ZIK Parrot by Starck high-end NFC headphone prototype shown off at CES
Posted by Seth PlanckJanuary 16th, 2012 at 6:11 PM Filed Under Galleries, Latest News, Videos
ZIK Parrot by Starck high-end NFC headphone prototype shown off at CES
Okay, the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones have been unveiled and we feel lucky enough to count ourselves among the first to see, and probably more relevantly hear them in action. Parrot contacted us before CES and told us that they had something to show us that we would be very interested to see. Turns out they weren’t just hyping. We have been in contact with Parrot for some time, and in that time the firm has hinted to us that they were indeed working on NFC speakers and NFC headphones. We knew whatever product the firm released would be high quality, but the innovation that Parrot showed off at CES surprised even us.
Yes, we have been waiting for NFC headphones that pair with Bluetooth, and yes that is probably the feature that excited us most. However, if that is all you see or hear when you try out the new ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones you have probably missed most of the innovation. We should tell you at this point that we are audiophiles and so it is pretty hard to please us. We worry about the sound stage of a product, the balance between mid-range and bass and the design of the cabinets or ear cup system and its subsequent airflow and resonance. Yep, we are picky when it comes to our tunes so cool features aren’t enough to cut the mustard and impress us. Not even the addition of NFC could make us want a pair of sub-standard headphones and yet we want the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones.
Before we get into the actual features of the ZIK Parrot by designer Philip Starck, we want to give you a round up of the industry at this time. Firstly, at this time Nokia has been the only firm to actually launch NFC headphones, NFC earbuds, NFC speakers and NFC headsets into the market. This is largely because Android does not support the Bluetooth handover to other devices at this time.
Android is more than happy to handover between other NFC smartphones, but with a third party NFC device its currently a no go. Windows Phone is yet to feature NFC and as you will be well aware, the iPhone 4S came without NFC on board.
Blackberry, however, does support the NFC Bluetooth handover and RIM let us know at CES that they intend to launch NFC speakers and other peripherals. If you are prepared to fiddle with Android you can get the handover to work, but until the feature is fully supported it only works every now and again from what we have seen. Google currently views that type of handover as a security concern, although with Mountain View’s current mantra of NFC being about more than payments we can probably expect that to change in the next year. Perhaps we will see NFC pairing in an update to Ice Cream Sandwich, or maybe we will have to wait for Jelly Bean.
The vast majority of headphone and speaker manufacturers we spoke to at CES had never even heard of NFC. Yes, really – they hadn’t even heard of the technology and thus other products that supported NFC pairing weren’t just thin on the ground, they were non-existent. We do have some information on others who will be adding NFC support, but you will have to wait for another post for that information.
ZIK Parrot by Starck high-end NFC headphones specifications, features and first impressions
As we mentioned, we are picky about our audio. The first rule of hi-fi is that you get what you pay for, and although the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones are currently without pricing or a release date other than a time frame of this year, we expect them to be on the pricey side of things and with good reason. Not to put too finer point on it but the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones with or without NFC were some of the best headphones we had ever tried that didn’t come out of a custom house.
Although our time with them was brief and bearing in mind they were prototypes, we loved them. CES was full of headphones. Aside from iPhone 4S cases, headphones were the most popular products on the floor at the world’s largest electronics show. We tried out hundreds of pairs in our time there. Some favored heavy bass, some were weighted more for acoustic sound staging, some sounded great and some were just plain terrible. Most, however, were a fail on mid range performance that allowed you to be enveloped by the music. The heavy slow bass with most headphones were enough to make most audiophiles shudder. In comparison, the ZIK Parrot by Starck headphones sounded well balanced and smooth with great separation for that all around pleasing experience.
Hearing great audio is like tasting a new favorite food – before you experience it, the normal is just fine, but when you hear great sounding audio through quality components you can never go back to mediocrity. I remember being a teenager and hearing my first high-end separates system made up of components from legendary audio brands like Arcam, Niam Audio, Monitor Audio, Bowers and Wilkins and others of that ilk. Music never sounded so real to me before and that same experience is what I and other audiophiles want from headphones. From our short amount of time we spent with the ZIK Parrot by Starck headphones we think we have found what we are looking for. However, we cannot make a full review until we can listen to them with our music in a quieter environment than CES.
