Wireless Surround Sound Speaker Solutions

You have a room in your house that needs to be wired for sound. It’s most likely the lounge which is shared with your other half and possibly your whole family if you have kids etc. You’re a serious, or closeted, audiophile who wants the best home theatre experience. This means you need at least one set of surround speakers (and that’s not even starting into the Atmos set up) at the back of the room. But there are challenges to overcome, primarily getting sound to the rear speakers. We’ve done the research, and we’ll tell you the option we went with, and how it’s been after over 12 months of use.

Existing home theatre owners want to make their surround sound speaker or subwoofers wireless.

Solutions we’ll cover – Pro’s and Con’s

  • Wireless solutions – for typical home theatre/hifi set up
  • Wiring options – that might pass the ‘hidden’ wiring tests
  • Purpose built Wireless speaker – complete systems that are made wireless – specifically for home theatre.

The challenge of surround sound speakers

The first challenge might be physical – that is you can’t actually run speaker cables to the back of the room without crossing over a door or corridor entrance/exit to the room. Putting a rug over the cables might not be sufficient.

The second challenge might be you are renting and can’t make holes in walls and run cables through the ceiling. Even if you are not renting and you own your own home, this level of commitment might be too much for most.

A third challenge, and ultimately the most difficult to overcome is PAF – Partner Acceptance Factor (the politically correct term for WAF – Wife Acceptance Factor). This is that the person you share your space with thinks the wires look downright ugly, even if you can get them to the back of the room with as much stealth as possible.

The changing landscape of wireless home theatre audio

This post is focused more on three types of audio fans. The first is those people who have an existing system and want to add surround speakers. The second focuses on people who are specifically planning a new home theatre set up. The third is people looking into buying a new system and wondering if wireless systems are up to par for real audio (this Bose, Amazon, Sonos).

Adding wireless to an existing system

A few things to consider:

  • Does the unit need to power the rear speakers (or subwoofer) or are the speakers already powered.
  • Is Bluetooth range realistic, and therefore an option?
  • Do you have power plugs at the back of the room to power the wireless unit(s) needed?
  • Is the distance from the power points to the speakers exposed? Meaning, will it still look crappy having wires travelling across the back of the room even with wireless units?

It’s important to note at this stage – there is no ‘perfect solution’ for this. There are solutions that work but some are hit and miss. If you get a hit then it’s great! If you don’t…then you might need to return for a replacement unit to get a good one.

Cons of these devices can include:

  • If your house has too many frequencies flying around it can interfere with the sound – it might cut out a little from time to time. This might be microwaves, other wireless units etc
  • Ideally, you have to have a line of sight from the transmitters to the receivers. Not a must every time but consider it’s needed before buying
  • These things can be very powerful and interfere with other signals. e.g. Ours was next to our Apple TV divided by a wood panels in the entertainment unit and the Apple TV 4K unit’s remote just didn’t work well. Once we moved the Apple TV away from the transmitter (about 50 centimetres) it was great. So, consider that if you have a lot of devices in the room.
  • Popping and booms. Some of these can ‘pop’ which is never good for your hearing or speakers. The unit we have does not so it’s not true for all.
  • You have to run these things powered all the time. Unless you turn off the amp and then the surround speakers you will have these on and transmitting constantly – this seems to be very counter save-the-earth friendly.

There are a few wireless systems available but they all share the same core technology. That is they either send sound signals via Bluetooth or the use a wireless 2.4ghz bandwidth from a transmitter unit attached to your amp to a single (or dual) receivers at the back of the room which then power the rear surround systems.

Bluetooth is unreliable and we won’t cover any of them here as they just don’t seem to cut it at the time or writing this.

The Wireless units available for surround sound speakers, or subwoofers are as follows. Each link shows reviews and current Amazon price.

Rocketfish Wireless Home Theater Rear Speaker Kit (RF-WRSK18)

This has a single rear unit that powers both speakers. This makes it easier to power but the reviews have never been great so we didn’t go for this one. Price is good but this doesn’t mean much if it’s not reliable.

TP-WIRELESS Wireless Digital Rear Stereo Home Theater Amplifier

The look of this is good. The speaker terminals look great but unfortunately, reviews on this one are not great which put us off. What is cool about this unit is you can buy a single speaker unit (say, for a Subwoofer), or a double unit for rear surrounds. You can also buy a 5ghz unit which will reduce the interference on your normal 2.4ghz devices (unless you already run a bunch of stuff on 5ghz).

The Winner in Wireless Surround Units

Amphony Wireless Speaker Kit with two Wireless Amplifiers

The Amphony Wireless Speaker Kit 1800 unit we purchased and it works. It’s powerful and interrupted our Apple TV Bluetooth remote signals, but other than that it’s great. When we first purchased it the rear left unit was faulty. It popped and crackled even though it had a good line of sight to the transmitter but the rear right one sounded great. We emailed and they sent a replacement unit quickly. The second unit worked no problems -this is a classic case of ‘hit and miss’ with these types of units. However, it’s run flawlessly for over a year now and we’ve been through more than one Amplifier in that time. It powered up to 80 watts per channel and has a good range (not as good as they say as that would be in a concrete room with nothing in the way and perfect line of sight). Our room is long and these work well. Most lounges are shorter than ours. Stylistically they look like they were made in the ’80s but we hide ours under the couch at the back and no one sees them. Like the other units it has a level adjuster on the rear units. It can also be bought as a single unit for a single speaker or subwoofer.

This ends the section on Wireless surround speaker units.


