TUAW readers know the love many of our bloggers and editors feel for products from Blue Microphones. The company has been making amazing mics for recording music and podcasts for years, but the latest Blue product isn't a microphone -- it's a pair of headphones. And not just headphones, but ones that the company promises "makes every device sound better." We're testing that promise of the new Mo-Fi powered Hi-Fi headphones (US$349.99) in this review.
What makes Mo-Fi different from traditional headphones? An internal amplifier. From the Mo-Fi website,
"Mo-Fi improves the sound of every source-from smartphones to studio gear-by reducing the audio workload on your device. The built-in amp provides tons of power so your source doesn't have to work as hard. It all adds up to vastly superior performance and jaw-dropping sound quality."
The built-in amp isn't the only change. Blue looked at the entire design of the headphone to try to make the Mo-Fi set a lot more comfortable than traditional headphones as well. They did this by creating a decidedly different-looking headset that consists of a flat-looking headband with a built-in adjustable tension knob, height adjustment to account for the wide variation in distances between top of head and ears, and making some large earcups that actually do a good job of completely covering even the largest ears.
Since Mo-Fi is a set of powered headphones, you will have to charge the internal battery before use. That takes about three to four hours, but you'll get about 12 hours of playback once it's charged up. The company says that Mo-Fi uses intelligent power management to extend battery life by automatically powering off the headphones when you take them off. If the battery dies, you're still able to listen to music, but the amplifier won't be performing its magic. As you'll see in the next section of this review, just because the amplifier is offline without battery power doesn't mean you won't be getting great sound anyway.
The frequency response range of both the amplifier and drivers (Mo-Fi uses a pair of 50mm fiber-reinforced dynamic drivers) is from 15Hz to 20kHz, roughly matching the hearing range of most humans.
The big questions that need to be answered for headphones are 1) How do they feel? and 2) How good do they sound? To test both, I did a comparison to my current headphones of choice, a pair of V-Moda Crossfade LPs. As you'd expect, these are non-powered headphones that take their "power" from the source, whether that is an iPhone, iPod touch, a Mac or any other source with a standard 3.5mm jack.
While I was waiting for the battery to charge up I looked through the box to see what's included with the Mo-Fi headphones. There's a soft case with a pocket for storing the cables, a 1.2-meter (about 4 foot) audio cable with controls for iPhone/iPad/iPod touch, a 3-meter (about 10 foot) audio cable, a 1-meter USB to micro-USB charging cable, an AC charging adaptor, a 3.5mm to 1/4" TRS adapter, a two-prong airplane connector, and the usual Blue Microphones detailed user manual.
After plugging in the Mo-Fi, I could see a faint yellow LED pulsing, indicating that the headphones were charging up. Once the battery was charged, the LED went out. Time to test! Before I get into the sound from the Mo-Fi headphones, let's talk about comfort.
These are heavy headphones -- just over one pound (16.44 ounces, 466 grams). But the adjustability of this headset is crazy good; by adjusting a bit here and there, I was able to get the MoFi to feel pretty comfortable on my big head. There's a tension knob located on the headband and the multi-jointed design that holds the ear cups in place makes adjustment up or down very easy.
I highly recommend going onto your music source device before starting to listen and adjusting sound volume down quite a bit; your ears will get blasted if you don't. The Mo-Fi unit comes with a warning label to that effect, too.
Now, about sound quality. Can I just say WOW and leave it at that? The Mo-Fi headphones are incredible, both in the range and crispness of the sound. When listening to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," for example, there was one section where I could hear a difference in the arrival time of a hand clap -- it showed up earlier in my right ear than the left. I'd never noticed that before with any other headphones, and it's probably just a tiny fraction of a second difference that I was able to pick up.
I found that I was able to listen to music at a much lower volume with the Mo-Fi than what I normally adjust my iPhone to, both because of the internal amplifier and just the clarity of what I was hearing. Everything sounded better; highs were pure and sweet, bass was thumping along nicely, and the Mo-Fi headphones provided better stereo separation than I'm used to.
Usually when I'm testing speakers and headphones I listen to a variety of genres to get a feel for just how good the sound reproduction is; the Mo-Fi headphones made even some old recordings sound as if I had transported myself back in time to the studio where the classics were taped. The drum solo in Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" sounded like it was happening just to the left of me in real time if I closed my eyes -- that's a recording made in 1959!
Even some relatively overproduced pieces of music (i.e., "I Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty) sounded better with Mo-Fi than with other headphones, although they didn't produce the incredible feeling of "reality" that I got with those songs that were just laid down with a minimum of tracks.
The real shocker with my test came when I turned the single switch on the headphones to Off, simulating what I'd hear if the onboard battery was drained. Although I had to turn up the volume a bit on the iPhone, the sound quality was still better than what I get from my usual set of headphones.
If I could give the Mo-Fi headphones 5 stars out of 4 possible, I would. If we had an "Editor's Choice" award at TUAW, these headphones would get it. I know I'm definitely going to campaign for these to be one of our Best of 2014 products. Blue Microphones should be commended for creating a pair of headphones that not only live up to the marketing hype, but exceed it. I cannot recommend these headphones highly enough for anyone who truly enjoys listening to or creating music, and who has the $350 to spare.
Rating: 4 stars out of 4 stars possible