Head-Fi.org › 2015 Summer Buying Guide › Head Fi Buying Guide Wireless Headphones

Head-Fi Buying Guide (Wireless Headphones)

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In-Ear Headphones
Wireless Headphones
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Ultra-High-End Headphones (Summit-Fi)
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Head-Fi Buying Guide
Wireless Headphones

I find the wireless category to be among the most exciting in headphones. Over the last several years, big advances have been made in this segment, and I expect much more to come. So if you were under the impression that there was no such thing as good wireless headphones--let alone outstanding ones--then connect yourself to your music only via the ether tether of the following headphones. You'll be amazed.

Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless  c57420db_blast_new_green_2.png

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Price no object, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless Over-Ear is easily my current top choice in wireless Bluetooth headphones. Why? In a growing field of excellent Bluetooth headphones, the MOMENTUM Wireless combines all the features I've wanted that the other Bluetooth standouts I've used miss.

 

With the MOMENTUM Wireless, Sennheiser seems to have assessed all the gaps left by the competition, and filled them. It has what I feel to be the best build quality of all Bluetooth headphones I've tried, with its ample use of stitched high-grade leather and the wonderful brushed stainless steel carried over from the first MOMENTUM. The fit and finish is simply superb (as would be expected for its highest-in-class price). Also, though it's not immediately evident when you see it, the new MOMENTUMs have hidden hinges that allow the MOMENTUMs to fold without sacrificing the MOMENTUM aesthetic, making them much more compact for carrying.

 

The new over-ear MOMENTUMs (including this wireless one) also have substantially larger earcups than the first-gen over-ear model. While most seemed to find the first-gen MOMENTUM Over-Ear models comfortable, I think all will agree the larger cups and larger super-plush earpads only make this latest generation substantially more comfortable.

 

In terms of battery life, the MOMENTUM Wireless is outstanding. Its battery is rated to provide a very generous 22 hours of use in wireless mode, which puts it in the upper range of headphones of this type, and enough that I've not yet run it down completely in normal use. For me, long battery life is critically important, especially for a headphone to be suited for travel, and this headphone exceeds my expectations. It also charges rather quickly, taking only three hours to top off.

 

The MOMENTUM Wireless' outgoing voice quality is excellent, too, which is important for someone who's on the phone a lot (which I am). In direct comparisons, I've found it's a step behind Sony's MDR-1RBT in this regard, but not by much. Like the Sony, it doesn't do much (if anything) to actively cancel noise on outgoing voice, but the clarity of its dual-omni beamforming mic array is very good. Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but as good as its outgoing voice quality is, knowing what Sennheiser is capable of with noise canceling on outgoing voice as evidenced by their Presence earpiece, I do wish they'd done the same with the MOMENTUM Wireless.

 

The MOMENTUM Wireless also has active noise canceling, using something Sennheiser calls hybrid active NoiseGuard. What I find very nice about this headphone's noise canceling circuit is that it is effective at blunting travel noise, yet isn't invasive. (This is no doubt helped by the MOMENTUM Wireless' very good passive noise attenuation.) No, it isn't the crazy noise barrier that is the Bose QuietComfort25's circuit, but it does enough to be an effective travel headphone, and it's the substantially better sounding headphone for music (and it's wireless). Compared to the Beats Studio Wireless (possibly the most popular >$300 wireless headphone), the MOMENTUM's noise canceling circuit is more effective, but with substantially lower self-noise--and the MOMENTUM also sounds heaps better than the Beats Studio Wireless. Also, compared to most noise cancelers, the MOMENTUM Wireless seems less likely to bother those sensitive to the feeling of pressure that some noise canceling circuits present.

 

In addition to canceling noise, the MOMENTUM Wireless' version of Sennheiser's NoiseGard also has a sound sculpting effect that I actually like a lot. The bass seems to tighten up nicely when it's on, and the sense of enhanced clarity it imparts overall is very nicely executed. I also prefer the MOMENTUM Wireless' imaging with the circuit on--it's more spacious and airy, and I imagine that's owing to careful application of DSP. I suspect a lot of subjective listening tests and engineering at Sennheiser's HQ were generously employed in crafting this headphone's performance when the active circuit is employed. Simply put, I think most who compare the two modes will prefer the MOMENTUM when it's turned on.

 

On balance, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless is simply the best headphone of its type that I have yet used. It provides the freedom of wireless and long battery life. It allows me to take and make phone calls. It provides very good active noise cancellation. It is comfortable. It is relatively compact. It is a gorgeous headphone, with build quality to match. And, most importantly, for my tastes, it is the best sounding headphone of its type that I've heard.


