Review: Soul’s fitness-friendly on-ear Transform headphones
Earbuds and in-earphones are generally the domain of the activity taker and fitness addict, but not everyone wants to wear tiny in-ear speakers. Some people like larger pads that sit comfortably on the ear, as opposed to in, and that’s where Soul is positioning its Transform headphones.
Features and performance
There are lots of different types of headphones out there in the world.
There are your usual classes, with the usually uncomfortable earbuds, the more comfortable in-earphones, the semi-invasive but excellent audiophile intra-aural canal-phones, and then there are headphones that sit on the ear (supra-aural) and those that sit around the ear (circumaural).
While that might seem like a lot of information for one type of product, there’s still more, because you have different types of headphones — open and closed — and then more grades again dependent on what sort of quality you’re planning to listen to — standard or high-resolution — and even what sort of activity you’re doing.
That last one is particularly important because everyone uses headphones differently.
Most of the time, this writer is in transit, walking around or catching public transport, and so when he’s out of the office, he usually relies on a pair of noise cancelling wireless headphones.
In the office, there’s a different headphone again, with one made for big bursts of sound where you want to hear every detail, and that’s where the whole high-res headphones come into play.
But what about if you go running? What are your needs then?
Aside for good sound, you’re looking at something that can survive your movement and your sweat, with that last one a necessary requirement, because you wouldn’t want to have to throw something out just because it’s getting a little ugly or unhygienic to use.
With that in mind, Soul has launched the Transform, a pair of fitness-friendly headphones that you can use out and about, and then pull apart and wash, with bad that can be easily removed for cleaning later and a polyurethane band that you can quickly wipe off with a damp cloth.
Beyond the fabric pads and rubbery band, most of the headphones are plastic, with black framing a colour (blue on our review headphones), some branding, and cans that can be pulled down into place depending on the size of your head.
The earpieces don’t offer a lot of articulation — basic pivoting, really — though we suspect ultimate comfort is the last thing on your mind when you’re going for a run, with the only real requirement beyond sound quality being that the headphones stay put.
Stick them on and you’ll find just that, with a relatively firm grip on the ears, though it might be seen by some as being too tight. Given that these aren’t supposed to fall off, we get it, and you should too, through do try them on before buying as the grip might be too much for some.
Beyond the grip, there’s the sound, and that is the most important reason for checking out a pair of headphones, so let’s get stuck in, shall we?
We’re still using GadgetGuy’s 2014 Sound Test, though it will be updated shortly, so we’ll just go with that for now, starting with electronic from Mooro and The Glitch Mob, and it’s here, with Mooro’s “M66R6” that we get an initial taste for what these headphones were developed for: booming bass.
In this track, the mids and highs have some depth, but it’s clear the bass is being pushed more, with deeper sound played in this area, the punchy bass hits in this track, as well as in The Glitch Mob’s “Skullclub”, more prominent than the mids or highs. You’re essentially listening to the bass first and foremost, but it’s still a decent listen, with the mids and highs still present underneath this.
Over to rock, and the bass leads the way on booming tracks like Muse’s “Supremacy and Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls On Parade”, the booming guitar and electric bass amped up and pushed to the front alongside a large kick of the bass drum, with vocals in the mids and highs just taking a minor backseat.
For these tracks, the soundscape appears a little distant, and in some ways it felt like we were listening to the vocals from a bit of a distance, but this won’t bother all.
Neither will the volume, which is pretty decent here. We didn’t have to turn the Soul Transform up past half-way to get all the volume we needed on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Nokia Lumia 735 handsets we were testing on, telling us these produce a reasonable amount of sound.
If you like it loud, you’ll certainly get it on the Soul Transform.
With rock done and dusted, we jumped into the modern music, and once again the bass was picked up more aggressively than the rest of the sound, starting with Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” which pumped the hook loud and into our eardrums over the mids of MJ’s voice, while the modern R&B of Jessie J, Nicki Minaj, and Ariana Grande was heard with bass in the front in “Bang Bang”.
Again, the soundscape almost comes at a distance, with a little bit more echo heard on the instruments in each of these, suggesting you’re listening as a guest in the audience (through the headphones), and not necessarily the personal performance that headphones often try to recreate.
For us, it’s a little too much echo, but some people may not have a problem with this, and if you’re taking these out for a run, a direct and personal soundscape may not be what you’re looking for, anyway.
Hip-hop keeps the same trend, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” and Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” booming leading in the low sounds, the vocals in the middle, and the instruments just behind, with a degree of echo. Pop is the same, Sia’s “Chandelier” striking low notes gradually until the chorus hits, with the vocals leading the way with a slightly different way of mixing up until that point.
Jazz and classical are very different styles of music, and without as much put on reinforced bass, Soul’s Transform headphones exhibit a more pronounced bass, though not one that is anywhere near as invasive as on other tracks. It’s in tracks like Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” and Clause Bolling’s “Baroque in Rhythm” the sound becomes a little softer, a little more balanced, as the bass eases up, still taking the front, but occurring much less.
The instruments in these tracks are still relatively detailed, though again there’s almost a feeling of distance between the ears and the musicians playing the piece, something we can only attribute to the headphones at this point.
Despite this, the sound appears relatively balanced when the bass isn’t pumping out the entire time, as music that hasn’t been over-mixed and has been recorded with real instruments tends to be.
One thing we’d have liked to have seen would have been some compact design thrown in here, or at least the ability to hold the cans up.
Unfortunately, that will not happen with these headphones, and if you want to pack them up during your travels, too bad. Make sure you have some room for these, because the cups won’t rotate or lie flat, and the while the band can flex, it won’t collapse inwards for safe keeping.
One thing has us concerned by Soul’s Transform headphones and that is the durability. Simply put, the cable that is hardwired into these cans doesn’t feel strong enough to survive more than twelve months of wear and tear, and because it is wired directly into the cans and cannot be removed, when it goes, these headphones will need to be tossed with it.
That’s unfortunate, especially since the Soul Transform are a surprisingly good pair of headphones with a fair amount of thought paid to other elements.
You have the replaceable and washable ear pads, an element which seems well catered for people taking these out for a run, or just people who aren’t a fan of ear sweat and want to make sure their cans are always clean.
The polyurethane headband isn’t replaceable like the pads, but has holes and is easy to clean, telling us the headphones were designed to be taken care of.
So if these can last your active lifestyle, why not make the cord detachable?
We suspect the answer to that one comes in the form of getting you to buy another pair when the cord eventually breaks.
If you’re not a fan of in-earphones and you want good sound on a run, Soul’s Transform definitely fits the bill, with a bass heavy sound but an otherwise fair balance, and a pair of pads that can be easily removed for washing later on.
We’re hesitant on the cord, but at least there’s a remote which will satisfy the iOS users more than anyone else, with Android and Windows Phone pausing and playing only.
If that doesn’t bother you, though, and you’re good for running with on-ear pads, you’ll find something to like in the Transform. It might even transform you in the process.