First listen: Mo-Fi headphones from Blue Microphones

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Gizmag gets a first listen of the Mo-Fi headphones from Blue Microphones (Photo: Paul Ridden/Gizmag)

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With perhaps the exception of Mikey, Blue's USB microphone offerings are designed to make a memorable style statement while going about their high resolution audio recording business. The company has moved up a gear for its first step into the world of personal audio throwers with a pair of headphones that have both steampunk/old world charm and futuristic appeal. The new Mo-Fi headphones also feature a built-in amplifier, which promises to boost the source audio by up to six times while offering accurate reproduction. So do they deliver in performance as well as looks? Gizmag caught up with Blue for a listen at IFA 2014.

Though many portable music devices already have a built-in headphone amp, such as smartphones, tablets and pocket-friendly music players, given limited power and space, they're not always up to the task. It's not just about the volume of the music being listened to, of course, but also about delivering top notch acoustic detail, dynamics and resolution.

Driving some high-end headphones is therefore turned over to an external headphone amp, which has more room for better circuitry and a more capable power supply. Such devices don't always lend themselves to portability, however, and they can be very expensive.

For its Mo-Fi headphones, Blue has included a custom high-end 240 mW amplifier that's matched to large (50 mm) dynamic drivers for the reproduction of source audio "with the greatest accuracy and dynamic response." So do they deliver?

For my brief test, I opted to use my own Cowon media player to play a lossless digital version of Pink Floyd's Money with flat EQ. Where the cable is plugged into the left earcup, there's a switch that gives users the option of three different output levels. The first of these is passive mode, where the source signal is delivered without the use of the power amp.

The increase in volume when switching to the "On" mode was startling, kind of like walking through a door from a library into a busy dance club, and immediately blocked out all of the background hum of a busy IFA. There was some line noise, though, but it was less pronounced when music was playing.

This setting doesn't add its own tonal coloring to the source signal, so the mix of frequencies should be as determined by the source device. Turning up my player's volume, I was also pleased to note that distortion didn't enter the sonic canvas as the volume approached ill-advised levels.

Moving on up to "On+" and the headphones add a little more flavoring to the incoming signal, gently bumping up bass and mids. There was no crackle when switching between active modes.

I'd have to spend more time with these headphones, but my brief taste did leave me wanting more. The test track seemed to take on the persona of being played through my home hi-fi system rather than a portable music player. The instrument separation was excellent and the soundstage spacious and clear. Low, mid and high frequencies were all very well respresented in both active modes.

At over 16 oz (466 g), these are definitely not lightweight headphones, but they didn't feel particularly heavy on the head, and I found the shaped earpads, created for a more natural fit around the ears, to be really comfortable. Prolonged use may be a different story though, and I'm obviously not able to confirm the claimed battery life of 12 hours between charges.

Metal construction offered a solid feel and they didn't move when subjected to the sudden head bop test. Wearing them around the neck between listening sessions could be a challenge, although the stiff hinge behind each earcup can help take them away from under the chin.

At US$350, the Blue Mo-Fi headphones are going to be outside of many budgets. But if you want to enhance your mobile music enjoyment, early indications are that these could well be worth saving up for.

Product page: Mo-Fi headphones

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