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Plane Quiet's Solitude noise reducing headphones have been updated with the addition of special audio sound processing circuitry.

Whether you like the subtle effect of the Linx audio or not is pretty much a moot point.  The sound processing is very subtle, and the headphones don't cost any more than the earlier Solitude headphones they now replace.

 
 
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Solitude with Linx Audio Noise Cancelling Headset

Now with new Linx audio sound processing and the same price as the Solitude 2 headphones they replace
 

The original Solitude was designated 2005 Best Travel Product Winner by Reader Voting

The new Linx audio equipped Solitude headset is identical to the previously reviewed Solitude II headset in almost all visible respects, other than for the addition of a Linx logo on the side.

Part 14 of a series on noise reducing headphones - click for Parts  One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven  Eight  Nine  Ten  Eleven  Twelve  Thirteen  Fourteen

We've previously reviewed and very much liked the first two models in the Plane Quiet Solitude series of noise reducing headphones.

They've now added an interesting and innovative new feature to the headphones - Linx audio processing, claimed to improve the sound quality, particularly for people with some hearing loss.

Unfortunately, we find the results of the Linx processing almost impossible to detect (we were told that was perhaps because we had no hearing loss!) and completely can't understand the underlying theory of what the Linx processing is supposed to do, why, or how.

The headphones don't have a defeat switch to turn off the Linx processing.  The good news is the Linx processing does not appear to harm the quality of the audio, but neither does it seem to appreciably improve it.  Fortunately you're not being charged any extra for this feature, so perhaps the value of the Linx processing becomes a moot (or should I say mute) point.

With a list price of $200, the Solitude with Linx noise canceling headphones are $100 below their arch competitor, the Bose Quiet Comfort 2.  Few people will see any extra value in the $100 more expensive Bose product, and most will choose the Solitude accordingly.

Executive Summary

The new Solitude headphones with Linx sound processing are an interesting new product from the Plane Quiet Group.  In addition to the Linx audio, there have been some other subtle tweaks to improve their performance over the Solitude 2 headphones they replace.

  • A new material goes into the earpads, giving a better and more comfortable fit between the headphones and the side of your head, and also increasing the passive noise blocking performance of the headphones.

  • Slightly higher impedance improves audio fidelity.

  • The noise detecting microphones have been slightly moved, and the noise cancelling algorithm slightly tweaked so as to make a small improvement to the active noise cancelling performance.

Some listeners may feel the Linx audio makes the sound 'nicer', but whether that is due to a placebo effect or to something more tangible is uncertain.  Furthermore, even if there is a change in tonal quality, are you wishing to listen to 'nice' sound or are you wishing to listen to 'pure' sound exactly as you'd hear in real life?

Fortunately the Linx processing is very subtle, so the question isn't a burning one that really needs much of an answer.

I've tried to avoid too much repetition between this review and the Solitude II review, with this review here concentrating mainly on the differences between the two headphones.  So to get a complete understanding of all issues, you should read both reviews.

The Solitude with Linx Active Noise Cancelling Headset - what you get

Apart from the enhancements listed above, everything you get with the Linx version Solitude noise canceling headphones is identical to what you get with the standard Solitude II headphones and so you can read that section of the Solitude II review without needing to make any changes.

Indeed, everything is so identical that there's almost no reference to or explanation of the Linx audio processing, other than a single short sentence on the outside of the box which reads

The patented Linx Audio system transmits a more efficient sound to the inner ear, enhancing sound quality, improving speech intelligibility and increasing perceived loudness without increasing the volume control of the audio device.

One would have hoped for a more detailed description, perhaps in the manual, but the manual is the standard Solitude manual and makes no reference at all to the Linx feature.

Headphones Description

The new Linx equipped headphones are almost completely identical, from the outside, to the current Solitude II non-Linx headphones.

The only visible difference is a subtle logo saying 'Linx Audio' on the ear cups.  Dimensionally they seem identical, although there's an imperceptible half ounce extra in weight for the Linx headphones - 8.6 oz instead of 8.2 oz, presumably reflecting the weight of the Linx components that were added.

Noise Cancelling Functionality

The noise cancelling abilities of the Linx type Solitudes seems to be very similar to that of the regular Solitude II headphones, with possibly a very small degree of improvement.

There is one noticeable improvement - there is slightly less audio hiss with the Linx headphones.  This is slightly surprising - I'd have thought the extra electronics would have added to the hiss level, but - at least with the test set I had - the hiss level was slightly less, and after further research, it appears that the Linx feature doesn't involve much active electronics, but rather uses passive components (magnetic cores).

Comfort and Convenience

The new Linx version of the Solitude headphones have an upgraded (ie softer) material used in the earcup surrounds.  This not only makes the fit more comfortable but it also more effectively seals the headphone to your ear, providing slightly better passive sound blocking.

Other than that, there are no differences between the regular Solitude headphones and the Linx version.

The Linx Audio Feature

And now for the part you (and I) have been eagerly waiting for.  The Linx Audio.

