With the holiday season quickly approaching, and the recent big upswing in popularity and quality of stereo Bluetooth
headphones and headsets, we decided to take a look at the best Bluetooth values available. We found them in the JayBird Sportsband
($89), JayBird Freedom
($99) and the Phiaton PS 20 BT
In the past, it has only been Sennheiser and Sony with any viable Bluetooth headphone options, at least options involving any sort of sound quality. With the offerings from newcomer JayBird
, and the latest from Phiaton, we’re thinking some of the Sennheiser Bluetooth headphones suddenly seem overpriced.
Regarding cost, we’ll start with the most expensive in our mini-shootout, the Phiaton PS 20 BT. We found the Phiaton ‘Half In-Ear’ fit to be easy to use, but not very isolating employing the included silicon eartips. Some of us achieved good isolation with tips from other manufacturers. We also found it necessary to use the clip or porvided neck strap to securely affix the Bluetooth controller to a shirt pocket or around your neck. Without using the clip or neck strap, the weight of the controller can pull the earphones out of your ears.
[caption id="attachment_2281" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Phiaton PS20"]
The PS 20 BT’s have a warm sonic signature, sounding somewhat veiled and compressed. The bass response is strong with good impact, but lacks control and definition giving it a one-note tonality. Negatives aside, resolution is decent and much better than many more expensive Bluetooth headphones we’ve listened to. Frankly, broken, distorted sound is a common characteristic of Bluetooth audio, but the Phiaton remains smooth and relatively clear. The microphone, located on the controller dongle, is also fairly clear as long as you hold it up to your mouth while speaking. Without the mic placed near your mouth, your voice becomes distant and the mic picks up surrounding ambient noise. After publishing this blog, Phiaton pointed out the fact that the PS 20 BT is Bluetooth V3 which provides longer battery life, extended transmission range and has a wider bandwidth than V2.1 allowing for less compressed music transmission. To get the benefit of Bluetooth V3, you need to pair the Phiaton's with a source that is Bluetooth V3 capable.
Moving down a little in price but up a lot in sound quality, we found the acoustic performance of the JayBird Freedom to be surprisingly better than many wired earphones in same price range. These slightly funky looking in-ears are musically accurate and natural sounding with a well balanced presentation. Again, the resolution was clear as day and the nuances of the music were apparent with no crunchy Bluetooth distortion audible. The mic is located on one of the ear pieces so it too tends to pick up surrounding noise; the person on the other end of the call will likely have a hard time hearing you if you’re in a moderately noisy environment. The same is true for the JayBird Sportsband model discussed below.
It wasn’t obvious the Freedom offers all the player + phone controls we’ve come to expect from Bluetooth headsets until we read the user’s manual. It turns out the volume control buttons doubles as the track skip controls when held down. Hold the volume up button and skip forward, hold the volume down button and skip back. Aah OK. Got it!
[caption id="attachment_2279" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Jaybird Freedom"]
None of us are really big fans of the Freedom’s cosmetics. The bulkly rectangular ear pieces look, let’s face it, kind of goofy! The statement you’ll make with these earphones is, “I care about great audio, not cool looks.” If you can get beyond the visually cumbersome design, the Freedom’s include 3 sizes of ear fins and a set of earhooks to ensure a secure fit during active exercise. JayBird also guarantees their products “will not fail because of perspiration for the expected life of the product”. In other words, if they stop working as a direct result of sweat, JayBird will repair or replace the earphones at their discretion for life.
Maintaining the same warranty and sweat-resistant design, the JayBird Sportsband is a great alternative to the in-ears for many active uses. While none of us were totally blown away by the sound, we were intrigued and highly engaged by the unnatural spaciousness of these headphones. One reviewer, while working out, had to stop when he heard subtly layered background guitar tracks in a Led Zeppelin song that he’d never noticed before. The mid range frequencies have an ability to sound forward and in your face while sounding distant and spacious at the same time. Weird, but wholly engaging. The overall sound signature is warm, with good thump in the lows and smooth highs that will definitely get you through your workout, albeit you may have to stop as you seemingly hear things you didn’t realize were there.
[caption id="attachment_2280" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Jaybird Sportsband"]
We had differing opinions on the fit of these cans. Most found the fit easy and secure, again, great for exercise. Others found the fit a little clamping, getting uncomfortable quickly. On the smallest of heads it wouldn’t stay on at all. The rubber-like inner surface of the headband is designed to get tacky as it gets damp, keeping them in place as you work up a sweat, assuring a more secure fit the harder you work out!
There was an issue for the group’s iPhone users who weren’t able to get a lot of volume from the Sportsband. Those of us with Droids didn’t have the issue, but could still see volume being an issue at a gym that is pumping house music. With the open design of the headphones, you may be maxing the volume to compete with surrounding noise. On the other hand, if you are a jogger who prefers the streets or trails, the open design lets you remain aware of your surroundings so you can dodge traffic, or in our case here in Montana, hear the grizzly bear crashing through the trees!
All in all, we are pleasantly surprised by the sound quality of all of these Bluetooth headphones. In the past you needed to spend a ton of money just to get into a pair only to find unresolved, distorted sound and less than intuitive functionality. All three models reviewed were easily paired to any device we tried, all fully functioned with both iPhone and Droids, and all three offer headset capabilities. In the collective HeadRoom opinion, all three models are easily recommendable and would make great Christmas gifts for anyone with a need or desire for wireless Bluetooth headphones.
For more information please visit www.headphone.com or call 1-800-828-8184. HeadRoom’s headphone experts are standing by to give you an educated headphone recommendation for anyone, in any activity.