All of this excellence comes at a steep price, though, with the Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless Over-Ear priced at $499.95. This (along with the similarly priced Bang & Olufsen H8 that I haven't yet heard) is among the most expensive in this class of headphones.

 

NOTE: Sennheiser also introduced an on-ear MOMENTUM Wireless ($399.95), but, at the time of this writing, we haven't yet heard it.

TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear, wireless Bluetooth headphones 
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PRICE: $499.95
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URL: www.sennheiser.com
Pendulumic STANCE S1+  
TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear, wireless Bluetooth headphones
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PRICE: $199.00 
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URL: pendulumic.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Chunbeng Quek, through the design firm he co-founded, has worked with the likes of Samsung and Nokia. In 2006, he started designing audio products, working with a team from Sennheiser. Several years later, his firm's design portfolio consisted of over 50 headphones and earphones for Sennheiser, including some involving wireless technology, where he first starting working with AptX technology. With that experience, he was part of a small team that formed to craft high-performance wireless headphones, and thus was born the company Pendulumic.

 

At the time of this entry's writing, Pendulumic was making and selling one model--the Pendulumic STANCE S1+--and with it, straight away, on sound quality alone, Pendulumic is competing with the best Bluetooth headphones I've yet heard, including the best from Philips, Sony, Sennheiser and Parrot. With feedback from audio enthusiasts about its very first model (called the S1, without the "+"), Pendulumic has tuned the S1+ with a sound signature that has wide appeal. It's detailed and even-handed enough (especially considering its Bluetooth wireless) to please most audiophile types, but with mild emphasis down low, and a little up top, to give it impactful enough sound to appeal to mass consumers, too.

 

The STANCE S1+ is equipped with Bluetooth 4.0, aptX, a built-in lithium-ion rechargeable battery that provides up to 18 hours of listening time, and the cool option of inserting backup AAA alkaline batteries for another 12 hours of listening time for particularly long trips between charges. And while it may not be as tech-trick as the Parrot Zik 2.0's capacitive touch interface, Pendulumic's multi-function volume knob provides an extremely intuitive way to play/pause, track-forward, and answer/end calls. It's also very unusual to see such a proper volume knob on a headphone, but it's a joy to use.

With the STANCE S1+, Pendulumic has created a headphone that's comfortable for long listening sessions. I like the comfort strap design--it's nice, for an on-the-go headphone, to be able to just put it on without having to resize the headband every time you take it out of its case. In terms of style, it's a nice headphone, with a mildly retro look. The STANCE S1+'s build quality is good, but its chassis' level of polish isn't quite up to the standards you'll see and feel in its more expensive competitors from the likes of Sony, Sennheiser, Philips and Parrot.

 

Still, for only $199, the Pendulumic STANCE S1+ is a beast of a performer for a Bluetooth headphone, its fidelity among the best I've yet heard from any Bluetooth over-ear, regardless of price. A lot of experience was brought to bear in its creation, and you can hear it.

 

"[T]his is a great HiFi full size headphone to begin with that can go head-to-head in sound comparison with some of the more expensive pro-audio headphones, and yet it can deliver this wireless without reduction in audio quality!"

-twister6
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

Sony MDR-1RBT

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Sony's MDR-1RBT, as far as Bluetooth headphones go, is as near to perfect as I've so far used. Why? Built with the same design as the Sony MDR-1R--one of the most comfortable closed headphones I've ever worn--the MDR-1RBT is easy to wear all day, and the most comfortable Bluetooth over-ear I've used. Of all Bluetooth over-ear headphones I've tried, the new Sony has by far the best outgoing voice quality. Its Bluetooth wireless range is outstanding, so when I'm in the middle of a call, I don't worry about how far I'm straying from the phone. The music and call controls are very intuitive to use, second only to the Parrot ZIK's touch panel user interface. Like the Parrot ZIK, the MDR-1RBT also supports NFC pairing.

 

And its sound? To my ears, the MDR-1RBT is now the top of the Bluetooth heap. Mildly elevated bass, but still well-controlled down low. Midrange that has excellent fleshy presence and detail. And treble that is more extended and refined than any of its competitors. Background noise in wireless mode is also very low, perhaps the quietest background I've heard so far in a Bluetooth headphone. While I feel its passive-only sibling the MDR-1R is the best sounding of the new Sony family of headphones, the MDR-1RBT does a very good job approaching the MDR-1R's performance. In its Bluetooth wireless mode, the MDR-1RBT uses something it calls "S-Master" full digital amplification to drive the headphones, and "DSEE" to improve compressed audio. In the MDR-1RBT, those technologies are doing their job, as, even via Bluetooth, it retains the character of the MDR-1R, which earns it the top spot of all the Bluetooth headphones I've heard so far.

