Saturday 28 July 2018

Quick Review: Inexpensive Spigen Legato Arc wireless Bluetooth headphone with aptX. And an attempt at "getting through"! (Magazines & blogs nothing more than audio Industry advertising?)

As I head off camping for the week, I thought I'd mention an inexpensive impulse buy the other day... Something to consider if you're thinking of getting into wireless Bluetooth headphones on a minimum budget. For ~$US60 (hmm, I just saw it's currently ~$70), here's the Spigen Legato Arc wireless headphone with aptX:

Comes with a couple sets of extra ear pieces in the bag (large, small), charging microUSB cable and manual. Notice that I extracted the left ear piece in the picture while the right side is compactly retracted.
I was in fact able to grab this for ~$30 on Amazon Prime Day recently (hence impulse buy :-).

As I discussed awhile back when Apple released the iPhone 7 without the headphone jack (September 2016), they were obviously aiming to speed up the transition over to wireless headphones. A couple years down the road now and I think it's fair to say that indeed this has happened for many. Walking around the university and downtown Vancouver, I probably see around 1/4 of portable headphone users untethered to their device these days.

You can see the hole for the microphone beside the aptX logo, smaller front power/multi-function button, and larger rear slider for volume control and track back/forward if the slider is held a bit longer. I lifted the rubber cap behind which is where you plug in a micro-USB for charging.
For the price, the device looks and functions very well. Notice that it's one of these "neckband" style headphones with a receiver and battery unit incorporated into the thicker neckband part and the ear pieces are connected with the thin wire to the "base" in a retractable fashion. For those who want an even smaller headphone, ear-bud style devices like the Apple AirPods and the numerous similar options would be better (I heard the Bose SoundSports are quite good, mixed reviews but said to be "good" sound on these inexpensive SoundMoov HV-358 based on Consumer Reports - not sure if audiophiles trust that). However there is something to be said about the comfort of having much of the electronics rest on the neck, a larger battery for hours of use (5-6 hours for the AirPod, about 10 hours for this), and an all-in-one design which you won't lose and without having to carry a charger case.

I am somewhat amazed that Qualcomm's aptX codec compatibility is available at such a low price point (along with the usual BT4.x A2DP of course). Not sure if the sonic difference would be appreciable as I'll discuss the sound quality below. I just ordered an Azio Bluetooth dongle with aptX to try so I'll add an addendum if I notice a difference. Pairing was seamless to my good ol' Samsung Note 5 phone - the headphone has haptic feedback when paired and turned on (a voice will tell you if battery status is "high", "medium", "low" when turned on). I see conflicting reports about whether the Note 5 can handle aptX; seems like it can but there's no easy confirmation... Wireless range was good and covered most of the main floor of my home with no disconnection issues (at least 30 feet distance line of sight, less with walls in between). Convenient to put my phone down and walk around doing chores like washing the dishes or cleaning the aquarium.

So how does it sound? It's OK. It's a bit "hollow" sounding for my taste right out of the box (which settled after a few hours of "break in"), and I needed to put it into the "Treble" EQ mode (you double click on the Power/MultiFunction button to switch between Normal --> Bass --> Treble) to get a bit more high frequency presence. I tweaked it even further with pushing the EQ a bit in Android: +1dB at 3kHz,  +2dB at 8kHz and +5dB at 16kHz to bring back a little more sparkle. Alternatively, Android's Adapt Sound system did a good job for me; again, boosting mainly the high frequencies - I'd recommend this approach.

Bass is good on albums like Random Access Memories from a few years back and the taiko drumming off the Isle of Dogs soundtrack, but it could be "tighter" sounding. Clearly these drivers are tuned more to the bass-loving crowd; I think those into bass drops and deep bass in rap and R&B will be reasonably satisfied (albums like Scorpion and Konvicted benefited from the bass). The noise floor is audible when silent but this is not a problem walking around in public outside where the ambient noise is high and easily masked with music playing. Volume from the headset is adequate with the music I play. As usual, the standard sized ear tip worked fine for me and was comfortable over hours. The buds are small and fit snugly with no chance of falling out.