Hidden surround sound speaker wiring options

This section will be brief as the options are limited. Either you can run speakers through the wall and into the roof and down the back…or…you can’t and need to use the first list of wireless units or choose speaker cable that passes the ‘hidden’ test. There are a few companies that sell it and the benefit is it can often be run along skirting boards and seem almost invisible.

Flat speaker wires include:

Monoprice Planate Series 16 Gauge AWG Pure Copper Flat Speaker 

Ghost Wire 2.0, Super Flat Adhesive Speaker Wire, 16 AWG

Nordost Leif White Lightening Cable

The Nordost is the higher end of the three.

Purpose built wireless home theatre speaker systems

The emerging, but not yet mature or ubiquitous, options for wireless home speakers systems has been dominated by Bose for the most part. They have a great 5.1 wireless system. There are emerging systems and some well-known brands that have released setups which also warrant mention. Bose certainly doesn’t own the market. As more systems come online it’s hard to test them all so we’ll focus on the ‘better known’ brands. These wireless systems often cover the front of the room using a sound bar, rather than 2 stereo speakers. This for us isn’t true HiFi stuff so if you’re a moderate audio lover, mostly for the sake of some TV watching, then that soundbar set up would suit for sure.

Bose Lifestyle 600 Home Entertainment System

It’s expensive, because it’s Bose, but read the reviews to get a real feel for it.

Sonos 5.1 Surround Set – Home Theater System with Playbar

Sonos make great stuff. They really do, but this feels like they’ve tried to cobble together a few of their speakers to fill out a 5.1 offering. Still not up to par with a true 5.1 Home Theatre system and no way you’ll get Aura, DTS:X or Atmos on this, or any of these units.

Amazon echo (Subwoofer)

This doesn’t exist yet but with the launch of the subwoofer unit and stereo options for Echo units I wouldn’t be surprised if this is coming soon.

VIZIO SB3851 5.1 Wireless Home Theater System

This might not be the best system but if you are on a budget then this will be enough to rock your world…wirelessly.

EDIT: April: The Denon HEOS system also offers wireless surround. The catch is even if you have a Denon Amp with HEOS you still need to buy the HEOS Wireless AVR unit. This will allow you to play wireless to a stereo, 2.1, 3.1 or 5.1 system using HEOS wireless speakers. See this link for more: https://amzn.to/2GRCx0t

Conclusion

Ultimately if you still want the best surround experience from real Home Theatre setups you are going to want to run cable. The Amphony wireless unit is our second choice because it works, and has done for over a year – no latency, popping or dropouts. The idea of real audiophile quality purpose built wireless units is not here yet, but we’re optimistic they will get there – they are flooding the market more every year but still seemed targeted at the entry, mid-market. In the meantime we’ll continue to revel in our Atmos set up using the Amphone 1800 wireless units powering our Fluance surround sound speakers.

Denon AVR-4500h Review

The Denon AVR-4500h is the updated AVR-4400h model for 2019.

I have always loved the Denon sound signature. I bought my first Denon amp second hand about 20 years ago which powered a huge floor standing tower set of what I seem to remember were Energy speakers. It was a big sound for a small amp. Flash forward 20 years and I bought a newer Denon Amp, model number DRA-37, when living in Vancouver from Future Shop on Granville St (shut down in favour of Best Buy). It’s a basic stereo amp with FM capabilities. Only 50w per channel but it’s simply delicious to listen too. Sadly, it’s only good for stereo and everyone loves a good movie so I also bought a Yamaha RV-371 amp for home theatre a few years later. The RX-371 got a 5 star review from What HiFi and it certainly did a good job of filling our Yaletown apartment with a couple of newer Energy CF-50 Connoisseur Tower speakers and centre/surrounds. This was then updated to a Yamaha RV-481 5.1 speaker set as I blew up the RX-371 moving to a 240v country with a faulty step down transformer. #sad 🤦

Sorry – this is taking a while to get to the Denon AVR-4500h but bear with me. I feel it’s important to establish my historical listening hardware to understand my perspective on the AVR-4500h.

Get on with it…

With the RX-481 I updated my speakers to Concept 40s from Q Acoustics. I got the centre speaker and a couple of Q Acoustic 3020’s for surrounds. All in all it sounded great but the Concept 40’s just didn’t seem to perform like they did in the HiFi store I bought them from. The DRA-37 sounded amazing with them, so for such an old amp I thought that if I could get that quality for home theatre as well, then I would be #winning.

New Denon Home Theatre amps announced.

In late 2018 Denon announced that it was going to update the AVR-4400h and AVR-3400h Home theatre amps with the AVR-4500h and AVR-3500h.

Denon AVR-4500h

Choosing between the AVR-3500h vs AVR-4400h

Sometimes a decision comes down to price vs features. The previous years model, the Denon AVR-4400h was discounted significantly when the AVR-4500h was released. This put it only slightly above the new model Denon AVR-3500h. A better featured model for slightly less than a newer, less-featured, model. As the features of the AVR-4400h and AVR-4500h were not significantly different it seemed that getting the AVR-4400h was a better choice than the AVR-3500h. So, that made it an easy decision. After ordering it turned out the supplier had run out of AVR-4400h so they upgraded me to the AVR-4500h – I know – so good. You were probably wondering where I was going with this considering I’d decided to buy the AVR-4400h, but there it is 🙂

So. How does the Denon AVR-4500h sound?

Warm. Big. Powerful. Detailed.

