HONG KONG – Audiophiles are a fastidious bunch. They’re audio perfectionists who are constantly on the prowl for the latest gear to appease their ears. What sounds “fine” to one person, sounds like fingernails down chalkboards to an audiophile. But there are few audiophiles who could claim they have a way to enjoy high quality audio when they’re in a noisy city. Can the all new Nokia Essence, a in-ear Bluetooth headset designed for audiophiles, live up to their steep expectations? “YES!” says Essence Product Manager, Karolina Järvensivu, a self-proclaimed audiophile, in my recent chat for Nokia Conversations.
Another Bluetooth headset? What’s so special about the Essense?
It has never-been-done-before 99.8% peak total noise cancelation, more than in any other wireless headset out there. But it’s not just the performance; it’s how we did it that makes the Essence special.
Because Nokia is all about being on the move, we took pains to understand how to make music sound better in noisy places. It turns out that the biggest problem with listening to music in noisy places is the low frequency rumble from cars, trains, buses – regular in-ear headphones isolate midrange and high frequency noise, but bass frequencies pass through and destroy the experience. You end up turning the volume up in order to hear enough bass, and the sound is then often piercing and painful in the midrange, and muddled and overpowering in the bass range. Pretty far from an audiophile experience.
So what we did was use the in-ear headphone design to eliminate noise in the mid and high frequency range, and then focused all the active noise cancellation power to the low frequency range. So when you’re on the bus or in traffic, you can hear that crisp, clear, strong bass, rather than having to crank up the volume. You don’t have to t turn the volume up, you just turn the world down.
That’s awesome. Tell me more awesome things.
One very cool side effect that audiophiles would value is that we use feed-back active noise cancellation. It means that the microphone that listens to noise is inside your ear, not on the outside like in more traditional active noise cancelling headphones. This means that it eliminates some other types of noise that can be unexpectedly annoying. For instance, with regular in-ears, if you’re in a quiet room, you can hear your own bloodflow inside your head. Our noise cancellation eliminates some of that. Also, when you play a powerful bass note, that note will resonate inside your ear canal and make the bass a bit lazy and booming. We eliminate that resonance as well, resulting in a very tight and accurate bass.
When you bring it all together, it’s nothing short of amazing how good music sounds in the worst of places – like on the subway or walking in traffic.
How does the Nokia Essence compare with other Bluetooth headsets on the market?
We’ve tested our product and competitor products extensively and have been very happy to pull away from the competition. We haven’t seen any that are nearly as good when it’s Bluetooth – so this is the only Bluetooth product that is this good.
In-ear headsets can be uncomfortable when making a phone call. Why is that?
Yeah, that’s true. Because regular in-ear headphones isolate noise in typical speech frequencies, when you’re on the phone, you can hear your own voice as it echoes inside your head. It’s called occlusion, and it’s very annoying. With the Essence, we use the speech microphone to feed sound from the outside world back into the headphones – but only a very specific frequency band, that’s within your speaking range, 400hz to 3400hz. So you have a more natural sound – and that’s what we call “natural speech” in the product. Obviously, the frequencies outside this range are still eliminated, so it’s easier to talk in noisy places, too.
How about the battery life?
Standby time is 240 hours, play and music is about eight hours.
What are these little ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ buttons on the headset?
That was a special tuning project for our audio PhDs. They’re very specific about how our products sound, but we wanted to offer alternatives. So when both are off, the reference is like an opera house, it’s professionally tuned to be very faithful to the original recording. When the bass booster is on, you get the power and definition of a very high end hi-fi speaker system, it’s crisp rather than booming. Very helpful in noisy places and it takes advantage of our great active noise cancellation performance. If you put just treble boost on, you get sound like an electrostatic speaker, it’s a highly detailed sound that brings out the nuances in mids and highs – great for classical music and jazz.
What else is cool about the Nokia Essence?
It’s supports apt-X and AAC direct streaming along side regular Bluetooth.
Bluetooth is the pipe through which you’re sending data, but the way you package it differs by phone and manufacturer. SBC coding is what normal Bluetooth uses. SBC sounds better the higher the bitpool value, and Nokia phones support a very high bitpool value, so you get very high audio quality. For other manufacturers’ phones, laptops, or tablets, we support apt-X and AAC direct streaming, which are alternative ways to stream high quality music. So no matter what you listen to your music with, the audio quality is top notch.
How does the noise cancellation compare to the Nokia BH-905i?
We went from 99.0% in the BH-905i to 99.8%, which means we quadrupled the total isolation. The BH-905i was the world’s best active noise cancelling Bluetooth headset, and the Essence is even better. It blows everyone else out of the water.
This is my dream Bluetooth headset! Seriously! Can I have one? Seriously?
Sure, take mine.