Wireless Headphones - Why can't they make a great pair of Bluetooth earbuds?

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011 1 comments

Bang & Olufsen A8 Earphone...love them!

I have been on the lookout for a wireless/Bluetooth set of stereo headphones for quite some time. I love my Bang and Olufsen corded headphones but I would also love to cut the cord between my iPhone and my ears. Now the B&O headphones (est. $160) are not cheap either...but they deliver a sound quality and fit that I have found unmatched in the industry. And they look incredible...if a set of earphones can look incredible? Definitely worth checking out if your willing to spend the same money for your headphones as you did on your audio device!

But back to my quest for a great set of wireless headphones...

The industry hasn't really delivered on the promise with the past waves of Bluetooth headsets. Most are heavier than you'd want, awkward to wear, have uncomfortable cord things dangling down, something you have to clip on or just don't sound good. Another thing to consider is that a fair amount of people will want these for their workouts...so durability, solid fit, stay-in-place and sweat resistance will be key.

While I am on the topic of working out, if you didn't check out my write-up last week on fitness tech...be sure to check it out here.

Motorola S10-HD
Motorola S10-HD (est. $55) is the replacement for the somewhat popular S9 series. The headphones appear to have a quality construction and produce a rigid backplane that arches over and around the back of the neck. Some people would point out they are actually feel heavier than the previous version. For those of you into sports, the way these headphones wraparound your head, you can trust that they will probably stay in place. The design of the acoustic mesh, silicone seals and encased speakers help provide excellent sweat protection. I will say that the wrapping over the ears and thickness of the material over the ear, that wearing glasses is not too comfortable. The overall audio quality was just average throughout the range. Another challenge with this style of headset is when you are sitting in a tall-backed chair or car seat you may feel them pushing up against the back of your neck. These headphones include a microphone for taking calls as well. You can expect up to 8 hours of audio and 10 days of standby with the built-in batteries. They come with a wall charger and have a MicroUSB port in the headset for convenient charging.

LG Tone HBS-700
Another lessor known set of headphones of similar construction is produced by LG. The LG Tone (HBS-700 est. $55) has a main component that wraps around your neck but instead of the backplane fitted with the earbuds on the end, as you can see from the picture, the earbuds hang off the spine with a more traditional wires and buds configuration. The earbuds themselves store with the main unit via a very innovative magnets coupling on both ends. In a way this is more comfortable than the Motorola S10 and is very lightweight. Your experience my vary based on your level of working out but in general they should stay in place pretty well. I do think if you are jogging they could bounce around a bit but the good news is that the whole setup is designed to be water resistant which is key for those of you into a hearty workout. The LG unit is compatible with the Android BT Reader app that reads your incoming text messages in real-time. A nice feature is the multipoint support that allows you to pair with your computer or audio device and seamlessly switch to your phone to take a call. You should expect 8-10 hours of talk time and up to 15 days of standby.

Plantronics BackBeat 903+
Still sticking with the back of the head wrap motif, the Plantronics has a very solid reputation for delivering higher-end Bluetooth cell phone earpieces and the BackBeat 903+ (est. $45) stereo headphones deliver similar levels of performance. Built on Altec Lansings sound technology is definitely evident based on the audio fidelity which is on the higher end level of performance in this group. But there were two areas that the BackBeat fell backwards. One is on the microphone/voice quality, people I was talking to could tell I was not using the main iPhone microphone and the other was that this is not a multipoint device. Meaning that you couldn't pair this with separate audio, computer and cell phone.

Sony Ericsson HBH-IS800
Delivering a quality audio experience is the Sony Ericsson HBH-IS800 (est. $70). These earbuds delivered a rich audio sound with a decent bass response. They are incredibly small and lightweight. Though the control on the cord is small, you do notice that is dangles down on the left side where the module is which can be annoying. The noise-canceling feature worked well but callers could tell when you are on this headset as well. You can expect a relatively short talk time in the 3 to 4 hour range and standby for over 10 days. Small but not feature rich with good audio sums it up.

Jaybird Freedom
The Jaybird Freedom (est. $99) headphones represent the current state of technology and tries to address all the needs of a consumer of lightweight, wireless stereo headsets. They have developed a wide range of earbuds and accessories to address any type of fit. The Jaybird has condensed all the electronics into both earbud cases and still maintain a very small shape overall. These were designed to be worn while working out. I get mixed reports on the "staying in the ear" but they have an amazing life-time sweat proof warrant...which should bring some peace of mind. The product has a quality but plastic feel about it and a thoughtful execution throughout. You can adjust the cable between your ears to better fit your head. Battery life stands at 6 hours of talk time and . The audio quality is quite good with some decent bass response...only lagging behind the Plantronics and slight Sony.

Novero Rockaway
What re-triggered my look into this whole area of wireless headphones again was that some friends mentioned a forthcoming set from Novero (est. $79) called the Rockaway. Now traditionally Novero tries to develop fashion electronics, things that are suppose to be worn unnoticed. They make jewelry with the electronics hidden inside but typically they just looks like bejeweled electronics. But this new Bluetooth headset seems to just be pursuing the minimalist angle. Something I can strongly endorse. They look nice but we'll have to wait and see how they turn out in the coming weeks when they are released. I'll update you when I get a good sense on these.

Sennheiser MM-450
My Conclusion
I guess there is a reason that I don't have a Bluetooth headset currently. This really seems to not be an overly active area of development. There must be a lot of limitations (interference, components weight, cost, ergonomics, etc.) that are preventing people from really delivering a quality experience here. There are larger headphone solutions from Sennheiser and the like but I really was hoping for something smaller...more "Bluetooth" and "lightweight"...something in-line with the size of the B&O set I currently love dearly.

As it stands today I will probably stick with my current corded headphones. If I was needing to pick up a new set, I personally lean toward the Jaybird earbuds. The Plantronics are just too bulky and I don't know if I can deal with the necklace of a solution from LG. If you can live with the LG wrap around the neck...they were probably the nicest set here overall.

If you'd like a more in-depth review of the Jaybird...check out Matthew Miller's write-up on ZDnet.
If you'd like a more in-depth review of the LG Tone (HBS-700)...Nicole Lee's review on CNET.

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If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com




Karlis said...

I have been on the lookout for a wireless/Bluetooth set of stereo headphones for quite some time. I love my Bang and Olufsen corded ... wwirelessearphones.blogspot.com

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