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Hands on: Vie Shair

Can these crazy Kickstarter headphones possibly be comfy? We tried a pair

Throw away everything you would expect from a headphone, The Vie Shair don’t fit that mold. This is a headphone that moves the speaker away from the ear and exposes it for everyone to hear. At a time when most manufacturers are trying to close the gap and snuff out ambient noise, the Vie Shair headphones not only buck convention, they’re downright wacky.

Could there may be a method to the madness here? That depends on your point of view. Vie Style’s inaugural pair of cans is part of a Kickstarter campaign that touts their unusual design as the most comfortable pair of cans you’ve ever worn. No more pinched ears or sweaty lobes — just a great pair of ‘phones you can rock for hours, discomfort-free.

Does this nutty approach work? We tried them to find out.

An ‘open air’ design

To get the skinny on the Vie Shair, Digital Trends met with founder Yazz Imamura, who came armed with a sample we could try out. At first glance, they look more like a pair of on-ear headphones than ones designed to envelop the ear.

The most interest we’ve received has been from those working in office environments.

The Vie Shair can be used with either an open-air frame that allows a certain amount of ambient noise in (and headphone noise out), or a sealed frame that does not. Both come with the headphones, though neither variant looked to be the company’s final design, particularly the closed one, which were 3D-printed prototypes. These frames easily clip on and off each ear cup with a slight twist. They use clamping pressure to remain in position, but we never felt any serious pressure while using them.

Each cup also has an LED ring that can illuminate during playback, with five different colors to choose from: red, blue, yellow, green, or white. You can also turn them off if you want to preserve some battery, or just don’t care for the bling.

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The headband, which is going to be given more slack to adapt to smaller heads in the model going to Kickstarter backers, comprises soft pleather with two metal rings above it. We found it too limited in adjustability, a point Imamura says is already being dealt with.

The right cup has volume control buttons, a headphone jack, Bluetooth button and a micro-USB port for charging. Another switch toggled the Vie Shair between receiving and transmitting audio from other Vie Shair headsets, a feature meant for multi-user playback. Ad hoc pairing is handled via a free iOS and Android app. Imamura says “an unlimited number of users can connect within a 30-meter radius.” That’s one way to get a silent disco going.

A major omission is an onboard microphone. Imamura says this was done to reduce costs and because the active noise cancellation the company wants to implement isn’t ready yet.

In identifying his target audience, Imamura cited gamers, runners, silent-disco enthusiasts, and, naturally, anyone who hates feeling their ears scrunched over longer playback periods.

“The most interest we’ve received has been from those working in office environments,” says Imamura. “They want to be able to hear the ambience around them, like incoming phone calls, pages, or the boss approaching. People playing instruments are also showing interest to hear the music as they play.”

Flat versus coned

That being said, these are by no means meant for audiophiles, so we’ll get that out of the way from the start. The design simply precludes the Vie Shair from being considered in that class. Instead, they are somewhere in the mid-range, if we’re going by the $400 retail price tag for non-backers (backers can snag a pair in black or white starting at $200) with form factor and user experience taking center stage.

Speaking of form factor: Going with this unique design meant Vie Shair couldn’t use traditional dynamic speakers, so they opted for flat planar magnetic drivers instead, a type of transducer well known for its clean, clear sound, quick transient response, and high dynamics. Imamura also points to better battery life.

What we noticed was slightly different. The sealed frame, in keeping sound contained around the ear, creates passive noise isolation, as well as a sort of concert-hall effect. The sound has to travel further from the cup to the ear, and with all the resulting reverb going on, the acoustics are quite different. We kind of liked it, and immediately thought of a qualitative effect on listening to live music.

The sacrifice from this design comes from the lows. You get a little bass, but Beats-style thumpers these are most definitely not.

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It should be noted, however, that Vie Shair has partnered with Yamaha to manufacture all future versions of these headphones. The model we tried will have the company’s Mach-5 audio module, one of its highest-quality codecs, making room for better fidelity and an onboard 3-band equalizer. The equalizer will have a handful of presets on genre, with an unconfirmed number of custom presets, all controlled through an app.

Comfort

Wearing the Vie Shair with the open air frame, we expected there would be obvious noise leakage, both in and out from the speaker. But, as we sat in an area with plenty of ambient noise, we were surprisingly not distracted by it, though we couldn’t be sure how much the people around us could hear.

“Noise leakage is not the problem. We have the flat speaker, so compared to the dynamic cone speaker, the sound is more focused than expansive,” he says. “Not a lot of sound would leak out. It’s sound coming in from the outside that we really have to work on.”

Vie Shair
Ted Kritsonis/Digital Trends

We’d have to give these a real test run in crowded and quiet places to see how true that claim is. Imamura says he’s worn them for up to six hours, never feeling an ounce of pain or discomfort — or disturbing anyone. We didn’t have that kind of time, but could believe that figure because there is no real pressure applied on the head or ears. The design of these headphones might, however, turn a few heads.

Battery life is rated at eight hours on Bluetooth, down to four if in transmission mode. Those numbers are likely to be lower if you tend to raise the volume.

Conclusion

How many people want to listen to music without blocking out the environment? We’re not sure, yet it’s the cornerstone of the product. The lack of a mic, even on the cable, is inexcusable for headphones at this price range. If $80 earbuds can have an inline mic, then so can the Vie Shair. It is technically possible to use a third-party cable to step in, and gamers could theoretically attach a boom mic to the jack on the right cup, except it shouldn’t have to come to that.

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Are the Vie Shair headphones more comfortable to wear? We would say yes, particularly for longer sittings, but there are certainly other headphones available that can be quite comfortable in the short run. No two pairs of ears are the same, but it would be fair to say that these would suitably enclose most pairs.

This “Kickstarter model” is an entry point, and the “final design” is set for a spring 2017 launch.

Highs

  • Comfortable to wear
  • Passive noise-cancellation (with sealed frame)
  • Concert hall effect
  • Yamaha build and audio support

Lows

  • No microphone
  • Sharing features unproven
  • Noise leakage a possible distraction