As a youngster, I was always a sucker for the comic book ads selling X-ray glasses, with which I was supposed to see through a woman's clothing. Since my parents checked the mail first, I never purchased those glasses. Debbie Melshenker and Janis Bass, the prettiest girls in my school, should be thankful for that.
Earlier this month, I saw a TV ad for Loud 'N Clear ($20 at getloudandclear.com). It seemed like the next best thing to those "special" glasses.
Loud 'N Clear looks like one of those Bluetooth phone headsets you see jackasses wearing around town. However, looking like a jackass is a small price to pay to hear what people are saying when they think you're out of earshot.
Loud 'N Clear promises to amplify sound, as well as turn ordinary hearing into extraordinary hearing. It's supposed to help you hear a pin drop across the room and discreetly listen in to what people are saying about you.
Sounds an awful lot like the audio version of promises made by those X-ray glasses, except for one problem: This gadget may amplify sound, but not in any meaningful or sneaky way.
I tested mine at my favorite Chicago-style hot dog spot. While I may have looked like a jerk waiting for a phone call to the others in the restaurant, I was expecting to listen in to their private conversations. Juicy!
In reality, Loud 'N Clear was best at amplifying the rustling pages of the magazine I pretended to read and the rustling fabric of my jacket.
I did hear the restaurant's background music better than ever. And it did pick up the voices of screaming children, though I probably could have heard those from the parking lot without this gadget.
I did make out bits and pieces of conversation from the family eating one table away. I thought I'd hit gold with a man on his cell phone two tables away, but while I could see his mouth move, the Loud 'N Clear never picked up his conversation.
I suspect if a pin dropped across the restaurant, I wouldn't have heard it.
If you insist on purchasing a Loud 'N Clear, buy mine instead. As for Debbie Melshenker and Janis Bass, they remain safe from my prying eyes and ears.
Got a gadget question or a high-tech toy to recommend? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.