Gadgets are really mental teleportation devices. They can take your mind to another place while your body is stuck in traffic or running in place at the gym. The sound of your favorite tune on your MP3 player or the laugh of your best friend over the phone are usually enough to carry you away -- back to that great concert or to that time you and your friend swore you'd never tell anybody about.
The sounds of real life have a way of intruding on your reverie, and once again, gadgets come to the rescue. Here are a few that make the world go away while keeping the good times rolling.
- Ety8 Etymonic noise-canceling earphones ($299; etymotic.com). Sure, they look a little different and cost more than a 30 gigabyte iPod, but these comfortable earphones pump up the volume while getting rid of cords. They pair up easily with Bluetooth-enabled music players, including iPods and laptops.
- Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth headset ($119; jawbone.com). Like the Ety8, the Jawbone doesn't look like its competitors. San Francisco company Aliph goes not just for style but for performance. While you chat on your Bluetooth-enabled phone from AT&T Wireless (formerly Cingular), the Jawbone uses noise-reducing technology to make your calls clearer. I thought it was a gimmick until I left messages for myself using the Jawbone and other Bluetooth devices from a noisy restaurant. The Jawbone outperformed all others I tried, though I did look like I commanded the Starship Enterprise.
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- Boostaroo Revolution portable headphone amplifier ($49.99; boostaroo.com). I reviewed this device a couple of years ago, and it's still great for boosting the volume of your music-playing device, shutting out the noise of the world around you (though possibly creating noise for your seatmate on the bus). Plus, it's now $30 cheaper than when I reviewed it in 2005.
Plug the Boostaroo Revolution into your MP3 player's headphone socket, then plug your headphone into the Revolution. This pack-of-gum-size device pumps up the volume by a factor of four across all frequencies. It also splits the MP3 signal into its component parts for clarity's sake. Bass is much more defined, and highs are clear. Using a variety of headphones, I detected no distortion and no coloring of tone.
If you're considering the Revolution, a few words of advice: Don't use it with in-ear earphones, as your surroundings will be utterly blotted out and your hearing could be damaged; set your music player's EQ to "normal" or off; though it's lightweight, the Revolution is just one more thing to carry, so I recommend choosing your favorite playlist, hitting the play button and storing your player and the Revolution in your bag; the Revolution runs on AAAA -- yes, four-A -- batteries.
- Audeo hearing aid ($2,799 at hearingplanet.com; more info at www.audeoworld.com; phonak.com). This new hearing aid joins the trend of hearing instruments that are designed to be fashionable. Aging Baby Boomers, you see, wouldn't be caught dead sporting a hearing aid. That's why Phonak calls its new Audio a "personal communication assistant" and makes it available in a range of colors. Worn behind the ear, the Audeo is being marketed as the world's smallest hearing aid. I haven't tried one yet (I still have a few years of good hearing left), but style-conscious, auditory-challenged individualists have something new to check out.