 

Plug the included audio-only cable in, and the MDR-1RBT becomes a fantastic portable, closed around-the-ear headphone. With sound quality in the MDR-1RBT's passive mode even closer to its passive-only MDR-1R sibling, it's obvious Sony spent as much time and effort getting the MDR-1RBT acoustically tuned as they did perfecting its electronics.

 

The MDR-1RBT uses an internal rechargeable battery rated for up to 30 hours of listening time, which is astounding. Given its headset functionality, its sound performance in both its Bluetooth wireless and wired passive modes, and its remarkable battery life, the MDR-1RBT is quickly becoming my primary on-the-go headphone.

 

Its downsides? In passive mode, you give up all the remote control functionality. I wish Sony was able to enable the 1RBT's excellent right-side controls to work in passive mode, but they did not. And the only other downside is my biggest criticism of the 1RBT: It offers no active noise canceling. For a headphone with this much road warrior functionality, the option to enable active noise canceling would have made this headphone the most perfect overall travel headphone on the market. Also in the new Sony line is the Sony MDR-1RNC active noise canceling headphone (which is included in the "Over-Ear Headphones" section of this guide), but it offers no wireless functionality, and compromised passive performance. Oh, to have had the best of both of the MDR-1RBT and MDR-1NC!

 

Still, when I'm going to be out and about--but not flying or riding a train--the Sony MDR-1RBT is, again, quickly becoming my go-to over-ear.

TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear, portable, wireless Bluetooth headphone
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MSRP: $399 
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URL: www.sony.com

 

Koss BT540i  
TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear, Bluetooth headphone 
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PRICE: $199.99
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URL: www.koss.com

Headphones are getting increasingly modern in their styling, and while I find that's definitely been for the better overall, not everyone is ready to abandon more conservative styling. While not retro, per se, Koss' brand new BT540i has a more classic, utilitarian look than a lot of its competition in the Bluetooth over-ear headphone segment, and I know for some it'll be a welcome reprieve from the ultra-chic or ripped-from-a-cyborg aesthetics some of the newer models have.

 

 

Despite the BT540i’s more conservative styling, it is very high-tech-equipped with aptX and NFC. The BT540i’s internal lithium-ion battery is charged with a micro-USB cable, and provides more than eight hours of listening from a single charge. If the battery does run down on you, the BT540i can also be used passively with the included audio cable. 

 

 

 The BT540i uses all-new Koss drivers, and its sound quality puts it in the company of some my other favorite Bluetooth over-ears. The BT540i's low-end has some mild mid-bass emphasis, and sounds a touch light in the area of low bass. Nevertheless, its bass is impactful enough to lay a nice foundation, even when on the go, and is reasonably detailed for this type of headphone. The BT540i's mids are generally neutral, but occasionally vocals through it can sound just a bit set back. Treble on the BT540i is good, a bit more present than the smoother sounding MDR-1RBT by Sony, but also less refined up top. Still, overall, for $200, the sound quality of the Koss BT540i, overall, makes for a very nice sounding Bluetooth headphone.

 

 

On most days, I'm on the phone a lot, so outgoing sound quality--how I sound to the people I'm talking to--is of immense importance to me. The Koss BT540i has a dual-microphone setup that reduces background noise to the person you’re talking to, and those I’ve talked to with it said my voice sounded nice and clear through the BT540i. Even though the Sony MDR-1RBT is still the leader in terms of overall outgoing sound quality (of the Bluetooth headphones I've used), the Koss is still among the clearer in the pack, and seems to reduce background noise more effectively than Sony's offering.

 

 
The BT540i's controls are also very intuitive, with a dedicated button or switch for just about every function and feature, which I really like. I also like that the buttons jut out proudly, easy to find, and laid out to be easy to use blindly.
 

 

The Koss BT540i also folds flat and comes with a nice, relatively compact carrying case.
 

 

If I have a criticism of the new Koss wireless headphone, it's the stated battery life of "more than eight hours," which is quite a bit lower than a few of its competitors, some of which tout upwards of 30 hours of runtime per charge. Fortunately, the Koss can be used passively with its included headphone cable when the battery gives out.

 

 

Overall, the Koss BT540i is an excellent entry to the Bluetooth headphone category, and makes an excellent music and working headphone for heavy telephone-talking Head-Fi'ers like me.

