Tag Archives: fashion

Grooming Special Article: The Gift of Pure Fashion

Foreword: I’d like to thank Ivy for helping me clean this article up for mass consumption… It’s a work that I have wanted to get perfect and I can say I am proud of its release. Thanks Ivy for helping me polish this gem!

Gift giving for a male can be hard. Overrated gadgets, tech toys, and ties can get a little cliche. However, as a man, I have hope that some of you women have matured to thinking:  “Maybe my guy could appreciate good cologne!” Ties and shirts get kind of old after a while, and sometimes… we as men do need new cologne, we usually don’t have the time to shop for it. 

However, let’s get one myth dispelled and out in the open… Popular scents do not fit all people! I cannot stress this enough. Just cause you hear that Acqua Di Gio is great for one guy friend doesn’t mean it will mesh well with your other male friend,  for example. Every guy has their preferences and every guy has scents that mesh well with their personalities.

A few years ago, while shopping at Sephora at Northpark Centre, I wanted a new scent. For years, I used Hugo Boss for a long while and it was time to add something new to my selection. The only thing was… with a selection of about 50+ colognes, I had no idea on where to even begin. One of the representatives saw my confusion and offered to help. I will share the tips I had learned with some of you who may be trying to choose a cologne for a male loved one. Credits for most of this go to Sephora, cause the staff at any location I have visited have been nothing but phenomenal!

Universal Rule: Understand that colognes can be divided up into 3 families and each family has its own nuances.

Fragrances can be broken down to 3 families: Fresh Scents, Woods, and Aromatics. The detail doesn’t stop there… each family then sub-divided into classes.

Fresh Scents
Fresh scents are for those open, down-to-earth individuals who area also witty to boot. Fresh water scents make a man personally feel cool and refreshing. Fresh greens are a bit on the clean herbal side but they do fit someone with athletic tendencies. Fresh citrus can be invigorating as well as carrying radiant sensual notes. In my personal experiences, I have found fresh water to be rather versatile for almost any person and any occasion. Fresh greens are great to express simple masculine tones as well as being spontaneous. The fresh citrus family give off the feeling of a fun and also being understated.

Here are my personal picks on the fresh family…
Fresh Water: Davidoff Cool Water and Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio
Fresh Green: Hugo Boss
Fresh Citrus: Kenneth Cole Reaction, Dior Fahrenheit 32

Aromatics are a unique family as they boast a strong and invoking experience that doesn’t fade like the sunlight or moon shadow. Some scents from this group do have a subtle sweetness that doesn’t overtly drown out the unique tones from the spices. The scents in this range are for the person who does want to show off a little but also display that they do have a little bit of innate finesse. This family is separated into 3 sub-groups… Pure aromatics, spicy aromatics, and fruit aromatics. Pure aromatics are a happy medium between sweet and spicy tones that are refreshing and sensual. Spicy aromatics have a inherent quality that makes them exciting yet warm. Fruit aromatics are very sweet and savory to the primal senses. Truth be told, this is not a realm where I am the most versed in, but I can provide some of my picks in the aromatics family. These picks are ones I have take a liking to from sampling them… The only exception would be Ralph Lauren Romance which I am personally fond of.

Pure Aromatics: Cartier Pasha, Prada Infusion D’Homme, Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme
Spicy Aromatics: Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme Intense
Fruit Aromatics: Ralph Lauren Romance

Woods are a very complex family that’s subdivided into 4 groups. Due to its complexity… The user has a variety of colors, tones, and personalities to pick from. Wood family colognes overall can make a person interesting and unique to their peers. Most of these last pretty well through the day, yet they are subtle… Think of wood note fragrances being a happy medium between aromatic and fresh colognes. Pure woods are a mix of exotic and new woods for a very complex scent. Dry woods are ones that are very similar to a warm and comforting flame with a hit of subtle essences. Oriental woods are a very unique mixture of refined exotic scents that play with the senses and will turn heads with how inviting they are. Lastly, mossy woods are very earthy and natural, however they are also very crisp and clean from how natural they are.

Pure Woods: Mania by Giorgio Armani
Dry Woods: Bvlgari Black
Oriental Woods: Gucci Envy, Armani Code by Giorgio Armani
Moss Woods: DKNY Red Delicious, Juicy Couture Dirty English

Chemistry for Men: MenScience Review

Preface: First of all, I know this review has been overdue… I have had so much come up on the holidays and school as well. I want to once again thank Alfred of Barney’s New York for hooking me up with the products for the MenScience review. Without his help, I don’t think I’d have found out about another great brand! For my readers, I thank you for your patience with me… You all mean the most to me!

