Backstage: Hands-On Oakley’s Thump MP3 Sunglasses
Published: Friday, November 5, 2004
If you vaguely recall hearing about some company’s hybrid of sunglasses and MP3 player, chances are quite good that you’re thinking of Oakley’s Thump. Dennis and I were intrigued enough about the initial announcement some months ago that we considered including Thump in the Backstage section of the Buyers’ Guide, but unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out.
Well, Oakley held a launch party tonight at their headquarters in Foothill Ranch, CA – an impressive and imposing building we’ve visited a few times before, notable mostly for its metal façade, spikes on its sides and pirate flag on its roof. We took Oakley up on their invitation to check Thump out, though initial photos of people wearing the contraption had made us a bit more skeptical of the product over the passage of time.
Suffice it to say that we were both surprised and impressed by what we heard. Oakley’s founder Jim Jannard presented Thump as the most important product launch in the company’s history, and though we’re not inclined to take such marketing talk at face value – especially for a company with as venerable a track record as Oakley – Thump is a much better product than we would have expected from a first-time MP3 developer.
Take a pair of Oakley Half Jackets, bulk up their sides with a bit of extra plastic and five buttons, add two telescoping, rotating earphones, and you have Thump in a nutshell. The idea’s that you toss Thump on your head before you go out to exercise or have fun, and forget about cords, carrying around your entire music library, etcetera. The more expensive Thump ($495) holds up to 120 songs (256mb), while the less expensive version ($395) holds 60 (128mb).
We went in thinking that the idea wasn’t so wise, because you’re never going to wear these things indoors – especially given their highly geeky flip-up lenses, a distinctly non-Oakley touch – and who wants to go back to holding so little music? But Oakley promised excellent sound quality and the convenience of cordless listening. And delivered on both. The headphones telescope out and rotate to adjust to the shape and location of any user’s ears. They also sounded great. Surprisingly so, to both of our ears. There’s definitely appeal for mountain biking and all sorts of other potential applications.
It didn’t hurt that Oakley presented the Thumps at PC and iMac G5 listening stations using iTunes (though they’re MP3, WMA (ugh) and WAV compatible, not AAC), and touted their easy drag-and-drop file transfer system. Using the glasses is nearly iPod easy – drop the songs on board from your computer via USB cable (included), press forward and back buttons to change songs and hit the power/play/pause button to, well, do those things. Volume up and down buttons are on the other side. Very simple, and cool when the glasses start up with a “thump thump” pulsing sound on power-up. They also store data, in case you’re trying to be a Southern California James Bond. (James Bong, maybe?)
One bummer: the glasses come with only the USB cable for recharging, and not a separate power charger, or car charger, which we heard would be sold separately for around $35. Six hours of playback time is adequate for the device’s intended purpose, but who wants to recharge using a computer? The separate home power adapter’s $45, and a carrying case is $25. That’s way steep. But they look sorta cool.
We’ll reserve final judgment on the value of the Thumps until we have some reviewable hardware in hand, but suffice to say that we went in skeptical and actually liked using them for a short while. The price tag’s way high, but then, Oakley products frequently are, and that hasn’t stopped us each from owning multiple sets of their sunglasses, shoes, and watches. They may wind up being “expensive niche products version 1.0? for now, but if Oakley takes the tech market seriously and evolves these things (are metal Wires too much to ask for?), we could imagine Thump 2.0’s being hugely successful. If asked, we’d take two of the Matte Black 256MBs (wink, wink).
For what it’s worth, we skipped Lil’ Jon’s performance, but tried his Crunk Juice energy drink, which tastes like a mixture of Red Bull and Centrum tablets. If there hadn’t been a line, we might’ve spent more time with the Thumps.
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