Launching the JBL Synchros headphones
Not content with making Dominic Hemy sit through all manner of extreme metal and its many sub-genres over on Music @ The Digital Fix, we told him to pack his bags and head north to check out the new Synchros range of headphones from JBL. We work him hard - we really do!
JBL have been around for nearly 60 years, and have always been associated with producing high quality audio products across the board. So given the opportunity to go and sample their new range of premium headphones, the answer was a no brainer. The Synchros line is aimed at the more demanding customer, without requiring a remortgaging of the house to pay for them.
And this brings me on a Monday afternoon to the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the token music bod in a sea of tech writers. In true corporate style we begin with a buffet lunch as journalists mingle with representatives, followed by the obligatory talks to serve as an introduction to the JBL brand. The second of these little presentations is with Dr. Sean Olive, director of JBL's acoustic research labs in the States, who goes into some detail about the science behind these new headphones and the research they did to get there. In the development process they wrote six papers on the subject in the last year alone, exploring people's perception of sound and attempting to bring standards to the performance of headphones in the same way that universal standards are applied to loudspeakers.
To conclude the afternoon's entertainment we are treated to a live acoustic performance from Jonas & The Massive Attraction, but with a slight twist. Taking a feed off the desk, we all sit down with a set of the top-of-the-line Synchros S700 headphones and take in the show through these, which is a somewhat surreal experience for both band and audience. A rather inoffensive set of standard country-tinged rock, Jonas has a bold and powerful voice, but they fail to pique my curiosity as to the rest of their material.
But this is a prime opportunity to put these headphones and the new LiveStage technology (signal processing that apparently delivers “a more realistic sound experience”) they contain through its paces. Without it switched on, the headphones give a very good reproduction of the live sound in the room, taking you onto the stage as you slip them on. The music comes across pure with a great clarity throughout the aural spectrum, a delight to behold. Turn the LiveStage however, and something very strange happens. The sound becomes bigger, brighter, dare I even say better, than what I can hear in the room. It is a remarkable experience, though I clearly need more time before judging both the headphones and the new technology they are built around.
With a few hours to spare before the evening's big party, a gentle stroll around Liverpool and along the Mersey is very pleasant indeed, if a little chilly. And then we all descend back upon the Cavern Club, joined by various other guests including a large number of Ferrari dealers (they’ll be the ones in suits then…) Tonight is more about having a good old knees up – Nick 'Pink Floyd' Mason's old Ferrari and a brand new model (don't ask me which one) parked outside have the tourists flocking whilst we head in for some more live music.
TDF favourite and local girl Natalie McCool kicks the show off with tracks from her recent self-titled debut. A wispy, atmospheric pop performance, she leaves us emotionally exhausted yet also a touch elated and exhilarated. An alluring stage presence, she is something of a star in the making if tonight’s set is anything to go by. The delicate Americana blues of Jamie N Commons, from New Cross rather than across the pond, is unfortunately a little lost here in the din of nattering salesmen and their tipsy WAGs, which is a shame as he deserves to be heard tonight. Heartfelt originals surround a brave cover of 'Wish You Were Here', followed by a decidedly bluesy version of 'Come Together' (we are in the Cavern after all) which shows off his smoky voice to fine effect.
Jonas & The Massive Attraction are back again, playing pretty much the same as they did earlier for everyone else now, minus the headphones trick. Once again they turn on the charm, but the safety of their music means that I can't give them my undivided attention for the second time today, and other distractions draw me away. Our final act tonight in the delectable Kate Nash. Fresh off a plane from LA her voice has a husky jet-lag tone, coupled with a poufy red dress and voluminous beehive lending Ms Nash an air of slightly awkward sexiness. Stripped down to just a pair of acoustic guitars, an extra layer of fragility is exposed in the music, and she keeps even this most difficult of crowds largely engrossed. With the organised entertainment finished, full attention can be given to the bar before staggering back to the hotel to finish up a very fun night.
Back home and down to the serious business of how these Synchros S700 headphones cope with music more demanding. Picking out three records that push the extremities in terms of spectrum and dynamics, the subjects were Nails' recent Abandon All Life with its furious dose of hardcore; White2 from Sunn O))) to see how they cope with unrelenting bass drones that sink so deep; and finally The Protecting Veil by the late, great Sir John Tavener as something complete different and challenging. All were then tested though both my phone (an HTC Windows 8X) and my Sony laptop with the LiveStage technology firstly off then on for comparison.
Despite the gig experience, after repeated trials flicking between having the LiveStage on and off, I am not at all convinced by it in the home environment. The lower reaches of the bass are cut out almost completely whilst the top end becomes far too bright. This might work well for pop music, but for anything heavier it doesn't work. Having said that, leave it off and we are left with a brilliant pair of headphones. In normal mode, the Synchros S700 produce a wonderfully pure sound that is beautifully responsive all the way up and down the frequencies. The bass is rich in power without becoming boomy, whilst all the detail in the treble is crisp and sharp. This is where the benefit of all the research comes out, the ability to make the headphones sound so perfectly balanced for a wide range of musical styles, the rewards of that rigour clear to hear.
There is also the comfort element, the pads fitting well without crushing the head and so allowing for prolonged periods of use without too much irritation. They are a bit bulky, but weigh less than you would think from looking at them. Priced at £300 for the top-end S700, they are not significantly more expensive than their direct competition, but if you are going to spend that sort of money on a pair of premium headphones, the quality makes them worth that little extra.
For more information about the JBL range, visit their UK web page