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Sunglasses that sound as great as they look

THUMP's Rootbeer and Bronze color combination for their 128MB model.
THUMP's Rootbeer and Bronze color combination for their 128MB model.Oakley

IPods may be cool, but designed for skiing or other sports, they're not. As sunglass manufacturer Oakley says in its marketing material: If your eyes are on your head, why should your music system hang on your waist?

Good question. Oakley's answer is a hot-looking pair of sport sunglasses with an MP3 player built right into the frames. They call it THUMP.

There are two THUMPs. The 128 MB version costs $395. The 256MB version, which comes with polarized lenses, costs $495. The glasses themselves come in seven frame/lens color combinations including a special Red Camo/Black Polarized which sells for $545.

Oakley has done a pretty amazing job getting the MP3 player and rechargeable batteries onto a pair of eyeglass frames -- and of making it look really cool. Everything, including the MP3 controls and even the mini-USB 2.0 jack looks like it belongs on a pair of sunglasses. 

THUMP weighs only 1.8 ounces. The lithium-ion batteries last up to 6 hours of playing time.  Charging is via the USB connection to your computer or via an optional external charger. 

THUMP handles MP3 (up to 256K), WMA (up to 192K), plus WMA with DRM, WAV -- although I’m not sure why anyone would choose to store huge, uncompressed WAV files on such a small storage system. Oakley’s claim of up to 4 hours of music (256MB version) or 2 hours (128MB version) is based on songs ripped at an unmusical 128KB.

The music playback delivery system consists of a 75 MHz DSP with 18-bit sigma Delta DAC for digital-to-analog conversion and a pair of cleverly positioned Mylar ear speakers with fore-aft booming and rotational positioning. That means you should be able to push/pull/rotate the earphones to get them to sound just right with the frames in place.

The eyeglass portion of THUMP deserves some mention too.  Oakley’s patented XYZ Optics is known for quality: Their Plutonite lens material blocks 100% of all UVA, UVB, UVC and harmful blue light, plus the lenses exceed ANSI impact resistance requirements.

THUMP works like any other standard MP3 device. You plug it in to your computer’s USB port -– it will show up as an added computer drive -– at which point you can drag and drop any music file you’d like. The order in which you add music is the order of playback, unless you choose the song shuffle mode. All playback controls are on the frames: volume on the left and "next/previous" on the right. 

You need to live with THUMP for a while to realize just how cool a product it is. First of all, it sounds great and works exactly as promised. Second, it’s pretty cool to be able to listen to music without headphone cords dangling or getting in the way. Plus, if you need to talk with someone or answer a phone it’s easy to push the ear speaker out of the way.

When turned on and off, the player makes a sound that, after hearing it a few hundred times, I finally realized could best be described as yes, a thump.

With the advent of the iPod Shuffle and its 512MB of music storage for $99 (or $149 for 1 GB) Oakley’s THUMP should hold a lot more music for the prices they’re asking. But I wouldn’t want to go skiing with those iPod cords dangling. Using an iPod and wearing a regular pair of Oakley glasses will not provide you with a very cool form factor despite how cool each of the parts is separately. 

THUMP is a product designed to be an elegant solution for very active people who want to listen to music while they climb mountains, ski, skate or surf. In these instances it succeeds in its mission 100 percent. If you want the coolest-of-the-cool when it comes to rugged outdoor activities you have only one real choice.