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High-quality Circumaural Bluetooth Headphones for iPhone 4

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by kha0s, Mar 4, 2011.
  1. kha0s
    Over the last couple years, I've been progressively engraving podcasts and audiobooks into my daily routine. Don't know how I ever managed to get along without them. It recently became clear that the time for Apple's earbuds was up. In consequence of that, I started researching for some worthy headphones for my iPhone 4. Since I'm a sucker for wireless and mobility, bluetooth connectivity presented itself as an early must. Nonetheless, because the whole point was to enhance and refine the audio listening experience, I feared that bluetooth bandwidth limitations would seriously undermine sound quality. Those fears were scattered by this post which underlines that, with a practical data transfer of 2.1 Mbit/s, "Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR" has more than enough bandwidth to effortlessly stream CD quality audio. Read several other forum threads on the wildly controversial "wireless vs wired" topic. The bottom line from that was that "wired" headphones will always give you better sound quality, although, for the non-audiophile casual listener, current bluetooth technology should to the trick.

    Besides bluetooth, I also envisioned the following set of features for my top-notch headphones:

    -> Circumaural style of wearing (speaker covers the entire ear) + stero: I've read solid reports that supra-aural headphones, unlike circumaural, tend to cause "ear fatigue" after a couple hours of use.
    -> Noise cancelling system: I often do my listening in the midst of noisy public transport commutes and clamorous vacuum cleaners. Noise cancelling would avoid having to pump up the volume to deafening levels.
    -> Hands-free calling: despite not being part of my original brainstorm, it gradually became apparent that hands-free calling would be a pretty nice add-on to have.

    After several hours of unyielding research, I finally managed to boil it down to the following list: Sennheiser MM 550 Travel, Sennheiser MM 450 Travel, Sennheiser MM 400, Sennheiser PXC 360 BT, Sennheiser PXC 310 BT and Sennheiser PX 210 BT. All the previous models can be elegantly collapsable for easier transportation, all have the insightful option to connect through a 3.5mm audio cable, and a couple incorporate the creative "TalkThrough" feature.

    From the above list, only two are circumaural: Sennheiser MM 550 Travel and Sennheiser PXC 360 BT. The former allows for "hands-free calling" but has no "apt-X®" support, whilst the later boasts "apt-X®" support but has no "hands-free calling". Either one is outrageously expensive.

    Taking into account my features list, does anyone know of another model I should be considering? If not, is there any mate out there with hands-on experience on the two above circumaural models? If so, does the "apt-X®" feature really makes that much of a difference in sound quality? Is the "hands-free calling" worth it? Which one would you advise?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. decyph3r
    Yeah, I think I have to ask the same question... can anyone help us?
  3. keanex Contributor
    There's no such thing as high quality bluetooth at a decent price. Either way, you're only listening to audiobooks and podcasts which have no need for good sound quality at all. If you're that stuck on wanting bluetooth, just buy one that suits your needs.
  4. kha0s
    I've taken my time to think it through and have decided to go full steam ahead with the Sennheiser MM 550 Travel model. The prospect of having to purchase an external bluetooth adapter in order to enjoy apt-X® on my iPhone 4 has been germane to the decision.

    Should get it in a week or so. Will post hands-on impressions then.

  5. decyph3r

    Wow! Please write a review for us!
  6. decyph3r
    Any news on this yet?
  7. desktophifi
    Just go with any sennheiser model. [​IMG]
  8. kha0s
    Not yet. Amazon's delivery estimate is for the 22nd.
  9. kha0s
    Received my Sennheiser MM 550 Travel headphones last Monday. After one week of heavy use, I've yet to find a significant shortcoming to point out. The product works just as advertised and I can now say it was worth the investment. Here's the breakdown of my hands-on impressions:

    Bluetooth vs Audio Cable: which one has better quality?
    After meticulously testing dozens of music files and a couple audiobooks, I was unable to tell the difference between listening through "bluetooth" or using the "audio cable". Both methods sound exactly the same. Suppose that if you're some kind of music "Rain man" it's possible to tell them apart. I certainly couldn't.

    Are the circumaural ear pads comfortable over long periods of listening?
    Yes they are. At first it seemed that my large ears wouldn't fit into the ear pads, although a more diligent headband adjustment quickly proved otherwise. The highly-cushioned pads feel very comfortable to wear. No "ear fatigue" whatsoever over long listening stretches (2 hours). The only drawback I found had to do with the fact that your ears do become significantly hot after a while. Even though this may be a plus in the winter time, I imagine it to cause some discomfort during the summer.

    How effective is the noise cancelling system?
    Since these are my first "active noise cancelling" headphones, I really don't have any reference to compare them with. That said, the "NoiseGard™ 2.0" functionality is far from perfect, and you can always count with hearing some ambiente noise getting through. Notwithstanding, I did found it exceptionally efficient in cancelling out low-frequency humming sounds. Because of that I think it will fare very well on airplanes. Should be able to test that out myself in a couple weeks. On the downside, activating "NoiseGard" does cause the sound to loose some of it's original richness and vibrancy. Even if you aren't able to bear the "sound quality degradation" trade-off, there's still a very good change that he passive noise reduction provided by the heavy insulated ear pads will do the trick. I've certainly found it to be the case in my personal experience.

