Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

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.

The biggest disappointment with the Flyte came when I turned them on. Manhattan touts the Flyte's "outstanding 3D stereo surround" using an audio-processing feature that can't be disabled. But that processor makes all audio sound like it's being played inside an echo chamber. The additional reverb is difficult to pick up in synthesized pop music, but with anything outside of that genre, the result is a poor listening experience. Similarly, in my testing the built-in microphone was poor at providing accurate input for either Siri or dictation.

The company claims that the Flyte offers eight hours of music listening on a charge (or 12 hours of chat time or up to 24 hours of standby time). In my experience, the battery life was better than quoted. Like the Arion, the Flyte displays a battery-level indicator in the iOS status bar, though it has no indicator on the headphone itself.

As bad as my impression is of the Flyte, it really is only a few changes away from being a competent set of headphones. Just eliminating the "3D stereo sound" feature would likely go a long way towards making the Flyte worthy of consideration. I'd also like to see some tweaks to the headband geometry to reduce the pressure on the ears. I can't recommend the Flyte in its current configuration.

MEElectronics Air-Fi Runaway AF32 Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headphones
MEElectronics's $100 Air-Fi Runaway AF32 Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headphones, available in six colors, is the company's entry-level Bluetooth headset. The AF32 uses high-gloss plastic for the headband and earcups, while a leatherette material covers the inside of the headband and the earpads. The narrow headband and flimsy-feeling plastic make the AF32 feel less than durable, but I found no issues over several weeks of daily use. Overall, I found the AF32 to be among the most comfortable on-ear heaphones I've used, at any price, thanks to the combination of light headband compression and the shape of (and cushion on) the earpad.

When it comes to audio quality, the AF32 performs admirably with my particular mix of music and podcast listening. Bass is better developed than with most other headphones in this price range, and though the small driver size limits any visceral sense of bass, that's true of any headphone below a certain size. Midrange frequencies are a bit subdued — a flaw most apparent with vocals — but and the highs don't come across as harsh. Overall, the sound is a bit thin and slightly muted, but better than expected.

The built-in microphone was decent with both Siri and dictation, which is (sadly) above average as far as headphone microphones go. Voice quality on calls was acceptable, as well. Battery life is claimed to be "over 12 hours" of playback," which seemed accurate to me, as I could go about a week of daily commute listening between charges.

 

Previous Page  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.