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Cool Yule Tools 2012

LISTEN: Audio-related gift ideas for 2012

Speakers and headphones that will make your ears happy

By , Network World
November 19, 2012 08:09 AM ET

Page 3 of 5

HMDX Jam wireless speakers

HMDX Jam Wireless Speaker

$50

The HMDX Jam wireless speaker is a decent option for wireless audio playback, which, in an increasingly mobile world, is in much need of improvement.

There aren't very many affordable and effective options for speakers that play music stored on smartphones and MP3 players. Because of this, the Jam's Bluetooth playback feature is its strongest selling point. In my tests with the native iTunes app on an iPhone 4S, music was played through the speaker within minutes. Even users without much experience of using the Bluetooth function on a smartphone or laptop won't have much of a problem figuring it out.

The main tradeoff of the device is in sound quality. While the music was definitely louder than what you get on a standard laptop speaker, the sound quality fell short of traditional PC speakers enough to bother music nerds. That being said, it's a great option for listening to podcasts, audio books or other spoken-word audio file stored on a mobile device.

The Jam speaker could be a good fit in places where music or audio would fit in but doesn't necessarily need to be too loud, such as a workshop or a day care. It also comes with a USB converter for recharging the device when it gets low on power, meaning users won't need to keep buying batteries for it. The speaker can play three hours of audio before it needs to be recharged.

For those who wouldn't nitpick about audio playback - that includes most people - the convenience and price makes it a great gift.

- Colin Neagle

Marware UpSurge Mini Speaker

$30

The Marware UpSurge Mini Speaker actually is more than meets the eye. The 2-inch by 2-inch cylinder fits in the palm of your hand, and plays music back in that form factor. However, a slight twist of the top half of the device - identifiable at a discrete seam just above the logo - expands the speaker. The result is a 2.5-inch tall speaker that resembles a tiny, upright-standing accordion and packs an impressive punch.

Marware UpSurge speakers

The volume can only be adjusted on the source device, but when it is the UpSurge amplifies it well. Extending the speaker allows it to amplify bass and vibrate independently, eliminating the disruptive buzz common when other bass-heavy speakers sit on a table or desk.

Although the 3.5-mm headphone jack makes it compatible with nearly any device that may play music, the UpSurge lacks the convenience of fully wireless access. However, the 3.5-mm cord provided is the only one needed for playback; the built-in Lithium-ion battery is rechargeable, and comes with a DC-5V-to-USB cord so it can be plugged into a laptop when it needs to be recharged. On a full charge, the UpSurge can play up to four hours of audio at 70% volume.

As a compact speaker, the UpSurge may be best suited for laptop-wielding college students, although given how loud it can get, their neighbors might not appreciate it.

- Colin Neagle

Marshall Headphones Minor

$60

The first moment I laid eyes on these, I thought it was some kind of joke: there was no way these "Minor" headphones would fit in my normal, human-sized ears. Maybe the ears of a giraffe - maybe - but not me.

Marshall Headphones Minor earbuds

And yet here I sit, typing a review while using them to listen to Radical Face's "Welcome Home, Son" and being highly impressed with how they feel in my ears, to say nothing of the high audio quality produced by the Minor headphones.

They're intense looking, and I would be surprised if you didn't react in a similar fashion upon opening the box. But they work, and they work well. The Minor headphones produce excellent sound, and possibly a consequence of their monstrous size, they do a pretty good job blocking out ambient noise. They're surprisingly comfortable for such large earbud style headphones, but they can get uncomfortable if you leave them on too long.

They're also very well made, with high quality metals and plastics. The cord itself is made of the increasingly popular "rope" material, which is tougher and harder to tangle than traditional plastic cords.

The Minors come with additional ear pads of varying sizes, allowing a user to customize the pads to their ear size (medium are mounted in the box). I'm about average height and found the medium worked well for me. Because they're so well made, these Minor headphones by Marshall are highly recommended for the audiophile/mass transit commuter in your life.

- Dan Hunt

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