The expansion of the mobile devices brings a slew of accessories. Many well-known PC component makers have subsidiary brand specialized at accessories such as headphones, speakers, Bluetooth peripherals that target at mobile devices. Antec is one of the companies that is well-known among PC enthusiasts for their cases, power supply and cooler. Their a.m.p (antic mobile products) is a brand that is specialized at mobile products. Among the amp products, Antec currently carries speaker, headphone, and power banks.
The latest product that Antec has launched is the a.m.p. pulse, a midrange headphone priced at $149.99 that is designed for audiophiles who demand higher quality sound that than your run of the mill headset that is included with your smart phone or those you find at some electronic store. Often we find cheap headsets retailed at $30~$60 range and more expensive headphone often asks for the $200 or higher. With the pulse, Antec is betting on casual audiophiles who love to have high audio quality without spending a lot of cash. Does it worth your money to spend the extra cash for the pulse? Let’s find out.
Packaging and Hardware
Let’s first get the naming correct, the headphone is called “pulse” (i.e. lowercase) and not “Pulse”. We are not sure why Antec decided to go with all lowercase here but at least the name “pulse” carries the message that it is meant for those who want a good thumping sound that reminded us a lot of the brand “Beats”.
The pulse has a very nice retail packaging where we get sneak peek of the side of the headphone through the plastic see-through retail box. Removing the clear plastic cover portion of the box and we are presented with headphone secured in the cardboard box.
The box is not your typical five sided sealed box. Rather, one side of the box is flexible where upon lifting one of its face, we are presented with the bundled accessories box. Underneath it is where the pulse is located.
The pulse is shipped with a carry case, a micro-USB charging cable, a 3.5” audio cable, a two-prone airline adapter, the manual and some marketing documents.
My first impression with the pulse is its excellent build quality. The images found online does not do the headphone justice as it really does not gives you the idea just how well the headphone feels. Even just looking through the plastic cover of the retail package, it is hard to get a sense of just how well the pulse feels at hand. You really got to hold it in your hand to appreciate its build quality.
The pulse is made with two types of plastic. The exterior of the headphone is made with smooth plastic that has a shiny coating and the inside is matted plastic with a bit of rubbery feel. It has excellent in hand feel where all of the corners and joints are polished so that there is no tiny little plastic pieces protruding out.
The pulse is a two toned color design where you can see our review sample is black and orange. Antec also has other mix of colors: blue/white, white/gray, pink/gray, and all black for you to choose from. The two toned color is not the most attention grabbing like some headphones out there but it does look pretty nice. It carries a certain level of playfulness with the bright orange color as we have seen the trend now with many mobile devices.
The pulse is an over-the ear headphone where there is a little padding on the top of the headband. In addition, the ear-cups are also cushioned to provide better comfort and noise-isolation. The ear cup extensions are reinforced with a piece of metal that helps to extend the headphone’s durability. A lot of headphones uses just plastic for the headband that often are easily broken or chips so we appreciate what Antec has done here. The two ear-cups are fold-able with reinforced metal hinge. This again will help with the durability of the hinge as the cups are folded repeatedly.
The ear-cups can be extended out about 3 centimeters on either side so you can adjust it to best match your ear. The padded cushion is made with faux leather that also has a very smooth texture. It does a decent job at blocking out the ambient noise but it does not completely block out all of the noises. If you are in a busy street or in a loud area, you could still hear a bit of surrounding noise and have to turn the volume up slightly. Most headphone uses donuts shaped padding where a hollow hole in the middle of the ear cup where the ear is completely enclosed by the padding. With the pulse, the center of the padding has a bit of indentation but not hallow. This results the ear cups press against your ear as oppose to enclosing it. If you wear the headphone for a long period of time, it can be rather uncomfortable and the ear can get a bit hot. Also, since the headphone just sits on top of your ears, the smooth faux leather material used for the padding causes the headphone to easily slides off when it get a wet from sweating, making it non-ideal to use for working out.