The sound stage is wonderful. It’s wide and the separation in instrumentation is really lovely. They power the Concept 40s with ease and when combined with the Concept 40 center speaker and surrounds it is immense and enveloping. I bought some cheaper surround sound speakers and as a test I used the Q Acoustic 3020’s as the dolby uprising speakers for Dolby Atmos. Yes – it looked ridiculous (and a touch dangerous) having the 3020’s sitting on top of the Concept 40s but I’m new to Atmos and didn’t want to spend money on the speakers and find out they were lame.

Using Q Acoustic 3020 Bookshelf speakers for Dolby Atmos Upfiring Speakers.

Dolby Atmos and 5.1 Sounds performance

It is the closest I have come to being in a cinema in my living room. It puts sound in to every corner of the room. When watching Triple Frontier (Dobly Atmos version) my wife, who was trying to read on the couch next to me, looked up as she thought the rain on the movie was rain on our roof. That is a big tick for getting proper up firing speakers that fit on top of my floor standing concept 40s. [note to self: start savings plan for up firing atmos speakers].

My home theatre set up is:

This is all paired with:

  • Samsung 4K TV
  • Apple TV 4K

My living room is approximately 4 meters wide and 6 meters deep and has one open end to the left of the HiFi and TV.

I am able to run the system loud without feeling it’s hurting or damaging. Explosions are deep even pushing the crossover to a point the floor standing Concept 40s take the weight. I have the front, centre, rear speakers all set to SMALL to make the Amp push the bass frequencies to the Subwoofer and leave the amps to run the rest of the speakers. Using a DB meter results in low results despite how huge the sound is.

Warm sound signature

I will definitely say the sound signature is warm. Not as clinical as the Yamaha amps I had been used too, and perhaps even warmer than the DRA-37. In truth, this results in a more natural sound. Personally, I like sibilance and treble in my audio sound signatures but I have come to like the AVR-4500h as for long listening and watching periods I don’t get at all fatigued. It has really opened up a new sound scape to me. Voices are clear and strong, bass is deep but it never makes anything muddy or blends in – all the sound frequencies and more specifically the instrumentation and effects are well separated. It definitely makes the Amp perfect for what it’s built for. A really enjoyable experience.

Sounds modes

I set the sound processing for AUTO for movies and Pure for listening to stereo audio. The Auto feature for video will automatically select the right output based on the input – whether it be atmos, dts:x, 5.1 or 2.1 etc. You can manually select Dolby Surround which will attempt to upscale

Issues with the Denon AVR-4500h

Everything has worked as expected. If you don’t want to tweak anything then it’s easy. After Audessy set up it runs on it’s own.

But with Spotify on the 4500h… (Update: and Airplay)

There is one quirk when playing music using Spotify connect. That is that the Amp seems to turn itself off and on after about 3-5 minutes, sometimes longer. The auto time off is not enabled and it only happens with Spotify connect. Not sure if it happens with Pure and auto modes but I believe so. It’s not a deal breaker but just a note.

Would I change anything about the AVR-4500h?

If I was going to change anything I would remove the labelled inputs and remote buttons. The inputs at the back and the buttons on the remote all have pre-labelled names. e.g. DVR / CD / Phono etc. I would prefer just naming them Input 1, Input 2 etc like you would on a TV.

Conclusion

The Denon AVR-4500h is a powerhouse of a unit. It’s got loads of wattage and force that can present the most delicate Cello beautifully, through to the deep explosions of a John Wick block blockbuster. It has features and technology future proofing that make it quite leading edge in the world of typical home theatre set ups. It can power 2 extra zones, includes HEOS/Spotify, works with smart homes (Alexa & Google), is 9.1 strong and includes Atmos, DTS:X, Aura ready etc. It also comes firmware updatable for future improvements.

I’d highly recommend this amp to anyone who has a love of hifi, home theatre and stereo listening; with a little bit of modern tech thrown in as a passion. It runs a little hot but it’s coming in to Winter here so any extra lounge room heating is a plus.

Check the latest pricing & more reviews here: https://amzn.to/2UwYPrW


Where to buy Abode Security…and other common questions

We are big fans of the Abode Security system. It is has been a staple of our home for around 3 years. Not only is abode security it our home security system but it is also our home automation hub. And with the advancements of the Abode Cue automation engine there is even more reason to choose abobe. So in the interests of community support the following list is the most commonly asked (fan) questions about the abode diy home security system.

There are two systems available in the Abode Security Family
The Abode Gen 2 Hub: https://amzn.to/2Yl3JeW
The Abode Iota: https://amzn.to/2HOeGzX

Abode FAQ

In no particular order :

What options are there with the Abode Security System

The abode security system launched ~3 years ago with what is now called the Abode Hub. Since then a second generation Hub and a new all in one device called the Iota is available. The Iota has a built in HD camera.

Is Abode Security available in Canada

At the time of posting Abode security does support professional monitoring in Canada BUT, all other features and functions in the system work in Canada (and internationally).

The power supply is, of course, compatible at 110v and the online services do work. The Abode RF frequency, Z-Wave frequency and Zigbee are all compatible in Canada and North America.

Where to buy Abode Security system

The Abode Security system including the Gen 2 Hub and Iota are available at Amazon below.
Abode Iota: https://amzn.to/2UXgWbE
Generation 2 Hub: https://amzn.to/2YlyOPz

Who owns Abode Security

Abode security was originally privately funded and developed by a former ADT senior staffer called Christopher Carney with a collection of other telented entrepreuners. After initial development they launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund it’s first round of development.

More recently Abode was purchased by an Italian company called Nice S.p.A. Nice S.p.A is already a heavily engaged home tech company, so it makes sense they bought a major holding in Abode.

