This is the C.VOX, a coat with a built-in sound system so you can listen to stuff anywhere you go, while you’re going there. It’s kind of cool and kind of weird. I’ve been wearing it for the last wintry week or so here in the UK, and here’s what it’s like to own one.
At first glance it’s just another coat, but hidden behind the seams are a pair of earbuds, a pair of tiny speakers, and the wiring necessary to link it all together.
There’s an audio jack wired into the left pocket. The available wire was a little on the short side – it felt like I had to pull it tight to get it plugged into my iPhone 4 while holding the phone in my hand. The jack itself also didn’t feel too sturdy. I felt like I ought to treat it with care to avoid breaking it.
The wires for the hidden earphones felt much the same. They’re not amazing earphones, sound-wise, but they’re decent enough for most people, most of the time. When not in use, they tuck into tiny zip-up pockets on the neck-side edge of the collar. They’re not bulky, so you’ll never notice them when not using them.
Most of the time, though, I used the built-in speakers to listen to music while walking around. I expected to hate this, but found to my surprise I really liked it. Of course, it’s perfect for annoying the hell out of everyone else sharing the street with you, so you need to be careful and considerate. The sound is quite concentrated around your own ears, so it’s unlikely to annoy people who simply walk past you – I tried an experiment and found that some simply thought I had earphones in, which they briefly heard as they passed.
The speakers aren’t great, but what do you expect from such tiny things? The bass is weak, there’s little depth or definition. Speech radio sounded fine. Joni Mitchell was OK. Radiohead sounded wrong. Dance music sounded like it does out of one of those cheap iPhone acoustic amplifiers.
There are built-in controls under the left lapel. A button for pause and play, and another to switch between the speakers and the earphones. The buttons inside the coat felt solid, but the fabric labels on top of them started peeling off very quickly, which was disappointing.
The fit was modern, better suited for slimmer, younger owners. My wife said it made me look younger. She liked it on me. The fabric texture was soft but resistent enough to the several English rain showers it had to put up with. Style aside, it’s not huge practical for the freezing British winter, with very little padding to provide any warmth. The snug fit helps a bit with that, though. The entire thing is machine washable, speakers and earbuds and all. I put it through my washer and it continued to work just fine. Needless to say, this requires nerves of steel to a certain extent, because every fibre of your body yells: “Don’t put electronics in the washer!” But it was fine.
I didn’t expect to like the C.VOX, but I do. It makes you smile with delight, it has charm and is a stylish modern fashion item, with or without the electronics.
Priced at £105, which Google tells me is just shy of $169, plus shipping, makes this a very expensive way of listening to music. You could buy yourself a lovely pair of over-the-ear headphones with that sort of money. They wouldn’t stand a chance in the washing machine, but they’d sound better, be more private, and be much more flexible than the sound inside this coat.
Even so, the C.VOX is an impressive bit of wearable engineering and could make a fun and smile-raising gift for someone in your life. Someone who loves music, and walks everywhere.