Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Accutone USB400:
Falling in love again sounds very good

I love listening to music with headphones, but I fall in love with headphones only once or twice each century.

Around 1970, I fell in love with the Koss ESP/9 electrostatic. It was perfect for the Stones, the Dead, the Doors, the Who and Hendrix. It was huge and heavy and expensive, and required a brick-like power supply and its cord was too short; but the sound was overwhelming. The ESP/9 was actually too good for its era, because it was very obvious if an FM station deejay had not cleaned an LP before playing it.

Around 1998, I fell in love with the Plantronics HS1 computer headset. It was perfect for most music, and its brain-thumping bass was great for games like Doom and Castle Wolfenstein. It had 3.5mm plugs, so I was able to use it with my portable CD player as well as my PC. Unfortunately, it was a big chunk of hardware to wear all day, and the high-isolation design made my ears too warm.

It's 2007, and I've fallen in love again. This time, with the Accutone USB400. It's compact and lightweight. Its sound is pure and perfect. It's a great choice for music, games, movies and VoIP phone calls.

The voice quality is absolutely amazing. Your taste in music may not be mine; but for evaluating vocal reproduction, I know of nothing better than Joan Baez singing "House of the Rising Sun." Joan's dynamic range goes from near whispers to near shouts, with brilliant clarity; and her high frequency energy can make speaker cabinets crumble and tweeters melt.

The Accutone USB400 was nowhere near its limit when I quit raising the level; in fact, it could put out many more decibels than my ears could safely endure.

At first I thought that the bass was too thin, but then I opened up the super-versatile software, and used its equalizer to kick up the low frequencies a bit, and I was in audio heaven. (Hard core gamers who demand kick-me-in-the-belly bass often prefer "circumaural" headsets that completely covers the ears.)

The software turns the USB400 into a custom-tailored headset, and lets you do all kinds of acoustic tricks. It has both manual equalization and 16 preset EQ curves for different musical genres.

You can even emulate different listening environments, venue sizes and mental conditions, such as concert hall, arena, living room, underwater, parking lot, pub, bathroom, padded cell, sewer pipe, drugged, dizzy or psychotic. If you have complex fantasies and want to be drugged in an underwater bathroom, you'll have to wait for a future software revision.

I couldn't resist sliding some movie DVDs into my Media Center PC for a bit more testing. The velociraptors-hunt-the-humans-in-the-kitchen scene from "Jurassic Park," and the alien-cop-in-big-truck-chases-Arnold-on-motorcycle scene from "Terminator 2" were ear-shattering, eye-opening, and mind-bending.

Sure, the USB400 is fine for making PC-based phone calls; but you're cheating yourself if your usage is strictly business. I spent hours checking out DVDs, streaming broadband, podcasts and old Napster files. I nearly peed in my pants, and was late for supper.

If you're the type of person who'll pick music or movies, over fundamental biological needs, this headset is for you! Price is $65. CLICK for specs and to order from

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