Who monitors Abode Security

Abode security is centrally monitored and, depending on the alarm event, it calls on various services to complete monitoring tasks. This includes police, fire, security.

How to install Abode Security system

The Abode security system is a DIY system that requires very little manual effort. The start kit, or any accessories, come preinstalled with dbl sided tape on the back. A little careful placement to ensure the door and window magnets are connected correctly and voila – it’s really that easy.

The sign-up process is included in an easy quick start step by step on the card in the box when you buy it. It includes the unique sign up code you need.

How does abode security work

The Abode Hub and iota are both enabled with ZWave Plus, Zigbee and a proprietary Abode RF (Radio frequency). These three types of communication allow the Abode system to communicate effectively between its own devices (door, window, motion sensors etc) and other third party devices including Philip Hue light bulbs, Yale and Schlage locks, August Pro and other devices.

The hub connects via Ethernet (& Wifi) to the internet but it also has a cellular SIM card backup if internet connection is lost. It also has a battery back up if there a power cut. These two features make it a great security choice.

Other Abode accessories include water sensors, visual alarm sensors, keypads and remote units (for your car keys etc)

Can abode security be used with two properties

Not currently. Abode have indicated this might be possible in the future to have two properties linked in to a single account for monitoring but this is not yet possible.

What we like Abode Security

  • It has ZWave, Zigbee and Abode RF
  • It has battery back up
  • It has a cellular back up built-in
  • It works – ours has run great for over 3 years
  • It’s IFTTT compatible
  • It’s Alexa compatible
  • It’s google home compatible
  • It has a powerful home automation engine (called CUE automation)

Best birthday present? Get Headphones

Headphones make the best birthday gift because there are few people who don’t use them. We guess you don’t know many people who don’t listen to headphones at some stage in their daily life. The obvious and clear truth is people love music, and they listen to music, radio, talks, ebooks all time. Think about it and consider these common scenarios for using earphones or headphones:

  1. Listening to music at the Gym
  2. Shutting out the world while commuting to work on the bus or train
  3. Making for a more enjoyable plane flight
  4. Getting some motivational talks in while walking the local neighbourhood
  5. Getting more done at work at your desk in a busy office
  6. Listening to music while running (somewhere nice like the Vancouver seawall or Grouse Grind)
  7. Keeping the noise down late at night watching TV

It makes sense then that anyone would love an upgrade to the headphones they are already using. We love helping people find the right headphones for the right person and the right situation so reach out and we can help you choose. The gift of hearing great music, through great headphones, is open to everyone. You might know people with their white iPhone earphones and you know they could do better. Starting at just $55 the Shure SE112 make for an awesome upgrade (and birthday present), right through to the Westone W40 or Shure SE846 – we’ve got the right headphones for everyone. If you have questions about someone you know who might love some new headphones for their birthday, ask below.

Best headphones for travelling

There is no doubt that anyone travelling needs to compliment the trip with decent headphones – all the better to have in ear monitor earphones or earphones. They do a few things to make any trip better:

The best headphones:

  • make it more romantic / exciting – that internal buzz you get taking off when your favourite song is playing. Or the emotion that is evoked thinking of that special person you have left behind or are travelling to.
  • make it less boring – sitting at the gate, in the lounge or on a plane waiting to take off is pretty boring. Music/Audio Books helps.
  • make it less annoying – you don’t to listen others on the plane you would rather not listen to e.g. Chatty Kathy/Kids/Boisterous Bob etc.
  • make movies so much better – the right earphones make even nasty airline audio sound great when you’re watching movies.
  • make things still and quiet – good sound-isolation or noise-cancelling makes all the difference hands-down. You arrive feeling less irritated, more relaxed and more rested.

If you’re anything like most people you’ve spent most of your life thinking that the Bose noise-cancelling headphones were the only choice when choosing headphones for travel. Even when all the other headphone manufacturers came out with their challengers there always seemed be only one winner, Bose. We have owned the Audio Technica ANC-7’s and the Bose QC15 for travelling and have found both to be great. They help shut the world out, are comfortable but we have always found while they sound good, they don’t sound great.


The good news is in the US you can now use headphones and earphones during take off and landing. In Canada you can use earphones (earbuds) but not headphones during take off and landing, and you are supposed to have the earphones plugged into the airplane audio system. This has caused a lot of people to start seeking out the best earphones for travel, something they can wear for take off and leave in, or on for the entire flight without suffering ear and hearing fatigue. 

Some of the benefits of in-ear-monitor earphones:

  • They block out sound while making music beautiful. 
  • They don’t require batteries to work – never run flat. 
  • They are super portable – fit in your pocket, laptop case, jacket pocket.
  • You can wear them all the time – no need to take them out.
  • They come with compact protective carry-cases (nearly all do) – portable and protected.

We’ve lined the best earphones (earbuds) for travel below and think you’ll find we have a set for every budget and every sound preference. We’ve listed these by airline class, just for fun – but it doesn’t mean you can’t go first class with your earphones and travel economy on seat selection, we do!

Best Earphones for Travel

Economy (Coach) earphones – Under $200

  1. Shure SE112
  2. Shure SE215 (Read our SE215 Review)
  3. Westone W10 (Read our W10 Review)

Premium Economy earphones – Under $500

  1. Shure SE315
  2. Westone UM Pro 30 (Read our UM Pro 30 Review)
  3. Shure SE535

Business Class earphones – Under $650

  1. Shure SE535Ltd
  2. Westone W40
  3. Westone UM Pro 50

First Class earphones – Under $1100

  1. Westone W60
  2. Sennheiser IE 800 (Read our IE 800 Review)
  3. Shure SE846

Best headphones under $200 for Commuting

Ever wondered what the best headphones are for commuting? Only got $200 to spend (or less)? We’re here to give you our Top 3 earphones for planes, trains and automobiles under $200. 

