Saturday, July 19, 2014

Alps Mountaineering Comfort XL Self Inflating Air Pad Review

It seems like with the demands of everyday life, things can just get more and more stressful. With that it’s easy to turn to the outdoors to get away from the stress for some enjoyable relief.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t be comfortable while doing so. One product often used to help provide a good night’s sleep is a nice air mattress. Up for review today is a great one from Alps Mountaineering. It is their Comfort XL Self-Inflating Air Pad.

Features and specs:
  • Jet Stream Wave Foam
  • Faster Inflating and Deflating
  • Brushed "Suede-like" Top Fabric
  • Extra Comfort and Less Sliding
  • Anti-Slip "PVC Dots" Bottom Fabric
  • Slides Less on Tent Floor
  • Non-corrosive Brass Valves
  • Long-term Durability
  • Additional XL and XXL Features: Thicker Pillow Area, Extra Comfort, 2 Valves and Faster Inflating
Regular715000320" x 72" x 1.5"2 lbs. 10 oz.4.5" x 21"Backpacking$79.99
Long725000325" x 77" x 2"4 lbs. 1 oz.6.5" x 26"Camping$99.99
XL735000330" x 77" x 3"6 lbs. 7 oz.8" x 31"Luxury Camping$149.99
XXL745000330" x 77" x 4"8 lbs. 7 oz.11" x 31"Luxury Camping$189.99

The product came shipped in a standard box. Upon opening the box, I saw the mattress, a nylon stuff bag and instructions. Also included, a rarity with such products, was a repair kit. That was really cool! The nylon stuff bag was a typical stuff bag with a pull cord at the top to cinch closed the bag during storage and a spring loaded plastic holder to keep it closed and secure. The mattress itself had a soft velvety finish on top. The bottom was covered with small rubber dots to help keep it in place while in your tent so you don’t slide around at night. The Valve was made of high quality brass with a round cap that screwed open and closed. Quality of materials was excellent as was quality of construction.

According to the specs, this XL model was 3 inches tall, which I thought was hard to believe. But after getting it, with it being new I opened up the valves and kept it open for a couple of days to fully inflate and was surprised that it actually was right about 3 inches when fully inflated! I also liked having dual brass valves which made for faster inflating and deflating with its larger size. Having done a lot of camping, one thing I don’t like is sleeping on the hard ground, especially if it’s rocky. Having it inflated, I thought I would put it to the ultimate test and just laid it down on my hard tile floor to see how it would do. Weighing in at over 200 pounds, I didn’t want to expect too much from the pad, but lying down on it on the floor, I couldn’t feel the tiles of the floor under me. What was even more impressive to me was when I kneeled down on the mattress, to lay down, I had all my weight on just my knees and I couldn’t feel the hard tiles. I was expecting to be comfortable and not feel the ground, especially given its thickness. But to not feel anything when I dropped on my knees was just…WOW. The slightly raised end with a built in pillow was also a nice touch, although it was only slight.  So I still needed a pillow. The inside of the mattress had some type of foam. Depending on how you like your bed, whether it is firm or soft, you could fill the mattress accordingly.

Having had it open for a while to fully inflate and to do an official test, it was now time to deflate it and store it until I had a campout of its test run. Opening up both valves made for an easy deflation and I was able to get it tight enough to where it easily fit into the storage bag. Once deflated, screwing the valves closed easily kept the mattress form self inflating again. I know that tents can sometimes be a nightmare to get it folded exactly right to fit back into the bag, but I had no such problem with this mattress. And after having it in the bag, it was just a matter of closing the draw sting and it was ready for storage until further use. And I kept the repair kit in the bag, just in case it’s ever needed, I’ll know where it is!

Now it was time to put it to the test for a real campout. Setting up the mattress was extremely simple, it was just a matter of pulling it out of the bag, unrolling it where I wanted to sleep and opening the valves. Then once I had my desires firmness, I just closed both the valves. Done. It was that easy. Sleeping that night was really nice. Better than a regular blowup mattress. Plus I don’t need to worry about either manually blowing up the mattress or remembering to pack the pump and making sure the pump had sufficient power. The Alps Mountaineering Comfort XL Air Pad is self inflating. Once it was time to pack up, it was as easy to take down as it was to put up. Just open up both valves and tightly roll up the mattress. It deflated as I did so. Once tightly rolled, close both valves and secure in storage bag.