Sennheiser RS 185  c57420db_blast_new_green_2.png

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

When it comes to wireless headphones at home, Sennheiser, a few years back, introduced the Sennheiser RS 220, which was, by a wide margin at the time, the best sounding wireless headphone of any type that I'd ever heard. Its sound reminds me of the venerable Sennheiser HD6XX family, only with the freedom of wireless. Unfortunately, some RS 220 customers were experiencing signal drop-outs. Of course, RF traffic is going to vary from place to place, and I've not suffered such problems with my RS 220 either at home or at work (and still use it at home a lot), but Sennheiser still saw fit to substantially improve the RF performance of its latest generation of home wireless headphones, introduced at this year's CES.

 

Sennheiser introduced four new Sennheiser home wireless headphone models: RS 165, RS 175, RS 185, and RS 195. All of the new models incorporate a new Sennheiser proprietary wireless link technology that has low latency and improved range (with a claimed maximum range of 100 meters, or 328 feet). Sennheiser Product Manager Oliver Berg assured me that these latest wireless headphones should have much improved resistance to signal drop-outs, even in high RF traffic areas.

 

The new home wireless model most Head-Fi'ers would be most interested in is the Sennheiser RS 185 ($349.95). While not necessarily intended as a direct replacement for the now-discontinued RS 220, in my estimation that's essentially what it is. And, like the RS 220, the RS 185 is an open, circumaural design, and, like the RS220 was, the RS185 was designed specifically for enthusiasts of premium audio.

 

Like its forebear, the Sennheiser RS185 system is capable of detail retrieval that approaches very good wired headphones. Of course, it can't match up to the best wired headphone systems I've heard (and neither could the RS220), but there's no doubt I prefer it to many of my good wired headphones.

 

The RS185, in terms of background noise, is essentially dead quiet, which sets up a nice dark backdrop from which to show off its impressive ability to resolve fine, gossamer details. Though it has an analog input from which one can choose automatic level control or manual level control, I use (as I do with the RS220) the optical digital input, feeding it from the optical output of a Fostex HP-A4 or Fostex HP-A8C. (From its optical input, the level is fixed, with volume only controlled by the headphone controls.)

 

In terms of wireless range, the RS 185 does outdo the RS220, with both being easily able to cover my home's modest square footage, but the RS185 ultimately giving me more range in a simple keep-walking-until-the-signal-drops test. As I still do with the RS220, I marvel at my ability to enjoy wired-type fidelity with the RS185--fifty feet from my rig.

 

I've been using the Sennheiser RS 185 at home for a couple of months. In terms of overall performance, the young newcomer comes awful close to the esteemed RS 220, to my ears, and that's saying a lot, given the RS220's outlandish performance for a wireless headphone, and the fact that it was sold for $200 more than RS 185's asking price ($599.95 versus $399.95). In doing direct comparisons between the RS220 and the RS185, the RS 185 could be described as having a more exciting sound, a touch more thump down low, and a little more shimmer, a little more presence in the lower treble--and there are times I prefer it. Overall, though, for my tastes, the smoother, more even hand of the RS 220 probably has the edge. For me, the wily veteran also just edges out the RS 185 in terms of imaging, in terms both a sense of space, and a sense of precision.

 

Still, I haven't heard a wireless headphone of any type that's not named "RS 220" that competes with the RS185. Given that the RS220 has been put out to pasture, there's no current wireless headphone in production that I've heard that can compete with the RS 185. In my experience, in the premium wireless home headphone space, it's Sennheiser versus Sennheiser.

 

When it comes to wireless audio today, nobody is pushing the boundaries like Sennheiser.

 

"I love the RS185, it is a technological marvel that shows just what Sennheiser and every engineer that Germany can muster are capable of when they put their minds to it. It is nothing short of a miracle that you can have so high an audio quality level out of something wireless, powered by a couple of itty bitty AAA batteries."

-mark2410
Head-Fi Member/Reviewer

TYPE: Open, around-the-ear, full-size wireless headphone system 
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PRICE: $349.95
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URL: www.sennheiser.com
Parrot ZIK 2.0  
TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear, wireless Bluetooth headphone
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PRICE: $399.99
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URL: www.parrot.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

(NOTE: I've only been able to use the Parrot Zik 2.0 for a few days before this Guide update, so I will likely be updating this Parrot Zik 2.0 entry with expanded information/impressions in the future.)

 

The first-generation Parrot Zik was a remarkable first headphone from Parrot. Designed by Philippe Starck, it was beautiful to look at. Even to this day--more than two years after its release--the first-generation Parrot Zik is among the most tech-filled headphones on the market, with sensors galore, multiple microphones, capacitive touch interface, active noise canceling, Bluetooth connectivity, NFC, DSP, app connectivity and more. Recently, Parrot announced the Parrot Zik 2.0, and I had a chance to take a quick look and listen to it, and my early impression is that Parrot worked hard to make the Zik 2.0 a worthy successor, with solid improvements all around.