If you ever spend time commuting on trains, buses and planes you will appreciate the value in a good pair of headphones. This post is focused specifically on earphones/earbuds. The criteria to be selected for this awesome list included:

  1. Noise Cancelling – do they shut the world out
  2. Microphonics – are they sensitive to passing noise through to the earbuds as you move around
  3. Audio Quality – do they sound good
  4. Price – does the audio quality match the price range
  5. Easy of Use – are they easy to travel with, move with, put in/take out etc

These are in no particular order but are listed from least to most expensive.

Top earphone #1: Shure SE112 $55.00

First in at a great price is the Shure SE112. These have good sound isolation and sound excellent for the price range. One of the best things about these is the durability. They have a fixed cable which seems a little thicker than most earphones, especially at this price. Sporting a single driver they seem to be able to take a beating which is important for any travel earphones. Not a lot of bells and whistles here, just solid made, good sounds earphones. Good bass representation.

Top earphone #2: Shure SE215 $99.00

Number two in the list is an all-round best seller everytime. They also made our best IEM’s under $150. The Shure SE215 are useful for musicians and regular folks who listen to music on iPhones and the like. The noise cancelling is excellent and for a single driver they have a really great sound. The bass response is solid and the mids are very strong. Perfect for pulling out the passion of vocals, guitars and similar. No microphonics on these at all. Our advice is put these over your ears and run the cable down your back under your shirt. Run the cable into your pocket with your phone or music player and you get some great benefits: 

  • 1: There are no microphonics (there won’t be any down the front of your shirt anyway but you know…)
  • 2: You won’t catch the headphone cable on anything – this is an awesome feeling – never wondering if you are going to catch the cable on a handle, that seat arm or similar, pulling your ears off the side of your head.
  • 3: The cable is long enough to use your phone in front of you on the train but if you’re not people will hardly notice your wearing earphones. The profile is low so unless you turn your head you look normal – no weird wires sticking out from the site of you head like most earbuds.
  • It’s comfortable. Really.

The Shure SE215 are durable and have a replacable cable. They don’t come with iPhone/Phone controls on the cable but you can buy a cable separately for that if you need it. They come in clear or black to suit. They come with multiple ear foams for different size ears, a cleaning tool and a nice semi-head case for travel. For the price, we love these earhpones.

Top earphone #3: Westone W10 $199.00

The Westone W10 just make it into our earphone price limit of $200. These come with some awesome accessories. 3 different faceplates you can switch out and change as you’re mood takes you. They have 2 cables which can be changed up – classic EPIC cable and an i-device cable (including mic) which works best with iPhones and also works with Android phones with basic functions all covered. Multiple foams are available for different ears which provide excellent noise cancellation. They also come with a hard case. These have super sound but don’t overdo the bass – so if you’re looking for inflated bass these are not them. We love what Westone make – they do really have their focus on producing superb earphones and we couldn’t not include the W10’s in this review. If you want earphones under $200 and you commute, and you appreciate well balanced audio the Westone W10’s will keep you loving your music as you bustle between destinations on public transportation.

Wrap Up

One of the biggest, and most important considerations for commuting headphones is the noise-isolation. The problem with cranking music through your ‘came with my phone’ earbuds is that you have to get the music loud enough to hear over the ambient noise of the train, bus or plan. This ultimately leads to damaging you hearing. With decent sound isolation (in all the above headphones) you are able to hear more of music. This means you can keep the volume down while actually hearing more, and it sounds so much better!There are benefits to using passive noise-isolation earhones on your commute. For one the sound signal is not manipulated like it would be with active noise cancellation headphones, the other is that you never need batteries to keep the music playing. Earbud style headphones provide a low profile, high comfort option with the abiltity to shut the world out. They are small and compact to travel with which is an enormous benefit. Let us know about your commute below in the comments section.

Best headphones for hearing protection

We need to start this post by clearly stating that if you work in the kind of job that requires you to be able to hear the ambient noise around you clearly, like one around heavy machinery, trucks, moving parts etc then this post might not be for you and we advise that you follow full health and safety precautions. Let’s define what we do mean by noisy work environment…

Best earphones for Factories, Production, Manufacturing, Mining environments, Contruction sites

You might work on something like a site in Alberta or the Northern Territories, or in Toronto manufacturing work space where you are surrounded by loud noise that either distracts you, puts you at risk of hearing damage or just needs to be turned down a little for any other reason. IEM earphones provide a benefit in that the cables can travel down the back, inside your clothing making it hard for them to snag or catch on things as you work.

  • If you choose to use the flexible rubber ear tips you will be able to still hear a degree of noise around you.
  • If you use the ear foam tips you will also find that even when the music is not playing you will still notice a significant reduction in noise. They act similar to normal disposable ear foams for use on site to reduce noise.

They are also durable and should you accidentally put a nail through them you can replace the cables without having to replace the whole earphones. Here is our pick in price order for earphones that suit noisy work-sites.

  • Shure SE215
  • Westone W10
  • Westone UM Pro 30
  • Shure SE535Ltd

Best earphones Noisy Office Environment

There is nothing harder than working in an open office space where half the office talks all day and the other half talks on the phone all day. Especially when you are being asked to work on complicated or creative work. Thankfully there are earphones perfect for you. Earphones that shut out the noise, sink you into sweet sounding music (or audio books), and feel comfortable to wear all day.

