Review at 39,000 feet, somewhere between LAX and JFK
Traditionally a PC accessory powerhouse, Swiss brand Logitech has aggressively branched out into personal audio products with a range of ear- and headphones, radios and wireless speakers.
Meanwhile, American Airlines is persisting with its inflight Wi-Fi program, having partnered with Gogo to provide incredibly expensive internet connectivity on selected flights. One World partner Qantas recently abandoned its trial due to lack of customer interest.
The Ultimate Ears 9000 (UE 9000) is the premium model of Logitech’s headphone range. The sound from these headphones is very impressive, regardless of whether one uses the included cord with remote control or the Bluetooth connectivity. Having both options is handy for on American Airlines flights where using Bluetooth is forbidden.
It is unlikely passengers would pay the exorbitant prices for Bluetooth that one must pay for Wi-Fi on this flight. When you see the base rate is $10 per hour, you know it what follows will not be a cheap social media session. Having paid $20 for three hours, it was good to see Twitter royalty such as Ricky Gervais, Stephen Fry and Patton Oswalt all online at the same time. The real price break comes for full day access, which is only $24.95. For just under $40 per month, you can subscribe for unlimited access.
Joining the very stylish headphones in the UE 9000 box is a very smooth blue carry case, aforementioned cord with in-line remote, 6.35-millimetre adaptor, polishing cloth, USB charging cable and AC adaptor. What’s not included is a dual jack aeroplane adaptor. Considering these headphones are marketed as featuring “active noise cancellation”, a feature targeted at passenger air travel, this is a shocking oversight.
Of course, on this AA flight the aeroplane headphone jack would be redundant anyway, as entertainment is like smartphones in small offices: BYO. If you want to stream the cricket via Vodafone’s CricketLive app, you’ll find that Wi-Fi on a smartphone is cheaper than on a PC. One hour is only $6, three hours is $12 and all day is $16.95. The monthly subscription rate is unchanged.
The sound quality on the UE 9000 is impressive. The sound is full-bodied and immersive, like a Pentecostal baptism, with consistently clear response even at very loud levels. The Bluetooth range is advertised at 15 metres though it seemed longer when tested at the LAX departure lounge. The listed battery life time is 20 hours corded and 10 hours wireless. On a single charge these headphones have been blaring from Sydney to LA, throughout a 4-hour stopover, and now halfway between LA and New York.
Switching is allowed between devices on AA inflight Wi-Fi, though not concurrently. This comes in handy if you want to pivot between uploading a story to your website and streaming music over your beloved Rdio iPad app.
Switching between power sources on the UE 9000 headphones, however, is unavailable, as power is provided solely from the rechargeable battery. Everyone agrees that the advent of long-lasting reliable rechargeable batteries has been a boon for our mobile society – everybody hates expensive consumables – but if there is one device for which battery power is preferred, it’s headphones. It’s much easier to pack 20 AAA batteries in your carry-on for a long haul flight than it is to find a power outlet for USB recharging. Sure, an Airbus A380 has these outlets fitted for our convenience, but this is still the exception and not the norm.
Inflight Wi-Fi is definitely on the right side of awesome but it’s no surprise that the inelastic pricing scheme airlines and their Wi-Fi provider partners are offering is causing low take-up.
For RRP $499 you’d expect a lot from a pair of headphones and, soundwise, the UE 9000 delivers. Questions remain as to the lack of an aeroplane jack and an option for battery power, but provided users are aware of these omissions before purchasing, they only have themselves to blame for having to purchase the disposal $2 headphones from American Airlines.
This author is on Twitter: @Patrickavenell