which your media files sit, such as an iPod and an iPhone, you may need to unpair the previously set device. I’ve only ever use Jabra and that’s one of their misgivings.
- Battery life – Typically maxed out at 5 hours and below. OK for the most part but may be too short if you race an ultra, for example. Additionally a micro-USB cable or a proprietary charging dock (in the case of the Sony Smart B-Trainer) is necessary for recharging purposes.
- Needs charging – Full charge typically takes 2.5 hours
- Pairing – May not be a consistent experience, depending on the brand. Refer to the same point under Pros above.
- Cost – Typically twice (or more) the price of a corded variety.
So here are my preferences:
- Sony AS800AP
- Jabra Sport Rox Wireless (reviewed here)
- Jabra Sport Pulse Wireless (iPhone required since it works best with the app. Reviewed here)
The RM317 (10% rebate if you hold a MySony membership) waterproof Sony AS800AP has been a real joy to use. It has all the ruggedized features, great fit courtesy of the in-ear hooks and multiple-sized buds, and simply sounds fabulous. Its wide frequency response of 5Hz to 25KHz provides a controlled low-end (necessary in a workout setting) yet has enough of the mids and highs to keep you engaged in the train ride home. The AS800AP would be the one I’d bring along anywhere. There’s a significantly more expensive Bluetooth version as well but that one has a 5-hour battery life and a narrower frequency band.
Since we’re at it, I might as well cover a little on home listening. My favorite unit at home is the Sony MDR-1A (reviewed by What Hi-Fi | Head Fi). While there are esoteric and hi-fi brands out there which cost an arm and a leg, recent models from Sony have been fantastic, providing excellent listening experience each I put them on. While home listening doesn’t require the thumping bass of sports IEMs, the music doesn’t need to come out flat either, and the MDR-1A has an ultra wide frequency response to handle just about the genres I typically listen to. The amount of clarity alone was the best I’ve experienced. It works fantastic with the 64GB Mi Note which has a built-in DAC and amp (that bit of power brings the music to live and able to drive most headphones). Additionally, the Mi Note handles uncompressed and lossless formats like FLAC, APE, and DSD, among others, like a charm out of the box. If there’s one media device you should get as a portable media player, it’s the Mi Note (I’d use it like an iPod Touch). And yes, it’s a fine Android phone to boot. Since relinquishing the Note to my wife, I’ve resorted to pairing the RM250 Fiio headphone amp to the iPhone 6+ to get a bit more punch. The Fiio is very transparent in its duties and add no noticeable coloration to the sonics.
Hopefully there are enough tips in this post to get you started on the path to better audio-on-the-move. Keep in mind that great products need not be super expensive. Happy shopping!
Smartphones are ubiquitous these days. If you’re one of those not in possession of a hand-me-down, you would know that the price of a smartphone is hardly pocket change – a month’s paycheck if the brand is that of a certain fruit ;). It makes sense then that you will want to protect that investment of yours. Nope, not insurance (well, at least not what I’m alluding to in this case) but physical protection like the Rhino Shield .
That’s the Rhino Shield Crash Guard you see in the photo. Launched as a Kickstarter project, it was the highest backed iPhone project on the crowdfunding site. The Crash Guard is a 2.5mm slim profile bumper unlike the bubble-wrap thick ones you’ll find in some stores. Weighing under half an ounce you certainly won’t feel like you’re lugging a rhino. Instead of a smooth surface, the designers wisely opted for a matt texture for easy grip. An important consideration since I consider myself a somewhat power user. Unless you’re hardcore butterfingers, you won’t be dropping your phone anytime soon. Even if you do, you can count on the Crash Guard as your final line of defence against phone annihilation. All ports remain accessible with the bumper on, including Beats cans, if you’re one of those users. No issues plugging in my Sony MDR-1A and Shure SE, nor the Fiio headphone amp.
The Crash Guard comes in a nice box and includes the back protector and tools to help you fix the said protector. “Hang on, how about the front screen protector?”, I hear you ask. That’s where the separately sold Rhino Shield Screen Protector comes in, which I’ll cover below. But first some photos of the Crash Guard which comes nicely packed. The bumper comes with a back protector which can be found in a slide-out envelope/sleeve.
