Wireless MP3 freedom

The more you get used to being wireless the more you like it. And if it works for your laptop, won't you start wanting wire-free music on your headphones next?

I've never really been too impressed with the sound quality of bluetooth stereo headsets. They might work OK enough to play a few songs off your mobile phone but that's not enough for an audiophile like me to justify sinking a few thousands.

Sony made a solution available when they launched their W-series walkman headphones last year. (model no. NWZ-W202). Available at Rs. 4990 with 2 GB  inbuilt memory these 'phones provided a great option - Sony quality music built into the headset, playback of multiple formats (MP3/AAC/WMA). Another neat feature is the quick charge - 3 minutes charge gives 90 minutes of playback. And the hot pink color is nice, but guys can find it in black if they want. I quite like the pink myself

There were some reports of sweat affecting some pieces, prompting Sony to replace the affected models in the US. Now the W series features the water resitant w252 model at the same price, with the usual caveat from the company that they are water resistant and not waterproof. Should be able to resist some sweat though.

Now there is a local alternative in India featuring the same technology and approach. The Xone Free Wire headphones. Manufactured by a Chennai based company, they are touted on the website as 'the worlds' first headsets with built in MP3 player and FM radio.'

I tested a pair at the Chennai Airport departure lounge, where Xone has set up a store. The Xone (pronounced Zone) headphones are priced at Rs. Rs. 2700 for 1 GB, 3600 for 2 GB and Rs. 4500 for 4 GB. So there is a range of options to suit different budgets, all significantly cheaper than Sony

Unlike the Sony W series, these are not buds but street-style on the ear cans.  This means that they will leak a little sound, so they are unsuitable for quiet locations like libraries, because they may disturb others. But they would be great for using in situations where you need to hear ambient sounds - for instance, when working in the kitchen, or even taking a walk. Of course, it's a matter of preference whether you prefer cans or in-ear buds. For me, cans are a better option when exercising, contrary to popular wisdom, because I don't like my ears to be blocked.




Another plus that these babies have over the Sony is that they have built in FM transmitter. Now I don't listen to FM but several people do, and with just 2/4 GB built in memory, it might be nice to tune in to some other music for a change.

The headphones have a built in rechargeable battery and charge through USB cable or an optional wall adapter. The salesman advised us  to use this option only in emergency as USB charging would lead to a longer life.

I have to admit, I was  pleasantly surprised by the sound quality on first hearing, and I am not easy to please. The Xone Free Wires were plenty loud, had a fair amount of clarity and detail and packed a decent bass. We picked up a pair for my mom, who was quite smitten by the concept, and I will need to listen a bit more to provide a detailed review, but at first listening, they had my attention. The sound was way more decent than what I have  heard from premium priced stereo bluetooth headsets. They reminded me a little of my first pair of Sony street style phones which I used with my CD player, more than 10 years ago.

The only quibble I had was with the build quality which looked a little shoddy. At this price, I would have wanted a better build, and I was disappointed to see some paste/gum on the earpads and the wires showed through the plastic headband. Hopefully, they will correct these small issues.

Currently, the Xone freewires retail at limited locations with stores in Chennai and Coimbatore airport lounges and a few other locations in Hyderabad and Chennai. There is a plan to open an outlet at the Oberoi mall in Mumbai soon.

If you happen to be at the airport lounge, do test them out. It's very rarely that we get an opportunity to test 'phones before buying in India. I would say, these are definitely worth a listen, and if you are looking for wire-free convenience, these cans are a worthy contender.

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