Review: iPair’s Miracle Cure For Cheap Earphones

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Convert your portable music player into an audio powerhouse without the need to upgrade your stock earphones.

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Formosa21 is a little-known manufacturer based in Taiwan, which just makes for more of a pleasant surprise when you hear the quality upgrade its iPair can give to your run-of-the-mill earphones.

The iPair allows two people to listen to one mp3 player without having to share one pair of earphones. With dual-output ports, two pairs of earphones can connect to the one mp3 player through the iPair without losing sound quality, but instead improving it through the iPair’s sound amplifier.

This miniature amplifier works like any other amplifier you’d find in a car, TV or sound system – it takes the electrical signal from whatever source it’s plugged into (in this case, most probably an mp3 player) and boosts the signal on the way to the output (your earphones), increasing volume, bass and clarity.

And it performs just like the theory says it should. Tested on an iPod on generic iPod earphones over a range of music genres, mid-range sound was enhanced, giving vocals crisper quality, and enhanced bass gave songs that extra kick while maintaining a natural timbre rather than ear-bleeding punches of sound. Overall, max volume was also slightly lifted.

On the downside, the iPair won’t perfect low- and mid-range earphones by any means, sometimes even taking a step backward by overpowering them. With no equaliser or other settings to control, the same level of output is given no matter what your music player is playing. When a bass-intensive song comes on while using iPod earphones or any other sub-hundred dollar pair, the low-end tends to flounder and drown out any other sound, giving that underwater bass-bubbling quality.

 
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The big problem you can have here is damaging a pair of earphones by pushing them too hard for too long. Whatever earphones you use will be made to output at a certain level. Pushing them further with an amplifier like the iPair could damage the speakers if music is played too loudly for too long.

The square design is simple and attractive, if not a little inconveniently shaped for something you’d want to store away in your pocket or seamlessly tag a pair of earphones and an mp3 player together with. But since it only weighs 15.5 grams on such a small 38 x 38 x 12.4mm frame, this isn’t much of an issue. The face is coated with thin, metallic plating with a CD-like quality that gives it a hint of design appeal, while the C-shaped square design adds some practicality.

Well, practicality if you take a ‘thought that counts’ approach. A cut-away on the mouth of the C-shape was designed to allow simple coiling and storage of earphones around the unit, however you won’t find many earphone cables thin enough to fit into this visually-pleasing but practically-void design.

The unit is meant to last 12 hours under optimal conditions, and can be charged simply via USB connection to anywhere that’ll take it, be it computer, laptop, etc. The company says that it also improves battery life of music players by using its own battery.

It’s easy to use, cute, and will push average earphones to their full potential so you won’t have to fork out for a more expensive pair. This is for the casual music listener rather than any audiophiles though. That being said, if you hook this thing up to a better pair of ‘phones, you’re likely to find the full potential of the pair that just doesn’t always shine with the typical mp3 player’s hardware. It won’t miraculously cure crappy earphones, but it will make them way more tolerable.

The iPair by Formosa21’s ‘aim – Audio in Multimedia’ company has only recently seen the light at CES 2011, but has been made available this January for $US39.99. Formosa21 products are distributed in Australia by Altech, but you’ll only find its MCE Remote Controller stocked locally until the iPair officially hits Aussie shores. Until then, they recommend buying online.

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