ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware
ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware Review
I don’t like to write bad reviews, but it is hard to recommend the ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware earbuds. First, they are very expensive. Second, I had a hard time getting them to do anything more than play music on an Android device. They were better behaved with an iPhone. I understand that these are work-oriented earbuds and that they are not intended to be consumer earbuds, but at $279.99, they should offer outstanding audio, good design and a great user experience. The ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware earbuds do not deliver on any of those areas.
What we like
- Audio is OK
- Noise reduction seems to work
- Good IP rating
- They fit my ears
- 8 hours of battery life
Alright, the audio was OK after I switched to memory foam eartips. The silicon tips didn’t fit my ear well and created a lot of separation, making the audio sound even more distant and tinny than the sound actually coming through the earbud drivers. My initial tests right out of the box found the audio unlistenable.
For a product with “tunes” in its title, I expected delivering a good music experience to be more of an emphasis. There are, however, many much less expensive earbuds that offer better sound reproduction. Many of those earbuds have been reviewed on this site. While audio is listed in what we like, it’s on the bubble.
The key to these headphones and their brand is noise reduction. I could get to a place with good passive isolation and noise cancelation. The washing machine near my office was pushed back to a dull churn rather than a loud annoyance. I had to figure out which tap got me there, but I got there. The variety of memory foam eartips is also intended to provide passive noise reduction to complement the active noise reduction circuitry. I cannot determine if they meet the various noise reduction specifications they claim (OSHA and SafeMax), but given ISOtunes products, I give them the benefit of the doubt on that feature.
The manual shows an awkward set of figures that includes a memory foam squeeze and an earlobe pull. The earlobe pull seems to suggest both insertion and removal. I bring this up because none of the images shows the earloops/ear hooks. Trying to squeeze the memory foam while fitting a loop over the ear requires, let me just say, a special dexterity that I do not possess.
The earbuds are also made for harsh environments. They rate an IP67 without the boom microphone. With the boom attached, they move down to a usually more than tolerable IP56.
Regular readers will know of my issues with sports earbuds that sit too high on my ears and therefore don’t let the eartips align well with my ear canal. That is not an issue with the ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware. The removable earloops fit well, even offering a bit of room, though I never felt like the earbuds would fall out.
The eight hours of battery life is good, with three additional charges in the case.
I have to give ISOtunes props for solid environmental work on the packaging including biodegradable bags for the eartips and charging cable, though the plastic tray in the box that holds the case is not labeled for recycling.
What could be improved
- Poorly designed touch controls
- Terrible documentation
- Could not get the boom microphone to work with Android
- Giant charging case
- Flaky Bluetooth® 5.2 implementation
- Aware “buzz”
- Needs an app
- No audio specs
The ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware earbuds sit right at the top of the earbud price range, just a few dollars below Bose Quiet Comfort Ultras. The $279.99 price may be OK as a tax write-off, but as a feature-to-feature headset, they are significantly overpriced, even if they worked well, which they don’t.
I was hopeful when I heard the voice prompts for pairing that I wouldn’t need the manual. Tapping around the headsets would give me verbal feedback on what I was adjusting. But no, taps result in meaningless beeps. I would like to hear verbal queues for at least Aware levels.
To interpret those beeps, I needed a magnifying glass to read the very small type manual (to be fair, a PDF version is available on the website). The PDF only makes the documentation bigger, it doesn’t enhance the information, or lack thereof. For example, the manual does not say how to go into pairing mode after first use. Under phone calls, it does not say how to answer phone calls. There is no illustration or reference section that says where the touch controls are, how they work, or what they do.
I had an issue with the boom microphone not working with Android. The manual instructs owners to align arrows on the headset and the microphone. To do that, I needed a magnifying glass and a light. Standard audio jacks do not have insertion directionality. I’m not sure what this is supposed to do. However, when I inserted the boom microphone, as shown, it worked consistently.
The charging case is the largest for any set of earbuds I have reviewed recently. Sports earbuds, which often come with ear loops/hooks to keep them in place, by necessity, increase the need for case receptacle area. This case must also accommodate much longer eartips. Still, it’s a big case, one that will not prove pocketable by most people.
I had some issues with Bluetooth. The right ear often didn’t connect. Multiple times, I had to return it to that case before it connected to the left earbud for stereo sound. The earbuds also went into pairing mode during a phone restart. When pairing on Android, owners need to select the headphone icon, not the Bluetooth icon, as it appears to see both Bluetooth channels and makes selecting the device confusing.
Hear through, or what ISOtunes calls Aware, the ability to hear outside sounds creates a buzz or hum across all use cases, which I found annoying.
As much as I usually dislike apps because they seem like an afterthought to audio engineers, the ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware needs an app so owners can see the state of various features, most notably the Aware feature.
I clearly have a lot of notes. Better documentation would improve the experience, but redesign is also called for, such as an omnidirectional boom microphone input, a smaller case, and more useful touch controls.
Finally, I could not find audio specs. Nothing about driver design, codecs or Bluetooth profiles was on the site or in the documentation. Again, the company’s name is ISOtunes. They need to pay as much attention to the tunes as they do the ISOlation.
ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware: The bottom line
The idea of harsh work environmental earbuds is a good one. ISOtunes needs to iterate on this design. ISOtunes ULTRACOMM Aware earbuds look great (save the giant case), but the features and functions feel beta and undertested.
I can see these futuristic-looking earbuds becoming part of my cosplay repertoire, but between the large case, poor user experience, and less-than-stellar performance, I will not be making them part of my regular travel kit.
ISOtunes provided the ULTRACOMM Aware for review. Images courtesy of ISOtunes unless otherwise noted.
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