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Listen Up

AudioWith video taking the starring role in the classroom these days, it’s easy to forget about audio. When it comes to teaching, sounds are, in fact, just as – if not more – important than visuals. Unfortunately, most classrooms earn a failing grade when it comes to making sure that every student can hear the lesson.

Whether it’s for quiet time, when everyone needs to use headphones, or class-time, when amplifying what’s on a tablet counts, these two products can help make sure everyone can hear as well as see what’s going on.

Headphone Two-fer

Wicked Y-splitterHow often have you had to choose a room filled with a cacophony of sounds because there were enough headphones but not enough computers to accommodate the whole class? It happens a lot these days, but Wicked Audio has a solution that’s a lot cheaper than getting a slew of notebooks or tablets. Its $10 Divvy Y-Splitter is an excellent way for two headphone-clad kids to share an audio feed.

Getting started is quick and easy because the all-black device is small, sturdily built and doesn’t require batteries. It’s simple to use and there’s no software to load. Just plug it in to an audio source and you’re set, regardless of whether the listeners are using ear buds or over the ear headphones.

The Divvy splitter has a 9-inch extension cable that includes a male 3.5-millimeter plug at one end that goes into a computer, digital music player or even an Internet radio. At the other end is a small box that has a pair of female 3.5-mm jacks for plugging the headphones into.

Divvy’s secret is that it has a pair of thumbwheel volume controls for individually controlling how loud each feed can get. The adjustment is smooth and ranges from muting the audio to full volume. On the downside, there’s no volume limiter that can prevent hearing damage in little listeners.

I tried it with several different headphones and sources and found it to be an effective way of doubling the usefulness of a computer or music player. On the downside, the two-fer connector’s maximum volume is lower than by directly plugging the headphone into the source. It didn’t diminish the richness of the sound, though.

Every classroom that has a multimedia bent to it needs to have several of these two-fers.

 The Slate Finds its Voice

Pa-mbiosBut, when the whole class needs to hear, you need an amplifier and speaker set to boost the volume. Califone’s PA-MBiOS can do the trick with a tablet stand that has high-powered speakers built in.

 At $158, it can cost nearly as much as an inexpensive Android slate these days, but it can fill a classroom with audio. Designed to work with iPads, the PA-MBiOS not only sends the pad’s audio signal to the speakers but charges the slate as well.

It has an old-school 30-pin plug for connecting and powering first- or second-generation pads. To use newer iPads, you’ll need to get an adapter to the newer Lightning plug.

The PA-MBiOS can also work with any Android system or an external audio source. It comes with adapters for attaching a generic slate, phone or digital music player to the system. On the other hand, you’ll need to use a 3.5-millimeter audio input and a jumper cable.

Unfortunately, there’s no switch for choosing between using the iPad or an external audio source. In other words, if you’re not careful the system can disconcertingly play both at the same time.

It perfectly fits a full-size and Mini iPad, but can accommodate some other small tablets and phones with the included adapter arms. The speaker has a weighted circular base and a hidden secret to its structure. In portrait mode, the stand allows the pad to be tilted from 62-degrees to full horizontal position, although at this point it has the tendency to tip over when tapped. You can also rotate it counterclockwise to change its orientation to just beyond landscape position, although it is dangerously close to coming off of the connector that holds the iPad in place.

Pambios-backThe speaker’s controls are easy to figure out, with an on-off switch, a volume control and a blue LED to show the unit is on. The central stalk holds the pad at a variety of angles and heights for easy viewing and tapping. It is powered by an AC adapter.

Inside the PA-MBiOS are a 5-watt amplifier and a pair of 2-inch drivers that get surprisingly loud. The system can reproduce sound in the 100- to 20,000-hertz range that sounds full but is a little weak in the bass notes. I used it with a first generation iPad, a recent Mini and a Nexus 7 Android slate. I found it to be easy to set up and use while providing enough power to fill a room with sound. I only wish it had a remote control so that I could adjust the volume from across the room.

It worked just as well at playing music as a podcast, but the system lacks the ability to plug in a microphone and you can’t use it to project what’s on the iPad’s screen because its connector is taken up by the PA-MBiOS. It comes with a 1 year warranty and can turn a slate into a classroom sound system.

 

 

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