Some guys are more of the “manly man” camp and sadly could care less if their cologne smells like clean 5W40 motor oil for their Porsche Cayman or woody spices with subtle undertones. However, in the realm of male care goods… The selection either is laced with fragrances or the pronounced odor of the chemicals in the product are the only variety of smells you get. The fragrances can be an allergen to some body chemistries and the chemical odors would probably make you less inclined to use them from how bothersome they smell. Fortunately for those men who want the same high caliber performace out of their care but want to think of it like car care… A company does exist with your principles in mind: Function before form.

MenScience is one of the few companies that takes a very unique look at male grooming and they call it “androceuticals”. From their definition, it’s a merger of the prefix “andro” meaning male/men and pharmaceuticals. The philosophy of androceuticals is more from the idea that MenScience takes chemicals dermatology fields and uses the highest strength possible that just comes very short of being a prescription item. In their pursuit to get the highest standards, they wanted to keep their product hypo-allergenic. Due to their approach, they avoid using fragrances to facilitate their means. To keep their products in competitive pricing, they don’t pack their products in fancy packaging or give you marketing bull. This also makes their packaging environmentally friendly!

The Advance Facial Lotion was a rather nice treat. Like most the Billy Jealousy and Anthony Action facial moisturizers, it is very light and a little bit goes a VERY long way.  Most of the composition are things that help lubricate and keep moisture in the skin, however… MenScience puts a small amount of salicylic acid in it to help fight off oily skin, ingrown hairs, acne growth, and even helps facilitate moisture! The result is a very cool, soothing, and relaxing lotion that does its job very well. It’s a bit steep at the MSRP of $36, but I would assume that with the account of not using so much, it will last a few months if you’re using it 2-4 times daily.

I’ll be honest here… The Daily Shampoo was really awesome. It’s another product that uses the principle of “A little goes a long way” but it feels lighter than your drugstore shampoos. The unique tip from the MenScience site even mentions the fact that due to the suppliments found in the shampoo, there’s no need to use anti-dandruff shampoos or even conditioner. The dandruff is controlled by the wheat protiens and the salicylic acid, while the other vitamins found in it basically act like conditioner. The end result after washing off my hair and drying it was very apparent: very shiny strands of hair with lots of volume. This was quite a change as normally, after using regular conditioner, my hair feels a little weighted for a few hours before that fades off. For a 12oz bottle at $26, I think the price is more than fair for what you’re getting!

The Daily Facial Clenser wasn’t my favorite and I personally didn’t enjoy it much. True, the foaming effect and level of clean was really unparalleled to the Billy Jealousy or Anthony Action stuff… Just I think this product in particular fell into the camp of “smells like a drug store item” unfortunately. The fact it was in close proximity to my face didn’t help much. I won’t lie when I say I was amazed at how effective it was. I didn’t feel that I liked it to something like Billy Jealousy’s Sucker Punch or Anthony Action’s Foaming Face Wash, mainly from the pungent smell of the chemicals wafting to my nostrils. To be fair, I did use this both in the shower and at the sink. In the shower, I didn’t notice as much as I did when I was washing up at the sink. That may probably be the better solution if smell is a concern. Even though it’s really pricey at $45, but if you want an unmatched level of clean for your face… This is the best one I have tested.

The Eye Rescue Formula is something that most of us insomniacs, party goers, and midnight gamers trying to clean up our image would appreciate. This one just needs a dab and it works rapidly.  The eyes just feel that much more refreshed and the hazy dark circles become a thing of the past. I can say that if you’re a guy who wants to improve your looks so your boss, friends, or girlfriend would never suspect you of staying up for almost 16 hours doing that one “leet” raid out in Naxxramas in World of Warcraft, this is just the weapon for you.  For $37, I think the price is a steal for how good it is.

The Anti-Aging Formula was pretty interesting stuff. I personally haven’t looked into anti-aging care but to be able to test the results is quite staggering. The potency of the suppliments in the cream are pretty strong, so I will say this is one thing you do want to just use enough to touch up spots. The rapid onset and results were amazing, the minor facial wrinkles pretty much just disappeared. The price of $58 for a 1oz bottle, in my opinion, is rather steep… If you want something that works rapidly with the science behind it, I can say that it may be worth your money.