Honestly, as an audiophile, this is not great sound and not what I would call "ultra wide dynamic sound" which the company promotes on the box. For example, while I can appreciate the excellent guitar work on Friday Night In San Francisco, the nuances of the live atmosphere and plucking are clearly not rendered at the full resolution I know is possible. When the music is more complex (eg. multiple guitars going, the crowd cheering...), the sound does get a bit muddy as well. It does at least still hold the music together reasonable well at louder volumes without distorting too much. Remember that perhaps some of this also has to do with wireless codec losses. Obviously, for the price I cannot expect sound quality comparable to a good pair of wired IEMs like the 1MORE Quad Driver or my audiophile "reference" Sennheiser HD800 of many years. But as a music lover, it'll be an easy and convenient way to walk around town enjoying the music without looking like a dork with white "sticks" coming out of my ears. :-) At this price point, no heartache if I accidentally sit on it or lose it.

Speaking of potentially breaking it, the wires from the neckband to the transducers are a bit on the thin side, plus they need to be tugged for extension and retraction. Some more strain relief at the wire insertion point to the ear bud might improve robustness. I'll need to see how long they last in regular use. The device is supposed to be sweat resistant; but I wouldn't do any vigorous exercise with this on since the neckband will bounce around a bit - light jogging might be OK.

I'd score this a 4/5 for features and product execution which is good IMO - nice enough packaging, good material "feel" in the hand, good wireless range and no unexpected connectivity dropouts with my Samsung Note 5, reliable pairing and speed when turned on. Sound quality however is passable at 3/5 with some treble boosting, but a music lover should still be able to enjoy the tunes without needing to be too picky :-). BTW, this is one device I felt benefited from a few hours of "break in" for the drivers to relax a little.

Maybe Spigen can maintain the general form, function, and workmanship. Increase the price point to around ~US$75-100 featuring improved midrange and treble fidelity without so much EQ'ing. That would be a sweet product for the discerning listener.

In any event, good deal certainly for the price I paid!


Scanning around the audiophile web pages this week, I came across AudioStream's "Getting the music through to you". My goodness, how much self-indulgent contemplation is necessary? Maybe some people do not want to or are not capable of running or understanding objective testing, but one doesn't need to attempt to weakly deprecate those that find measurements useful - if not an essential component of product reviews when it comes to understanding sound quality especially with very expensive gear!

So while I agree with this statement made by the author (that measurements are not the "sole determinant"):
"While measurements are important for starting points in pairing amps and speakers, cables, etc. they are not the sole determinant with which to formulate a base line for sonic reference in my opinion."
That still implies that measurements are rather important as a foundation to start to build from! One thing I noticed is that he doesn't include DACs on that list given the digital audio nature of this website (!). Instead, he included cables on the list yet we do not see measurements on a site like AudioStream, but has the Stereophile family of websites and writers ever measured cables!?

Regarding the general message he seems to want to "get through" to the reader, IMO the bottom line is that the human language cannot to a high degree truly convey the ephemeral quality of the music experienced. Sure, with gross brush strokes and flashes of poetry, we can express our love of something, make note of a certain level of joy, describe the tenderness of a memory long past evoked when we hear a song... We can talk about tonality, soundstage, ability to appreciate nuances. But these words are but shadows of the qualia of experience which only the listener can ever entirely "own" or subjectively "know". How can I ever fully express to someone else the feelings I get when I smell and taste grandma's special recipe for honey muffins? I can't! Yes, I might be able to write pages about the "designer" of the recipe (grandma), write some anecdotes from my past and why I love the muffins, then perhaps compare to other muffins from bakeries nearby; this is effectively all that purely subjective reviewers can do. What is of greater value would be to provide the recipe and instructions - the objective technical details of sorts - so you can imagine the taste and maybe even make it yourself. Of course audiophile companies will not release schematics and the like, but measurements are the proxy to let us know how low the noise floor is, how extended the frequency response is, whether jitter exists and at what level... Some subjective audiophiles might not want to believe it, or even worse insist that measurements do not correlate with sound quality. From my perspective, measurements do correlate with sound quality if one spends time studying and listening to what the numbers, charts, graphs are telling us, learning about one's own auditory limitations and thresholds along the way. In doing so, the rational audiophile will realize that indeed not everything matters even if measurable differences exist at minuscule levels. Understanding of the technology and knowledge of self ultimately constitutes "learning" to be a discerning audiophile (this learning is another theme he touches on in the article, I think the word wisdom is ultimately even better). Who knows... At some point, the hardware-quality-obsessed-audiophile might learn enough about the technology and him/herself such that there is no need to be neurotic, always seeking the "next big thing" and be even freer to just enjoy the music.

I appreciate that not everyone cares about the technical bits; this is why I dissociate the hobby as consisting of two pursuits, on the one hand is the primarily subjective task of music enjoyment achievable even with inexpensive Bluetooth headphones (as above). And on the other hand is the pursuit of understanding how to achieve objective "high fidelity" where "transparency" is the aim as the "hardware audiophile".