I’ve reviewed Alps Mountaineering products in the past and given the opportunity to do so again was a no brainer. The Alps Mountaineering Comfort XL Air Pad was a little bulkier and heavier than most self inflating mattresses. But most of my camping is not backpacking, so I would rather have a more comfortable mattress, even if that meant a bit more bulk and weight to an item. If you are looking for a similar product, you can’t go wrong with the Alps Mountaineering Comfort Air Pad. If you are more of a backpacker and size and weight is an issue, they have other products that are worth your consideration. They also have an excellent warranty and stand behind their products. Based on their design, feature, quality and performance, the Alps Mountaineering Comfort XL Air Pad has earned our Editor’s Choice Award. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Vivitek Qumi Q7 LED Pico Projector Review

Long gone are the days that projectors were only used for business, standard definition, and very bulky. Now, not only are they extremely portable and even high definition. They are also economical. They even work great for multimedia. Enter the Vivitek Qumi Q7. It is a pico LED powered 720p projector.

Features and specs:

Key features

  • Up to 800 ANSI lumens of brightness with a 30,000:1 contrast ratio
  • LED light source with up to 30,000 hours of operation
  • High definition (HD) resolution with large widescreen image projection up to 107”
  • Direct 3D and 2D-3D conversion through HDMI
  • Built-in MS Office® and Adobe™ PDF document viewer
  • Multimedia player for playback of audio, photo and video files
  • Embedded web browser* for surfing the Internet (*Wireless dongle required)
  • Ability to wirelessly* project video, photos, websites and more over a wireless LAN
  • MHL device compatibility for streaming of video and audio content from a compatible mobile device
  • USB slot and 4 GB of onboard memory for additional content and memory expansion

Native Resolution
WXGA (1280 x 800)
Brightness800 ANSI Lumens
Contrast Ratio30,000:1
Max. ResolutionUXGA (1600 x 1200) @60Hz
Native Aspect Ratio16:10
Lamp Life and Type30,000 Hours LED
Display TypeSingle chip DLP® Technology by Texas Instruments
Chip Size DMD
Throw Ratio1.3 - 1.43 : 1
Image Size (Diagonal)29" - 107"
Projection Distance0.8 - 3 m
Zoom Ratio1.1x
Speakers2W x 2 (Stereo)
Video CompatibilitySDTV(480i, 576i), EDTV (480p, 576p), HDTV (720p, 1080i/p), NTSC (M, 3.58/4.43 MHz), PAL (B, D, G, H, I, M, N), SECAM (B, D, G, K, K1, L)
I/O Connection PortsVGA-In (15pin D-Sub), HDMI, Composite Video, Audio-In (RCA), Audio-Out (Mini-Jack), USB type A for Display(Frame display) and JPG reader(Photo: Jpeg / Video: Mpeg4,H.264)
Dimensions (W x D x H)238 x 180 x 40 mm
Weight1,4 kg
Noise Level33dB/38dB (Eco-Movie / Normal-User)
PowerSupply: AC 100-240V, 50/60Hz Consumption: 141W/120W (Normal/Eco Mode), <0 .5w="" mode="" tandby="" td="">
3D Ready(DLP link, PC+Video)Yes
Remote Control P/N5041825100
Standard AccessoriesVGA Cable, HDMI Cable, HDMI-MHL Cable, User Manual (CD), Lens Cap, Carrying Case, Quick Start Guide, Warranty Card (by region), Remote Controller (with battery), AC Power Cord
Optional AccessoriesRemote Control P/N: 5041825100
WarrantyStandard Warranty: 3 years projector / 1 year on lamp or 1000 hours whichever comes first
UPC Code814964 338549 (W) 814964 338532 (B) 

The Vivitek Qumi Q7 came in a standard box with printed specs and pictures of the device. Also included was the user’s guide, remote, storage bag and multiple cables. Construction is mostly plastic. Quality of materials used as well as fit and finish seemed very good. It felt fairly solid in hand.