We found that the headband is also a bit tight. Since I wear eye-glasses, the tightness often will press against the temple and the bend of the glass that after a couple of hours of wearing the headphone, it also adds a little bit of discomfort. After testing the headphone for a few weeks, the bands does loosen a bit that helps to ease the discomfort. The cushion on the ear cups and the headband helps out with the comfort level and the weight of the headphone is not overly heavy that it hurts to wear it for a long period of time. Still, because of the eye-glass, I am not sure if I would wear the pulse all day long. Obviously, how you feel about the tightness of the headphone is a very subjective matter since not everyone wears glass and everyone’s head-size is different.
Internally, the pulse supports Bluetooth v3.0 with support for SBC and apt-X. It supports Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote control Profile (AVRCP), Hands-free profile (HFP), and Headset Profile (HSP). The headphone has rated wireless range of up to 10 meters. The frequency response is 20 Hz to 20KHz.It features dBs, a proprietary high-response-driver technology that boosts the bass sound to give you the extra bump when you need it.
All of the controls and the ports are located on the right ear-cup. Here we have the power button that also works as multi-functional button, volume rocker, media playback control that includes forward, backward, pause/play, and a large phone button. While the tiny buttons help to maintain a nice overall aesthetic of the headphone as they are hidden from the view, they are a bit hard to use. The buttons are a bit too small and a tad too crowded in the same location which makes it hard to distinguish them apart. We occasionally press the volume up button as oppose to down or fast-forward. We also sometimes hit the pause when we are trying to skip songs and even accidentally hit the power button a few times by accident. Luckily the buttons are easy to press and not sticky and we have no trouble registering the commands.
We do appreciate the dedicated volume and especially the media playback so that there is no need to take out the phone and turn it on in order to skip a song. Despite many phones do support voice command, they do not often work that well. And even if they do, it is still a bit silly to tell your phone to skip a track especially if you are in a quiet place. We like the fact that we can simply reach to the right side of the headphone to adjust the playback.
While hard to notice, the pulse actually has a speaker hole located just underneath the media playback buttons. The single microphone hole let us to use the headphone to answer calls. Despite the lack of extended microphone boon, the microphone on the pulse actually works rather well. It has no trouble picking up our voice. During test calls, the receiving end can clearly hear our voice clearly. The call function is achieved with the single phone button on the right side of the earcup. Pressing it during an incoming call will answer the call and press it during a conversation will hang up a call. To activate the voice command on the pulse, you would use the power button that also services as a multi functional button where a single press activate the voice command of your phone. Double press the power button will redial previous dialed number. These functions work quite well and we had no trouble to make call with voice command.
Micro-USB Charging and 3.5” Audio Port
The charging port and the 3.5mm audio bypass port are also located on the right side of the headphone. Like many Bluetooth headphones, the pulse uses micro-USB for charging and Antec has tossed in the USB cable but no power adapter is included. So you would need to charge it through a laptop/desktop with a USB connector or even use the power brick that came with the smart phone.
One of the neat features with the pulse is its ability to turn into a wired headphone. Simply plug-in the included 3.5’’ cable and you are able to listen to the music when it runs out of any juice. Unfortunately, none of the special buttons are accessible when the cord is plugged in. This means you would not be able to use it to skip calls or adjust volumes. The cable that Antec includes is about 1 meter long which is a tad short. The connector on the cord are reinforced and one end is angled for easier to use with our mobile device.
Given to the fact that most of us probably would prefer to use the pulse wirelessly, the inclusion of the cord is probably meant to be used in case the battery died or in the place such as airplane that you cannot use any wireless connectivity. So, the length probably will not be much of an issue. Antec even includes an airline adapter with the pulse where it allows you to use the headphone on the plane. This is a nice touch as you do not often see headphone manufacturers include such adapter.
Right between the 3.5’’ port and the micro USB port is a single multi-color Status LED indicator. The light will blink different color depending on the headphone’s status such as blue when it is on and red when battery life is low. We are really not a fan of the blinking light as the light can be a bit too bright if you are in a dark room. Furthermore, the constant blinking is simply annoying even when the device is fully functioning. We do not mind if it is charging or when the battery is low but when it is functioning normally, we much prefer a solid light.