We list these in price order and they start at $55 which is a great starting investment. Buying affordable earphones doesn’t have to mean they sound like cheap earphones.

Here is our pick of the best earphones for noisy office environments.

  • Shure SE112
  • Westone W30
  • Shure SE315
  • Westone W60

Best earphones for portable offices and travellers

Yes, we think that this is worth a mention. There are road-warriors every where working on trains, planes and in offices all around the country from Vancouver to Toronto and beyond. The benefit with earbud type earphones is that you can leave them in when taking off and landing on all US flights and Canada flights. We used to take our Bose QC15 on every trip but to be honest, we’re now happier with some of the list below for travel on planes and they really do block out the noise. The problem with active noise-cancelling headphones is that they mess with the sound signature a lot more than passive noise-isolation. If you do work in planes and trains a lot then there are some important criteria you want to cover with earphones:

  1. Comfort
  2. Noise Isolation
  3. Portability

So if you are on the road and need some decent headphones to help get some work done while the world spins around you then here our top picks for you:

  • Shure SE215
  • Westone UM Pro 30
  • Westone W60
  • Sennheiser IE800
  • Shure SE846

The Sennheiser IE 800 and Shure SE846 are top of the line earphones for people who have a bit of money, care about their music and want the best of the best. The benefit of the Sennheiser is that they are true earbud types, rather than an over-the-ear design which the other models are. The Sennheiser IE800 and W60 come with a cable that includes a mic and 3 button controls. This makes them good for making calls as you travel also. So if you need to be making and taking phone calls a lot as you travel and need to have free hands then those models will suit you best (and they sound incredible). The Shure SE846 does have a separate cable that can be purchased for making calls (The Shure SE535Ltd come with that cable in the box so check those out also).

We’re here to help if you have questions on any of the models above – we chose each for a reason. There are some small differences with each model such as the type of carry case they comes with e.g. the Westone range have a hard case which might suit rough and tough work sites, where as the Sennheiser IE800 has a nice leather folding case that would look at home in any Airline Lounge.

So there you have it – all the earphones we think will make your work environment a little more enjoyable. Who says your office has to be boring?

If you have questions or comments add them below because we love hearing from other people about what they use in their offices.

Sennheiser IE800 Review

There are a few earphone brands in the market place standing out in consumer IEM (in ear monitors). Sennheiser, Westone and Shure are probably reviewed more than any other brand that is commercially available. Shure have the SE846, Sennheiser have the IE 800 and Westone have a broad range of custom and off-the-shelf IEM monitor/earphones including the Westone W50.

We’ve been using the Sennheiser IE 800 in-earphones for a couple of weeks and have a wrapped up review. We’ve also purchased some Comply tips to see if the ‘stay-in-your-ear’ factor and audio signature was changed at all. We used these on the Skytrain in Vancouver, on Air Canada planes to Toronto and while sitting at home working on the couch.  There are a couple of key observations to make which we think will help you decide if the IE 800 are for you.

Build Quality Firstly they are small, have two open outputs on the back and are made from ceramics which makes them feel fragile and indestructable all at the same time. The build quality is fantastic and the cable is really tough. These things will last.

Sound Quality The IE800 have a wide open soundscape. It almost feels 180 degrees in your head. If you like a wide audio landscape you’ll like these. There is clear separation in each element/instrument in the mix. You can place/imagine people and instruments in the room and where they are sitting as they play. If you like jaw-dropping bass that is clear and tight then these will make you happy. At this price you should expect solid bass but there are times where it really makes you go ‘wow’. Playing Chet Faker or Macklemore & Lewis can bring on the bass nicely, as does Ellie Goulding, Eminem and some rock and classical favourites. There is not a lot of sibilance in these but the tops are nice. The treble is good but not hissing. Most people will like this also but there were times we wanted more from Damien Rice and The Civil Wars in terms of hearing their breath spitting over the microphone. As others have commented there is a bit of an issue with microphonics. We overcame this by putting them down the front of our shirts or similar when out and about. It made a huge difference but there will be times you’ll notice the scratchy effect as contact sounds travel up the cables to your ears. Some people use a cable clip or tie clip to secure the cable to a shirt or jacket.

Fit & Feel The fit is really good. At first it’s hard to believe such small earphones can create such an amazing sound. They come with different sizes of thin rubber inserts. The thin rubber allows for some ‘breathing’ in the music (see additional comments on Comply t-200 below). At first it feels like the earphones are going to fall out all the time but overall they actually stay in, and are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. Like all earphones and IEM’s these things sometimes take some tweaking before you find the right fit for you.

How the IE800 differ from the SE846 (as most people compare these two models)? The IE 800 have great tops and bass but the mid is less pushed forward. Some feel the snare sound is a little plastic. The Shure SE846 have super solid bass but are also known for their especially strong mids. For some people this feels more alive and in your face (ears).

  • The IE 800 are very well made but if the cable goes you can’t replace it. The SE846 have replaceable cables and you can get an inline option.
  • The IE 800 are down the front lapel style. The SE 846 are best over the ears and then to the front (although there are best used as designed which is down the back).
  • The IE 800 have a single audio filter – this sounds super. The SE846 have interchangeable audio filters you can change to alter the sound signature of the earphones.
  • The IE 800 have a single driver. The SE846 have a quad driver.