What it is claimed to do

The Linx audio is claimed to offer a range of benefits.  According to the developer's website

Linx alters the the audio signal carrying a more efficient sound to the inner ear, enhancing sound quality, improving speech intelligibility and increasing perceived loudness without increasing the volume control of the audio device.

At identical volume levels, products with LINX will sound richer, louder and clearer, providing access to everyday audio and communication products for people with hearing loss, and providing a means [f]or other listeners to "Turn it Down™".

The website goes on to claim the Linx technology filters undesirable sound, soft clips distortion, reduces electromagnetic interference, and increases loudness without increasing volume.

The Linx technology is apparently based primarily on a small magnetic core with wire around it that the audio signal passes through before then being transferred on to the headphone speaker (ie it is in series with the headphones).

This would seem to be a derivative of a regular audio 'choke' - a device which selectively impedes the flow of signal based on the frequency of the signal passing through.

The website offers some unexplained and fuzzy miniature graphs to support its claims; I don't really understand what they are or what their significance is, but here they are, directly copied for your similar edification :

Formal laboratory testing

The folks at Plane Quiet kindly gave permission to offer to you a laboratory analysis of the Linx technology - click here for the pdf of this report.

However, this report doesn't fully evaluate all aspects of the Linx technology and its claims.  It starts off by referring to claims of the validity of Linx but never really tests for these claims, limiting itself to reporting on any observed differences as seen through their test equipment, rather than tangible differences that people can hear.  This is of course partially unavoidable in a scientific objective test, but still somewhat disappointing.

Page 11 of the report shows the extra harmonics generated by the Linx audio at normal listening volumes.  These extra harmonics appear to be small rather than substantial.  Page 12 shows the extra harmonics when the Linx audio is played at 'maximum peak levels' - although there are clearly more harmonics at the too-high level, who is going to want to play music too loud in order to hear these effects?

This also conflicts with one of the developer's claims - you can turn down the volume lower than normal with the Linx technology.  Indeed, based on these two tests, it may be that the quieter the sound level, the less perceptible the Linx technology, quite the opposite of what was claimed.

One interesting part of the formal testing was a discovery that the Linx hardware adds a small amount of extra distortion to the signal, but this extra distortion 'tricks' the ear into believing there is less rather than more overall distortion when actually listening to music.  This effect was observed in my actual testing (see below).

The testing is silent on the developer's claims for 'soft clipping' and reducing electromagnetic interference, and simply accepts and repeats without testing the claim about improved intelligibility.

Linx has won awards

To be fair to Linx, products with the Linx technology in them have won awards at the annual Consumer Electronic Show in both 2006 and 2007.

Obviously some people think Linx is good.  But there is no shortage of products which win high end awards but which offer 'ordinary people' no tangible benefit (just think about things like ridiculously expensive audio cables and all the extravagant claims that are made in support of them), and so the mere winning of awards does not necessarily guarantee any real world tangible benefits.

Subjective impressions

I listened carefully to a range of classical music sources - both solo instrument (violin and piano) as well as orchestral and vocal pieces, using a pair of Solitude II headphones and a pair of Solitude with Linx headphones, both connected through a Boostaroo splitter to the same audio source (MP3 player with 192kb sampled audio tracks).  I did the testing 'blind' so as not to know which headphones were the Linx ones and which were the regular ones.

The difference in sound quality was almost imperceptible.  Perhaps the Linx headphones sounded very slightly 'brighter' and 'clearer', but also slightly less 'rich' in tone, but this difference was very subtle and may have been my imagination.

Other people who tested the headphones side by side also reported no major difference in sound quality.

When listening to the headphones with no audio source connected, the background hiss sounded slightly less through the Linx headphones than the regular headphones.

Overall, the differences that I could perceive between the Linx equipped and regular Solitude noise reducing headphones were slight and inconsequential rather than revolutionary.

Does Linx work better for people with hearing loss?

It was suggested that my inability to detect an appreciable difference when using the Linx equipped headphones may be due to my not having any substantial hearing loss.

It is possible my hearing is relatively good, although I'm slightly the wrong side of 50, and so would expect to have some age related hearing loss.

But surely the better one's hearing, the easier it is to detect changes to the sound signal?

On the other hand, there are credible testimonials from people with severe hearing loss who say they can notice a great difference when comparing Linx to non-Linx headphones.  I haven't met or interviewed any of these people giving testimonials, so can only pass this on without comment or endorsement.

Other Observations and Issues

In most other respects the Linx and non-Linx versions of the Solitude headphones seem to be identical.

Where to Buy

These headphones are no longer made.  See our review of the Solitude X headphones for the latest generation of Solitude headphone technology.

Summary and Recommendation

After a couple of years of giving Bose an increasingly intense amount of competition, the original and enhanced Solitude II probably drew almost even with the Bose Quiet Comfort II, especially when the $100 saving was factored in to the equation.

The new Solitude with Linx is now slightly better than the Solitude II it replaces, and at the same appealing price point, further strengthening these headphones' place as best value for people wanting a high level of noise cancelling at a sensible price.
 

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Originally published 1 Dec 2006, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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