Posts Tagged ‘headphones’

REVIEW: Sony Walkman W Series

Sir Jog A Lot sells out…

James BarnardLast night I went for my first, post-marathon jog. In 4 weeks I’ll be re-running the first race event I competed in, the Bupa London 10K. I’ve set myself a target of getting round in sub-50 minutes. Last year I couldn’t quite break the 55-minute mark but after training for (and completing) a marathon I should be Señor Speedy Jogales.

First things first, I need to keep my level of fitness exactly as it is. I’d had 9 days to recover from the marathon (which I’d spent eating and drinking myself into a stupor) so I went out on a 3-mile jog around Blackheath. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s important to have another goal or milestone to focus on after the marathon to stop yourself getting the post-marathon blues (sometimes caused from the lack of endorphins produced during regular exercise). Plus, this time Sally is running with me, so I’ll have a bit of extra encouragement.

I also had a new toy to play with. Just before the marathon I was approached by a digital PR chap who had “an opportunity that I think might interest you” and two weeks later this bad boy arrived in the post; an mp3 player designed specifically for running folk.

Herein lies the dilemma. Do I keep my integrity, send the mp3 player back and continue to write the SJAL blog posts for free (or without perks), or do I sell out, review the thing and keep it? From the title of the post you can guess what I did! To be fair, I’ve already plugged a fair few websites and running products and if this PR agency thinks that my audience (you guys) would benefit from whatever they’re trying to get in the press then I’m more than happy to review it.

So here goes… my first review:

I ran the three miles with the Sony Walkman W Series and it was the fastest three miles I’ve ever run (something like 21 minutes). Unfortunately, the reason for my speed wasn’t due to the inspiring music that had been pre-loaded on to the device, but simply because I didn’t want anyone to see me with this thing attached to my head.

Sony_W_SeriesThe mp3 player is built directly into the headphones and the cable that connects the two, wraps round the back of your head. The theory behind it is brilliant. It gets rid of the annoying dangling cables (that you’d normally have to tuck underneath your shirt) and allows quick and easy access to the controls so you can play, pause, change track and adjust volume really easily. In practice, however, the device is clunky, uncomfortable and a little unsightly. I’m quite a self-conscious person (for the longest time I had issues running in a pair of shorts that show any leg above the knee) so I felt uncomfortable wearing a bright white device* that resembles two bluetooth headsets. You can’t even cover it with a hat because your hat won’t fit!

If this doesn’t bother you (and you have the right shaped head) then you’ll love this device and you’d have no reason not to. The sound quality is brilliant. The headphones resemble the MDR inner-ear series (I have a pair of these and the sound quality is unmatched for the price) and once the device is securely in place there’s no moving it. I’m no Paula Radcliffe head-bobber but the W Series stayed in place throughout my run. It charges in 3 minutes (using a slick little docking station that comes with it) and can hold 2GB worth of music (about 500 songs).

The player also features the new ‘Zappin’ function, which will play a snippet of the chorus of each of your songs (much like a TV advert for a Ministry of Sound CD) until you tap the button and ‘Zap In’ the song you want to listen to. Clever. It sounds cheesy but it’s a very cool way of choosing songs without having a screen in front of you to see what you’re listening to and it’s a lot of fun to play around with.

My advice, try before you buy. The cable that connects the two earpieces doesn’t have much give and if your head isn’t quite the right size then it’ll feel odd and you’ll be constantly trying to adjust it, rather than focusing on your run. I was so busy trying to adjust it that I nearly locked myself out of my flat.  It’s a shame because the concept and the functionality works so well.

Sir Jog A Lot rating: 3/5

* The W Series also comes in black, purple, pink and yellow

Running With Headphones:

I’m a bit of a music snob. When the mp3 player came out I never thought it would catch on. “Lossless audio compression my ass”, I used to say. But as headphones got worse and worse and standards became lower and lower (to the point where listening to music through a mobile phone speaker on a bus has become acceptable) I became more and more wrong. I have never bought an iPod. I refuse to pay money to a company that has made billions out of selling mp3 players but never put any of that money into improving the sound quality and upgrading the standard headphones that come with them. I told you I was a snob.