I liked its efficient design. Both of its sides were almost entirely vents, as well as over half of the front. This should provide very good ventilation and should also help with performance and give a longer life. On the back are all the connections for power, USB, multiple HDMI, VGA, composite, audio out, and IR.
On the top are all of the controls, including focus and zoom add to all of this the fact that it also uses LED so there is no lamp to worry about replacing. It even does 3D! I can’t help but to be eager to see how it performs! 

Although I admit I am a bit skeptical at it using DLP, as I am prone to seeing the rainbow effect.
Setting up the Vivitek Q7 was rather simple. It was just a matter of plugging in the HDMI and power cables. Following the on screen menus was simple enough. While it accepts 1080p signs, it was obviously not 1080p. But the WXGA native resolution did look good. It also wasn’t a light torch, but at 800 lumens it threw a decently bright image. While it is big for a pico projector, it is also significantly brighter than a typical pocket projector. 

Now it’s time to see how it actually performs. For an entry level projector, I was fairly impressed. If you are not looking for an overly bright image, you could go up to 100 inches. Overall the image was a tad soft. Skin tones looked natural. Resolution was good. Blacks looked pretty black. Shadow detail could be quite a bit better, but was sufficient at this price point. Out of the box, the image was a tad warm, but I was able to improve that with the settings. Color saturation was good without appearing to be over saturated. Using the focus wheel on the front of the projector took some time to get right. It was rather stiff, so it was easy to over shoot where you wanted to have it. I was able to get the focus right. Once focused, it had an ok sharp image, but not as sharp as I would like. Being made using DLP. I was able to see the occasional rainbow. But I am also sensitive to them. The fan is also fairly loud.

Overall the Vivitek Qumi Q7 is a good product. It is bright enough to throw a large image. While it does not support native 1080p, it will display blu-ray, and it can also do 3D. While the fan was also loud for a home theater projector, it’s size makes for easy portability. And the image did look good for its price point. And I love that it is LED, so there’s no need to worry about bulb life. With an MSRP of $999, it is fairly priced. Based on it’s design, features, quality, and performance, the Vivitek Qumi Q7 has earned our Value Award. For more info and complete specs, check out their website at

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ACS Pro 17 Custom Molded Hearing Protection

When it comes to sound, it is easy to think of high quality speakers, head phones and good music. But it is easy to forget about protecting our hearing. After all, hearing protection should be even more important. ACS makes some amazing custom molded in-ear-monitors. Many may not realize that they make some excellent custom molded ear plugs.  Up for review today is the ACS Pro 17 Custom Molded Hearing  Protection.

Features and specs:
Tailor made for you
The PRO-17 is custom-made using soft medical-grade silicone so you get the very best in isolation and fit allowing you to wear them for hours at a time without fatigue or discomfort. Each earpiece is manufactured to the highest standards ensuring you get a comfortable, discreet and effective hearing protector that can be fitted quickly, easily and securely every time.
Build Material40 Shore Silicone with SteriTouch
Mold TypeCanal Mold
Standard ColorClear
Items included...
  • Carry Pouch
  • Wax Pick
  • Comfort Cream
  • Care and Instruction Booklet
Optional extra's...
  • Grips to aid removal 
  • Cording - $10.00
  • Color (see chart below*) - $10.00
  • Laser Etching - up to 10 characters - Available soon in the US!
The custom ear plugs came in a small box. Opening the box revealed the owner’s manual, wax loop, and a small zippered leather carry case. Opening the case showed the two small custom ear plugs. I loved the soft medical grade silicon that they are made out of. Quality of materials used was excellent as was the quality of construction. 

Having previously reviewed the ACS Tl IEM, I was already familiar with their quality.  How well did they work? Perfectly! Providing -17db of noise reduction, they are not designed to block out all noise. They were just designed to significantly reduce it. And they are designed to provide a flat response across the entire frequency spectrum.  Not only that, their vented design reduces occlusion, so vocals sound more natural. But reducing noise level is only part of the equation. Wearing them in your ears, and at times for extended periods of time. So having them be comfortable is also a huge piece of the puzzle. This was achieved in spades. The ACS performed perfectly as designed. They significantly reduced noise, was built well to provide years of use, and they were comfortable to wear, even for extended periods of time.

