Able Planet re-branded their Clear Harmony Active Noise Canceling Headphones for the gaming masses. They asked for reigning Quake 4 champion Rafik "LoSt CaUzE" Bryant's photogenic mug to grace the box cover, placed a PR-sanctioned quote from him on the back, and shifted their logo from a star-fronted planetary body to a Saturn-ringed one. These are a port of the same critically-acclaimed headphones that Able Planet unleashed early this year for auditory aficionados, which spells only good things now for gamers and, in general, late adapters.
The first chunk of good news is that these puppies are scaled down from their luxurious introductory price of $300 to a more palatable $150. That initial high-end intro had Able Planet bumping heads with Bose and their Quiet Comfort series (which still perch themselves at a lofty $300 price point), but now the Able Planet set is at half the price, sporting equal -- if not arguably improved -- specs over the Bose line.
The big ticket item on Able Planet's over-the-head headphones is its award-winning Linx Audio technology. Originally implemented in hearing aids, Linx Audio purportedly alters audio signal intensity, producing rich musical quality as well as enhanced speech clarity, all couched within cushioned, maddeningly-comfortable over-the-ear cups. And, true to its hearing aid roots, Linx Audio provides this aural lucidity at lower, ear-saving volumes.
But have no fear, sound soldiers. While these gems shine at low to medium volumes, defying Able Planet's "Turn It Down" philosophy is 100 percent doable -- even without tweaking equalizer levels -- and frightening amounts of decibels can push their way into your eardrums. Linx Audio reduces distortion at maxed-out levels by soft-clipping peaks, as opposed to the square-edged clipping practiced by typical assembly-line audio products.
Engaging the headphones' noise-cancellation capability keeps the hot side hot, and the cool side cool: A flip of the switch produces low tones with even warmer, fuller bellies, and simultaneously gives high tones a crispy, fresh finish. This produces a scooped-sounding EQ, but still reins in ear-damaging bass without robbing you of those savory low ends. Further, this noise cancellation introduces a level of white noise that diminishes 18 decibels' worth of external sound distractions that are vying for your attention -- which is in addition to the noise-cancellation inherent to the over-the-ear cup design. Frequent flyers raved over this feature, even when sitting near plane engines, but now you can use said technology to drown out the Championship Gaming Series coach hollering over your shoulder.
The entire boxed set comes equipped with some convincing amenities: A hard-shell carrying case houses the headphones; inside is some molding that can stiffly frame an iPod; a 6 foot extension adds to the regular 5 foot cable, placing your couch within easy reach for console gaming; a dual pin airline adapter means never having to accept those questionable hand-out headphones during flights; and a 1/4 inch stereo adapter plugs into your home system or guitar amp. Able Planet also plunks down two AAA batteries to get your noise-canceling ways started.
The workout began with Half-Life 2: Episode Two, and I noticed immediate, tangible improvements to the audio arm of the game. Gun shots, ant lions, and VTOL aircraft hurtled themselves from left to right with alacrity in the headphones, while dialogue, doors, and (importantly) footsteps carried their audio nuance from front to back with convincing presence. Especially with Half-Life 2's penchant for cat-jumping-out-of-the-closet scares, I've never been able to pinpoint enemy approaches with this much certainty.
Back from City 17's rural surroundings, I next took the headphones into the bald-faced chaos of World in Conflict. The calamity of World War III was also well-served by them -- especially when you cinch down the view so that you're running shoulder-to-shoulder with the ground pounders. The frequent in-game radio chatter especially benefited from the Audio Linx voice clarification (not to second-guess Massive Entertainment's skillful control of its own game).
My downtime between gaming sessions was grounded in doleful blends of Aesop Rock and Interpol, while the smiling synths of Kanye West and Hard-Fi rounded out the musical roster. With the noise-cancellation in the 'off' position, vocals are front-and-center in the lineup, but instrumentals get butter-knifed in the process. Turn the noise-cancellation on, however, and Able Planet's headphones handily throw off the grading curve for my previous headphones in both the music listening and gaming arenas.
• Frequency response: 20 - 20,000Hz
• Sensitivity at 1KHz: 115dB (Off); 121dB (On)
• Cord length: 5'
• Output power: 30mW
• Active noise canceling headphones with Linx Audio
• Hard shell protective carrying case
• 5 ft. cord with in-line volume control
• 6 ft. extension cord
• Dual pin airline adapter
• 1/4 inch stereo adapter
• 2 AAA alkaline batteries
These multi award-winning headphones, without apology, place themselves at the pinnacle of gaming audio products. While absent a microphone, the patent-pending Linx Audio and noise-canceling technology will shut your mouth and open your ears to a superior soundscape in video games and music albums alike -- all while keeping your hearing safe and sound.
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