Can active noise cancelation headphones still sound good at this price?
The Call Quality is incredibly poor (though the company says the problem has been solved), the Learning Curve is fairly steep because of two multifunction buttons, and the Comfort leaves something to be desired for extended use.
The Bottom Line
While there are a few issues, the SHIVR headphones are far better than their price point would suggest.
Where To Get It
PLUGHITZ Live Unboxed
The features of the SHIVR headphones make them a great choice for ANC Bluetooth headphones. The Sound Quality, especially on Bluetooth, is far above what the price point would suggest, but the Noise Cancellation quality is really what sets them apart. In Bluetooth mode, the SHIVR headphones are a great deal.
Other than the Comfort issue, the Design of the SHIVR is quite good. The materials used and the finishes of the surfaces make this look like a very fashionable and high-quality product. While the muted colors of black and grey prevent the headphones from being a real statement piece, the illuminated logo can be a conversation starter. While wearing them in public, I got questions about them when the logo was lit. When they are off, though, they do kind of fade into the background, which can be a benefit if you're not looking to talk to people about your headphones.
The swivel ear cups are a nice feature, allowing you to store them in the included case, but also for flipping one of the cups out of the way if it is not needed. This is a pretty common need for DJs but is also useful while traveling. Both the charging port and the headphone jack are located at the bottom of the right and left earcups, respectively, making it convenient for use plugged in, not creating and additional pressure forward or backward.
The SHIVR offers two different ways to listen to music: a standard headphone jack and Bluetooth. Both offer their own benefits and downfalls, and each has its own unique sound quality.
The analog headphone connection offers very clear sound reproduction. In listening to music through the headphones, both vocals and instrumental were crisp and clear. However, it was hard to ignore that something didn't sound quite right. Upon switching to just speech, the problem was made clear: these headphone emphasize treble over bass, making voices higher pitched than reality. The variation was not severe, and may not be enough for most consumers to notice. This was tested by using shows on Hulu, as well as while wearing them during a couple of episodes of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology. We had to stop using them during the show to prevent incorrect monitoring.
Interestingly, the Bluetooth connection offers a clearer and crisper sound reproduction than the headphone connection does. The issue we noticed while using the headphone jack was not present while using Bluetooth. The tone of voice was almost indistinguishable between the SHIVR headphones using Bluetooth and our reference monitors in the studio. This does mean that, if your battery dies, you will have to sacrifice sound quality to continue using them hardwired, which is incredibly unusual.
Active Noise Cancellation
The Noise Cancellation of the SHIVR headphones is certainly where they stand out from the crowd. Many low-cost headphones have promised active noise cancelation in the past, but none have ever truly delivered like SHIVR. We created several scenarios, both everyday and unique, to test exactly what would be considered noise and what would be removed.
In our everyday tests, we used the headphones near items that make loud and regular noises. The headphones were able to cancel out a single air conditioner air handler, a group of four air conditioner compressors, road noise, and collective group voices. What it was not able to completely eliminate, though was able to greatly reduce, was singular voices. If a person was in the room talking, or a person was talking on television, those voices could be heard but were greatly reduced in volume.
In our unusual tests, we found sounds that people might encounter, but not in a common scenario. None of the unusual sounds were able to be eliminated entirely but were greatly reduced, similar to the singular voices. These sounds included a desktop PC fan at full capacity and a garbage truck backing up and moving a dumpster. Both of these sounds are likely to be important in the moment, so not eliminating them is a positive feature.
The SHIVR has all of the connections that are required to make a good headphone but lacks one that would make it more attractive. Like most headphones on the market, the SHIVR offers a standard headphone jack, as well as Bluetooth connectivity. The headphone jack allows you to connect the SHIVR to a variety of products, from most phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, handheld videogame consoles, and more. The Bluetooth connectivity allows it to connect to those phones and tablets that have abandoned the traditional headphone jack, in favor of a digital connection, or with a number of the other devices, but without the inconvenience of a cable.
SHIVR, however, lacks USB digital direct, which would offer the owner a more universal experience without the need to keep the headphones charged. With more devices leaving the standard headphone jack behind, including iPhone and Samsung Note devices, this leaves owners of those products with only the option to use Bluetooth. While Bluetooth Connectivity has gotten better in recent years, there is still a quality loss when going wireless. A USB digital connection would also give the 3D capabilities of the headphones a more robust experience.
The Range of the SHIVR headphones is beyond expectations. I tested the range using a paired Apple iPhone X.
In my three-bedroom apartment, with the iPhone in the center, I can use the headphones in all rooms without any reception issues encountered. In fact, I was able to leave the headphones in the apartment and walk outside without experiencing any issues. For a consumer wireless product, exterior walls are usually a signal killer, but the SHIVR survived. This means that I could do housework, walking around the apartment, even going outside, and not need to carry my phone with me, while keeping the music going.
