Meters Music, a Ashdown Engineering brand, took the iconic analog VU meter and built one into each earpiece of its $ 350 OV-1-B Connect Bluetooth earphones. Visually, these noise-canceling headphones are a sight to behold, with an industrial design you won’t find anywhere else.
VU meters (the acronym stands for unit of volume) are a physical representation of an audio signal level; as such, they play an important role in the professional capture and playback of sound. As used here, they simply lend a touch of retro design; after all, you can’t see the levels when you are wearing the headphones unless you are looking at yourself in a mirror. Unfortunately, the below-average audio performance of the OV-1-B Connect falls short of this exciting industrial design.
Ashdown Engineering is renowned for its superb amplification for countless musicians, especially bassists. When it comes to the OV-1-B Connect, the hardware is the focal point. Along with the illuminated VU meters (more on these in a second), the Connects are solidly built and look great. The aluminum and plastic body isn’t as heavy as it looks, and the faux leather cups and top band are soft, with plenty of padding. I think these headphones look great from all angles and offer a unique style compared to all the standard black ANC headphones on the market today.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find them particularly comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The circular ear cups are big, but not big enough to avoid resting on my earlobes. On top of that, their very strong clamping force pushed the inner part of the helmet against my ears, despite all the padding on the cups. After hours of use my head and ears got tired and I got a slight headache if I didn’t take a break.
The VU meters themselves are big and bold and feature RGB backlighting, which can be customized through the app. However, a few design choices left me confused. First, the meters themselves are calibrated so that they only move when the volume is at a very high level. Without going into the details of the VU meter calibration, I will just say that it was a bummer listening at my normal volumes and not having it represented on the meters.
The point of having the meters on the side is to show them in action, but I rarely listen at levels that would make them bounce back. My wife was confused during my testing times and thought I wasn’t listening to anything at all because she couldn’t see any movement on the needles.
Second, the VU meters do not represent the actual signal levels transmitted via Bluetooth or input via the 3.5mm jack; rather, it appears to use the ANC feedback microphone inside the cup to measure levels. I understand why they did this, but it means the visual representation will not be consistent depending on whether or not you are using ANC. To test, I removed the cans and watched the meters change the overall levels while the ANC was on and off.
A final point on the hardware design: there is no switch to turn off the headphones. You can turn the Bluetooth radio on and off independently of the ANC; so if you don’t turn off bluetooth and ANC, either function will continue to drain the battery.
I did the majority of my listening tests with ANC enabled, using both high quality streaming and local CD sources connected via aptX HD (which the Meters OV-1-B Connect supports). With ANC off, these headphones are far from accurate, but I found the OV-1-B Connect’s 40mm speakers to have a lot of power and were tuned for crisp mids and highs. sparkling. Considering the Ashdown heritage, I expected an amplified low end, but instead got a fairly well balanced performance. Genres like classic rock and metal benefited from this chord, while pop and dance-heavy tunes were a bit too sharp in the high end and lacked a thud.
Turning on ANC effected the signal in the usual way, cutting off some of the lower range, which is disappointing as everything that needs a bang like rap was missing. What was more noticeable was the horrible hiss in the signal. While he was usually masked when playing music, he was in the foreground during the break. The ANC did a pretty fine job of filtering out the noise, but add the noise was very upsetting.
ANC noise aside, when listening at low levels the music sounded flat, it had a hard time showing through. It wasn’t until the pilots were pushed hard that the mixes started to come to life. This could be because the pilots weren’t sufficiently honed, but I spent many, many hours with the speedometers – as I do with all the headphones I have tested – and the time has not overcome this flaw. Again, I wouldn’t call these headphones accurate, but with the right genres, I had a good listening experience.
At the end of the line
I really wanted to love the Meters OV-1-B Connect headphones. But for $ 350, I would never recommend them over the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 – unless you to have Make a statement.
From calibrating the VU meter to adjusting the sound, these headphones are meant to be used at 11 a.m., and it’s just not a full experience. Add to that the simple application experience and the uncomfortably tight fit, and the OV-1-B meters fall far short of the comparably priced competition in this crowded market.