To close, I want to say that I enjoyed the experience from MenScience. For the guys out there who want high end grooming goods, it’s definitely on par to their standards. Even more so for guys who don’t want smells or imparted fragrances in their stuff. For me, I think I need the cosmoceutical philosophy found in other product lines versus the androceuticals. I can say that I will be recommending  MenScience to anyone who wants something closer to an androceutical.

A Man of Action – Anthony Action Product Line Review

As a discerning gentleman, I like feeling 100% when possible. In a sea of mens grooming items, it’s hard to find things that allow a man to feel his best when we are bombarded with advertisements of shaving gels that claim to help give the closest shave or the lack of reviews for things related to facial cleansers. Sadly, most of the “drug store” faire works poorly in action and end up being irritating topicals rather than being therapeutic andro-cosmoceuticals.

Anthony of the Anthony brands realized this and had to give men an alternative. From this, the Anthony Logistics line was born. Combining products formulated with some of the most natural ingredients with the intent of being functional and beneficial care for men’s grooming, this was the foundation behind the Anthony Logistics product line. But the evolution of men’s grooming didn’t stop here for the Anthony brands… For the man who wants a quick means to clean up and not fuss for time, there’s the Anthony Sport line for that. Now… for the really distinguished man, the most recent line is made just for them. Action by Anthony is a blend of Logistics and Sport lines combined, but on top of that, it merges high end ingredients for a truly top echelon product.

Alfred from Barney’s New York was gracious enough to give me the vital things for a man to start and end their day… The Action foaming face wash, the 2-in-1 shaving cream, and high performance moisturizer. Once again, my thanks goes out to Alfred for his kindness!

The Anthony Action Foaming Face Wash is a one that is recommended to be use at the start of the day as well as the end of the day. The ingredients help to calm and soothe the skin, but glycolic acid and the avocado oil to help slough off the old skin, clean off the topical bacteria, and moisturize. The cool part is the glycolic acid can also help beard hairs lift up as mentioned on the Anthony site. So for those who do like to shave in the morning, this is probably a great way to help make your shaving ritual much more effective! The face wash is also great to end the day by scrubbing off the dirt, sweat, and grime incurred from a day as it ends up soothing and relaxing the skin. From spending 2 days with the face wash, I felt a great response from it. Most of the facial washes out on drug store shelves usually end up smelling like medicine, however… The Action Foaming Face Wash smelled very soothing and almost something akin to very soothing tea. It was refreshing to be able to start my day and end my day feeling completely relaxed.

I’d decided to see if I could stack up effects and see if I could use the Action 2-in-1 Shaving Cream to put it at its highest potential. To my amazement, a small amount of it goes a much longer way than a giant blob of the drug store picks out on the market. The mixture does a great job of helping the beard stand with the peppermint and eucalyptis oils as well as toning out the skin with the licorice extract. From all of these essences, the scent is not particularly strong. The unique synergy that everything has is wonderful as it helps to lift the beard hairs and provide a close shave. When used in combination with my Dovo shavette, it probably gave me one of the closest shaves I have had in the history of being a straight razor fanatic of 1 year! The best thing is that with the 2-in-1 Shaving Cream is instead of needing an aftershave, you can just use a tiny amount and it acts as an aftershave and conditioner for your beard!

The last thing I got to sample was something that most men probably don’t think much about. As men live their day to day lives, we interact with the greatest forces of nature. What most men don’t think about are the effects of the sun and the elements. Things like dryed out skin from arid winds, UVA and UVB rays nuking our flesh, and even daily stress putting fatigue on our faces. The Action High Performance Moisturizer by Anthony helps to keep face and defend against the common adversaries of a daily life. Some of the ingredients here are found in the other products, so it keeps with the theme of the Anthony Action line: quality ingredients for the discerning man. The blend of ingredients in the High Performance Moisturizer are pretty simplistic, but they go a long way. The moisturizer is lightly scented, but it is very pleasant to boot! The recommended usage is twice a day, so it’s pleasant to start the day off with the moisturizing the face as well as end the day to have it repair any cell damage and superficial damage from the day. Possibly the best part is unlike the drug store moisturizers for men that are either heavily scented, greasy, or what not… The Action High Performance Moisturizer is no where near close to that. It’s functional, but minimalistic… Something very akin to how most men like things in their life to be.

