Back on one of our Untitled Tokyo Two Man Tech Shows, we discussed a product that a Japanese stationery and gadget company, King Jim, had just released. At the time we called them noise cancelling earphones and wondered how they would perform being that King Jim isn’t really a known purveyor of quality audio equipment. We have since spent some time with their MM-1000 Digital Noise-Cancelling Earplugs and can tell you a little more about them.
Firstly, we need to correct ourselves. They are earplugs but they are not earphones. Yes. Earplugs. Their sole purpose is to cut noise, much like those little orange pieces of foam that some airlines give you in the toiletry sets.
Unlike those neon noise negators, however, these are not indiscriminate. They cancel out repetitive low-frequency background noise, but they allow higher frequencies and non repetitive sounds like voices, train announcements, and catcalling construction workers to penetrate.
The plugs are constructed of white plastic and appear for all intents and purposes to be regular old earphone earbuds save for tiny ports on the back. They are attached to a white box which houses the AAA powersource and noise cancelling circuitry. The box also has space for the cable to wind around it and a green silicone cable cinch management nipple thingy. This all fits into a nice, soft, velour-ish carry pouch.
The design is simple and makes the most of the austere materials used, and they feel worth every bit of their ¥4,980 recommended retailing price. There is also a selection of four silicone earbuds that should cater to most of our species. They are as comfortable as any set of standard earbuds and downright luxurious compared to the vile abominations Apple bundles with their devices.
Pop them in your ears, switch them on, and… BAM! Or rather… unBAM! A bustling Shinjuku street becomes a relaxing park. Coffee shops become libraries with lattes. Conversations are clearer because the peripheral buzz is removed. Even the steel tubes of misery and sadness (Tokyo Subway system) become almost bearable.
An appropriate analogy would be driving with a dirty windshield, you can still see where you are going and it doesn’t really bother you that much but stop at the gas station and give it a squeegee and you realize just how much was being obscured. These do that for your ears. By cutting out the white noise, they provide an uncluttered audio image that instantly and exponentially improves your focus and spatial awareness. In use, it almost feels as if your other senses, especially sight and smell, improve drastically just because your brain has to do less work filtering out the background noise.
But there are flaws.
Firstly, higher frequency mechanical noises are not cut out. while you lose the hum of the air conditioner, you gain the wooshing of the air coming through it. The normally drowned out creaks, rattles, and sighs on the train come to the fore. While they do improve one’s ability to focus, they also make distracting sounds that much clearer.
Secondly, they seem silent in noisy environments, but wear them somewhere quiet and you’ll notice they do produce a slight hiss.
Thirdly, all wired earphones amplify the noise of their cables as they rub against clothes, but turn the music up and you can ignore it. With these, however, it’s jarring to a point where it became impossible to really use them while walking or even standing with the box in your pocket. This limits their use to tasks where the user is sitting down and can place the box on a table with nothing touching the cable between the box and the earbuds.
They do what they are supposed to do and they can show you a whole new world of audio-spatial clarity. For their low price, some may consider the flaws a fair tradeoff, especially for desk work in noisy environments. Most importantly, they are an excellent proof of concept. If they make it to wireless, being able to take advantage of the level of clarity and focus they provide while on the move would be stellar.
(Review by Nayalan Moodley)