 

Though I'd only used it for a few days, it didn't take long to begin appreciating the upgrades that were made. In terms of style, the Zik 2.0 has more refined lines--the signature Starck flowing-liquid-look brushed metal yokes remain (thankfully), but now pour into more rounded, organic earcups (versus the original Zik's more sharp-cornered, more cylindrical earcups). The Zik 2.0 is also noticeably lighter than the first Zik, and feels more comfortable on the head. Those with extra large heads may find the Zik 2.0 too small--my head is larger than average, and the Zik 2.0 has to be fully extend to fit. (Actually, I could probably use just a wee bit more headband extension for an even better fit.)

 

The technology has also been updated and upgraded, the Zik 2.0's microphone count is up to eight total (from four in the first model), six of which are used for adaptive noise canceling--and noise canceling has indeed been improved. The Parrot mobile app for the Zik 2.0 is much cooler, with a five-band parametric equalizer, and even more extensive control of the sound with improved Parrot Concert Hall effects, and another equalizer (Parrot Equalizer) that lets you finger-drag-adjust the sound based on parameters named Pop, Vocal, Cristal, Club, Punchy, and Deep. The adaptive noise control is also adjustable via the app.

 

My first impression is that the sound quality with the Zik 2.0 is improved versus the first Zik. Resolution has been stepped up, and I think they may have one of the most musical Bluetooth headphone/headsets on the market now (and it certainly provides tremendous flexibility in the app to tune it to preference). In terms of its performance a Bluetooth headset (which is very important to me, as I'm on the phone a lot) it has also improved substantially, with people on the other side of the line saying I sound clearer than when I'm on the first Zik.

 

One of my favorite things about all the customizability (on the Zik and Zik 2.0) is that the custom settings live in the headphone's circuitry, not in the app, so your settings remain even when using different devices with the headphone. 

 

Again, after more time with the Zik 2.0, I'll update this Guide entry for it with more information and more detail.

Philips Fidelio M1BT

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Meeting with Philips' audio engineering team in Leuven, Belgium was fascinating. One of the products we gained a lot of insight about, with respect to its goals and its development, was the Philips Fidelio M1BT, the Bluetooth version of their Fidelio M1 wired headphone.

 

Of course, we met with the audio engineers. But we also met with their lead engineers for the wireless side of the headphone, and that alone was fascinating--discussing circuit design, antenna design, codecs. We also discussed the different devices the headphone will be used with, and the countless concerns therein. The melding of disparate disciplines needed to bring a good Bluetooth hi-fi headphone to market is remarkable.

 

So how'd they do? Wonderful! The M1BT is built on the Fidelio M1's excellent chassis, appears to be similar in size, but somehow packed in pretty much every current Bluetooth standard and codec currently out there, with Bluetooth 4.0, HFP, HSP, A2DP, AVRCP, SBC, AAC, and aptX support. Talk time and play time are rated at 10 hours from a full charge, with up to 350 hours of standby time. Range is rated (fairly, in my experience) as 15 meters.

 

Like the Fidelio M1, the M1BT is a supra-aural (on-the-ear) design, and is extremely comfortable, feeling very light on the head.

 

And the sound of the M1BT, compared to the wired M1 I have here, is a minor improvement over its wired counterpart. I'd still describe its sound signature as warm and smooth, but the M1BT sounds more effortless, controlled and open to me than the older wired M1 I have here. Never when I'm listening to the M1BT are my ears thinking "wireless."

 

One thing I do wish for with the M1BT is more telephone functionality. With the M1BT and my iPhone 5S, I can pick up and drop calls, but I can't initiate hands-free calling, or conjure Siri. When on a call, the people I talk to say I sound loud and clear, so the M1BT's dual microphones are doing their job well.

 

Overall, the Philips M1BT is a stellar premium Bluetooth headphone, and gives Sony's MDR-1RBT something to look over its shoulders for.

TYPE: Closed, on-the-ear, portable wireless Bluetooth headphone
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PRICE: EUR 249.99 (U.S. pricing has not been posted at time of writing) 
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URL: www.fidelio.philips.com
Phiaton BT 220 NC and Phiaton BT 100 NC  c57420db_blast_new_green_2.png
TYPE: BClosed, in-ear, active noise canceling, wireless Bluetooth headphones 
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PRICE: Around $160 and $100, respectively
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URL: www.phiaton.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Phiaton had all but fallen off my radar when they'd contacted me recently to ask if I'd like to try some of their current wireless models, and I've a soft spot for well-executed wireless headphones, so I said yes, please.

