Bluetooth Headphone/Headset Survey Review

Introduction
Please don't consider this a comprehensive overview of the best wireless Bluetooth headphones out there...it isn't. Manufacturers and PR people keep offering to send BT headphones to me, I keep being interested in the category, but it wasn't until a had some significant experience with BT headphones that I began to feel like I could comment on the relative performance of BT headphones I had heard. Well, with a dozen or so on hand and mounting experience, and the shopping season upon us, I figured it was time to do something.

I rounded up all the models I had, charged them all up, took a fresh listen, and began to organize my thoughts about the group. A couple fell out due to failures (the Marley Legend had a BT channel out, but sounded pretty darn good; may review later) or going out of production. And a couple were impossible to measure (Beats PowerBeats, sound was okay, though; Phiaton MS530 w/ANC on).

Another thing I had to do was take wireless measurements. Turns out, this is a bit tricky. For starters, I had to modify the testing program and spreadsheet template. For example, impedance and electrical phase measurements just aren't relevant with wireless cans.

The I ran into a little problem with impulse response plots. The Audio Precision tester uses an MLS signal to calculate impulse response and, as I understand it, the machine does a tricky thing called "autocorrelation" where the signal going to the headphones is compared against the signal coming out of the head in a rather complex way resulting in an impulse response plot. It seems the latency going through the BT transmitter cause a loss of synchronization between the outgoing and incoming MLS signal, and the tester fails to produce a plot. Oh well, no impulse respons plots for BT headphones. Fortunately, I can still measure the 300Hz square wave, and that will give you a good look at the time domain performance of the headphones.

The other thing that's a bit of a buggaboo is that there is now another active component in the system: the Bluetooth transmitter. I did a little research, and the lowest latency aptX transmitter I found was the Avantree Priva. I turn the headphone volume up all the way when testing BT headphones, but the loudness of the various headphones for a fixed input signal differs from unit to unit. That means when the testing program regulates the loudness in the headphones for each test (usually 90dBspl) the voltage needed to drive the BT transmitter differs. It's quite likely with this low-cost device that it's measured THD+noise performance with varying input levels will change, and that change is likely to show up on the headphone measurements. So, as if you don't need to take headphone measurements with a great big grain of salt already, you'll need to be doubly skeptical of BT measurements—primarily the THD+noise.

Lastly, I'll note that very few of these BT headphones perform anywhere near as well as similar wired versions. I find this puzzling. aptX BT is a pretty good quality transport mechanism, and headphone these days are quite efficient, there really shouldn't be too much trouble making a BT headphone sound near as good as a similar headphone wired out of a phone. The skeptic in me thinks they design passive cans with sound in mind, but when manufacturers get to the BT headphone they put the electronics in the earpiece and call it good without really trying to optimize the acoustics.

Alrightythen, on with the show...

COMMENTS
insidedrive's picture

Hello Tyll! How does the AF62 compare sound wise to other closed portable headphones such as the Momentum (On and over ear) and Beats Solo2?

SevenPlus's picture

Given the price, a more fair comparison would be with something like the Creative Aurvana Live.

Wirecutter tested the Matrix2 along with other BT headphones and their favorite were the Jabra Revo (but I got the impression they were just testing on iPhones, which don't have aptx)

What neither of the 2 group tests includes however is the Fidelio m1bt (or m2bt), which are possibly the best BT headphones right now. I assume they should sound similar to the wired Fidelio M1/M2, so that gives you an idea where they stack when they are compared to wired headphones.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
It was the S1+ (got a second pair from them just to be sure). Yes, I'll check out the Philips M1/2BT.
Sir Joe's picture

The absolute best for Sub-Bass, with only the UE9000 coming very very close.
My opinion about the M2BT is that they do not reach the top on anything (but the Sub-Bass) but reach the close to the top in everything (but the range), making of them an amazing BT Headphone.
I only wish they had better range.

episiarch's picture

I wish you'd included the AKG K845BT in this roundup! Since you didn't here's my review.

