Dolby Labs has been busy the past several years creating technologies to help bring the sonic richness of surround sound to home-theater enthusiasts. For the growing number of these enthusiasts who want to transform their stereo CD library into surround sound, Dolby Headphones technology is an answer to that very realizable quest.
Among other manufacturers, Philips has taken advantage of Dolby Headphones technology and presents it remarkably in the form of its HD1500 wireless headphone product. Not only can you enjoy analog stereo converted into digital surround sound, but you can also enjoy a high-quality headphone whose base station allows you to walk about the house, thanks to its wireless configuration.
In two experiments involving home and office, I first hooked the HD1500 review unit to my Arcam Solo combo stereo receiver/CD player. From my listening room, to the adjacent living room, to my dining room, then into the kitchen, I enjoyed several cuts from Joni Mitchell’s Blue album [Reprise] as though I were present at a live concert. The HD1500 has a wireless range of 160 feet, which I edged up against as I exited the kitchen and sat on my patio. The sound tried its best out there, but periodically broke up. Within the 160- foot range, the sound was solid.
Just a head’s up about the headphone’s weight, however. At almost 1.5 pounds, it’s hefty, which was one of the first things my wife and also a colleague at the office commented on. A set of Grado SR80s we have at the office weighs half a pound and the Sony MDR-V600 we have weighs just three-quarters of a pound.
From Listening Room to Concert Hall
Dolby Headphones gives you three acoustic settings: DH1 recreates a “small well-damped room” atmosphere, which accurately describes my usual listening room. DH2 gives the sound a “more acoustically live room” feel and I can attest that on Joni’s signature ballad “California” the opening dulcimer riff sounds as though it’s right by your side, and then as Joni’s characteristic voice joins in, the bass and kick drum also sound completely live. Joni’s voice seems to be everywhere at once, but the rhythm guitars, dulcimer, bass, and drum set are placed in a 3D soundstage, with you the listener right in the midst of the sound.
When you switch to DH3, which mimics the acoustics of a large concert hall, Joni’s voice becomes a bit more ethereal, and you are now set back a bit from the other musicians, with the expected sonic reverberations that one would expect in a large concert hall. These effects were astounding on “This Flight Tonight” with the guitars’ metallic strings echoing in grand concerthall fashion.
Back at the office, I used the A/V outs on the Audiovox portable DVD player that was part of our survey in this issue (see pages 86–96) to connect up the HD1500 and the resulting sound was none short of amazing. The Audiovox and other portable players we reviewed beg for ear buds at the minimum and more preferably a good set of headphones to fully present their sound. But add Dolby Headphones technology, as in the Philips HD1500, and the partnership gives you live concert-hall surround- sound sonics at their best.
Given that the Audiovox portable plays DVD Video, in addition to CD Audio, I decided to switch the Philips HD1500’s mode to MOVIE and am I glad I did. On other ear buds and headsets we used in our testing of the DVD portables, the resident Dolby Digital selection on the players did a fair job of imitating surround sound, but add the Dolby Headphones technology of the Philips with this combination and you’d swear you’re driving a full set of front right and left speakers, center channel, and front and rear surrounds. Dolby Headphones technology transforms the portable’s sound from semi-cinema to near-authentic theater acoustics. As I played the DVD of Rent, I did the same sort of walking about the office as I had done at home (to the printer down the hall, for example). Although I obviously couldn’t view the video away from the Audiovox, the sound was large and theater-like on my walking tour, with all the touches surround-sound adds, to make the DVD audio experience more grandiose.
The Philips Dolby Headphones improved upon the Audiovox’s CD Audio, as well. In “Hope There’s Someone” and other cuts from indie torch-song crooner Antony and the Johnsons’ release I Am a Bird Now [Secretly Canadian], the audio palette of ethereal voice harmonies blended with viola, cello, sax, horns, guitar (and even morse code, in one case)—all sound a bit muddled and indistinct in stereo, but through Dolby Headphones technology, especially in the concert hall mode, the panoply of instruments and voices have distinct textures and 3D presence that make the listening experience movingly visceral.