First Look: Arriva Headphone System
Sent to us in this near-complete form back in late November of last year, we've been waiting on a final version of Arriva's Headphone System ($30) since then. It's never materialized, so rather than keep everyone waiting for our views on what we've seen and heard thus far, we wanted to publish something that isn't quite a full review, but is more in-depth than our typical previews and First Looks. Unless we receive something else, consider these to be our final thoughts on the Headphone System.
Basically, the Headphone System claims to be the best headphone on the market for active users, and is touted as capable of staying in place better than all other alternatives when in extreme sporting situations. With a flexible cord system that can wrap behind your head and over your ears, the Headphone System can fold up for easy storage, and be worn “under a helmet, with a hat, with glasses or with goggles,” supposedly comfortable enough to be worn all day. Four types of silicone tips are included in the package. Our near-final is supposedly different from the shipping unit in only one regard: the final has an in-line volume control.
Though we’re not assigning a rating to the Headphone System, we can tell you that we didn’t find its core functionality to be all that fantastic. What you get for the $30 price is essentially the sonic equivalent of a pair of Sony MDR-EX71 canalphones (read: bassy and flat, but not awful), plus quasi-memory cords running down to your neck. We say “quasi” because the cords sculpt a bit, but not that well, around the tops of your ears before resting behind your head, and the wires have a thick and rubbery feel that lets them bounce when in your hands. The rubber is more amusing than practical: when the earphones are in your ears, they flex and spring back, as contrasted with the memory wire in high-end earphones like Ultimate Ears’ triple.fi 10 Pros, which molds to your ears’ shapes and then keeps the earpieces locked into place.
Because the wires are springy, they have a tendency to do the exact opposite of what they’re supposed to do: pop out of your ears rather than stay in them. In our testing. using a helmet or other sort of external restraint would be pretty much the only way we could picture them staying in, because when they’re unrestrained, one or the other will either come off of your ear entirely or pop out just enough so that music is entirely or partially inaudible. We didn’t have problems of this sort with even Sony’s MDR-EX81 earphones, which some users complained about because of a much less challenging suspended earbud design; our feeling is that this is one of those cases where a less aggressive, more ear-targeted design would have accomplished much better results.
If the Headphone System’s final version differs hugely from this take, we’ll update this piece and let you know how it’s changed. As-is, we wouldn’t consider this an especially wise option, and would hope that its earphone suspension system receives an overhaul to make it more stable on different head and ear shapes.