This week I had a chance to take a look at (and have a listen to) a unique line of audio accessories from the Bob Marley branded House of Marley. I must admit, I'm not much of a reggae fan, let alone a fan of Bob Marley. That said, it just so happens I am a huge audiophile, so headphones and audio gear in general is definitely something I take seriously.
My package from House of Marley included a set of interesting, sustainably made headphones and a cleverly designed portable Bluetooth speaker. First out of the box was the Bluetooth Speaker, which sports a unique can-shaped design, a canvas case, and a carabiner. Here are the manufacturer specs:
- Includes custom-fit canvas protective carry bag,carabiner and storage pocket for auxiliary cable. Take your music wherever you go.
- Designed and built with natural bamboo wood and durable canvas.
- Built-in 6-hour lithium battery, these portable iPod speakers allow you to travel anywhere while listening to your favorite music.
- Clear, crisp sound. One full-range driver and one passive radiator for bass reinforcement.
The Bluetooth speaker (which ships under the fittingly named Chant) is pretty easy to get up and running, like many Bluetooth devices a long flick of the power switch sets it into sync mode. I tested it with my iPod touch 5th gen and the speaker comes up under Bluetooth settings as Chant.
In general the speaker was decently loud and not as tinny as one might expect from a small portable speaker (in fact it sounded quite good even at full volume). The speaker has some additional bonus features which make it an obvious choice for a day on the beach, including USB charging, a microphone for answering calls, and an auxiliary audio in.
In terms of design the Chant is essentially a can shape, in fact its accompanying case might also work as a beer cosy. The device is mostly plastic with what appears to be a ring of bamboo encircling the speaker grill. In general the device is quite attractive, bringing a warm and earthly feel to what is otherwise just another Bluetooth accessory.
As mentioned before, the case is made of a high quality canvas (seriously, I wish I owned a messenger bag made as well as this case is) with a hidden inside pocket to carry headphones or other small items you might be carrying to the beach. Little details like the colors of the Jamaican flag as stitching along the lip of the case really add subtle aesthetic value to the device.
In general, I have to say I really like this device. I've grabbed it several times in the past few days, tossing it in my backpack for a winter hike or kitchen party, and in bed connected to my iPad for a late night Netflix movie marathon. As someone who does a bunch of camping, I actually can't wait until next summer to make this a regular addition to my kit.
- Looks great, subtle and earthy design.
- Sound is good, volume is strong without noticeable peaking, bass is decently represented.
- The case is really a selling point of it's own, and the carabiner is also a very nice touch.
- A matter of personal taste, I could do without the Bob Marley branding (though it is barely noticeable), I only mention it because I feel they could market these without the Bob Marley name and people would still really enjoy the product.
The Rise Up Headphones
Next up we have a set of "Noise-isolating, Earth-Friendly, Over-Ear Headphones", The Rise Up, also from House of Marley. Here are some specs off the box:
- Soulfully designed with durable canvas, bamboo fiber, recyclable aluminum, and minimal recycled plastic.
- Bamboo-fiber ear cushions are soft and cool to the touch. Sound isolating design for full immersion.
- Custom engineered audio using high-performance 50mm dynamic drivers.
- 3.5-millimeter and 6.3-millimeter gold-plated connector for clear, no-static sound.
- Recyclable aluminum ring that's high quality, adds to durability and keeps materials out of the waste stream.
- The 52" fabric cord helps reduce tangles and is specially engineered to cut down on static so you get that clear sound.
- Our packaging is made from pulp, recycled plastics and recycled paper, and less of them, to cut down on what goes in the waste stream. We urge you to please recycle these packages.
The first thing I need to mention about these headphones is their overall construction and design: these are just beautifully made products. Canvas, bamboo-fiber, and aluminum, these things are just begging to be worn, and may be some of the most comfortable things I've put over my ears. They really are just spectacular, and feel more like a favorite pair of jeans than a set of headphones.
The basic frame of the headphones is made from a brassy aluminum which according to their specs is recyclable (always worth noting). The aluminum frame is covered with a thick and well stitched canvas, my test unit sporting a light green camo pattern (a second pair is also pictured with the green, yellow and red of the Jamaican flag). Though I'm not a huge fan of camo, these headphones actually look like they could be military grade I'll forgive them for a bit of a dated look.
The adjustable top band also sports some subtle details with decorative snaps and the Marley lion logo on the inside. The ear padding is comfortable, yet firm against the ears, and the bamboo fiber chosen to cover the padding is a welcome change from the plastic and rubber I'm used too. In fact even the power cable (complete with volume controls) is fabric wrapped with matching green, yellow and red stripping.
Of course these are headphones, and so more important than how they look is how they sound. I have access to some fairly high quality monitoring headphones which I use for mixing, and I definitely have essential metrics I look for in a good pair of headphones. (Note: I tested the headphones listening to a couple of different albums, for reference. I listened to Audio Video Disco by Justice, and Hot Chip, In Our Heads).
First and perhaps most obvious, is bass reproduction. The House of Marley headphones are definitely meant to reproduce a very specific kind of rhythm sound (reggae, and hip-hop) and so the bass really pumps. In general I would say that they are a bit unbalanced in that sense (I wouldn't want to mix with them) but for the target market of these headphones, bass is right around where it should be (and never overwhelming).
Second I like to look at volume range. These headphones are really loud, in fact peak volume is literally at a dangerous level. In general you should never listen to any headphones at full volume, but these could actually cause some serious hearing damage. For some this might be selling point, but as an audiophile I appreciate it when audio manufactures are really specific about the optimal range of their gear and lock in a max volume that is comfortably (and safely) loud. While excessive, keep these headphones a notch or two above 50% volume and you're set.
Finally, I look at clarity, or if you're into audio EQ the mid-high frequencies of music. Generally I found the headphones quite clear and warm in the mid range while at a reasonable decibel level. At louder volumes I definitely got some crunch and distortion, but that says more about the overall loudness of the phones. In the higher range the headphones also did a reasonable job, with no sharp peaks even at higher volumes, or without too much sharpness when listening to tracks with a lot of pops and clicks.
To wrap it up, I would in say that the headphones generally sounded pretty great, with my only really complaint being they are a quite a bit too loud (though maybe I'm just getting old).
- Impecable design, impressive attention to detail, choice of materials sets the bar pretty high
- Comfortable, highly wearable
- Great sound, strong bass reproduction
- Camo isn't the most tasteful look (I would love a blue denim set)
- Louder than safe listening level at peak volume
House of Marley has really created an interesting niche here. Their products might be marketed to the Bob Marley fan, or to those who would respond to that branding, but at the same time they've managed to create some impecably well crafted electronics. The earthy look and feel of their line of products is really something missing in the marketplace of mostly plastic gadgets we've all become so accustomed to.
My only comment overall is that while the Marley name is certainly a hip addition to the products, they don't need to sell these products on a name alone. Offer a few less Marley centric looks, like blue denim headphones, or just straight tan or black canvas, and they would seriously have some of the best looking headphones and audio accessories on the market.
(image credit: Sean Rioux)
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was provided by manufacturer for testing and review purposes.