For those of you who may be shopping for yourself or maybe a spouse/significant other looking to give your guy something really nice this holiday season, skip the cheeky “holiday sets” and check out the Anthony Action line. It’s definitely worth the cash for the great experience I had. The prices below are listed from the official Anthony site, though they could be subject to change and other promotional offers. The Anthony line can be found at various retailers like Barney’s New York, Sephora, and Bath & Body Works. I can say they definitely get my approval in my book!

(Disclaimer: These are just standard prices before any taxes are calculated according to your state)
Action Foaming Face Wash: $22 USD
Action 2-in-1 Shaving Cream: $25 USD
Action High Performance Moisturizer: $40 USD

[Male Grooming/Fashion] Ahhh… Jealousy! Billy Jealousy, that is!

Today actually turned to be a rather eventful day! I was at my weekend grind and my friend Brian calls me with the following dialogue:

Zero! I know you’ve been wanting to do a male fashion segment! I had a facial earlier with Dani of Billy Jealousy and I had another time slot for 7pm… but I thought you could use it for your blog! Do you want my spot? It’s for 7pm at Barney’s New York out in Northpark.

Naturally… I couldn’t say no… I am a personal fan to guys taking good care of their looks, rather than the common-man logic of “Argh! I am tough! I don’t need to smell like bergamot or patchouli!” I had also been trying to find a breath of fresh air with male facial care, cause most things out in the retail shops contain alcohol which is terribly drying to the face. I figured this was a great opportunity to brighten my horizons out! I proceeded to call my contact that Brian had referred me to, Alfred. I booked my appointment and would await my escape from the office.

When I was driving up… I had thought about my life with with facial care. I didn’t know much other than Neutrogena and Johnson & Johnson’s “Clean and Clear” brand of facial care products. Sadly with those products, I found it hard to use them every day and even now because they are terribly aggressive on attacking the face. The aggression ends up drying my face out badly…

Haggard from 9 hours
“Behold my haggard mug shot here!”

I would walk in to Barney’s and burn some time off in there at the men’s fragrance and grooming goods. I would soon be met by Alfred and make my acquaintance with him. He would ask if I needed anything to relax, so I would get a glass of champagne to unwind while I would talk about my aims with today’s trip. I would then exchange business cards and be led to the lounge.

Crisp Champagne
“Refreshing and floral…”

When 7:20pm hit, I would be introduced to Dani Rouso of Billy Jealousy who would be talking to me about everything while giving me a taste of truly refined men’s facial care. She would ask me a few demographic questions to get a good idea of what would be custom tailored for my needs and even educate me far beyond my narrow scope of the facial care products for men. The first thing she went over was over topical versus cosmoceutical.

Here’s Dani’s definitions on the two:

Topical: A topical is product that plays on emotions with fragrance to get you to believe that the product is doing great things when it actually is not so great for the skin.

Cosmoceutical: A cosmoceutical is a product that blends high end concentrations of drug and, in some cases, creates a positive emotional response while doing wonderful things for the skin and penetrating deep to achieve their results.

This was rather new to me, but it made sense… I know the products I have used are probably more guilty of being topical products. Dani was going to demonstrate some of be wonderful products from the Billy Jealousy line. The refreshing principles of the line were more along the cosmoceuticals. I was excited to feel a world of change on my face.

The first step was to get rid of the oils on my face. I would be layered up with hot towels to open up the pores and then I would recieve the application of the [Bar None] facial wash. The aromatic scent was like a splash of citrus almost like the official website’s description that says it may make the user think of an ice cold margarita. The facial wash was working deep on the pores and sweeping my skin of the excess oils. It worked on an unreal level that didn’t feel as harsh on the surface, but it worked in a deeper level. To me, it was almost an amazing level of clean!

The next thing to do was to exfoliate the dead skin and clean the skin of the grime. I would then meet [Liquid Sand]. This one was something I was felt quite fond of… Exfoliating is something I do enjoy, especially when I want to feel my best. With the over-the-counter stuff you can buy in any retail shop, sadly, some of those “microscrubber” beads are pretty big, coarse, and rough that it’s not much fun to do every day. Liquid Sand has microbeads, but these were far more refined… It glided across my face, but I could feel the very subtle beads sweeping my face and just bringing up the contaminants to be swept away from my face.

Dani had made a great note that on men, the skin nose has some of the biggest pores and trap a large number of contaminants. She would demonstrate one of her favorite weapons to counteract these gross contaminants: [Sucker Punch]. She would apply it right on the common problem spot, right on my nose. I would feel the Tahitian black sand and walnut shells scrub a little more aggressively on my nose, but soon after there was that refreshing tingle that was familiar to me. She would make note that there was also eucalyptis and menthol in the Sucker Punch face scrub. Even though it was on my nose, it felt like that one attack after the feint to sweep up the rest of the heavier set contaminants.