    How about the headphones overall sound quality?
    Again, I'm no audio expert, but can honestly say that my music and audiobook never sounded better. Not surprisingly, there's no possible comparison with Apple's earbuds. Saw some users complaining bitterly about the maximum volume being to low. Although that may have a ring of truth to it, it seems to me that whole point of getting these headphones is to be able to enjoy crystal clear audio WITHOUT having to pump up the volume to deafening levels, but hey, that's just me. Despite being marketed as one of the flagship features, I have yet to figure out what's the deal with "SRS WOW HD™". To this date I'm still looking for that song that actually sounds better with the "SRS" turned on.

    Do the headphones get along with the "iPhone 4"?
    They sure do. The bluetooth pairing process is as straightforward as it gets. Besides volume adjustment and call-handling, A2DP also allows one to seamlessly pause, fast-forward and skip tracks. It's just a matter of pressing the correct control button on the right ear cup. According to the product instruction manual, the headphones are capable of saving connection profiles for up to 8 bluetooth devices. I did managed to successfully pair them with my "iPad", "iPhone 2G" and "Macbook Pro", although that still left me 4 devices short from the advertised limit.

    What else?
    The "TalkThrough" function works as described and the collapsible ear cups are certainly a plus for the frequent traveler. The carrying case serves it's purpose well enough. The plethora of wall chargers and audio adapters included surely can't harm. The headband is exceptionally resilient and the overall build quality is nothing short of outstanding.

    In closing, I'm very pleased with my purchase. As far as "circumaural bluetooth headphones" go, the "MM 550" are definitely in a league of their own. If you want to take it to the next level and money isn't a problem, go full full steam ahead with them. If money is a problem, start saving.

    One final en passant note to highlight that the current versions of both "Skype" (iPhone/iPad) and "GarageBand" (iPad) don't support bluetooth headphones. If personally found the lack of bluetooth support on the "Skype" iPhone app to be particularly disheartening. It completely subverted my plans to carry out "NoiseGard" conference calls while cleaning up the house. Hopefully Skype's developers will be hammered into including bluetooth support on future versions.

    That's about it! Will post extra feedback once I've done some airplane testing.

  10. winma
    Nice write up kha0s. I never owned a bluetooth headset, but the one you have seems interesting. 
  11. decyph3r


    Too bad Garageband does't support bluetooth. But nice review kha0s. Thanks.
  12. kha0s
    The "airplane testing" results are in and they are nothing short of remarkable. The "NoiseGard™ 2.0" cancelled out the low-frequency airplane humming noise with prodigious effectiveness and "TalkThrough" managed to rinse the flight attendants voice crystal clear. I actually understood them better with the phones on! Quite unexpectedly, I've also discovered that the "NoiseGard™ 2.0" feature allows one to use the "MM 550" as airtight earplugs. If you want to take an airplane nap in style and silence, these phones are definitely the way to do it.

    All the above holds true in the subway and bus. The noise cancelling excels in noisy environments. It seems that noisier the environment, the better "NoiseGard™ 2.0" will fare.

    That pretty much wraps my review on the "MM 550". Hope it helped a couple mates out there to reach closure.

  13. decyph3r


    Great! Thanks for the great review, does this also drain your phone/ipod/mp3 player battery faster ?
  14. kha0s
    Although I've only tested it with my iPhone 4, it's pretty much an universal truth that any device's battery will drain faster with bluetooth turned on. Use the audio cable if you want to save battery.
  15. Seth1
    Kha0s, I was going though the same thought processes that you were regarding circumaural bluetooth stereo headsets but had trouble with the Sennheiser lineup. It struck me as odd that the $489.99 (Amazon) Sennheiser MM 550 didn't offer the apt-X support available with the $449 (Amazon) Sennheiser PXC 360 BT and that one had to pay this $40.99 premium just to get the calling features that are offered on much less expensive bluetooth headsets. Plus, the price premium for the MM 550 of $340 over what appears to be a wired version of the same headset (Sennheiser PX 360 $149.85 Amazon) seemed a stretch for some simple bluetooth technology.
    This leads me to the checkout dude at Staples who told me about the Turtle Beach Earforce PX5's which, not being a gamer, weren't under my radar. I've seen comments questioning build and sound quality of other Turtle Beach products but the PX5's were in stock at my local Best Buy (they're cheaper through Amazon) with a 30 day return policy. I decided to risk it and have been very pleased. The PX5 does not have noise canceling features but does have a separate box (you will need your own USB power adapter) that I've attached to my home theater for wireless TV sound. You can listen to music, watch TV and make/receive phone calls which is really nice. I did not have any problems setting up and running my PX5 and, in my novice opinion, sound quality is as good or better than my Sennheiser MM 400's (but without the progressive ear pain that I experience with my MM 400's). My Shure SRH 840's sound better but not my Klipsch Image S4's or Koss PortaPro's. My other, cheaper BT stereo headsets don't even come close.
    I've recently ordered the Sony DRCBT15 BT stereo receiver to be used with the d-Jays Earphones and am looking forward to comparing the sound quality with my PX5's. Hopefully someone with more experienced ears than myself will, at some point, help out the rest of us and compare some of these newer BT stereo headset offerings.

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