From one end of the sound spectrum to the other

From one end of the sound spectrum to the other
From one end of the sound spectrum to the other

Digital music listening is going to the next level this year. From Beats, a well-known brand of consumer headphones, to Focal, a very upscale French brand, headphone manufacturers are competing in ingenuity to enhance the sound experience.

Focal Bathys

The Focal brand embodies the ultimate in modern audio. Its headphones offer the best of both musical worlds, plugged in and unplugged. Which doesn’t necessarily mean disconnected. After all, you’re only one Bluetooth pairing away from accessing your media library and, in this case, in the best possible way: the device adds the chipmaker’s aptX Adaptive technology to the wireless protocol. American Qualcomm, which enhances the sound signal to a level similar to that of playing a compact disc.

For the music lover, this is a very good start: the entire sound spectrum is improved by this technology. For the mobile user looking for a very high-end wireless headset that is equally effective for watching video, playing games and playing music, this is also, in principle, a good deal. The aptX Adaptive protocol is supposed to reduce latency to no more than 2 milliseconds (ms), the time it takes for the note emitted by the sound Source to reach the ear of the person wearing the headphones. When it works, it works: you don’t feel any gap between the sound and the image.

Otherwise, by default, the Bathys latency is 80ms, which could cause slight discomfort. The optimal latency, that which is not detected between sound and image, is in theory under 60 ms.

For those who are annoyed by all this, the Bathys has an ace up its sleeve: a USB-C connection which makes it compatible with uncompressed digital music formats. Because the Bathys integrates a coordination support device (DAC), an analog digital decoder which ensures that it reproduces musical sources as faithfully as possible without loss (lossless) or high resolution (hi-res audio).

This dual use requires more robust mechanics, which increases the retail price to $1,000. The Bathys competes in the upper echelons of sound luxury with Apple’s AirPods Max or more niche brands like Audeze, Bowers&Wilkins and HifiMan.

The name of Focal’s helmet, by the way, is a tribute to bathyscaphes, submersible machines from the 20th century.e century that Jules Verne would not have disowned. The parallel is to mean that the Bathys is designed to create a bubble around the audiophile, something which is reinforced by rather effective active soundproofing.

Visually imposing, this headset repels noise – and people who might have wanted to talk to you, but who see that if you wear the Bathys on your ears, your head is elsewhere.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, for example.

Beats Solo 4

For a fraction of the price of the Focal, the Beats by Dr Dre brand is releasing the fourth version of its mid-range Solo headphones these days. The Solo 4 are wireless headphones that are also equipped with a USB-C port which makes them compatible with high-resolution music sources. These only cost $279.

The Solo 4 took seven years to see the light of day. Five, if we consider that the wireless version of the Solo 3 was marketed from 2019. Few manufacturers of electronic products have such a slow rate of renewal of their catalog. So a lot happened in the wireless earphone market before this headset hit the market.

The Solo 4, however, is defined based on two simple characteristics. Their battery life of 50 hours between charges is attractive. It is enabled by the use of version 5.3 of the Bluetooth protocol, launched last year. This version further reduces the energy consumption of wireless transmission, already rather low since Bluetooth 5.2 appeared in 2020.

People who wear headphones during work hours only need to charge their headphones about once a week. They can even hold a telephone conversation, thanks to their microphone which is just sensitive enough (but not too sensitive).

Their other advantage is compatibility with spatialized sound. It’s a way to immerse yourself a little more in your sound environment, since this technology simulates up to 64 speakers located around the user, and further enhances the stereophony of spatialized sound sources.

It’s more of a widget than a revolution in the way you listen to music, but compatible headphones are rather rare and generally expensive. This one is an exception.

On the musical side, the Solo 4 features a sound profile typical of the Beats by Dr Dre brand. The doctor in question is a former rapper turned entrepreneur, who became extremely wealthy in 2014 when Apple bought Beats for US$3 billion.

True to their origins, Beats headphones have always been tailor-made for listening to music heavy on low notes and, on the other hand, very high notes, such as rap and hip-hop. The Solo 4s are no exception.

And if we very freely link the Focal headphones to Jules Verne, we could recommend the Solo 4 so as not to miss anything of the musical saga which these days pits Drake against Kendrick Lamar…

To watch on video

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