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Budget Bluetooth: Six wireless headphones for a song

J. Andrew Yang | Feb. 3, 2014
We've all heard of Moore's Law, which posits that the number of transistors on a typical integrated circuit doubles every two years. But one of the overlooked side effects of such technological progress is the proliferation of cheap chips. For example, the price of Bluetooth ASICs, used in everything from audio devices to smart watches to fitness monitors, has dropped dramatically over the past few years. As a result, a growing number of small vendors are bringing stereo-Bluetooth headsets to market at prices that would have been unheard of just five years ago. I took a look at six budget-priced Bluetooth headphones to see if there are (finally) affordable options worth considering.

We've all heard of Moore's Law, which posits that the number of transistors on a typical integrated circuit doubles every two years. But one of the overlooked side effects of such technological progress is the proliferation of cheap chips. For example, the price of Bluetooth ASICs, used in everything from audio devices to smart watches to fitness monitors, has dropped dramatically over the past few years. As a result, a growing number of small vendors are bringing stereo-Bluetooth headsets to market at prices that would have been unheard of just five years ago. I took a look at six budget-priced Bluetooth headphones to see if there are (finally) affordable options worth considering.

Able Planet True Fidelity BT400B
When Able Planet was founded in 2006, the company initially focused on licensing noise canceling technology to other headphone makers. These days, Able Planet sells a range of consumer-focused headphones, including the $100 True Fidelity BT400B Wireless Headset. The BT400B lacks noise-canceling technology, but Able Planet touts the company's Linx Audio technology as a key feature across most of the consumer headphone lineup.

The BT400B is a behind-the-neck headphone: It uses a pair of lightweight, on-ear earpieces connected by a band that wraps behind your neck. The band has a matte texture, while the earpieces are glossy — though it's not a high gloss, so it doesn't seem especially prone to scratching. (My review sample was white, but Able Planet currently lists only black on its website.) The neck band folds in three locations so that the BT400B can be folded up for transport or storage. However, excessive play in the joints and some slightly discolored glue holding the wiring in place give the appearance of poor build quality.

The foam earpiece covers are thin but still comfortable, likely in part because behind-the-neck headphones don't typically exert much pressure on the ears — I was able to wear the BT400B for a couple hours without discomfort.

The BT400B uses a mish-mash of switches and toggles for standard controls. A multi-function button, located on the face of the right earpiece, is used to initiate pairing, toggle power on and off, and control phone-call features. Track controls (previous and next) are implemented as two buttons along the edge of the earpiece. And, a rocker switch controls volume and playback functions. This volume/play switch was fussy in my testing: You rock the switch up or down for volume adjustment, and you press it to toggle play/pause; however, it often took me a few tries to activate the play/pause functionality.

According to the company, its Linx Audio technology is a patented algorithm that tries to maximize clarity of human speech. This seems a laudable goal for audio playback, but in practice, the appeal isn't so straightforward: Singers don't always set out to perfectly enunciate lyrics. If anything, singers are taught to intentionally de-emphasize certain sounds to limit harshness or sibilance. As a result, I found the BT400B to be well suited to podcast listening, but music comes across too harsh and thin, as the lower mids and much of the bass are missing from the presentation.

 

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