CAN SOMETHING BE part of the “Internet of Things” without its own connection? Muzik’s convertible wireless headphones make a convincing argument that it can. They don’t act like your run-of-the-mill Bluetooth headphones. Using your iPhone or Android device as a conduit, you can share tunes to Twitter and Facebook by tapping a divot on the right earcup.
Muzik’s smart, social headphones, the first of their kind, do much more than that, though. They use Shazam-like audio recognition to know what song you’re listening to. That leads to a pair of unique tricks: These cans recite the name of the song playing when you tap another earcup divot—a feature that worked all but once during my test runs. Second, if you’re listening on Pandora—a service that doesn’t offer links to full songs—Muzik’s headphones recognize the song, find it on Spotify or elsewhere, and share the link to Twitter or Facebook. There’s no extra action needed; simply tapping the “share” divot does the job. You get a spoken confirmation that your song’s being tweeted (“Sharing… Shared on Twitter”).
You program the four divots on the right earcup using Muzik’s app for iOS and Android. The options are limited: You can program the buttons to share to Twitter, share to Facebook, state the current time, identify the current song is, speed-dial someone in your contact list, or create and share a “Twitter Moment.” The latter grabs your location, matches it up to an image from Google Maps, stamps it with the date, time, and temperature, then posts that image with a link to the song you’re listening to on Twitter. Accompanied by some #branding, of course:
Customizing each button is dead-simple with the app. You just tap the button you want to program and pick a pre-set function from a list. Muzik also plans to release an SDK so developers can add their own functions.
Maybe you think those features are gimmicky—and they are, a little, but there is something cool about sharing music without touching your phone. The headphones use your phone to send Tweets, but the experience feels like they’re performing the magic by themselves. With their combination of phone-free navigation and app-based controls, the closest thing to these Muzik cans is probably Parrot’s Zik headphones. After all, both products offer the ability to navigate tracks and adjust volume with a swipe of the earcups. But while both make it easier to jam out without having to look at your phone—the promise of a screen-free future—their target audiences are very different. Muzik’s focus is on social sharing while Zik’s is on deep and customizable sound settings. That makes Parrot’s headphones a much better fit for audiophiles.
Which is where the trouble comes in. The audio quality coming out of Muzik’s headphones doesn’t match the cool tech—especially at this price. They don’t sound bad. It’s just that they can’t touch the sound quality of great options for the same price or less, such as the Aiaiai TMA-2s, Sony MDR-1As, and Sennheiser Momentums. The low-end and mid-range are punchy, but muddy. Listening to anything acoustic or delicate isn’t a great experience, as there’s a lack of warmth and clarity. The whole package is too expensive ($300) and meh sounding to be a smash hit. But there are bits of technological brilliance mixed in, some of which make sense as standard features in a world of increasingly connected cans. In fact, Muzik’s biggest problems have nothing to do with the headphones; it’s the lack of a go-to social network built for sharing and listening to your friends’ music.
Twitter might be the closest thing to a quick-and-dirty music-sharing service, which is why it makes sense that Twitter is among Muzik’s main investors. (Spotify would like to be considered a social music hub, but it’s not a great experience in that respect.) There have been attempts to create a bona fide “Instagram for Music”—Cymbal and Undrtone have tried, but neither boasts the user base (or features) to make them go-to apps. Integration with a music-minded service—one that makes it easy to share, archive, and spin radio stations based on your friend’s tastes—would make these cans more compelling. It’s just that the ideal service for these headphones doesn’t really exist yet. Maybe Twitter will build it?
The build quality of the Muzik convertibles is solid, with weighty metal housings for the drivers and a metal headband that rocks a stylish half-twist where it meets the cups. At the crown of your head, the headband is sheathed in squishy, airy rubber, keeping it comfy on your bald spot. The headphones fold inward for storage and transportation, and there’s a soft carrying case included in the box.
The “convertible” refers to a couple of things. First and foremost, you can use them over-ear or on-ear, thanks to two pairs of included earpads. The pads snap on magnetically and are fairly comfy; I went with the over-ear setup for my hands-on tests. They’re also “convertible” in the sense that you can use them as wireless Bluetooth cans or wired with the removable 3.5mm jack. Mind you, you can’t use all the fancy smart-and-connected features unless they’re in Bluetooth mode, but it’s still great to have the unpowered hardwired option in case you run out of juice.
Even with the lack of an ideal music-service match, Muzik’s sharing and song-identifying features show where the future of personal audio is headed. Beats looks primed to follow suit, too: Apple is rumored to be ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack for a Lightning connector, a move that would greatly enhance the input/output capabilities of any headphones plugged into an iOS device. So soon enough, you may find similar features in regular wired headphones, and it’ll be interesting to see what kinds of new things developers will add to Muzik’s bag of tricks—or what features manufacturers might try to mimic in higher-end cans.