The next discussion Dani had with me was about maintaining the skin on my face with a simple defense. Lines and wrinkles are small things but also something that does come with time. She would give my face a light shot of [About Face]. It was a clear serum and a little bit of it worked quickly across my skin. The aloe vera was soothing as well as refreshing. I could feel some tightening, but that would soon be taken to the next level with another defender…

The eyes are a beutiful part of most people and well fatigue will sometimes give us the look of dark rings. Nights of hard studying and/or partying are probably the cause of those for most young guys in their twenties, unfortunately… Though some more fortunate individuals may not have to worry until their late twenties. I got to sample [Wipeout] with Dani applying just a small amount on my orbital bone and feeling it rise quickly to areas around my eyes. The puffiness I probably had from my stressing school life just seemed to deflate once the lactic acid worked its way in.

To finish things up, I would get nice treatment to soften up my fatigued hands… I would have my hands massaged out with [Golden Gloves]. I would instantly feel the effects of the Monoi de Tahiti just saturating my hands with moisture. I could feel the intensity of the moisture set in very rapidly. I can definitely say it doesn’t feel as gross as some of the over the counter lotions out there and the scent of it is much more pleasant.

This would end my facial care session, but Dani had saw the wicked scar on my chin and talk to me about the shaving line from Billy Jealousy too. She had found from me in the demographic portion of today’s session that I was a straight razor fanatic. She would then introduce me to Esquire’s 2007 Grooming Awards winner for best shaving cream: [Hydroplane]. Her demonstration of how slick and protective Hydroplane was proved to be phenominal! I got just a small application on my index and thumb fingers. Initially, it was clear and felt tacky, but Dani splash just a little bit of water and Hydroplane revealed its true colors… It just be came slicker and slicker like oil. The lubrication property of Hydroplane was just amazing to see, most of the foams and gels out there don’t even come nearly as close!

Shedding my old face for a new one
“Ah! I feel refreshed!”

From all this, I got a lovely lesson in advanced facial care. I do want to give credit to Brian of Global Fashion News, Alfred of Barney’s New York, and Dani of Billy Jealousy for providing me such a wonderful experience! I want to give Dani an extra big thanks on teaching me a little bit more about skin care as well as the mini-lecture over the importance of sun protection and even suggesting [Combat Lines] daily moisturizer with SPF protection should I decide to get on board with that. (At this time… Combat Lines is not yet posted on the site.)

I can’t even give enough credit to how awesome it feels to shatter the old face of mine in favor of a new one..! Check out the entire Billy Jealousy line on their website (www.billyjealousy.com) or at your nearest retailer!

[Thank You] My thanks to Kwesta for vindicating me!

Last night, I had met up Kwesta to talk about helping him launch his own personal domain and such. I actually failed to mention the highlight of the evening’s meet-up. For once, I actually spoke fashion with him as he had taken note that I was dressed to the times. This actually made me feel vindicated. I hang out with a good number of friends, but they aren’t typically up with the clothing styles and trends… (Disclaimer, I still love you all!) To hear his compliment made my day as I never got much verification if any that I was not dressing according to the times or if I was making actual fashion faux pas. I know that Kwesta himself is up to the times as he is affiliated with Global Fashion News and is always looking sharp himself… He can’t possibly be wrong!

There were a few people who seemed to hold their doubts about me ever possessing style… To them, I will leave this post with the best and most timeless phrase: “Told ya so.” 😉

Precision Time Keeping Revisited, Remixed.

My father decided to upgrade my gear… He just stepped by the office of ZeroXR and just asked me: “Zero, your other watch break on you? You want to come with me and look at watches? I think you could use the upgrade.” Naturally, I won’t reject the kindness of my father. His reason was that I needed a chronograph with the ability to never need batteries. So we hit up a jewelry shop and perused around… Found this gem sitting in the case:

Citizen Calibre 8700 Eco Drive
Citizen Calibre 8700

Click here for more details and specs

I was rather shocked that he went out that far on a limb to get me an upgrade. It looks rather nice… I know that I just need to get the watch bracelet adjusted to fit. I am definitely looking forward to wearing it. The spiffy part… it also has an alarm on the watch! The watch is quite stylish and timeless in its looks. It will be a great pleasure to don it while in casual slack mode.