So what’s so special about the Rhino Shield Crash Guard? EggDrop Technology. On the inside of the bumper (made of a new polymer blend) is a series of honeycomb-shaped texture which disperses the impact across the entire bumper – much like how running shoes’ midsole material do their job – thus saving your phone.
Before the bumper is fitted, you’ll need to first install the back protector. The thin layer is hardly noticeable as you can see below.
The back of the phone taken care of, it’s time to get the Rhino Shield Screen Protector (see the yellow envelope with the large “Impact Protection” words in the photo at the top of this post) onto the face of the phone. Now, the Screen Protector is the special one in this protective detail if you ask me. Sold separately, it’s just 3 times the thickness of a sheet of paper (0.029cm to be precise) yet offers 5 times the impact protection of Gorilla Glass 3. The Screen Protector is of the clear type and has the following properties.
Finally, fitting the Crash Guard bumper is easy. Snug and secure there’s no sliding around. It’s pretty much a personal preference but I thought the black bumper would complement the space grey model better.
The manufacturers claim that installing the Rhino Shield Crash Guard along with the Screen Protector can protect your device against more than 225 pounds (or close to 100Kg) of pressure. Now, I wasn’t about to use my phone as a test unit but check out the videos below.
The first is the 11 feet drop test. Unless you’re truly confident of your product, this isn’t something one would be doing. You can also watch David Pogue’s test here.
And how strong is the Rhino Shield Screen Protector? This strong. Mind you, I was wincing throughout the video! It’s crazy, man!
With the launch of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, the Crash Guard and Screen Protector tag team couldn’t have arrived on our shores at the right time. Per their website, they’ve solutions for popular models from HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony, OnePlus, Google, and Motorola too but you’d have to buy direct from their website http://www.evolutivelabs.com/pages/rhinoshield. Incidentally, Evolutive Labs was founded by some boffins who dabble in Material Science and Metallurgy from the University of Cambridge. Brilliant nerds, I say.
Now, the iPhone owners can get their units from the list of stores nationwide below. The Rhino Shield combo set which includes 1 Rhino Shield Crash Guard bumper and Rhino Shield front and back impact resistant screen protector. The set retails for RM298, a small investment for an expensive device, won’t you say so?
- 1 Mont Kiara – iStore
- Bangsar Village II – epiCentre
- Cheras Sentral – IT World
- Lot 10 – Machines
- Low Yat – Mac Studio & ID Wholesale Smartphone
- Fahrenheit88 – epiCentre & Connect
- Mid Valley – Machines & Connect
- Nu Sentral – Machines
- Pavilion – epiCentre & Connect
- Publika – iStore & My Chameleon
- Suria KLCC – Machines
- The Gardens Mall – Machines
- AEON Anggun Rawang – IT World
- Atria – Mac Studio
- Bukit Tinggi – Machines
- eCurve – epiCentre
- Digital Mall – iStore
- Empire Shopping Gallery – Machines
- Encorp Strand Mall – IT World
- IOI Mall – epiCentre
- Jaya Shopping Mall – Mac Studio
- KLIA 2 – Machines & Connect
- Lim Kok Wing University – epiCentre
- Paradigm Mall – Mac Studio & My Chameleon
- Setia Mall – Machines
- Sunway Pyramid – Machines & Connect
- The Main Place – Machines
- The School Jaya One – iStore
- First Avenue – iStudy
- AEON Seri Manjung – IT World
- AEON Station 18 – IT World
- AEON Taiping – IT World
- Ipoh Parade – IT World
- Palm Mall – IT World
- City Square – Machines
- Desa Tebrau – Machines
- Komtar JBCC -Ascentouch Resources
- Danga City Mall – Ascentouch Resources
- Sutera Mall – Ascentouch Resources
- Batu Pahat Mall – Ascentouch Resources
- KB Mall – IT World
- Ba Zhong Commercial Centre- Pronova
- Prima Square – mc.com
- Bintang Plaza – Optiprimus
Disclosure: The Rhino Shield Crash Guard and Rhino Shield Screen Protector set is provided courtesy of Distexpress (M) Sdn Bhd, the authorized distributor of Rhino Shield in Malaysia.