I see the purely subjective reviewers as being confused or apparently unable to appreciate clearly these different but still complementary goals as a "rational audiophile". They seem to want it both ways. Both acknowledging the science demonstrated in the best engineered devices yet want to hold on to some "deep, meditative level" of understanding which only resides in the psychological, emotional, artistic side which is not primarily to be found in the equipment, but within oneself and one's engagement with the artist and the art (recording).

This vagueness and confusion around what is of the technical domain and what is his own psychological reaction is embodied in this paragraph by Mr. Arnott:
"Other systems left me cold and disconnected to the musical recreation of the recorded event. Ruler-flat frequency responses eliciting no emotion in me other than discomfort at being subjected to sonic claims of ever-vanishing distortion. Claims that often translated for me into etched upper frequencies, lack of tonal colour, timbral or pitch accuracy and a predilection for one-note bass reproduction."
Either he's confused about the goal of transparent reproduction, or his preferences are simply idiosyncratic. If it's the former and he truly is listening to a transparent system (with "ruler-flat frequency response", low distortion...), then maybe he just doesn't like the recording's inherent production quality (not the fault of the transparent hardware!). And if it's the latter, then it's possible he simply does not prefer the sound of "hi-fi" and he has his own definition of what is "euphonic" to his ears and mind (a very personal opinion which is no better than countless preferences of the many experienced audiophiles out there)! (By the way, I have yet to find a transparent audio system to have a "predilection for one-note bass reproduction" - isn't that by definition not transparent!?)

Then there's this:
"Transparency to source is key, but a guitar has to sound like a guitar and a cello has to have the presence of its wooden body’s resonance, as does the size and weight behind a piano’s lowest registers being banged out. The soft drift of bristles from a brush stroke on a snare drum's skin must have variation and not simply be painted with one color. Reproduction must have that most elusive, yet sought–after trait: a human touch."
Why does there need to be a "but" in the first sentence? Does transparent, high-fidelity audio hardware have the ability to ensure that the recording itself actually contained the data such that a guitar actually sounds like a guitar? I think this man should not be using the term "transparency" for whatever he's trying to "get through" because he apparently has his own idiosyncratic definition of that word and what it implies as well. Good luck with that...

The twin beliefs that "we don't need objective measurements" and "everything matters" (hence he has to make sure to remind us swapping cables "definitely" affects things) have been core elements of the propaganda of those complicit in allowing snake oil to perpetuate in so much of "high end" audio. Furthermore, when Mr. Arnott openly admits that "With the help and support of high-fidelity manufacturers and distributors, I am in the process of building a review system...", surely the rational audiophile must wonder about bias! How then does a reviewer balance the support he receives from the Industry while finding a voice to advocate for the consumer readership in the event that some devices are truly of poor quality or in fact cannot provide benefits yet he is graced by the association and support of these companies?

Before trying to "get through" to his readership, perhaps having a clear answer to this question can provide some essential foundation and perspective on the role the author intends to play. Otherwise, as far as I can tell, audiophile magazines, reviewers, and websites like these replete with photos of pretty equipment fascia and brand names are truly nothing more than the extended advertising arm of an Industry.

Beautiful sunny and hot summer week ahead according to the local weatherperson. Time to enjoy the great Canadian outdoors with the family :-).

Hope you're all enjoying the music!

BTW: Next time, let's listen to some simulated jitter :-).


  1. Traditional consumer hi-fi and their snake oil peddlers/salesmen can die for all I care, since there will be pro audio gear around that offers so much better value for money.

    1. No offense, but...seems a little harsh.

    2. Yeah, no need to get angry.

      I think reasonable audiophiles do however have a right to express their disgust at the purveyors of those who promote mistruths presumably for financial gain (although there are other reasons as well). I think the public appreciates when good reason is provided for such feelings.

      As much as there is "fake news" and all kinds of craziness out there, I believe that the Internet is powerful in reaching and changing perception and perspective especially for a small hobby such as audiophilia. In this way, I guess I'm more optimistic that in the days ahead, we will see a more reasonable, "reality based" hobby.

      Keep your cool boys :-). I think it is the "pure subectivists" who are in the "hot seat" as they realize there remains fewer and fewer old-skool audiophiles willing to hang on to the myths as the years go by. Loss of faith and questioning of their authority as "high priests" is all that's needed, because ultimately there is nothing else for them to show or say. Trying to hang on to their faithful following without embracing the truth or changing perspective themselves will ultimately be a futile exercise in hubris IMO.