An additional nice feature is they are future customizable.  The included filter of this model provides -17db of noise reduction, but you can use different filters.  Depending on the loudness of your environment, you can easily swap out the filter for a more robust filter to further reduce noise.  So there is no need to have more than one molded ear plug, just get different filters.

Bottom line, I would easily recommend the ACS Pro 17! They performed just as advertised. And I loved the soft silicone which made them comfortable to wear, even for long periods of time. I even forgot that I was wearing them! With an MSRP of $185, they are worth every penny for the protection they provide.  Based on their design, features, quality and performance, they have earned our Editor's Choice Award. For more info, check out their website at

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

2014 Headphone Shootout Part 3: Wireless

In this years Headphone Shootout, due too the high demand, we have a new category: wireless. Wireless gives you better freedom, hence the rise in popularity. And we have some great models represented. They are the BeeWi BBH300 with a MSRP of $150, the JBL Synchros S400BT for $230 MSRP, and the Velodyne vBold with $350 MSRP.

The BeeWi BBH300 had a nice looking box with photos of the device, its specs, and magnetic cover that allowed you to open and see the headphones. They were mostly plastic in materials, with soft leather earpads. Quality of materials was good, as was the fit and finish. They were more of an on the ear design. Also included was a hard zipper case, airplane adaptor, 1/4" adapter, multiple cables, and a docking station. And they were pretty comfortable to wear.

Features and Specs:
Audio Specifications 
Driver36 mm
Frequency range20Hz to 20000Hz
Impedance32 Ohm
Sensitivity100dB SPL max
General Specifications  
Bluetooth Range 10 meter / 33 feet
Battery Life 18h play / 80h stand by
Color available white / black
AccessoriesRoad-case, international power adapter, 80 cm Audio Cable, Airplane adapter...
I was surprised with all you get for the price with the BeeWi BBH300. It is quite the unique product. It came with a regular cable so you can listen to non Bluetooth sources. But what was really cool was the docking station. You can use it to charge the headphones, but that's not all. It can also connect to a surround sound receiver, and allow your receiver to play wireless content.

Listening to the BeeWi BBH300 was a different story.  Pairing Bluetooth devices can yield mixed results.  Some are more difficult to pair than others.  This model seemed to be one of those products.  I was unable to pair with 2 headphones, but was successful with my laptop.  And while there is a cable included that would allow listening to them with a standard wired device, you may not want to.  They sounded ok when used wirelessly, but sound quality takes a big hit when using them wired.  And they were good for around 20 feet before you would get drops in audio.

Listening wired:
Fresh Aire: Creatures of Levania sounded warm and oddly filtered/muffled with a lack of highs.  Bass was there and had some depth but not much authority.  The flute was there but did not have a lot of resolution and sounded far away.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, the clarinet sounded somewhat natural as did the horns, but they all sounded distant.  Imaging was ok.  The cymbals had some crispness to them.  Junior Wells: Why Are People Like That, vocals sounded natural yet distance and recessed, almost like performing without a mic.  The harmonica sounded natural with ok resolution.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback, bass was there and punchy in the upper midbass and again sounded recessed and had little depth or output.  Vocals were again recessed and distant with the lead singer.  Guitar sounded clear. 

Listening wireless:
Fresh Aire: Creatures of Levania, bass had nice extension and good output and authority.  Flute had good air with ok resolution.  The strings also sounded natural.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue clarinet sounded natural and only slightly distant.  Imaging was ok as was the size of the soundstage.  Horns and piano sounded natural.  Junior Wells: Why Are People Like That, vocals were sufficiently natural as was the harmonica.  The bass guitar had good extension and played with authority.  Imaging was also good.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback, had nice bass extension and depth, and played with very good impact and authority.  Vocals sounded natural with some resolution.  Imaging was good again.  Sound was much better wireless than they were wired.

Next up is the JBL Synchros S400BT. The JBL Synchros for a more traditional DJ style over the ear headphone design.  The earpads were leather wrapped and over the ear design.  Only the left earcup also had touch controls on the exterior.  They were also a CES Innovations Award Honoree for 2014.

