I have been asked on Twitter and in podcast emails about Bluetooth Earpieces or headsets. However, the ones I am going to talk about today are unlike devices I have reviewed in the past. Those were primarily designed for telephony, and had the ability to play music as an aside. The headsets I will be covering today were designed primarily to play music, although they have limited telephony function. There will be a compromise either way, so it is important when making a purchase to figure out what is most important to you and what best meets your needs.
I love Sony, but I’m going to be highly critical because of the price tag. Sony lists the cost of their Sony DRBT50 Stereo Bluetooth Headset as $249.00. As a good consumer, I like to make sure I get some “bang for my buck.” So I looked at them on SonyStyle.com where they were $249, but on special for $199. Then, I took a trip over to my favorite place to go shopping online, Amazon.com. Of course, you can find the link in our Show Notes. Amazon, who claims to be a Sony-authorized retailer, had the list price at $199, which is $50 cheaper than Sony said it was. But I ultimately got them from Amazon at $114 with Amazon Prime, and two days later, they were at my door.
So, let’s start with the good. Sony does not disappoint with these excellent A2DP headphones. The bass is full and loud, and highs are full. The battery is an important consideration, and gives you seventeen hours of battery life for a three-hour charge.
Unfortunately, there are some negatives, not the least of which is that you can’t charge via USB by plugging into your computer or compatible wall charger. Unfortunately, Sony chose to go the proprietary route, and sent along its own cord, which means I have yet another thing to carry, and if lost, would cost a great deal to replace. While Sony makes an attempt at providing player controls on the actual unit, they are very tiny, and are located on the back of the headphones, where they are hard to both feel and see. I would submit that blind people with very good tactile skills would have problems using them and doing things like moving back or forward a track with any kind of accuracy. In my opinion, the buttons are not at all well-placed. The mic is also poor quality, and I am holding Sony to a high standard, and rightly so, given their high list price on these headphones. Finally, while I am not claustrophobic, the headphones were extremely tight on my head. The other problem is the complete lack of a manual. When I did find one, I had to go through a site which collected documentation from various sources and required me to sign up. The manual described the process of pairing using graphics, which was not at all helpful. However, once paired, the earphones stayed paired with my iPhone. I no longer have them in my possession. I returned them because I couldn’t listen to them for more than about fifteen minutes without feeling like my ears were getting very hot and my head was being squeezed. For me, I give them a five out of ten.
I love the GOgroove SolaceAIR Ergonomic Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset, for many reasons, but first let’s talk about the price. I was looking to see what I could find for under $100. These retail for $74.95, and I found them for $39.99 with free shipping. I have seen them for as low as $24, but whichever price you find, I feel you get your money’s worth. Given the lower price point, I was also a little more forgiving.
Because I listen to lots of books, and often when I go to sleep, comfort is a big consideration. Initially, the impression is that the earphones will fall off. In fact, these fit loosely but comfortably. The sound is not as loud or full as the Sony’s, but very nice. These are a great pair of headphones, especially if your environment is not overly loud.
I found these are very easy to pair, and give audio feedback. Hold down the power button, listen for the tones, followed by a pause and another tone, and the device is in pairing mode. It does not require a code, but says you can use 0000 if needed. Because the manual was only one page, I chose to scan it instead of looking for it online. The battery life is incredible; 15 hours on a three-hour charge, using USB. This mini USB option is great, because cables are interchangeable, and easily replaced. You can also use the headset while it’s charging, which is a great plus. It is easy to pair this device, which is a good thing, because you may be doing it often. The Sony’s hold onto the pairing like a dog with a bone, while the GOgrooves tend to forget those devices to which they are paired. At some point, you lose audio and sometimes end up in No-Man’s Land when pairing. VoiceOver volume can get muted to zero on iDevices. This happened more with the Sony’s than the GOgrooves, but is a problem Apple will need to address.
The GOgrooves have only two buttons: volume and a power switch. There is no ability to go to next or previous tracks, and these don’t work with Siri or with voice recognition on Android. Even if you find these on EBay and don’t have the opportunity to return them, and even if you find they’re not for you, they still make a nice gift. I think I’ll keep using these, as I really enjoy them. Even though I wish they were louder, I’d rate them eight out of ten.
Even if you are using a device that does not have built-in Bluetooth, you have options for adding it so that you can use one of these headsets with, for example, the iPod Nano or the Victor Stream, which do not have Bluetooth capabilities. First, I started by looking for a solution for Apple-specific devices and found the i10s (NEW Luxurious Black) Tiny Bluetooth iPod Transmitter for iPod/iPhone/iPad/iTouch. This is tiny, and doesn’t require a battery. You simply plug it into the device, put your headphones into pairing mode, and they will find each other. The audio is great A2DP, with nice crisp sound and good stereo separation. The price is $49.95, and as with most Apple products, there is no discount. While it is worth what you pay, both in functionality and design, the price is a little rich for me, especially in light of what I am about to show you.
Unfortunately, this product also has its downsides. There is about a half-second delay between when the iDevice speaks and when you hear the audio through the Bluetooth headphones. Another thing I really didn’t like about this device is that it kills your battery. An iPod Nano usually lasts ten to twelve hours per charge, and this transmitter takes battery life down to four! So, you could have a situation where you have fifteen hours of charge on your earphones, and only four on your iDevice. Another thing to note is that one of the devices biggest benefits is also one of its biggest drawbacks, namely, the size of the device. The company also sells a wristband-style device that holds your Nano and the transmitter in place, and looks like a watch. However, you need to disassemble everything each time you charge the Nano. I would give it a rating of about a six out of ten. Your mileage may vary, but I can’t recommend this as an end-all be-all solution, especially in light of the next product.
The final device is the Miccus BluBridge Mini-Jack: Bluetooth Music Transmitter, which adds Bluetooth ability to any Non-Bluetooth Audio Source. You can connect this into any device with an eighth-inch audio jack, and will allow you to transmit to any Bluetooth-enabled jack. This can be anything from your car radio, to headphones, to Bluetooth speakers. You get eight hours of battery life, and only a $36.99 price tag. It doesn’t add that much to the device, and works great with items like the Nano, Victor Stream, or any mainstream or blindness audio devices. You can charge it through the USB on your computer, and can use it while charging. I really liked this device for pairing both earpieces with the MacBook Air. I spent considerable amount of time trying to pair the GOgrooves, but pairing with the Miccus was effortless, and I have very little negative to say about it. I would rate it nine out of ten.
In general, I learned that because white space, spread spectrum technology like the type used for cordless phones is common, you will find you may have some interference. I don’t think I would go one hundred percent bluetooth, but it is an enjoyable experience overall.
Amazon is open to returns if you buy an item you do not like. So take the opportunity to try out new products, and give feedback that may help others, and will help Amazon improve as well.
I look forward to receiving your feedback and suggestions. You are welcome to send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment on the Blab Line, at (866) 997-blab or 2522, or send us an iReport on iBlink Radio.