Outdoor Tech is known for their rugged, wireless Turtle Shell boom box, and at CES 2014 the Big Turtle Shell was the front and center star. Even with the noise and bustle all around, these audio products brought some serious sound.
If you walked into the Outdoor Tech booth a little more, you would have been able to sneak a listen on some of their headphones. The Privates were there – how could they not be, right? But also on display were the Tuis.
Although I missed out on listening to them while at CES, I’ve had the opportunity to preview them and get some solid ears-on. Are the Tuis really better than you or me? Lets find out.
Design & Comfort
The Outdoor Tech Tuis are constructed of a lightweight plastic material. The choice of flat black is good, as it helps to minimize the seams between some of the pieces that put it together. The look of it is a unique and refreshing change, with a touch of posh, from most headphones out on the market.
The bands that extend out are kept in place with internal ridges. The Tuis are easy to adjust, and although it’s not a hard lock, the ear cups are less prone to sliding once they’re on.
The cups extend out far enough to be able to cover and fit most head shapes. While it’s possible that long-term use could wear them down, it doesn’t seem too likely a concern.
Micro USB and 3.5mm ports are located under the track and volume controls on the right hand side. The controls themselves are identifiable by touch and have a nice click when pressed. There are a good number of volume levels, so between that and a connected gadget one can fine-tune pretty well.
The ear cups are solidly connected to the headband and don’t feel flimsy. The cups themselves have both vertical and lateral motion, which conform to the sides of heads, allowing uniform pressure on the ears. I wear glasses, and the pads don’t cause any long-term aches or soreness. In fact, it almost feels like nothing is being worn, since they’re so light.
Faux leather material covers modest padding for the ears and the head. It’s not necessarily as spongy as other headphones, but the lightweight frame of the Tuis doesn’t really require anything thicker. The only drawback to this feather of a profile is that there is want for more grip strength. The Tuis slide off when I tilt my head down too far and/or too quickly. Sitting and walking with them on are great. Not so much with jogging, as I have to constantly reseat them.
There’s some dynamic layering and lateral imaging within the Tuis’ soundstage. Instruments have defined positions on the stage and quite the bit of space to breathe. No cramping is always desirable, and the Tuis don’t sound boxy for it. It puts the listener right in front of the performance.
The depth of music is good too. In the song, “Die alone”, by Ingrid Michaelson, I can hear how close the voices are to the recording microphone.
There is a sense of distance, as the instruments transition from the back toward the front as the song progresses on. Coupled with the vocals up front, and then add in her backup singers, the Tuis really make this particular track shine.
If you want some volume, the Tuis can get plenty loud. They weren’t kidding. As I crank up the volume I feel that I’m going to blow my ears out faster than being able to pick up on distortion.
Considering the slim head profile and modest size, the volume from the pair of ear cups is both surprising and outstanding. Distortion is kept at a pretty good minimum too. It varies by a combination of genre, track recording, and volume, but the overall sound comes out clean.
The Outdoor Tech Tuis deliver vocals that are strong and vibrant throughout the highs (mids too). The pitch and tone – of female vocals especially – are spot-on and very enjoyable to listen to. Although the headphones can get very loud, the vocals rise up without cracking or turning into sharp slivers of sound, even with quick changes in pitch.
I particularly like the detail of stringed instruments, such as harps and violins. Pianos sound amazing, as the Tuis capture a bit of the percussiveness behind each hit. Even so, some of these details can end up sounding a little distant. Not like they’re located in the back of the soundstage, but just a touch distant.
When it comes to cymbals and hi-hats, the Outdoor Tech Tuis lack the muscle and grace I prefer. This aspect of the highs is weak in comparison to the overall output presented by the mids and lows. Cymbals have more of a hiss than a “shush” sound to them. Some hi-hats sound too loose and linger too long, blending more into the background instead of standing out as musical accents.
When either the cymbals or hi-hats come in rapid succession, they tend to get a little sloppy. The crisp edge of taps or crashes are lost as the hits run over each other in kind of a utensil-type blur.
This isn’t to say that the Tuis sound bad in the highs. Just this aspect, which seems fairly common for the price bracket.
The mids fare much better, as the Tuis get to show off a little bit here by showcasing big sound that flows in and around the ears. Rock and metal songs are fun to listen to, especially ones filled with guitars and bass. The reproduction comes out as solid and energetic. Like with the highs, the vocals in the midrange are spectacular and carry through.
I enjoy listening to jazz music that features a lot of horns playing. Brass instruments come out bold and tart. The mids present an essence of body and life that helps to fill and round out most musical tracks. Yet, when it comes to music that’s heavier in the lows, some of the mids can end up being obscured.
The lows is what the Outdoor Tech Tuis is all about. This is where it gets to flex and strut its stuff, as the lows absolutely have more emphasis than the mids and highs. While you might not necessarily get your skull rattled, the lows are pretty good and deep.
The bass is strong with the Tuis, delivering a good boom but without venturing too far into the realm of heavy or boomy. Drum hits are tight, quick, and relatively clean, which helps to separate these headphones from so many. Despite the power, vocals in the lows and low-mids are still distinct from basslines and the emanating low thuds.
Not just that, but you get a really good ear-feel for the lows in addition to hearing the music. The Tuis turn tribal and folk hand-drumming into infectiously energetic beats that are alive and catchy. If you’re not bobbing your head while listening, you could be dead. Or just a lame zombie.
Wireless pairing is as easy as it gets. The wireless signal range and strength has been surprisingly good. I’ve been able to walk away from my smartphone by at least 24 feet or so before the signal starts to break up. If I venture into another room or move upstairs, I lose about 5 feet since the signal has to penetrate a wall or floor.
The battery life is damn good. These headphones can last you all day. Literally. I’ve gone 14.5 hours in a single session (with breaks), and the Tuis still had some more juice left. That’s the power of Bluetooth 4.0 for you right there. But even if the battery has been sucked down, the included audio cable lets you pick up where the song left off.
The Outdoor Tech Tuis pick up on the energy and liveliness of music. They get louder than most people can tolerate, and the low-end output will attract those who crave that. These are the kind of headphones that cater to hip-hop, dubstep, jungle, drums, and anything else that’s front and center with bass.
Sure, they’re unbalanced in favor of the lows. But that’s the charm. Although the bass is strong, oftentimes stepping on toes, it’s done without overpowering or sacrificing mids or highs. Although some of the highs sound light and tinny, particularly the cymbals and hi-hats, the vocals maintain a competitive strength.
Outdoor Tech offers a good package with the Tuis. It comes with a hard case for storage, flat-ribbon audio cable, and Micro USB cable for charging. You even get some stickers (stickers!) too. Add in the sharp looks and long battery life
For casual listening, the Outdoor Tech Tuis are commendable, comfortable, and offer a look that is different from the common styles available now. While most music will sound good, the Tuis cater to tunes with low beats and big booms. Bass-head or not, these headphones grab attention and deliver.