Test drive: Parrot Zik


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For the past few days, I’ve been test driving the Parrot Zik. These high end bluetooth headphones are made made by Parrot, the french company most famous for it’s car kits and the AR Drone, and designed by the acclaimed french designer of just about everything: Philippe Starck.

Let me start of by saying that it is really hard to compare this headset to any other one out there, simply because it is so packed with new tech that no other product (to my knowledge) combines. Here’s a little rundown:

- Noise cancellation, EQ and “Concert Hall” feature that are all controlled from Parrot’s Audio Suite App.

- “Jawbone” sensor that directs focus to your speech when taking calls and automatically pauses whatever you’re listening to when you take the headphones of.

- NFC connectivity for easy pairing. I have read your mileage may vary on this since it doesn’t work with every NFC enabled device. Having an iPhone 4S, I really don’t have any use for this myself.

- Touchpad to control volume, track skipping and pausing by swiping on the right panel.

Sound quality

When it comes to audio quality, the Zik does not disappoint. However, these headphones have so much digital trickery that they are made to be used with EQ and “Concert Hall” settings in the Audio Suite App (available for iOS and Android). When using a flat EQ and no “Concert Hall” setting, you might be a bit underwhelmed. But once you starting playing with these settings and start to learn what settings fit what genre (which can differ greatly from one listener to another’s taste), the Zik provides a diverse and accurate listening experience. John Lee Hooker sounds great with the “Jazz Club” setting with a 90° speaker angle while The Who’s Baba O’Riley sounded like I was standing in an actual arena in the “Concert Hall” setting with a 60° listening angle. I prefer the “Punchy” EQ setting which raises high and low ranges while most mid tones remain unchanged. Other EQ’s are “Vocal”, “Club”, “Deep”, “Crystal” and “User” which you can fine tune to your personal preference. I should point out that the quality of your file is a very important factor. I had very different results between lossless or higher bit-rate AAC compared to some files on Spotify or “normal” quality MP3 files.

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Noise Cancellation

I don’t have loads of experience with noise cancelling headphones but the Zik isn’t far from my experience with the Bose QuietComfort line. There’s a total of 4 microphones both externally and inside the cups to take out any annoying continuous droning sounds like airplane engines, traffic, etc without completely cutting you of from the outside world. It just takes out enough to provide an accurate and even reproduction of whatever you’re listening to.

Zik comes with an easily removable battery by lifting a magnetic lid of the left cup. It provides up to 6 hours of battery life when using all the bells and whistles (Bluetooth, Noise Cancellation, EQ, Concert Hall) and up to 18 hours with Noise Cancellation turned off. You can also connect a 3,5mm jack to the right cup. This doesn’t change much in terms of audio quality but gives you a little more battery life. Downside to this is that all settings are controlled from your phone using the Audio Suite App. Also, music will mute (not pause, because the wired connection doesn’t support audio controls) whenever something happens on your phone. In wired mode, I recommend disconnecting bluetooth once you’ve set the headphone to the desired settings so the music doesn’t cut every time you unlock your phone. Taking off the headphones will also just mute sound while songs continue to play in iTunes or Spotify on your computer. The battery is charged using the provided micro USB cable that has a textile finish and the same orange accents as the headset, which is a nice detail.

Tech

Like I said before, the Zik comes jam packed with all sorts of cool sensors. I do have a few remarks: the “Jawbone” sensor doesn’t mean that this headphone does bone conduction. It’s really a sensor that looks for tiny vibrations emitted by your  skin. As a result, just putting your finger on it triggers the music to start playing again. The auto-pause feature works flawlessly most of the time but I’ve also had a few instances where the Zik started playing again because my neck touched the sensor. The touch controls work fine but take a little adjusting. When I first tried changing the volume I caught myself skipping to the next track instead. Once you get the hang of where to touch for which function, though, it’s a really intuitive set of controls.

Design and final thoughts

These cans just feel solid. The synthetic leather and metal construction of the headband feels sturdy and comfortable. Some reviewers noticed a little discomfort on the top of their head but I personally (maybe because I have long hair) didn’t feel any of that. The memory foam pads are super comfortable and don’t give any discomfort, even on longer listening sessions. Adjusting the size of the headband requires a little force but as a result of that the headband feels very sturdy and the cups don’t “dangle” like on some other headphones.

Overall this is a great set of headphones that comes packed with some ingenious features even though they don’t always work as intended (triggering play with your neck, etc). Noise cancellation might not be the best out there, but is more than adequate. The Zik really shines when it comes to audio quality and adjusting it to your preference. For the full experience, you really need the app. So if you don’t have an iOS or Android device I don’t think these are the headphones for you. Although I do hope that at one point Parrot will release a desktop version of the Audio Suite App. I was able to borrow this set from one of my colleagues and will probably be buying my own pair in the very near future. At 349 euro, it’s a bit steep. But if you shop around a bit you might be able to pick it up a little cheaper. The flexibility in sound experience you can create using the app does make it worth the premium price for me.

