On the day that Nik Wallenda stepped onto a tightrope and crossed the Little Colorado River Gorge this summer, I inserted into my ears a pair of sky-blue earbuds designed by, and for, women.
So who's the daredevil here?
Well, I doubt Wallenda screamed on the tightrope as I nearly did when I quickly discovered the ultra-feminine Koss FitBuds were actually too big for my manly ears.
The female human ear is, on average, smaller than the male ear, so I would have thought they'd be too small.
A female colleague says she thought her ears were deformed because the stock Apple earbuds supplied with her iPhone kept falling out of her ears because the buds were too big. No, she now knows, it's probably her gender.
Apple earbuds, unfortunately, are one size fits all. When fit is a problem, look for earphones with silicone tips of various sizes. The FitBuds caused momentary alarm because the midsize of the three pairs of tips did not fit snugly in my ears. The small size did.
The FitBuds are credited to Koss' female designers and were created in consultation with the Olympian ears of swimmer Dara Torres With a diameter of only 6 millimeters, they're 33 percent smaller than the average Koss earbud. The available colors are coral, purple, lime, mint and blue.
FitBuds, at $29.99, cost the same as Apple EarPods. Unlike EarPods, they do not have a built-in remote or a microphone for telephone calls. FitBuds are built for a workout.
The other member of the Fit Series, FitClips, also $29.99, uses flexible clips that wrap around the ear for a secure fit during exercise.
My colleague liked the FitClips' sound and fit. FitBuds, in my ears, were competent earphones with little low-frequency information, not bad for the price.
For cheapie earbuds, I like RHA's $20 MA150 earphones ($15 at amazon.com).
Able, but not exceptional
Able Planet calls the True Fidelity NC369 headphones one of its latest best-sellers, a budget (as in $139.99 retail price, or as low as $120 on amazon.com) alternative to Bose's $299 QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones.
A recent audition of the NC369, however, left me with deja vu: The NC369 sounds, even looks, a lot like another Bose alternative, Audio-Technica's QuietPoint ATH-ANC27.
The QuietPoint ($120 suggested retail) remains one of my strongest recommendations for budget-priced noise-cancellation headphones.
Both headphones, like the Bose, use active noise cancellation with battery-powered circuitry that picks up external sounds through miniature microphones and inverts the signals electronically. A quick comparison next to a noisy basement dehumidifier revealed the Audio-Technica headphones are slightly quieter than the Able Planet, which let through more of the dehumidifier's "motor" sound. But this is excellent performance — Able Planet says its headphones reduce external noise by up to 28 decibels.
Able Planet's Linx Audio noise-cancellation technology, when activated with a switch on the right ear cup, boosts volume so much that I had to remove the headphones before adjusting the level. That's not a good sign. External noise should not be minimized by cranking up the internal volume.
The volume change when activating the noise-cancellation circuitry in the Audio-Technica headphones, conversely, was almost imperceptible.
The sound? Able Planet's NC369 accentuated the lower frequencies more and, like many noise-cancellation headphones, lacked some sparkle in the upper frequencies. Except for reduced emphasis, the Audio-Technica could have been a twin brother.
For now, the biggest difference is the price. The Audio-Technica, which you can find for as little as $59 at amazon.com, is less than half the price of the NC369.