Line of Sight
Bringing the iPhone outside, the headphones were able to remain connected stably for a distance of 245 feet. The headphones support Bluetooth 4.2, which means that their maximum range is around 200 feet. These headphones were able to go a full 25% beyond their maximum range, making them the headphones with the absolute longest range we have tested to date.
The Battery Life of the SHIVR headphones is nearly as high as some of the other headphones we have tested but doesn't last as long as advertised.
Formal Test (HTC 8x)
Running our formal test on the SHIVR headphones, we averaged 16 hours and 55 minutes of playtime, recorded across three tests. All of the tests ran within a few minutes of one another, meaning that 16 hours and 55 minutes is a consistent result. Unfortunately, the advertised runtime is 20 hours, meaning that the actual runtime is almost 15% lower than the advertised life.
During an informational session day with our partners at AMRoc Fab Lab, the SHIVR headphones provided entertainment during periods of downtime. A single charge lasted more than the entire day, making them a perfect companion for the event. In fact, 17 hours of continual use would be enough for almost any scenario.
Unfortunately, the Call Quality on the SHIVR headphones leaves a lot to be desired. The quality on both the wearing and receiving end is questionable, but the receiving is the failure.
It is important to note that the model we tested is a pre-production unit, the company is aware of the problem, and says they have fixed it before going to market. We have not been able to confirm this with our tests.
This is the sound quality for the person the wearer is calling. The quality was best described as muffled and "it sounds like you are talking through a towel." In our internal testing, it sounded a lot like there was a tin can involved in the process somewhere. The person we tested with said that she would never want to talk to someone for an extended period using these headphones.
For the person wearing the headphones, the quality is a bit better, but still not acceptable. The sound quality was very treble forward, making everything sound very tinny. This is similar to what we experienced with the Sound Quality using the headphone cable, only on a grander scale. This quality was not poor enough to prevent using the feature, but it is certainly overshadowed by the receiver's audio.
While the SHIVR doesn't expose a lot of Controls, it does make everything you need easy to access. On the left earcup are two controls: the power switch and the MFC button. Powering on the headphones will automatically connect to the last device they were connected to. If this doesn't work, the headphones will automatically switch into pairing mode, so you can connect them to a new device.
The MFC button is a true multifunction button. Pressing it once will loop between ANC On, Ambient Sound, ANC Off. Double pressing the button will turn on and off the 3D sound capabilities. Long pressing the button will turn on and off the SHIVR logo on the side of the headphones. Multifunction buttons make for a simpler Design, but also increase the difficulty of the Learning Curve.
Inside the left earcup is a proximity sensor, used for automatically pausing and playing your media when you take off or put on the headphones. This control is the best part of the daily use of the headphones, as it makes switching between media and real-life seamless.
On the right earcup are three buttons: volume up, volume down, and media. While the volume buttons are obvious, the media button is another multipurpose button. Pressing it once will play and pause your media manually (though the automatic nature of the headphones makes this less common). Double pressing the button will skip forward one track, while triple pressing will skip backward one track. Long pressing will reject a phone call, while single pressing it (while the phone is ringing) will answer a call. This design also adds to the steep nature of the Learning Curve.
Unfortunately, because the SHIVR uses two multifunction buttons, learning to use the headphones is not particularly easy. While some users will have no trouble with a single set of multifunctional controls, adding in a second set increases the complexity exponentially. Remembering how many times to press which button to cause which result is not natural for most people. After using the headphones for several weeks, I still sometimes forget whether double or triple pressing the media button will skip forward. There is certainly a Design benefit to this decision, but it comes at the expense of the overall user experience.
The band on the SHIVR headphones is incredibly tight, putting a great amount of pressure on the wearer's ears. For most of our staff members, wearing them for an extended time was simply not possible because they inevitably began to cause headaches. Adjusting the headphones does not solve the problem, as it puts the band too far above your head, causing it to fall in front of your eyes. While looking like Geordi La Forge from Star Trek: The Next Generation can be fun for a short while, it doesn't make for a long-term solution. Wearing the headphones with a baseball cap can help some because you can push the headband back and use the dimple on the top of the cap to hold it in place.
The Build Quality is above average, but far from perfect. The majority of the injection molding seams are smooth, but some of them have sharp edges. Fortunately, the problematic edges seem to be within the adjustable headband, and not in a place where your hand is going to be while wearing them. However, there is a larger than expected gap where the headband adjustment rail connects to the earcups. Those gaps can easily catch hair, causing pain when you remove the headphones.
Size & Weight
The SHIVR headphones are surprisingly light, especially considering their features. Bluetooth headphones with active noise-canceling technology and longer batteries tend to be on the heavier side, but these are lighter weight than many headphones we have tested without ANC. This appears to be achieved by using very lightweight materials in the construction of the body, compensating for the added weight of a large battery and additional processing powers.