Pros

- Flexibility in sound and overall sound quality
– High tech and innovative features
– High quality design and finish

Cons

- Pricey
– Form factor might not be everyone’s cup of tea
– No way of controlling the sound without an iOS or Android device
– Ridiculously cheap feeling travel bag (shame on you, Parrot!)

Elementary: from Zero Cool to Sherlock

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I don’t always like the trending TV shows, but when I do … I just can’t get enough of it. Elementary is one of those shows. Best described as a cross between CSI:NY and House, it stars John Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes, a rather eccentric “consultant in logical deduction” for the NYPD. He is joined by Lucy Liu as Joan Watson, who plays a post-rehab companion that helps keep Sherlock of heroin and on track to recovery. The base premise for the series is that Sherlock used to have the same position at Scotland Yard before his substance abuse got the best of him and ended him in a NY rehab center.

A lot of you will remember John Lee Miller as Sickboy from Trainspotting, but to me he’ll always be Zero Cool from the 1995 cyberflick Hackers. Although the movie wasn’t that good (more of a cult fim really), it defined the computer culture and New York City (so much that I watched it on the plane as I flew into NYC for my first visit in 2007) to the 8 to 16 year old me who saw this movie every time Belgian TV decided to air it …

It’s rather interesting how you can draw a tiny bit of a simile between Hugh Laurie and John Lee Miller. They both are British born actors who are catering to the American market (JLM used an American accent in Hackers, for obvious reasons Holmes is a British character) and they both play eccentric know-it-alls who are the best at what they do. It is therefore no surprise that both House and now Elementary are part of my top 10 series (although I wouldn’t know where to put Elementary until I see some more seasons).

Want to check it out for yourself? Elementary airs in Belgium on sunday nights on VIER @ 21.10. This week they’ll be broadcasting s01e13.

Enjoy and don’t forget to hack the planet!

3 or HD? (UPDATED)

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My predictions for tomorrow’s Apple event:

- Launch of the iPad HD, a retina version of the iPad 2 that gets a better camera and processor (A5x or A6). iPad 2 will still be available for schools, maybe for consumers.

 

- iOS 6 preview.

- Apple TV update, not a TV with integrated unit. Update for the external unit.

- iCloud leaves beta, iDisk/Dropbox equivalent feature, return of some sort of gallery service for pictures, integration of iWork.com beta, just in time for the new iPad (possible iWork update for iOS)

 

Nekkerspoel

In November of 2010 Clo and I moved from Mechelen’s historic city center to Nekkerspoel (best described as a multicultural suburbian neighborhood). It’s mostly known for it’s “Nekkerhal” exhibit hall and (the largest) toy museum (in the world). I’ve been playing with the idea to collect shots of the neighborhood ever since, but have only just started to take action. It’s probably going to be a mix of digital and analog, architecture, street photography and hopefully some portraits too. My goal is to bring you guys an image every now and then so you can get to know this sometimes unfairly judged part of Mechelen. It even has an English Wikipedia entry.

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This first picture shows part of the before mentioned Nekkerhal. This 18.500 m² structure was originally built in 1981 to function as a huge vegetable hall but was soon used as an event hall instead. Every year multiple car shows, jumble sales, sporting events and much more take place in the just over 300 m long pillarless space inside. I’ve always liked the design even though it clearly shows it’s 80’s roots inside (did anyone say brown?). The white domes that cover the entrance somehow make me think of 50’s style American drive in diners and gas stations. Recently, it’s council decided it’s time to give the old girl a facelift. I’m curious as to what they’ll make of it.

Upgrading to 24 frames per second

So, last week was quite thrilling for me. Remember how I said I would upgrade to the Nikon Pro line this year? Well, I did! The D4 ended up being a bit out of my price range, but I got offered a practically new (under one year old) Nikon D3S for a very fair price. I decided to go for it and boy, am I glad I did. The Nikon D3S is probably the best allround camera for someone who does mostly press related photography like me. Even though it’s “only” a 12 MP sensor like my D300 had, ISO sensitivity differs leaps and bounds and the ability to shoot 11 still frames per seconds opens up some great multimedia capabilities (see more below). There’s a lot to say about the device and I need a little more time to get the complete hang of it in order to give you guys my full review.

One of the main reasons I wanted to upgrade is video. I specialized in video during the last year of my journalism studies, and even shot my dissertation on a DSLR.  I was looking for a way to continue that work and as I need a good stills camera to do my photography work, the video capability on the D3S  is a great plus for me. I’ve decided to do some very small multimedia projects to get back into the flow of things and would like to share my first result with you guys. This past weekend, about 50 Congolese people protested in the main streets of Mechelen against Kabila’s reelection. I ended up with a 40 second clip mixing stills and video with their chanting in the background to give people a taste of the atmosphere. Any comments are, as always, very welcome. This video also got published over @ gva.be

Ice, Ice …

Spent my afternoon on the ice for an “IceFest”. Just in time before the thaw …

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© Gil Plaquet

 

 

Raised on music

Some portraits to go with an article on local young musicans. T. is the son of a left-handed guitarshop owner. He plays bass AND mixes tunes as a DJ.

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You know the drill: © Gil Plaquet

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