 

Both the BT 220 NC and BT 100 NC are modestly priced, feature-packed, wireless in-ears with Bluetooth 4.0, aptX, NFC pairing, multi-point connection (for pairing with up to two devices at the same time), and active noise canceling.

 

The first to arrive was the BT 220 NC, which has a form factor that took me a little getting used to, but that I came to understand and like after some time with it. It consists of a small control unit (about half the size of a pack of chewing gum) that houses the microphone (for calls), music/call controls, and the wireless and noise canceling circuitry--the earphones are permanently affixed to this unit via short cables. The BT 220 NC's control unit has a shirt clip built into its body, and also comes with a neck lanyard, for when you're wearing a shirt without a placket to clip to. (No, you won't be clipping it to your belt, as the cables to the earpieces are too short for that.)

 

The BT 220 NC's rechargeable battery is rated by Phiaton for approximately 16 hours of calling time, 17 hours of music-listening time, and up to 300 hours of standby. (Battery life for either calls or music is shortened to around 10 hours with noise canceling turned on.) While I've not run its battery to total depletion, my experience with it for extended use suggests these Phiaton numbers probably represent reasonable expectations. When the battery runs out--or for any other reason you need to plug it into a standard headphone jack--the BT 220 NC includes an audio cable.

 

I've used the BT 220 NC with both an iPhone 6 Plus and a Samsung Galaxy S4, and the performance with either is excellent for a Bluetooth in-ear, with a relatively flat overall tonal balance, but with some punch in the bass, and crisp highs. Frankly, the BT 220 NC's sound quality is more than I'd expect from a wireless in-ear priced so reasonably (at around $160), especially with such a full feature set.

 

The BT 220 NC also has active noise canceling, and I found it quite effective, taking the edge off the droning sounds of airplane travel, but there's no doubt the Bose QuietComfort headphones cancel still more noise. I also like that the self-noise from the circuit is very low, and I'm not getting any sense of pressure in my ears from it. The BT 220 NC also features a monitor feature that mutes your music and turns off noise canceling, for when you need to hear the world around you and don't feel like taking the earpieces out of your ears.

 

Other than the need to get used to wearing its control unit (which I am now used to), my main gripe with the BT 220 NC is the outgoing voice quality. While I can (and occasionally do) use it for talking on the phone, outgoing voice quality can sound distant and somewhat muffled. While it's not bad enough to keep me from using the BT 220 NC as a Bluetooth headset, I definitely wish for better clarity there.

 

Overall, though, if you're in the market for a reasonably-priced compact, wireless, noise canceling travel headphone, the Phiaton BT 220 NC is a solid, full-featured candidate that you should definitely put on your list of candidates.

 

As it turns out, I'm even more taken with the newer Phiaton BT 100 NC, as it's about as feature-packed as the BT 220 NC, trades the control unit for an around-the-neck form factor, is IXP4 sweat and water resistant, and is priced at only $99.00.

 

Like the BT 220 NC, the BT 100 NC has a control unit, from which the earpieces of the earphones are connected via short cables. The BT 100 NC's control unit is an around-the-neck style, and I find this a better arrangement than the BT 220 NC's control unit. Since it rests on your neck and shoulders like a collar, it doesn't swing around, or dangle in your way, and so I find it more comfortable, and much better at keeping the controls in the same place for more intuitive operation.

 

The BT 100 NC's rechargeable battery is rated by Phiaton for approximately 11 hours of calling time, 12 hours of music-listening time, and up to 220 hours of standby. (Battery life for either calls or music is shortened to around 7 to 7.5 hours with noise canceling turned on.)

 

To my ears, in terms of sound, the BT 100 NC is comparable to its sibling, with some mid-bass lift over a generally flat overall presentation. I'd have to give the edge to the BT 220 NC, though, in terms of the amount of detail conveyed. While the BT 100 NC's treble might sound smoother in direct comparison, it's at the expense of some sparkle and air. Still, for all it offers for a $99 water/sweat-resistant Bluetooth piece, the BT 100 NC's sound is quite good. (With both the BT 100 NC and BT 220 NC--and with many in-ears in general--it's important you get a good seal, otherwise they can sound lean.)

 

I like how Phiaton recognized an opportunity with the BT 100 NC's collar-type form factor to add vibration for notifications. When I'm wearing it, the vibration over my neck and shoulders is plenty strong enough that it'd be nearly impossible to miss a call, even while exercising, which is also helpful--along with its sweat/water-resistant design--in making it a fantastic wireless fitness headphone choice. (I'm not a fan of wearing headphones--especially closed headphones--while riding, walking or running outdoors, as I want to be able to hear oncoming cars, trains, bikes, etc.)