The JBL Synchros S400BT came in the traditional attractive looking box with pics of the headphones and their specs. Opening the box revealed a semi-hard zipper case, which housed the headphones. Also included was the owners manual, and cables. One cable was for charging, while the other was for listening to a standard non-wireless device. The construction comprised of both plastic and metal, with soft leather earcups, which also swiveled and folded for portability and convenience. Fit and finish and the quality of materials used was very good. They felt solid and very durable as well. They were very comfortable to wear. I also liked the interior pocket of the case, to hold the manual and cables.

Features and Specs:
General Specifications
Rated Power Input
Audio Specifications
Frequency Response
10Hz – 22kHz
Maximum SPL
115dB @ 30mW
Speaker Specifications
Premium 40mm drivers
Depth (in)
Depth (mm)
Height (in)
Height (mm)
Width (in)
Width (mm)
Product Features
JBL Professional Audio Sound with PureBass Performance and aptX encoding.
Sound modeled after industry leading JBL professional audio speakers delivers a balanced audio experience with amazing clarity and deep powerful bass, while advanced aptX encoding lets you experience the highest possible wireless sound quality available.
Bluetooth® 3.0 wireless freedom with innovative touch sensor controls and NFC technology simplify the user experience.
Wireless technology liberates you from the hassles of wires, while NFC technology on the right outer earcup simplifies the Bluetooth pairing process. The innovative touch sensor controls on the left earcup enable you to advance tracks, adjust volume, and play or pause your music, as well as take your calls – all with an easy swipe of your finger anywhere along the earcup’s surface.
Unique LED Lighting Feature
A unique LED lighting feature responds intuitively to every adjustment made to your headphones’ touch sensor control system, following the direction that you swipe your finger across the earcup.

Using the JBL Synchros S400BT was very easy.  I was able to very easily pair them to both my laptop and 2 cell phones.  Controlling them with a swipe of  finger for volume, tracks, play/pause, etc. was also easy and worked well.  They also sounded the same whether I was listening with or without the cord.  When it came to distance, I also got these to a little over 20 feet before I started to have drops in signal.  It was a little shorter than I was expecting, but they sounded great. 

Fresh Aire:  Creatures of Levania, had very good bass extension and output with good authority.  Flute sounded natural with very good resolution and air, with audible tonguing and texture.  Imaging was very good, and the strings were smooth.  Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, clarinet was natural and really clean with very good resolution.  Brass was smooth without being too brassy.  Piano sounded very natural.  The soundstage was big with very good imaging as well.  Junior Wells: Why Are People Like That, excellent low bass from the bass guitar and played with good authority.  Vocals were natural with excellent texture.  Harmonica was really clean, dynamic, with excellent harmonics.  The percussion was crisp, and the soundstage was big.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback had very good bass extension, impact, and authority.  Imaging was also very good.  Vocals were smooth, with excellent timbre, resolution, and dynamics.

Last but not least is the Velodyne vBold, bluetooth wireless over-ear reference headphones. Velodyne has been known for their excellent home theater subwoofers. In recent years they have come into the headphone market and have people taking notice. The vBold are a rather large over the ear design.

Features and Specs:
Make a statement. vBold®Our wireless headphones offer Bluetooth® connectivity compatible with your iPhone®, iPod Touch®, iPad® or any Bluetooth® capable device. Wireless sound reproduction is accurate and true thanks to aptX® coding. A direct connect audio cable is included for optional wired connection.

Collapsible design
In addition to the convenience of being wireless, the vBold can be folded up for compact storage. Now you can bring Velodyne’s legendary audio technology with you anywhere you go.

Signature style
International artist, Marta Hall, created the signature style and shape of the vBold. You get the best in style with Velodyne’s accurate and true sound experience.

Built-in rechargeable battery
The vBold features a built-in rechargeable battery that allows for 10+ hours of talk and music listening time. A micro USB charging cable is included for charging your headphone.

