On a cold day, there’s nothing worse than going for a walk and having to decide: Cold ears and tunes, or warm ears and no tunes? Well, now you can have them both! The Tek Fleece ear warmers feature integrated JVC headphones, and while the sound quality is not amazing, the concept and execution are first class.
Features and Design
A common problem for city dwellers and college students is the choice between ear warmers and earphones. Nothing makes a trek to campus through the snow more tolerable, or even fun, than listening to your favorite music en route. Of course, that has traditionally meant either large, poorly insulated, and bulky headphones or earbuds placed unsecurely beneath a hat or ear warmers. Layer your ears no more! The 180s Tek Fleece with integrated JVC headphones are here.
The concept is a simple one: Place headphone drivers behind a plush, fleece-lined ear warmer. It’s so simple, we wonder why there aren’t more companies making these. 180s makes some of the most comfortable, stylish and warm earpieces for all-weather uses. There are two models of the Tek series with embedded headphone drivers. The Tek Fleece is targeted toward colder climates, where warmth is the primary concern. The Tek Stretch is intended more for outdoors activity, where only a windscreen is needed. For everyday walks and your average commuter, the Tek Fleece is the obvious choice. Both cost the same ($40 MSRP), so there’s no price premium on one over the other.
The overall design of the Tek Fleece ear warmers is excellent. The earphone drivers are situated under a thick layer of fleece and inside a thin mesh pocket. Between the driver and the outside, protective elastic layer sits another layer of fleece. Needless to say, these things are very warm and cozy. The individual earpieces will accommodate all sizes of ears, and the connecting bridge between them can expand to wrap comfortably around most noggins. When not in use, the whole assembly twists into a tight ball for easy transport. The stretching of the bridge concerns us slightly, since we wonder how the cord accommodates the stretching without pulling on connectors.
The earphone pieces are enclosed in a thin fabric inside the earpiece to keep them in place. The wire connecting the earphones is very thin, but remains stationary when stretching and twists the Tek Fleece’s body. The design of the 180s prevents swapping out the earphone drivers, so there will be no mixing and matching. Of course, anyone with a sewing machine and some time can neatly tear the drivers out, but it might be a little overkill. The stereo headphone cord that runs from the Tek Fleece to your MP3 player is detachable at the left earpiece. This prevents the drivers from being ripped out of place if something should snag the cord. We would have liked to have seen the cord run out of the middle of the back bridging section, but that might have put too much weight on the back, causing the 180s to slip off the head. There is also a convenient in-line volume control knob, so your portable music player can be safely stowed away.
Image Courtesy of 180s
Performance and Use
If you have read this far and think the Tek Fleece or Tek Stretch are right for you, go ahead and pick up a pair. Our sound quality tests are of relatively little use, since there is no intended ideal environment. No one is going to be sitting inside their home expecting audiophile quality; there’s zero chance that anyone will be adding a high quality amp to the mix. These ear warmers/headphones are designed for active use, where acoustics are not even close to ideal. That having been said, we ran a selection of techno, synthpop, industrial, Britpop, jazz, and alternative through the Tek Fleece indoors and outdoors on a busy street.
The design of the Tek Fleece is open, allowing the wearer to hear the world around them. They are easy to drive but leak a lot of sound. We found that when playing through an iPod, anything over half the maximum volume was audible by passersby. Max volume was ear splitting and not enjoyable at all. The sound stage was expansive and comfortable overall. Now for the disappointing news: The sound quality is close to that of the pre-packaged ear buds you get with portable music players. In other words, bad. Highs sound like they’re passing through a tin can, lows are weak, and mids are tolerable. At modest volume levels, the problems with sound quality are much less pronounced. In a noisy environment, the distraction also lessens the perception of poor sound quality.
We should note that the Tek Fleece without earphones runs $25, so you are paying for $15 headphones in good ear warmers. We have yet to find a respectable pair of $15 headphones, so the problems with sound quality are not surprising. Still, we would like to see a version with Koss KSC75s integrated.
The 180s Tek Fleece ear warmers with integrated JVC earphones are the only option out there right now. But don’t fret; the comfort, warmth and overall convenience will help you overlook the poor acoustics inherent in any cheap set of earphones. For the price point, comfort, and practicality, the 180s Tek Fleece ear warmers are an excellent choice.
- Soft material
- Good sound quality
- Fashionable design
- Cord connects to one earpiece