I own a Zune and listen to music regularly while on my training runs. Like many others, I have an armband (a stretchy one made by Nike) that carries my mp3 player. Now there are a couple of questions that I’ll try to answer in this post. Firstly, is listening to music good running decorum? Secondly, if you do listen to music while running, what type of music do you listen to?

This is actually a widely debated subject in the running world. There are hundreds of different pros and cons of listening to music on the go. I’ve listed just a few here and you can make up your own mind.

Pros: –

  • Motivation
    Runs can be long and, depending on where you run, a little boring.
  • Keeping rhythm
    Some people base their foot strokes on the tempo of the beat they’re listening to. This is a very good method of keeping to a strict pace.
  • 2 birds with 1 stone
    It doesn’t have to be music you’re listening to. You could be catching up with the week’s news, listening to a football match or learning another language while reaping the rewards of a running session.
  • More energy
    There’s nothing more uplifting than hearing your favourtie tune and that can reflect dramatically in your running.

Cons: –

  • It’s unsafe
    Being unable to hear traffic, other runners or strangers in the dark is a serious disadvantage.
  • Missing out on your running community
    If you live in London then this won’t apply to you (because nobody talks to anyone else down here) but keeping your headphones in alienates you from fellow runners.
  • Timing
    For those that have a good sense of rhythm listening to music can throw you off your stride or affect your breathing patterns.

Here’s where I stand. I completely agree with the timing disadvantage. One thing I’ve noticed when I’ve run without headphones is that I can regulate my breathing by counting how many steps I’m taking. At the beginning of a run I’ll breathe in for 3 steps and out for 3 steps. As the run progresses and the intensity increases I’ll shorten that to 2 steps. This has meant that I’ve not over-done it in the early stages and achieved a good overall time. If I’m listening to music that goes out the window. I can play the drums (like a god) and the music I’m listening to really affects my rhythm and ultimately my breathing. Working hard at uni

Running with headphones in can be unsafe but only if you have the spacial awareness of Stevie Wonder. Just turn the volume down a little bit and if there is someone lurking in the dark waiting to grab you then chances are you can run faster than them anyway! The most danger I’ve ever been in from running with headphones in was when I was on a treadmill and caught the headphone cable with my arm. It pulled my mp3 player from the little holder in front of me and I nearly broke my neck trying to jump over it as it shot out the back of the treadmill, smashing into it’s component parts. Thank god for shock testing.

I love getting away from it all and blasting out some tunes on my training runs but I completely disagree with listening to music during an actual race. This was actually banned in some races in the US, albeit for the wrong reasons. I will definitely not be sporting an mp3 player during the London Marathon. If half-a-million people can take the time to come out and give their support then I’ll damn well listen to them. Heck, there may even be a bit of music as you go round. During the BUPA London 10k there were some awesome Banghra drummers at 3k and 7k, at the Finsbury Cancer Research 10k there were 2 guys with a digery do and a djembe and at the Nike Human Race there was a band playing at 2k (they sucked but that’s not the point). But to not give the supporters the courtesy of your attention is bad form.

I won’t spend too long on this because I’ve rambled on for too long but which songs you choose while training is crucial. If you haven’t heard of Nike+ then it’s basically a chip that you place in your shoe that syncs with your mp3 player. You can set it to play your ‘power song’ when you reach a certain time/distance to give you that extra boost to complete your training (along with a load of other nifty features). Unfortunately it only works with iPods (damn me and my laurels!). The reason I’ve plugged Nike+ so hard is because of their current top-10 list of power songs (some inspiration for your playlists here) that consist of songs like ‘Eye of the Tiger’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ (awesome) and ‘Firestarter’.

I’m not going to embarrass myself too much by revealing my playlist choices as my music taste is somewhat eclectic (stretching to anything from Simply Red to Bone Thugs-N-Harmony) but I do have one suggestion. James Bond theme tunes. When Tina Turner broke into the bridge in ‘Goldeneye‘ during my run back from Canary Wharf I’ve never run with more determination or vigour…

Enjoyed this? Check out the Headphones for Runners reviews.

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