    3. What, me angry, you kidding right? The Hi-Fi industry has been mostly a steaming pile for so long exactly because they aren't held accountable or called out for their pathetically low technical and moral standards. And these people aren't charities I must add.

      As a PC enthusiast, Intel/AMD/Nvidia have been blasted much more for so much less. If any of them tried to pull them same audiophile stunts to sell products 10-100x offering nothing more than pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo they will be rightfully grilled into oblivion.

      I know you doing good work but you gotta look at the whole picture here. There's no need to defend any charlatans out for your wallet.

    4. Honestly I don't think that "pro audio" company are always competitive in terms of price-performance ratio, at least in my own experience...

      and a lot of user experiences and measurements I've seen:

      It's easy to avoid obviously overpriced audio jewellery with dubious sound quality claims, but it is not easy to identify low quality but seemingly reasonably priced pro/consumer audio products without reading a lot of reviews and hand-on experiences from actual users.

      BTW Archimago, what will you do in the planned simulated jitter test? Ethan Winer has a very interesting listening test webpage out there:

    5. Hi Dtmer & Jonathan,
      Yeah, the audiophile industry and media are without question unhealthy and deserving a "reboot". The loss of interest among the younger generation of music lovers in the "high end" and the fact that audio shows consist of a sea of white-haired folks are a reflection of this state.

      Thanks for the links Dtmer :-). Good data out there, sometimes hard to find especially among the sites the typical audiophiles visit.

  2. "That still implies that measurements are rather important as a foundation to start to build from! One thing I noticed is that he doesn't include DACs on that list given the digital audio nature of this website (!). Instead, he included cables on the list yet we do not see measurements on a site like AudioStream, but has the Stereophile family of websites and writers ever measured cables!?"

    Not surprisingly Tyll has measured cables.

    1. Nice... Thanks RD.

      As expected, measurement results:
      "Do I see anything that might be characterized as an audible feature due to the different cables in the measurement? Nope. Nada. Zilch."

      Of course one could say anything one wants about whether "subtle" changes can be heard... Hell, I hear "subtle differences" when I'm in a different mood :-).

    2. BTW: Was there a Part 2 to "Headphone Cable Measurements"?

    3. I think part 2 was the wrap up.

      To be fair to Tyll I suspect he has to say something about "subtle" changes to keep the editors happy. From time to time he's taken some subjective stances, but he's done more to push headphone objectivity than just about anyone out there so I'm happy to give him a free pass if it makes his life a little easier.

  3. Hi Archimago. I like your comparisons between 2K and 4K - could you compare this two IMAX documentaries - they were scanned at 4K from negatives and IMAX frame - that's the best case scenario for film stock. If the difference would be small, that means we are limited by 24FPS temporal resolution.

    America Wild: National Parks Adventure

    Dream Big: Engineering Our World

    4m 55s till 6m 48s - SMPTE lecture that 24FPS is limiting the resolution

    Btw 30 years ago SMPTE released recommendation to increase 24FPS to 30FPS but it was unfortunately ignored.

    The document is 5 pages long and it's free to download - it compared the resolution increase of 30FPS vs 24FPS.

    1. Thanks Lukasz,
      I'll see what I can do about checking out the IMAX documentaries. Depends if I want to buy the 4K video and if they can be digitally ripped into the computer :-).

      Nice to see that SMPTE recommendation from 1985! By today's capabilities, 30 fps would of course be a small step up but I think this could be an interesting path forward still... Many people complain about high frame rate 48fps+ because psychologically "it doesn't look like cinema" and the 24fps we've all been used to. Starting to smooth things out more with movies at 30fps might not be as disturbing for some in the theaters? Then maybe in a decade or so we can go for 60fps for wide release? :-)

  4. HI Archimago,
    I have a question, I guess interesting, but O.O.T..
    What about the "risk to digital continuity"?
    This question came to my mind when I have recently bought an inexpensive (290€), but good sounding, turntable.
    I put on it a copy of “Abbey Road”, 50 years, old and … damn! it sounds unbelievably good! No, Hi-Res, only an old, good, LP.
    So, my question is: will our formats (PCM, DSD, MQA, ..., FLAC, APE, WAVE, MP3, ...) survive so long?
    What would be the format you would bet if you had to leave your music collection in a “time capsule”?
    What if, if those people,, will make the deal?

    Teodoro Marinucci

    1. Hi Teodoro,
      Yeah, I agree, vinyl can sound very nice. It certainly is pleasant in many ways although from the perspective of "high fidelity", it is of course limited...

