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 Pulse's built-in control buttons are located on the right earpiece. The central power button also serves as a play/pause/phone button. A light in the middle of this button provides basic information such as connection status, power state, and low battery. The playback and volume controls eschew the common diamond layout in favor of a square configuration with volume-down and -up buttons on top and track back and forward on the bottom. Even over several weeks of use, I never got used to the novel control arrangement — I had just enough doubt as to the relative positioning of the controls that I was hesitant to make any adjustments during long podcasts for fear of losing my spot. The buttons are a rubberized plastic, and work well; I just wish they used a more traditional layout.

In terms of comfort, the combination of thin earpads and a headband that squeezes too tightly meant that I had to regularly adjust the headphones to ease the pressure. If you have an average to narrow head, this will likely be less of an issue, although I suspect that the thin on-ear cushioning will still be uncomfortable.

The Pulse is physically similar to other headphones I've recently reviewed, including the Eagle Tech Arion, above. However, the Pulse's audio performance lags behind its peers. I found the audio to be harsh, thanks to an overemphasis in the higher frequencies — across my usual range of blues, jazz, pop and rock listening, it was difficult to listen to most vocals and instruments in the upper midrange range. I found myself almost wincing while listening to the upper registers of female vocalists, many sections of lead electric guitar, and drumkit cymbals. Lower frequencies — across the entire bass range — were also lacking: The standing bass on a jazz recording was clearly audible, but it lacked any real sense of presence or depth. The Pulse might perform better with synthetic pop, but it just wasn't a good fit for my listening tastes.

As with many Bluetooth headphones, I had a poor experience using the built-in microphone for Siri: On my iPhone, Siri's microphone icon indicates an audio level of nearly 50 percent — meaning lots of noise — even when I wasn't speaking any commands. On many occasions, this left Siri waiting indefinitely for "the rest" of my command, as it seemed to think I was still talking. Manually ending the input sequence allowed Siri to begin processing the request, but these audio issues also often led to poor accuracy. I was surprised by this poor performance, given the good performance of the apparently similar Arion.

Subjekt claims battery life of up to 10 hours of audio playback, 11 hours of phone use, or 250 hours of standby — similar to the promised life of most of the other models here. I used the Pulse daily for almost three weeks on a couple charges, so Subjekt's claims seem to be on the conservative side.

 

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

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.