Contour SurfaceSound Compact Bluetooth Speakerphone

December 9, 2009

If you read my older reviews, you know I’m a fan of the Contour Metal bluetooth headset, so when I saw the SurfaceSound in the Apple store, I knew I would eventually pick one up to try out. several months ago, had it on sale and they ran a one day only Twitter sale for 40% off your entire order, so I was able to pick this up for about $45, which is a STEAL. I believe it will run you $99.95 from the Apple store, so I saved more then half.

The unit itself is very thin, and uses a large flat speaker for the sound. It’s got some decent weight to it, and overall, it feels very well made. The microphone is on a swiveling arm, and the clip to hold this to your visor in your car is metal, and hard to bend, almost like a spring metal. Solid, and high quality, and that is exactly what I would expect from Contour.

It comes with the obvious charging USB cable, car charger, and a single wired ear bud for private conversations. Charging is done through either the car charger, or a home USB charger, like the one that comes with your iPhone works perfectly. The USB cable is standard on one end, and what I believe is micro USB on the unit side. Pairing the unit to the iPhone was easy. Following the included instructions had me up and running in seconds.

Enough of the little things… Getting to what actually matters, the sound.

One of the biggest complaints I have with the iPhone, is that the speaker phone is almost useless in a car. With road noise, the speaker is just too quiet, and makes it near impossible to use, so I was more then happy to hear how loud the speaker was on the Contour SurfaceSound. You can raise the volume up all the way, and it’s loud, and crystal clear even over the road noise. I serious plus.

They use an anti echo technology so when your talking to someone, even when the unit is set to full volume, they do not hear themselves in echo, and if they do, you can blame AT&T and not Contour. On the receiving end, when I have spoken to people, I have always asked how I sound, and they have always told me, very clear, and didn’t know I was using a speaker at all.

I do have an issue with the design. The instructions show you should clip the unit to your sun visor in the car, closest to you, pushing it forward on the visor itself. Basically, when you then lower your visor to use it, the Contour SurfaceSound will be facing the floor, and on the bottom. My issue with this is the unit is a bit heavy, and my visor doesn’t hold it’s weight well. It tends to sag with it clipped on, so I decided to mount it on the back of the visor, to eliminate this problem.

Good idea, right? Wrong…

The Microphone on the swinging arm, regardless of how it looks, it on the front side of the arm. Mounting this backwards on my visor resulted in every people I spoke to saying “What? What?  I can’t hear you!” That’s not good. If they made the mic uni directional, the problem would be solved. The other issue I have is the actual Mic arm sticking down. In my car, when the arm is down, and in use, it’s uncomfortably close to my right eye, and I keep having this thought, that a car accident would result if having this thing removed from my eye ball. This would most likely not be the case, but I have to say, it’s a bit unnerving.

Overall, the build quality and sound quality when used correctly are outstanding. I would recommend this to anyone needing a hands free bluetooth speakerphone. For me though, I really wanted to mount this on the back of the visor (nearest the windshield) but the mic makes for inaudible speech to my friends. I supposed I could do some minor surgery like I did on the Blue Mikey, and switch the mic to the other side, but I’m not sure I’m willing to do that just yet.


Impractical Audio Recording on the iPhone

December 8, 2009

After so many failed attempts at controlling the level input of the audio recording function on the iPhone with a portable solution, I decided to try alternative means to even see if this was possible. I KNEW it was, but I need to prove it to myself, and I did. Through the most ridiculous and impractical way possible, I was able to achieve a decent level of live recording, in an extremely loud environment known to some, in a death metal band rehearsal room.

If you’re still reading this, you must be interested in this, so here’s what I used to achieve this…

Behringer Xenyx502 Mixer

Shure Beta 58 Microphone

Mic cable

1/8″ to RCA Audio / Video cable (used with camcorders for TV output)

MONO RCA to 1/8″ Adapter

1/8″ to 1/4″ Adapter

On the iPhone, there are two way to import and record Audio. The Dock connector has Audio input, and utilized by the Blue Mikey, which can record in Stereo with the right mic and software, and the headphone jack. This silly ass set up will use the headphone jack.

The 1/8″ plug on the Audio / Video cable has 3 rings. Left / Right / and the yellow is Video. On the iPhone, the Yellow (or video) plug turns into your mic input. This is used for your Apple stock earbuds with using the telephone feature of the iPhone. Yes, it IS actually a phone too!

The Behringer Xenyx502 Mixer was purchased at Guitar Center about a year ago for about $50.00. It’s their low end, simple mixer. This mixer has 2 Main Out jacks, using 1/4″ plugs, so I needed to get the RCA to 1/4″. My local Radio Shack didn’t have this, so I needed to buy an RCA to 1/8″ Mono adapter. I already owned an Stereo 1/8″ to 1/4″ and that works fine, but if I were going to purchase this, I would have picked up a mono 1/8″ to 1/4″.

So, RCA to 1/8″ to 1/4″ to the Main Out Left port on the mixer. Simple right?

I use the Shure Beta 58 into the mixer, and the Audio / Video 1/8″ plug into the iPhone’s head phone port, and I’m then able to adjust the input level of the audio using the Main Mix dial.

Using the mixer also gave me control over the treble and bass of the input, and setting the Main Mix low, the audio input was acceptable!

The band was VERY loud, and the audio recorded as clear as could be in this situation. What made this method nice in the rehearsal room, was the Shure Beta 58 was on a microphone stand, and when panning the room with with video camera, the audio remained stationary, and consistent during the recording.

What have I learned… First, I’m an idiot with way too time on my hands. I also like to overt think and expect too much from my tech. Saying that, this is entirely possible. In a controlled environment, you can shoot nice video and decent audio of a loud band, or other extremely loud noise. This however does not work well for portability, and that’s what I really want here.

It works, really well. Now I need to find an ultra portable solution.