The sound is important as it is the main feature with a high-end audio product and we were a little concerned about compression issues that can happen with Bluetooth, but if there was any audio compression we couldn’t hear it. But other features we very much present in the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones.
ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphone touch panel controls
The right side earphone features a touch panel that allows you to turn music volume up by swiping your finger upwards and down to reduce volume. If you swipe from side to side you can skip or replay tracks. Whereas that seems an obvious feature these days we have never seen another pair of headphones use the touch technology. As a niggle we will mention that the volume didn’t appear to go high enough, which could have been because of the sheer amounts of noise on the show floor, or it could have been because of the fact that hundreds of people were trying out these NFC headphones and the batteries were getting low. One thing we wondered about was battery life. Bluetooth is known to suck energy at quite a rate so we will be eager to see how long they last on a full charge.
ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphone sensors
Parrot has completely re-thought out the experience of using headphones. NFC is just one sensor that the ZIK headphones has on board. We interviewed Theodore Sean, Parrot’s Marketing Group Manager, and he told us that microphones are built in for noise cancellation and a jawbone mic sensor has been added to pick up your voice through vibrations in your jaw when you speak. We didn’t get to try this feature out but if it works half as well as Sean said it does, we think the quality of speech audio will be great. This is also part of the noise cancellation circuit and we can confirm that it worked really well in such a noisy environment as CES. Parrot says that the dual mic and noise cancellation will reduce lower-register external noise by around 20dB. Many headphones had mics this year, but Parrot’s were the only ones we found that used the jawbone tech.
Another sensor, which undoubtedly will save some power, is the head sensor that monitors when you take the NFC headphones off. Upon removing the headphones, the system pauses, calls and turns on audio on your phone so you save power and keep privacy. We thought it was a novel approach that only enhanced the experience of using the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones.
Its 40mm drivers breath like a hybrid between isolating closed-back and spacious sounding opened-back headphones and bass sounded sharp and well weighted. There is nothing worse than slow cumbersome bass or tinny, punchy bass and the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones handled that delicate balance effortlessly.
Looking around the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones
I don’t think we are going too far out on a leg to say the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones feature more mics than we have ever seen on pair of headphones before. Connectivity options weren’t left out and on the right cup we found a micro USB port for charging, a 3.5mm jack for an audio cable if it runs out of juice or simply want to the old fashioned wired experience, one of the multiple microphones, as well as a backlit power button. On the left cup, you guessed it – more microphones. There’s also another mic inside of each earcup. Theodore Sean from Parrot, told us that the plethora of mics are for helping with active noise-cancellation and picking up vocals to ensure great voice quality on during phone calls.
As far as comfort is concerned, the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones were very comfortable. We only tried them out for a few minutes but they felt secure on the head and weren’t pressing in on our ears. We did notice that they seemed a little small and wonder if they will fit users with larger heads.
“Design is also a usage. Home technology should be as simple and elegant as a piece of furniture,” explains Henri Seydoux. “Nobody asks how a chair works. That’s why design is important: working with designers with lengthy experience in furniture is a form of innovation.”
The NFC solution is as simple as we have seen. Pre-configure a tag with the Bluetooth pairing details and allow that NFC tag to do its business when an NFC enabled device is waved over the ear cup. It worked three times out of the four attempts we saw with a Nokia N9. We would probably put the failed attempt down to user error and the pressure of a demo to press, which invariably ensures something goes wrong. Parrot have shown how easy it is to add NFC support to headphones. It makes sense and it works.
Parrot let us know that we will get a review pair of the ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones and we can’t wait to put them through their paces and write a real review for you. Although we are going gaga over these ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones, we would advise you find a store that stocks them and try them out before you buy. Headphone tastes change from user to user and although Parrot hit the spot for us, your style of music may require a different sound.
The ZIK Parrot by Starck NFC headphones we tried are prototype reference designs, and we can’t wait to try out the production models later this year.