 

Another thing about the BT 100 NC that I've come to appreciate quite a lot is its outgoing voice quality, which, in my opinion, is very good, and better than most Bluetooth headphones I've encountered. No, it's not as impressive in this regard fas the Sennheiser Presence (still my standard-setter), but the BT 100 NC, especially for a headset of this type, has effective suppression of background noise and distractions on the user's end for clearer outgoing voice transmission. I love having a Bluetooth headphone that works this well for phone calls that I can sweat in, and walk in inclement weather with.

 

While neither of these Phiaton wireless in-ears is going to tear me away from my best wired IEMs for dedicated listening, they've both seen a lot of use from me when I want a break from cables, or desire some active noise canceling. Phiaton has two strong wireless, noise canceling in-ear winners with their BT 220 NC and BT 100 NC.

Sony MDR-10RBT

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Since its release, the Sony MDR-1RBT (this headphone's higher-end predecessor) has been--by a margin--my go-to over-ear Bluetooth headphone. When I found out Sony was releasing a smaller, lighter, more affordable sibling this year, my ears definitely perked up. Would it sound as good? Would it have the standard-setting microphone of its sibling? Would it be as comfortable? I've now been using it for a while, and here are the answers.

 

The Sony MDR-10RBT has a sound signature that approaches its larger sibling, but doesn't quite reach it. Like the MDR-1RBT, the MDR-10RBT has some bass emphasis, but its bass isn't quite as taut as the more veteran sibling's. Overall, the MDR-10RBT's tonal balance is thicker than the MDR-1RBT, and its ability to resolve details is not quite as good. Still, though, the MDR-1RBT set a high bar for any Bluetooth headphone, in my opinion, so this isn't faint praise for the MDR-10RBT. And this newer Sony wireless headphone is still among the better sounding Bluetooth over-ears in a segment that's getting more and more crowded.

 

As for the MDR-10RBT's microphone: it's good. It's clear. I haven't had any complaints from people I talk to on it. As with its headphone sound signature, the MDR-10RBT's microphone is not at the level of its big sibling; but, in terms of the clarity of the user's voice for phone calls, it's in very good standing versus all of the other Bluetooth over-ears I've used (except the Sony MDR-1RBT, whose microphone is the best I've so far used).

 

Compared to the MDR-1RBT, the MDR-10RBT holds up well, in terms of comfort. No, it is not the wireless cloud of comfort that the MDR-1RBT is (no doubt helped along by the MDR-1RBT's wider headband and larger earpieces); but the MDR-10RBT comes far closer than I'd have expected from a headphone this small. It is one of the most comfortable Bluetooth over-ear headphones I've used, and easily the most comfortable I've used in its size range.

 

With a rated 17 hours of use per charge, the MDR-10RBT's battery life is very good. I also found its range good--long enough that I don't worry about wandering away from my phone while wearing it.

 

My only big criticism of the MDR-10RBT is the lack of a dedicated call button. As an iPhone user, I use the MDR-1RBT's dedicated call button to initiate Siri for all of the cool things that Siri can do (including voice dialing and message dictation). With the MDR-10RBT, I'm left to initiate all of those things from the handset, because it's hybrid call/play button will not initiate Siri or hands-free calling with my iPhone 5S.

 

With the Sony MDR-10RBT, Sony has a lighter, more compact wireless headphone that's very easy to recommend.

TYPE: Closed, around-the-ear, portable wireless Bluetooth headphone
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MSRP: $249 
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URL: www.sony.com
Noble BTS (Bluetooth Solution)  c57420db_blast_new_green_2.png
CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90
TYPE: Ultra-portable Bluetooth receiver (with microphone for headset compatibility) 
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PRICE: $99 
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URL: www.nobleaudio.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Given the growing consumer demand for wireless headphone, a lot of headphone makers are going wireless, and wireless headphones are getting better and better. But, still, there was one recent move into wireless that was a huge surprise to me: Noble Audio with their Bluetooth Solution (BTS).

 

Instead of creating a single wireless IEM with built-in wireless, Noble decided on a modular solution to Bluetooth-enable their entire line of IEMs. You just pair the BTS with your phone (or other Bluetooth-enabled audio device), plug your in-ear monitor into the BTS, and, voila, wireless Noble IEM!

 

The BTS can Bluetooth-enable any headphone you plug into it, not just Noble's models. But, to help encourage its use with Noble IEMs, the Noble BTS comes with a short (15.5") standard two-in detachable cable, allowing you to hang the BTS off the cable like a pendant. Helping to make this a fantastic and comfortable option is the fact that the Noble BTS weighs only 0.36 ounce (10 grams).