Fashion Headset Shoot-Out! Aliph Jawbone vs. BlueAnt Z9

Let’s reflect on this… Bluetooth headsets have come a LONG way from their origins. I remember the days when Motorola was king in this sector because they helped a big part in the Bluetooth consortium with research and development. Their early headsets were also big and bulky and expensive to boot. When the standard was in it’s early days, it was a bit of a pain on the respect of distance as going just a wee bit too far could disconnect your calls. When the standard got better, so did the devices… But this also opened up the playing field to manufacturers who wanted a piece of the land for Bluetooth accessories.

Nowadays, you have many manufacturers like Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG, et al who make headsets as well as phones for direct compatibility with their devices. However, you have your “generic” manufacturers such as Jabra, Plantronics, and a few others who make your general consumer models and then barely stepping into the high end of the spectrum. Lastly, you have the big contenders on the “high end”: Callpod Dragon, Aliph Jawbone, and BlueAnt Z9. The Callpod Dragon just doesn’t look fashionable, so it is omitted for this review… However, the other two are quite possibly the more “chic” in the high end.

Click the images to expand them!

In this corner…

The Aliph Jawbone is a rather “futuristic” looking headset. It has a wicked sick looking mesh grating design with a rather simple red or white LED flash from the status bar. The design is from Yves Behar who has a large vested interest in the headset. It’s rather large but the design is functional to the means of the headset’s calculation of vocal activity. To secure it to your ear, you do have a few ear loops and “gel” inserts to change the headset to accommodate your ear size and shape of your ear canal. The Jawbone keeps function simple with just 2 buttons, one on the mesh and the other on the “Jawbone” embellishment close to the charger port.

Aliph Jawbone MSRP: $120 (from the official site)

The challenger…

The Australian company BlueAnt has been a minor player with budget models and other unique niche headsets (like their motorcycle helmet communicator system). The BlueAnt Z9 comes as a contender to the Jawbone in the vectors of style and size. This headset isn’t designed with a legendary designer, but it certainly looks quite sleek or even covert. The mounting system is a fixed rubber ear cushion and an adjustable plastic ear hook that can rotate and fit to the ear. There is also a clip on the headset for times that you may not feel the need to wear it constantly, definitely a nice touch!

BlueAnt Z9 MSRP: $90 – $100

Acknowledgment and “Props”
In this review, I have a guest reviewer as well to give the female side of her input on the comfort of the headsets as well as her thoughts. Stephanie’s input will be included for posterity of the review. This will help females consider which may be best in terms of their comfort. Also, please give a hand to Stephanie for taking the images of me “modeling” the headsets. I would also like to thank my cousin Sol for being my test caller and allowing me the privilege to subject him to calls and use his feedback for call quality. Also, I’d like to thank Yamcha of Wolf’s Hurricane for his insight on my contest that will be posted online after this post!

Bluetooth is becoming more popular now with how some countries and even some states in America are cracking down on irresponsible drivers who choose to pinch a phone to their head while not putting full attention to the road. In the UK, if you kill someone in an accident and you were on your mobile phone… The justice system over there can impose severe penalties for such an infraction. At the same time, no one wants to look unfashionable for having a headset almost looking like some “ugly” device growing off the side of our ear or looking like a “bluetool” (vernacular). I would like to begin with the Jawbone first, but let’s go over the logistics of the things I used for the review.

Tools of the Review
Mazda MX-5 Miata, closed and open soft-top modes
Various locales of Dallas with plenty of ambient noise
The offices of ZeroXR 13mg
HTC Kaiser Windows Mobile Pocket PC phone

Round 1: The Aliph Jawbone
The Jawbone has won many awards for being both fashionable and revolutionary from a technological standpoint. In Dallas, I have seen many people adorn their ears with the Jawbone so after seeing the rave reviews, I picked one up just to give it a test drive and play with it. The Jawbone’s sizing solution is kind of unique. Aliph gives you 4 ear loops in 2 sizes and for the left and right ears. You get a pair “regular” size and a pair “large” size ear loops. In addition, There are 4 contour ear bud gels that are included in the package to go with the shape of your ear canal. two of them are a variation of a “teardrop” shape and curve right to the ear canal, while the other two are large and small versions of a circular ear bud gel. I personally have small ears so I honestly had trouble with both the “regular” and “large” ear loops and the ear gels of all types didn’t help the unit stick to my ear. However, when the unit is not moving from my ear, it fits rather nicely and comfortably. I will comment that the build quality is EXCELLENT!

