Fresh from the States come headphones designed for both the active and not-so-active who listen a lot. Ian Macrae lends an ear.
Sleeping and running: I’ll leave you to guess which of those two activities plays the biggest part in my life.
But there’s something else which I and many other disabled people do a lot, listening to stuff. Whether it’s music on the go or at home; catching up with radio and TV shows we’ve missed; reading audio books or via text to speech technology, or getting GPS information from mobile devices, listening is an activity we engage in several times a day.
And now, a recent development in what I suppose we have to call “Wearable tech” makes listening comfortably possible while going to sleep or going for a run/roll in your wheelchair as part of an exercise regime…or not..
Sleep Phones and Run Phones come from the quirkily named Acoustic Sheep company based in the US. These two lines from the company’s catalogue have just become available in the UK.
With both the principle is the same. Each consists of a headband which has small headphone speakers connected to a small Bluetooth receiver and control unit inside the band. The tech elements are accessed via a slit giving access to the inside of the band which closes with Velcro. The control unit has a USB socket on it by which the headphones can be charged with a supplied cable.
Using them is simple. You just put the headband on your head and adjust the position of the headphones inside it so that they sit on your ears, connect the unit to your mobile or other device via Bluetooth or with a plug if you choose the wired version and listen.
I’ve been using Bluetooth versions of both Sleep Phones and Run Phones. The ones intended for bedtime come in a soft fleece headband which is comfortable to wear as is the more stretchy Run Phones band which is made of a more sweat absorbent material. Both headbands are washable but, at the risk of stating the obvious, you have to remember to remove the tech before putting them in your washing machine.
Just to be clear these are ordinary acoustic headphones: They’re not the bone conduction ones which sit on your cheekbones or are embedded in a cap. Therefore, the listening experience is much more the kind of thing most people expect and are used to.
In both cases I found the sound reproduction and stereo imaging very acceptable and certainly much better than I’ve experienced with some bone conduction products. The bass is there but not too heavy or prominent and the middle and top have clarity and crispness. I also used them for listening to shows from the iPlayer and again the stereo imaging seemed very true.
Control of all of the functionality, powering on and off, Bluetooth pairing and volume control is achieved by use of only one button. This has one potential and one actual drawback. Adjusting the volume involves cycling through the different fixed levels by pressing the button multiple times which is perhaps a bit more of a faff than it ought to be: also it seems to me that the micro switch might well fall prey to wear given the comparatively large amount of use to which it is subject.
Another minor quibble is that the indicator LED lamp does not shine particularly brightly. The manual says it should be possible to see it from inside the headband but I found that, with my low vision I wasn’t able to. However, since the control unit can easily be left outside the headband while charging, this is not a major inconvenience.
Pairing with my iPhone 6 Plus and an iPad Mini were easily and quickly achieved using both sets of headphones and the connection was reliable.
It strikes me that the Run Phones in particular could be of use to wheelchair users regardless of whether or not they are of a sporty or active disposition. Once on and fixed in place they stay where they are put and do not require constant adjustment involving hands that are also required for propulsion.
Meanwhile the Sleep Phones allow you to lie with your head on one side on the pillow meaning that those who enjoy drifting off with a good book or to music can readily do so.
More info from