• Outstanding wireless sound quality utilizing apt-X® coding
• Bluetooth® v2.1 connectivity with >30 foot range
• Near Field Communication (NFC) Technology
• Intuitive controls
• High-quality microphone for phone & online video games
• Energy efficient design with exceptional battery life
• Collapsible design for easy storage
• Available in 2 stylish colors: Matte Black & Satin Silver

• 4 foot, 3.5 mm (3/8") audio bypass cable
• 1/8" to 1/4" plug adapter
• Micro USB charging cable
• Carrying pouch

Driver size: 40 mm
Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Sensitivity: 105 dB/1 kHz/1 mW
Impedance: 32Ω
Frequency range: 2.4Ghz – 2.4835GHz
Transmission range: Up to 10 m (33’)
Power: Lithium-ion polymer battery, 3.7V/430mAh (rechargeable)
Operating temperature: 0 C – 40 C
Supports Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR, A2DP v1.2, AVRCP v1.0, HSP v1.2, HFP v1.6
Supports codecs SBC, AAC, apt-X

Battery Specifications:
100 hours standby
10 hours talk and music
1.5 hours recharge time

The box is a more premium glossy print look with pics of the headphones, and their features. Opening the box revealed the headphones, along with a simple card with instructions. Also included were a cloth carrying case, and two cables. One cable was for charging, and the other was for listening to standard non-wireless devices. Materials used in construction were mostly plastic, with soft leather earpads. While they appeared to be plastic, the finish seemed to have more of a soft feel to it. Quality of materials used were very good, as was the fit and finish. They felt durable as well, but not quite as durable as the JBL's. They were also very comfortable to wear.

Like the JBL's, the Velodyne vBold was very easy to pair with my cell phones and laptop.  Controlling it with the hard buttons was very easy and worked well.  Having hard buttons may not be as elegant looking as using touch controls, but I preferred it.  The real shocker was the Bluetooth performance of the built-in radio.  I'm skeptical to say, because it could be just a fluke with the one that I received, but here is what I found.  When testing the range, I got the 20 foot mark where the others started to have drops and I just kept walking.  I was testing it in my home, for real world situations.  I was down stairs, and ended up walking past the 20 feet mark and kept walking into my kitchen.  It was still going.  I then opened my patio door and walked into the back yard.....still going with no drops yet!  I turned around in awe, and went back inside.  I then walked all around my house, in other rooms, closing doors, even taking them upstairs and walked all around upstairs....still no drops!  I can't see anyone needing more than that, but I wanted to see just what they could do.  So I took my paired cell phone and set it on my front porch, and started to walk down the street.  I finally started to get dropped over 250 feet!!!  I turned around and got signal back, and walking back I got dropped signal again when I was about 100 feet away from my phone.  Amazing!!!  Like I said, I may have just gotten lucky, but that's what I got.

Fresh Aire: Creatures of Levania, had nice low bass output.  The flute was really clean with excellent air and resolution.  The strings were smooth.  Gershwin:  Rhapsody in Blue, had clean clarinet that had very good woodiness and texture.  The brass was smooth.  The soundstage was huge with imaging that was very good.  Percussion was crisp and dynamic with no noticeable decay, and the piano sounded natural.  Junior Wells: Why Are People Like That, vocals sounded excellent with good resolution and texture.  Harmonica was really clean and dynamic.  The drums had good impact and midbass.  Justin Timberlake: Sexyback, had nice deep bass that hit hard with good impact and authority.  Vocals sounded natural with very good detail and texture, and was very dynamic.  Imaging was also very good.  The sound was very good overall like reference headphones should sound, and the bass output was what I was expecting from a name like Velodyne.

All in all, we have some good wireless products, based on the MSRP.  The BeeWi BBH300 was only $150 and gave a lot of functionality with the included docking station.  While sound was just "ok," you have to also realize that part of the money for that goes into the docking station and wireless functionality.  The sound was not the same when listening wired, but they are more ment for use wirelessly.  The JBL Synchos S400BT had the performance I was expecting from JBL.  The same can also be said about the Velodyne vBold.  Based on their design, features, quality, and performance, the JBL Synchos S400BT has earned our Highly Recommended Award, and the Velodyne vBold has earned our Editor's Choice Award.  For more features and complete specs check out their websites at,, and

This completes this year's Headphone Shootout.  We had some great products from some just as good manufactures.  And the wireless category was fun.  Most products were priced right and performed as expected based on their MSPR.  However there were some, such as the Velodyne vBold that really surprised, with their wireless performance.  Hopefully this gave some great ideas on some purchase decisions.  Happy Listening!

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