The principle behind the Jawbone is a rather simple one. The device has a rubber nub that detects movement from your jaw (hence the name) and translates that as actual activity. This lets the headset know you are actively conversing. On top of that, the headset also has active noise canceling to assist with making clear communications. The unit has two buttons as aforementioned earlier on the embossing of the word “Jawbone” and another on the mesh part of the headset. The “Jawbone” button functions as the “pairing mode” button and during calls it acts as a “volume” button of sorts. The primary button on the mesh is your main power/call answer/end call/etc button. There’s also a very subtle LED on the unit that blinks white when the unit is in use (rather than the typical blue), red when the unit is low on power, solid red on charging, and solid white on a full charge. The tactile feedback from the unit is pretty good but it does take a little effort.

On bonding with the unit, it would bind to my HTC Kaiser rather quickly. I would do some random test calls with the Jawbone just to see how well the noise cancel and fit would work with me. I took my MX-5 for a drive with the top up and tried to use Voice Command to ask it to dial out and then proceed with a phone call. On idle, the headset could properly connect and accept my commands properly. The call quality was pretty good with minimal interference. Throwing town the top however would change the dynamics of the test… Voice Command had serious trouble reading my speech as the headset had some issues trying to determine whether I was talking or not with the the rubber nub breaking contact from my jaw line every other second from the aerodynamic forces of wind. That was the big issue that makes the device fit for people with small ears like me… The headset almost fell off my ear a few times during this test. I would be running speeds of 40 – 70mph in my car with the top down to be fair. Most of the past week has been windy, so I also tried to see if gusty 10 – 15 mph winds were also a problem with walking around Dallas… and sadly, the headset also had a bit of a problem reading my speech due to the headset not fitting flush to my face.

Some of the test calls with my cousin Sol and he would report that there were some sound issues with noise when I had the Jawbone during my wind tests. However, during my tests in the office of ZeroXR 13mg there were some troubles from the noise cancel due to the fit of the headset. That leads us to the only gripe I have with the headset… The fit is not friendly to those with small ears… I tried to contact Aliph about this, but so far they have not responded to me. Though some folks on line have reported that buying some Jabra branded ear gels help, but that’s a bit of a shame that Aliph has forgotten the fact that a generic fit solution does end up “discriminating” a part of a demographic.

I did ask for Stephanie’s opinion on the Jawbone and she had no problem with the headset’s fit. She had commented it was really comfortable for her. Though she did make a comment she like big devices as it give her a tactile feel that is a little more reassuring. She was wearing the standard ear bud gel with a regular sized ear loop. She’s fortunate that it fit perfectly for her.

I will comment that the headset is really comfortable that you almost forget that you’re wearing it. Sadly for owning small ears, the fit isn’t perfect for such a wonderful headset. Due to that, the noise detecting rubber nub on the headset couldn’t accurately read my vocal speech. The volume is also semi-dependent on the background noise.

Round 2: BlueAnt Z9
The BlueAnt Z9 is a small name headset that has been making some circles as a rather great alternative for those who do want an alternative because the Jawbone was simply not their cup of tea. The Z9 is a tiny piece of hardware equipped with a proprietary port that’s used for charging the unit and also upgrading the firmware. (I’ll talk about the upgrading part later) The design is tiny with a few “bling” spots of chrome on the device for style accents. The device is equipped with 2 microphones to analyze sound waves and process vocal data and noise data to effectively neutralize noise and improve the call quality. The Z9 has 3 buttons, the MFB (multi-function button) and a volume + and – button. If you want to go “stealth” and not have the bluetooth blink, you can hold the volume + and – buttons for 3 seconds when the headset is idle to turn the blink off. Something nice to not draw attention to yourself in dark places. They all have a great tactile click when you press them. BlueAnt does give you a tiny business card sized reference sheet for you to get oriented, so it’s rather nice if you need a pocket reference.

Unlike the Jawbone, the BlueAnt Z9 takes a different approach to fitting to the user. The headset has a plastic ear loop that looks like a plastic scythe mounted to a rubber rotating nub. The plastic hook does have some resistance to the plastic nub, so you can adjust the fit of the headset by moving the hook higher or lower from the nub to make the headset fit more snug. This combined with the rubbery ear cushion, the BlueAnt Z9 feels like it’s securely locked to your ear. While this gives the BlueAnt Z9 a definite plus for people with small ears, the fact that it is not made of a flexible yet sturdy plastic is also somewhat of a concern. It is great that BlueAnt included 2 more ear hooks, but I’d rather they were made of a more sturdy material like the metal with rubber padding like the Jawbone.