Using Comply T-200 foam tips with the Sennheiser IE 800 With Comply T-200 tips the sound signature changes slightly by becoming a little deeper and some might say ‘stuffed’ or stifled. We found this wasn’t a negative experience for us. It didn’t sound stuffed, rather it sounded more isolated – like sitting in a well noise-proofed sound booth. It provided more noise-cancelling than the default rubbers and sealed the sound a little bit better. They also helped keep the earbuds in. The T-200 are not designed for the IE 800 but they do fit, you just have to be careful as the foams can pop off in your pocket if you take the earphones off – they don’t ‘clip’ on as well but they work. If you find yourself having difficulty keeping them in with the supplied rubbers it’s worth spending $15 on the T-200 from www.complyfoam.com. It might be in the future that Comply decide to make a foam for the IE800 but we have nothing to share on that yet.

Conclusion Generally the overall population (95%+) and audiophiles will love these earphones. The price is worth it if you have the money. These bring a sound quality and build quality you won’t regret buying into. You don’t have to be an audiophile to appreciate these. Solid bass and good tops. Sennheiser have done a great job.

As far as ~$1,000 in-ear headphones go these are in our top 3 best IEM’s for sure. Sennheiser IE 800 earphones

What are your thoughts on the Sennheiser IE 800? Comment or ask questions below.

Shure SE535 Ltd Review

We have to say, this Shure SE535 Limited Edition Review was one of our most enjoyable reviews to do. For years we have dreamt of spending hours listening to these since they were a Japan/Asia only model (slightly different specs for Asia and Americas we understand – only slightly). The Shure SE535LTD or Limited Edition come in one colour, RED. If colour is important to you then you still have the options of the SE535 Clear and SE535 Bronze – while they have a slightly different sound signature, they are still Shure and still sound amazing. The SE535LTD have a few defining elements worth pointing out.

  • The first is that they fit beautifully and have a nice profile in the ear. Possibly the most comfortable IEM’s we have worn, even beating the Westone UM Pro 50’s.
  • A second is that they come with the iPhone compatible cables (2 in fact) which make these a great choice for commuters.
  • The third would be they have a wonderful sound signature (if it suits you, more on that below).
  • The fourth element, which we feel worth mentioning as we really weren’t sure at first, is that RED is a cool colour for these IEM earphones.

Shure SE535Ltd Tech Specs

Sensitivity – 119 dB SPL/mW
Frequency Range – 18Hz – 19.5kHz
Cable Style – 2 detachable remote + mic cables: 57” M+ Cable for iPhone, 57” M Cable for other music enabled phones with 3.5 mm jack
Colour – Limited Edition Red
Speaker Type – Triple High-Definition MicroDrivers

Bass Notes

It seems wrong to lead with the bass notes for the SE535 LTD as it is the most contentious point for these IEM’s. For some the Bass is punchy and satisfying, for others the bass is punchy but slightly lacking for what they want. Personally we felt the bass does sit back in the mix a little bit, but it is punchy and tight. We loved the feel and wanted a little more. The longer we listened the these Limited Editions the more we became acustomed to the bass signature and it grew on us. Like coffee and beer sometimes you just have to try it for a while to like it.

Mid Notes

Oh my, oh my. This is where the magic starts to happen. The soundscape is broad and open, the detailing is delightful and the instrumentation is rich. This is why these earphones get 4-5* ratings as the norm. Be warned though, if your recordings are poor quality you might want to upgrade to a higher quality or these are going to make your music sound like the poor cousin. The better the audio source, the better these perform. 

High Notes (Treble)

Nice nice nice. Some say these roll-off at the higher frequencies and we can see why, but for the majority or users the treble on these sits well balanced with the mids. They continue to accent the great sound stage and crisp sound signature. 

PRAT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing)

Bang on. All time, everytime. This is something Shure get right everytime in our opinion. 

Emotional Quotient (EQ)

The bass signals for some people that want lots of bass might mean you don’t get the EQ from these. For us, we definitely loved these and felt the EQ especially on tracks like Neon Cathedral by Macklemore and Hush Yael by Oh Sleeper (get the story and it’s a moving song…honest!). 

Noise Isolation

Excellent like all IEM’s with the right foams. Would consider even getting custom moulds done for these beauties. 

Build Quality

Both excellent and impressive. It’s not till you get these in your hands till you realise they are a tightly designed unit that fits and feels fantastic in the ears.

SE535-LTD Accessories

These come with:

  • Foam & Soft Flex Sleeves (S, M & L)
  • Yellow Foam Sleeves
  • Triple Flange Sleeves
  • Carrying Case
  • 1/4″ Adapter
  • Volume Control
  • M Cable (for Music Enabled Phones)
  • M+ Cable (for Apple Products)

Shure SE535LTD Review Conclusion

We’ve had feedback from customers who listen to a lot of Dubstep and Drum & Bass and they rave about the SE535 Limited Edition, even after previously owning a pair of SE535. For us some Skrillex and Jay Z did sound great through these. Some of the mid-level produced rock like The Fray and Imagine Dragons didn’t resonate as strong as some would like but we still liked it.

Other genres including Classical, Metal, R&B, Folk, Alternative came through strong – these handled everything well.

We LOVE everything about these earphones and if it seems we have laboured the bass issue it’s only because in earphones that are so nice for the price, the bass response was the only thing we could pick on. 