 

The BTS's USB-rechargeable battery provides at least seven hours of continuous music playback or talk time, which represents at least an entire day's worth of typical use. Standby time is rated at 192 hours, and the battery charges in about two hours. The BTS employs Bluetooth 4.0 and aptX, and has multipoint support for up to two devices at once. Its wireless range is rated for up to 10 meters (33 feet). The BTS's diminutive chassis has easy-to-use, intuitive push-button call/music controls.

 

The BTS also provides Bluetooth headset functionality, using an omnidirectional microphone atop the BTS. While I totally dig that it can turn a $2800 custom IEM into something I can use for phone calls, I found the BTS's outgoing voice quality to be merely so-so. I do take and make calls using the BTS, but I wouldn't recommend its use for important, life-altering phone calls, as it can make your voice sound a bit distant to the person on the other end.

 

Because the BTS was designed by a company that makes multi-armature in-ears, you might be wondering what the BTS's output impedance is. The answer is less than one ohm, according to Noble, so there's absolutely nothing to worry about there.

 

In terms of sound quality for music listening, the BTS is nothing less than outstanding. Hooking up the Noble Prestige to the BTS yields a wireless headphone that very much conveys the beautiful voicing and character of what has become one of my favorite IEMs. Does it sound exactly like the Prestige does when it's wired? No. Not surprisingly, given up in the move to wireless is some of the gossamer detail this IEM has become known for, and it also gives up some of the low-end impact it's also known for. That said, I'm still in disbelief about what I'm experiencing, when I'm listening to the Prestige doing its beautiful thing, and then I look down to see it hooked into nothing but the tiny BTS. The BTS is so fantastic at being what it is.

 

As much as I love Bluetooth-enabling something as high-end (in terms of performance and price) as the Noble Prestige, I'm actually almost as thrilled about using the BTS to Bluetooth-enable my Sennheiser fitness headphones. A few of my favorite exercise headphones of all time are by Sennheiser--for their fit, durability, and, of course, sound--but Sennheiser doesn't make any of them available in wireless versions. With the BTS, they're all wireless now!

 

As you can imagine, given its tiny size, the BTS doesn't have the amp inside to rassle a HiFiMAN HE-6 to its knees, but anything with reasonable sensitivity--the type of headphone you're most likely to want to use wirelessly and on-the-go--is probably going to be driven fine by the BTS to decent volume levels.

 

There's so much to love about the Noble BTS, but here's one more thing: It's only $99! For all it does, and for that price, don't be surprised to find it backordered. And don't be surprised, once you get it, if you end up keeping it handy everywhere you go, like I do.

Sennheiser RS 220

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

This headphone is a remarkable feat of engineering--a solid bridge between wireless freedom and wired fidelity. If this was easy to do at a reasonable price, it would have been done before, many times over--and that hasn’t happened, because it most certainly is not easy to do. Not surprisingly, Sennheiser did it first.

 

Prior to the RS 220, Sennheiser made valiant strides toward this end, especially with the RS 170 and RS 180, both impressive Kleer-equipped wireless headphones (and both still available). Impressive as the RS 170 and RS 180 were, however, they were a different flavor of awesome, that flavor being outstanding-for-wireless headphones; whereas the RS 220 is an outstanding headphone, period, even by wired standards.

 

The RS 220's low-latency, bit-perfect wireless transmission means full preservation of dynamic range, and this probably helps explain one area (but certainly not the only area) the RS 220 simply outclasses all other wireless headphones I've heard--diaphanous, delicate detail. It's macrodynamic abilities are also outstanding, but keep in mind that the RS 220 maxes out at 106 decibels (which is plenty high enough for me, and I certainly hope for you, too).

The RS 220 has become my most-used full-sized over-ear headphone, as it gives me the freedom to move around my home office area, moving from my desk to my chaise to my sofa, with fidelity that evokes the sound of a nicely driven Sennheiser HD 600.

 

The Sennheiser RS 220 uses a NiMH AAA battery that recharges when you place the headphone on its stand/transmitter. Battery life is rated at six to eight hours.

 

After so many years of expecting this kind of sound only from wired headphones, I still find myself motioning with my hands to move the non-existent headphone cables out of the way as I adjust my seating position. And I still regularly take the RS 220 headphone off my head when I get up from my office chair, forgetting it's wireless. Remarkable.

TYPE: Closed, full-size, around-the-ear, wireless headphone
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MSRP: $599
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URL: www.sennheiser.com

 

 

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