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Review: Equalizer Apps Work Better than Clari-Fi

Review: Equalizer Apps Work Better than Clari-Fi
June 29, 2014 10:18AM

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A new audio technology called Clari-Fi comes with a special Harman Kardon edition of the HTC One M8 smartphone. Clari-Fi aims to restore some of the audio signal that is lost because of digital compression in today's download and streaming formats, but testing showed a free Android app called Equalizer seems to adjust streaming music beautifully.

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Bring back the equalizers! That's my conclusion after trying out Clari-Fi, a new technology from audio equipment maker Harman Kardon. Clari-Fi aims to restore some of the audio signal that is lost because of digital compression in today's download and streaming formats.

However, based on some testing, I'm not sure what exactly it does.

My best guess is that it kind of boosts the treble, those high-pitched sounds that can sound tinny if overdone.

But unlike the stereo receivers of decades past, it doesn't allow you to dial in a little at a time. There's only one choice: on or off.

Clari-Fi comes with a special Harman Kardon edition of the HTC One M8 smartphone, one that is available in the U.S. only through Sprint.

This phone also has a feature called LiveStage, which claims to tune your listening experience to the specific Harman Kardon earphones you are wearing. Once again, your choice is limited to on or off, and you have to select which earphones you have.

My testing consisted mostly of streaming Lily Allen's "Sheezus" album and Mumford & Sons' "Babel" over Spotify on Wi-Fi using the HTC One M8, Nokia's Lumia 1520, Apple's iPhone 5 and a computer.

I found that LiveStage basically tamps down and smooths out the sound, while Clari-Fi sharpens it back up again. Slightly.

That said, I experienced way bigger differences in sound by switching earphones.

The AE-S Premium set, which comes with the HTC phone, produced the highest treble sound of the three I was using. The most neutral was a set of earphones that came, incredibly, from a BlackBerry that I no longer use. A third set whose brand name I forget was heaviest on the bass, reminiscent of the Beats by Dre brand, which Apple is in the process of buying.

Mixing the different earphones with LiveStage and Clari-Fi on or off produced a range of results.

Having Clari-Fi and LiveStage on with the AE-S produced, for me, an unacceptable amount of tinny sound. Mumford & Sons' banjo went from twangy to screechy, while Allen's voice sounded way too whispery.

The bass-heavy earphones overpowered the impact of toggling almost completely.

With the neutral headphones, I preferred Clari-Fi and LiveStage off.

These tests made me wonder why consumers should have to subject their sound preferences to the whims of headphone manufacturers and technologists.

It's not economical -- or a good use of time -- for everyone to have to test out multiple sets of headphones with different settings. These are blunt tools to attune sound to sensitive ears. (continued...)

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© 2014 Associated Press syndicated under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.

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