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Product Review: Rock Your Ride?

Playing pitchman today... but I only do this for companies whose product may make your lives better and/or send me free schwag. Today's product: Airdrives stereo earphones.

Drive-by review: They're earphones which don't block out the universe, meaning they're intended to be safer for things like Cycling. I strongly suspect they are a vast improvement (over a very low bar) for Cycling, and probably ideal for running.

Details on the flip.

Initial disclosures:

  • I don't want to become a pitchman, but everything in moderation, provided it's something our readers might like... shades of the Podium Club here.
  • I'm not a headphones on the bike guy. Not that it isn't fun; it is. But my rides, while mostly enjoyable, have just enough intersection with hurtling metal masses for me not to want to bother. Also, I have a 2002 iPod, which for a while was extremely cool, but now mostly sits idle (somehow still draining the battery).

W/o more ado...

Headphones or earphones or earplugs, whatever you want to call them, can be judged on three basic elements: sound quality, comfort, and for outdoor use you can add safety. Here's how the Airdrives stack up on those elements.

  • Sound Quality

I'm not an expert on the options here, so I'll say that they sound quite good to me and leave it at that. They're competing against plugs that block all other sound, which in some situations (sitting on a plane?) is a good thing. But I'm blasting some techno in them for the moment (Too Distant Images, by THX/Theorem)and there's no distortion, just nice clean sound.

  • Comfort

Surprisingly high marks here, though the industry sets a pretty low bar. The device hooks around your ear and places the small, flat speaker in line with the ear canal. Nothing goes in the ear itself, which IMHO eliminates 98% of the annoyance right there. The hooks seem OK for now, and while I don't know how they'd feel in three hours, can this possibly be worse than plugs shoved in my ear? They also seem to stay in place, which is also surprising. Wearing a hat or headband might seal the deal, but I'm not sure you need one, at least until you've worn them in.

  • Safety

I don't feel like paying anybody's medical bills, so I'm not going to pronounce them Officially Podium-Cafe-Approved Safe! Everybody's hearing, bike handling, attention spans and traffic dangers are different, so you'll have to decide for yourselves. But from what I gather, their purpose was to create an earphone that was less dangerous than the standard (again, an absurdly low bar), and to do that they place the speaker outside the ear. Like your car stereo, the speaker competes for your ear's attention with other noise instead of taking over your head. Like your car stereo, if you blast it you probably still won't hear oncoming traffic... but the potential to bike safely and listen to music is there. If this isn't a guarantee of safety, it at least has to represent an improvement. Also, the manufacturers seem to think that having sound from outside the ear is better on your hearing, which is why they're marketing a second device to kids. Smart idea, though from a glance I have no way of knowing if it really helps. Future generations will undoubtedly let us know, at least in writing.

Final analysis:

I definitely like the product. Being paranoid, I'm still not likely to start wearing headphones on my daily weave through traffic, but I can foresee some workouts when I'd use them on the bike, something I have done before on closed or very mellow roads. If you bike to tunes, either thanks to or in spite of your local road conditions, these devices definitely get over the low bar of earplugs. They might even be a huge improvement.

What they seem perfect for is running (attention NancyT and other triathletes!). Just a little hearing beyond the plugs/deaf scenario should take care of the lesser danger factor runners face. Also, running without music is excruciating, a complete non-starter, so the Airdrives are a definite step up.

Retail price is apparently $99.99, or $69.99 for the kids' version.