To pair the pulse, you simply have to press the power button for about eight seconds till you see the status light alternating red and blue lights. This puts the pulse in pairing mode where you would be able to select it on your host device (mobile phone, computer, tablets, etc). The entire process is very simple and hassle free. A lot of newer Bluetooth devices are equipped with NFC chip that allows tap to pair but that feature has not yet being added to the pulse. Honestly, we do not mind doing the pairing manually as our experience with some of the tap to pair NFC equipped devices are less than perfect.
The pulse has a decent range. It has a rated 10 meter wireless range but of course that is often in an open air where there is no obstruction. We noticed a bit of signal lost when we are across a different room that is about 5 meters (15 feet) away which is similar to other headphone and Bluetooth devices we have tested.
Compare to a lot of $50 headphones, the pulse is clearly able to yield a much fuller range of sound. Though the audio does not appear to be as clear as some of the expensive headphones at the similar price range. The pulse produces a very rich bass sound that is not too overpowering and it produces a rather full sound across the spectrum. However, the mid and high sometimes sounded a bit distant. The audio coming out of the pulse also sounded a bit muffled, possibly due to the padding that Antec uses on the earcups where it results the driver to be farther from the ear and blocks some of the audio integrity.
Listening to single type of sound like podcasts where it has primarily voice recording, the pulse works very well since it blocks quite a lot of ambient noise and the voice is very crisp and clear. Watching movie with pulse is also great since the action sequence and dialog are often not happened simultaneously. This means that you would be able to enjoy the sound effects during the fast-moving action sequence with the good bass and the balanced sound while also able to hear the conversation in the dialog with the background music. Thank to the noise-cancellation, you would also able to block out enough ambient noise if you are using it on a public place. However, for listening music with vocals, the pulse may not give you the audio integrity that you hope to get. It is possible to mess around with the player’s equalizer so that it can achieve a better sound but a true audiophiles may find the pulse lacks the clarity. Casual listener may find the sound to be good enough especially if you are coming from a cheap $50 headphone.
The included rechargeable lithium polymer battery has a rated battery life of up to 8 hours of continuous playback. The battery life on the pulse is excellent where we are able to play music continuously for over 12 hours with the volume set to mid level. Obviously, if you crank the volume up to the highest level, you would expect less time but with 8 hours of playback, you are set for a long flight across the continents. Even when the battery runs out, you can simply whip out the 3.5’’ audio cable to continue enjoying the music playback.
To fully charge the pulse takes about 3 hours which is pretty standard. Since the device has no battery level indicator, we do not know if it supports any quick charging technology. One thing we really like to have with a lot of headphones is a better battery level indicator. We wish to have a more detail level indicator than just a single blinking light to inform us if we should charge it before we plan our trip.
As with many Antec products, the pulse has a very good build quality. The two toned color is good-looking despite not being as attention grabbing as others on the market. The material it uses feels very high-grade and the padded earcups and reinforced band helps with the comfort and durability. It has good battery life and the included control is easy to uses despite being a bit small. The ability to use the headphone as wired or wireless is a great so that you can still enjoy music while the battery is low.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues we have with the pulse that would make it otherwise a great inexpensive headphone. First, the pulse definitely need some improvements with the ear cups design so that it can help to reduce discomfort and possibly improves upon its audio quality. While the audio quality coming out of the pulse is clearly better than some cheap headphones, it is not as well-balanced as we would have like to see compare to other headphones in the similar price range. Do not take us wrong, the pulse yields a balanced rich audio and good thumping bass that is not overly powering but the mid and high can sometimes feel a bit tiny and distant. The muffled audio is a bit of a let down as well.
Thanks to the noise-cancellation, the pulse can be a decent headphone if you are primarily listening to podcasts or use it to watch movies on the go. Casual music listeners probably would enjoy the headphone and the media control functionality. However, it will not satisfy audiophiles that demand absolute high quality sound bite. Ultimately, the headphone has a lot of offer and as with any headphone, you really should try one yourself to see if it is comfortable enough for you and sounded great to your own set of ears.