Pairing and linking the BlueAnt Z9 was rather painless and quick. The best part was that you’re not subjected to a long and annoying beep while the headset pairs up. Just a quick beep that tells you “I’m bonded!” The manual mentions that the Z9 can bond to 3 devices, sadly, I couldn’t test that so I cannot offer any insight there. The multi-function button (MFB for short) serves many of the primary uses of the headset from powering it on to essential functions like changing the noise cancellation modes. However… it makes ending calls a bit awkward. Most headsets answer and end calls with one click… The BlueAnt Z9 picks up calls with a click, however when you’re on the call and click on the MFB… You hear an auditory voice saying “Voice Isolation MAX” or “Voice Isolation Standard” indicating the level of voice isolation. To end a call, you have to hold the MFB for 3 seconds and you then hear a beep indicating the call has been severed. For many Bluetooth veteran users, it sort-of causes a mix up. It does take some getting used to, but it does make you wonder why the voice isolation was not remapped in another way.

Testing the headset was quite possibly the best part… I called Sol up this past Friday night with my headset and had the top up while going down noisy city streets with the windows down and he had said I came in quite clearly and he was rather impressed. Now, voice command still had some trouble at speed and minor problems on idle… so both headsets are stalemated there. The ultimate test would be to take the headset with me on city streets… But I realized that the headset may not be pushing at full potential! “Why?” The BlueAnt I bought had firmware 3.0 and the official BlueAnt Z9 site had a banner on top saying “New Firmware v3.4 out! Click here to upgrade!”

I naturally downloaded the firmware update and proceeded to follow the simple steps to get the drivers installed for the headset and then the update was just a simple drop and go process. After the update, I was really anxious to see if the improved voice isolation algorithms would enhance things even more… as the firmware notes from v3.0 to v3.4 were rather significant.

That would lead to Saturday and walking around town while trying to find the ideal noisy environment to make my test call to Sol… and I found the best moment. I was down in West End walking around down… a Hummer limo with a bunch of boys in white t-shirts saw some ghetto girls and told the driver to pump up the tunes while they would pop their heads out to give a shout to the girls. I happened to place a call to Sol at that moment… and the call was remarkably clear! The headset also adjusted the volume automatically adjusted to the environment helping clarity by a good degree. I had the voice isolation on the MAX setting and it really made things great! The volume buttons do actually work on top of the volume adjustment from the dual microphones automatically working, just in case if that’s not enough to break through the noise. I was simply impressed that I didn’t have to mess around with the headsets fit just to make sure that my speech was coming in clearly from motion detection. The headset’s tight fit and dual microphones helped make that “extreme” test call work just perfectly!

On asking Stephanie’s opinion of the fit of the BlueAnt Z9, she said it was a rather tight and rigid fit. Her opinion was based on the hard plastic ear hook and the difficult system on adjusting the size without breaking the delicate ear hook. She did comment that the tiny size was interesting, however not her forte.

The comfort of the headset does take some experimenting to get good with, but once you get it perfect… the headset is almost weightless! It’s not as “perfect” like the Jawbone, but at least it sticks to my head… I will remind readers I do have small ears, be warned.

From this… I think I have my winner.

Final Verdict
From the whole experience with needing a headset that wasn’t about to fall off my ear from a short sprint… Also the need for vocal recognition that does not rely on fit had a huge impact, ’cause what good is a headset if it doesn’t properly fit? The style elements are important, as size does matter. Let me be clear that the race was very close…

The Winner: BlueAnt Z9

The BlueAnt Z9 does win from a good snug fit, great noise isolation, and most of all it has a small foot print. The headset is almost weightless and provides great and clear calls! It is stylish, but however from using a rigid plastic ear hook… it is a minor sacrifice in comfort  to have the headset be planted on your head. If the Jawbone had a small ear loop that provided a proper fit for the small folks, it would have been even harder to choose a winner. The ability to upgrade the BlueAnt Z9 gives it more points as the headset still has chances to become better rather than a “Version 2” to hit retail and you to be stuck with an obsolete headset. For people who have small ears, but want a headset that looks great and performs beautifully… I highly recommend the BlueAnt Z9.