      My bet for 100 years from now, PCM 16/44, 24/48 and 24/96 will survive the test of time indefinitely as they are the foundations for consumer and pro audio. For a compression container format, FLAC will be just fine :-). What's more concerning is data integrity of hard drives, SSD, and disk formats.

      As for DSD, compatibility could be an issue once interest fades (further). Certainly don't hang on to compression formats like DST. I still favour and want to put in a plug for WavPack:

      Open formats and compression systems are the way to go.

      HD Vinyl: looks interesting and I think it's good to have better quality control on how vinyl is pressed. If they can consistently maintain great quality grooves with each LP created - fantastic! Of course, we must remember that the "HD" in this situation refers to an improvement over typical vinyl pressings. Vinyl will always have the limitation of potential damage with playback, physical distortions (warping, scratching, dust, inner groove geometry issues...). While better, it can never reach the level of high resolution digital.

    2. BTW: I forgot about the lossy formats. I doubt anyone will ever forget MP3 and AAC. As for MQA, I suspect it'll be forgotten in a couple years :-).

  5. Thanks for another article, Arch - as enlightening as ever. Two of the more prominent YT audio reviewers (read 'loud and self-declared experts') have gone out of their way recently to decry the value of measurements in determining the sound of a component/headphone/speaker but in both cases its clear that they just dont get how easily impressed some of their viewers are. I dont live and die by measurements (esp the dynamic range database) but I do like to see a frequency response graph and compare independent measurements with the manufacturer's claimed numbers : surely that's just common sense ? Getting fired up about the value of those numbers makes as much sense as shouting at the television, but I guess that's social media. Keep 'em coming,

    1. Thanks Arthur,
      Curious which "prominent" YT audio reviewers are these?

  6. In my opinion measurements are the most useful service any audio publication provides. It is extremely hard for the lay person to measure a speaker/transducer especially in the context of purchasing a speaker. That is why I was disheartened when Tyll left Innerfidelity. Luckily super audio best friends and some other sources provide headphone FR curves. The issue is that the test protocol isn't as consistent as Tyll's so it makes it hard to make comparisons across curves.

    The only thing I read in Stereophile or Soundstage are the measurements as I don't need talk of magical cables and suspect the room I listen in is much different than the room any of the reviewers listen in. I really appreciate what John Atkinson and NRC do to provide measurements of speakers as reviewers can't be trusted.

    For example the DeVore Orangutan O/96 was "Speaker of the Year" in Stereophile despite the fact that it has massive cabinet resonances and costs $12K. Per John Atkinson it is a good speaker if you don't listen to piano on it! That obviously makes for speaker of the year!

    1. No kidding man about the DeVore.

      There's a curious relationship John DeVore has with Stereophile and the magazine authors... Showing up here and there, hanging out in listening sessions, etc. Seems a little too cozy especially when these Product Awards are basically voted on.

      To be taken seriously, the magazines obviously need to show restraint and independence from Industry influence and interests!

  7. Thanks Arch, always enjoy your posts. I find it sad that many of the Audiophile Rags, and Tech Blogs, often omit many manufactures, and products from their to 10 lists, or even give honorable mention to companies and products that truly should be given a shout out to. Mostly because they do not advertise with said vendor. Over the years shopping the hot market of Bluetooth speakers, the Class leader the Aiwa Exos9 barely gets a mention, or does the Kicker Bluetooth speakers. The Exos 9 truly follows the company mantra, “double the hardware”. A 5 speaker 200W Li ion replaceable Battery pack, unit, for $299. Just price increased, to $329.99. Aiwa just released a new Bluetooth class busting Headphone, The Arc-1, Aiwa Arc-1 Bluetooth Headphones with 20h playtime, extreme sound clarity with aptX, and over ear comfort, for $199, I have them on order. True value can be found in the Audiophile world.

    1. Hey Glen,
      Thanks for mentioning the products... I'll have to look more into them. Don't know about Kicker, it's been years since I've owned an Aiwa :-) [probably since the Walkman days!].

      One thing I noted about the Arc-1 - I really like the red right/left inner driver covering so there's no confusion. So often one has to fumble or have difficulty in low light figuring out which side is which. Hope to see them widely available soon...

    2. Over the years I have 4 kicker 501's and the new Amphitheater BT model. Two boats, cottage, etc. Kicker has great portable sound. $199. I have demoed far and wide, only to be out done by the Aiwa. I will let you know about the Arc-1 cheers. Objective audio testing is always where it is at. Thanks for the clairvoyance on the topic. cheers.

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