If you like these but need more Bass try the Westone W50, Westone UM Pro 50 or the Shure SE846…but you’ll have a pay a little more. 🙂

Westone W10 Review

When we first put the Westone W10’s in we took a walk around the building to see if we indeed had created a good seal with the earbuds. We knew if the noise isolation made it impossible to hear the elevators and traffic noise, not to mention the hipster bike riders on the seawall, we had it right. It was a little surprising for us that we had to put a large foams tip in to get the best fit. This was not a completely unnerving experience as each headphone you try, especially IEM style headphones, sit differently in the ear, the angle and fit is different. Once we had the large foam tips on and we had a created seal, we began our listening journey with the Westone W10 earphones [UPDATE – turns out we didn’t look long enough at all the supplied tips – we found the perfect sized medium tips in the end = happy us].

Westone W10 Review notes

Well, let’s start by saying if you’re looking for some bass thumping, ground shaking, ampeg vibrating headphones then these are not them, but don’t go thinking these little delights are not worth adding to the mix. The problem with so much of the audio world is that they think if the bass is not socking you in the stomach then they can’t be a decent pair of headphones, this is a shame as the W10’s are a great example of headphones under $200 that offer beautiful sound, they just might suit different people based on the music they prefer to listen to. Often the artificial boosting of bass just hides the true nature of headphones.

Review song list notes

What song list?

  • First we started with our favourite Pink Floyd track Comfortably Numb – the solo stood out nicely and the general soundscape was very well balanced. Nothing stood out and slapped us but it was a pleasant listen.
  • Settle Down by Kimbra really sounds delicious in the intro – the bass comes in nicely but not overwhelmingly. This track has very low bass mixed which didn’t stand out here but the vocals sounded breathy and the soundscape could really be noticed on this one.
  • 9 Crimes by Damien Rice was a clearer intro than we are used to, the Piano on this track is typically muffled but was nice and clear on this – very typical sound from an upright piano. The reverb could be heard nicely in Lisa Hannigan’s vocal. The tympani/bass tom tom sounds that come in is once again natural but not over the top at all.
  • Claire de lune by Debussy played by Kun-Woo Paik was lovely and started to really show the sweetness of the highs on these earphones, surprisingly natural, again and a pleasure to listen to. You won’t get the heavy deep left-hand notes overwhelming you and the sound is sweet.
  • Mr Brightside from the Killers starts really nicely – we always choose this track as it’s such a blended noise that if you can separate the sounds/instruments you know the headphones are doing pretty well. This track didn’t delight as much as it really relies on the heavy kick and thumping bass to keep it’s momentum. 
  • Mozart No. 40-2 sounds beautiful, a classical music lovers delight for sure. 
  • Equally the Four Seasons from Vivaldi sound really live and natural and you can hear the quality of the Violin as he plays on and on. Here you start to feel the W10’s know how to bring strings to life.
  • Moonilght Sonata from Beethoven presents the reverberating piano strings nicely – again – not heavy left handed notes but delightful overall sound. 
  • By this point we had started to wonder if we could find anything to bring a new dynamic to the W10’s which we definitely found with Sohn – Lights. This track sound fantastic – the bass, the balance, the soundscape really blew us away. It’s hard to say why the W10’s don’t produce this wonderful bass for all the above tracks but we certainly enjoyed this track immensely – again, the word natural sums up the sound but the reverb on the vocals and stereo mixing of the effects was awesome. The bass sits nicely at the bottom without stealing the limelight from the rest of the instrumentation. 
  • Finally Skrillex kicks in with an album mastered so deep you might think they were trying to make the antipodes hear it. This track also failed to reach super low frequencies but really surprised us, after all the other tracks as to how nice this track sounded. It might not make you think you’re in the club but it pulled out all the other musical elements of the song so we almost felt we were listening to a whole new song mix.Bass NotesIn keeping with all the above notes we can only sum up that the W10’s sound natural. They don’t fail to product bass, they just don’t pull it to the front of the mix. The Sohn track still amazes us when the bottom keyboard notes kick in but that doesn’t mean we would recommend these to bass fanatics.Mid NotesThe mids don’t sit too far forward but definitely take center stage for these earphones. They bring mids out of most music and show you tones you might not have noticed before. The frequencies here are really well balanced and not one frequency stands too far forward from the rest. This makes for nice listening for long periods of time.High NotesTreble and high frequencies are such a personal thing and a lot of people, after years of abuse with inferior earphones, can’t hear the highs that perhaps they could have as young’uns. For this reason we believe the highs on these will please most all people. They are not screechy or too sharp – they product sweet notes without making you cringe or turn down the volume. The Sohn track and the solo on Comfortably numb represent this well.Noise IsolationBottom line – as good as any. No complaints here. On the train, in the office, at home these things block the noise nicely with the right fitting foams and a good seal.Build QualityThe Westone 10’s cable is a farily fine wiring but is quite pleasant if you commute. You don’t have to wrestle the cable over your ears. AccessoriesWestone excel when it comes to accessories. You get three different coloured faceplates, two cables (with one having 3 button iOS/Phone buttons/Mic on it), loads of tips for different sized ears.Westone W10 Review ConclusionThese produce a lovely sound. We think overall they are priced well but you need to probably have fairly regular listening tastes to make the most of them. If you are a classic music fan or love acoustic music these are great. If you listen to Jay Z and Armin van Buuren all the time, you’ll get something new from these, but you might not really ‘get’ what these headphones are trying to achieve. For balance we continued to listen to Sohn with the Veto track which again, made us really like these earphones. We also listened to Gravedigger by Dave Matthews, Live are Radio City with Tim Reynolds which is another example of how nice acoustic music is through these, as did the whole album.
  • The more we listened to music through these earphones the more we wanted to keep listening and they really grew on us. They can be summed up in a few words – Natural sound and Balanced sound.