Hands on with Headquake

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Does the music on your iOS device sound a little flat? Sonic Emotion makes a 3D sound technology called Absolute 3D that is used in a number of sound bars and iPhone docking stations. It attempts to create a wider, "3D" sound field with a limited number of speakers set close together.

If you're like me, you do most of your iPhone music listening through headphones. For us, Sonic Emotion makes a $0.99 app called Headquake. It's supposed to make your music sound better by creating the impression of a wide sound stage with improved bass.

It only sort-of works, and even though it costs just one buck, it's probably not worth it for many iOS device owners.

The Headquake app begins with what can only be described as a short commercial for Sonic Emotion. Every time you fire it up a booming voice bellows, "Experience Sonic Emotion 3D sound!" No music player really needs to do this. From there, you choose the type of headphones you have: Apple's earbuds, in-hear headphones, or large headphones. You then have access to all the music you've synced with your iOS device—by artist, album, song, or playlist.

The personalize menu consists of three headphone options.

As you're listening to the song, you get three sliders to play with, along with a visual representation of the sound field. The Position slider moves sound from the sides around to the front and back, Ambiance essentially adds room echo, and Volume does what it always does. Basic music controls like play/pause, track skip, repeat, and shuffle are available. It's kind of an ugly interface.

As with most technologies that attempt to make a 3D sound space with just left and right channel audio, the results are mixed at best. On some songs, you genuinely get the impression that you're listening to loudspeakers in a big room. Much of the time, it's like listening to music in a bathroom, with enough echo and distortion to ruin the "crisp" sound of a hi-hat or to make Sting sound a bit like he's underwater. You can make some adjustments to the sliders as you listen, but who wants to fiddle around with that all the time? A feature to recognize and remember you settings on a per-song basis would be a big improvement. Likewise, the "3D Off" button only works for a few seconds. I was given the overall impression that Sonic Emotion is charging people a dollar for a sales pitch.

The real problem with the app, and most sound-enhancement apps for iPhone, is that it's limited to the music you sync. I almost never listen to synced music anymore. If I'm not listening a podcast from my podcast app, then I'm listening to a music service like Spotify or Rdio. Headquake doesn't work with other apps, it's just a music player in itself.

Even if I was completely sold on the audio enhancements made by Headquake, it would be hard to recommend because it's just not a very good music player. It's very basic and not terribly attractive. If Sonic Emotion makes some significant improvements, I can see the app being worth its meager price for those stuck listening to Apple's awful earbuds, but those with a good pair of headphones probably shouldn't bother.

This story, "Hands on with Headquake" was originally published by TechHive.

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