Sonically the K845BT is a close relative to the K550 (see Tyll's review, http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/wonderfully-competent-akg-k550-seal... which I think presents it very fairly though I like it better than he does and I don't suffer his fit issues). The K845BT is a little less open at the top end, and it's a little heavier at the bottom end, but, again, still very recognizably a close relative. So if you like the K550 (or like what you read in Tyll's review) and wish you had a wireless version, I think the K845BT is what you're looking for.

Physically the K845BT shares the K550's overall design, and its headband and adjustment mechanism. The earcups are smaller on the outside, and a little smaller on the inside: a less dorky look, but a little less room for your ears if you have big ones. The K845BT weighs quite noticeably more; not enough to bother me, but your mileage may vary.

Power comes from a nonreplaceable battery which recharges via micro-USB. Run time is enough that I've never run out between charges but again YMMV. When you power it on it connects quickly (a second or three) to the last device it connected to. I have it paired to a number of devices, and I can easily switch it from one device to another without re-pairing. It has a play-pause button and volume-up/volume-down buttons; tactile feedback isn't great but they do the job. An included mini-mini cable lets you use it in wired mode if you wish. In wired mode the sound signature is pretty much just the same as in wireless mode, but fidelity is a bit improved, depending on your source or amp. (Just to be clear: the K845BT has its own sound - which is very much like the K550 but a little less bright - and it retains this sound whether wireless, wired, or wired+amped; wiring and amping don't turn it into a K550.)

The K845BT is the non-IEM that's getting the greatest share of my listening time right now. Though it's not completely up to the standard of my favourite wired headphones, it's really hitting a sweet spot of giving up relatively little while offering wireless convenience.

Holotype's picture

+1 on the K845 being a good option. The convenience of wireless means they get more headtime than my HD 800 or JH13, regardless of the subtle sonic compromises. A very nice-sounding headphone.

I'm actually a little surprised that the K545 (from which the K845 is derived) seems to be MIA at IF.

forkboy1965's picture

...And apparently I don't have good timing. Although...

It's funny you post this quickie review of various BT headphones as I just purchased a pair last week: the Sony MDRXB950BT/B, which were on sale for $100.

I had been wearing for some months either my Grado 80e's or Seen Momentum's while doing chores/housework and found them to be a nuisance thanks to the cord. And the Grado's open-back design doesn't help with keeping out noise from the vacuum, etc.

But I had been loath the idea of spending hundreds of dollars for BT cans, when I knew they simply failed to live up for sound quality. But $100 seemed like a reasonable investment for the amount of time I'll use them each week.

I confess I'm much more pleased with them than I expected. I feel like the $100 was a very fair price for what I got in return. But I do wish I had none about the MEEIElectronics... sounds like they would give these Sony's a good run for the money.

I confess I do not understand why someone would spend hundreds of dollars for BT cans considering what a hit they generally take on sound quality.

Sir Joe's picture

Because some of those which cost hundreds of dollars also sound hundred times better.
Exception: Beats Studio Wireless :)
And JBL Synchros S400BT, not bad but WAY too overpriced.

weinerd's picture

Thanks for the review of the RH1060. I have the corded only RH1056 version and have been waiting for a review of what I personally found to be a good sounding pair of over-ear cans (<$100 on discount sites) and welcome reading that they are indeed not too bad!

weinerd's picture

especially vs their target competitor the Beats Studio2 Wireless, the scosche blows Beats out of the water!

david8613's picture

Hi tyll, I brought the logitech ue 9000 sometime ago from your very positive review awhile back, love those headphones, thanks. I'm now looking for a bt headphone with a similar sound sig as the ue 9000, but lighter and longer battery life, would the sony mdr1rbt mk2 be similar? Or do you know If logitech is coming out with a newer ue 9000 model?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Sorry, I don't know.
Sir Joe's picture

The closest one to the sound of the UE9000, in some things even better, is the Fidelio M2BT. And it is exactly as you want it, more battery life (well, not much more, 12 hours), much lighter (the half), more portable, and with more functions (NFC and Multipoint)
I have compared more than 20 and did not find any other which can come close.
The MK2 I did not test it (not available in EU) but I did test the old MDR-1RBT and no way close.
In Head-fi anyway lot of guys seems to love the MK2 and say it is the new UE9000. They also say that the MK1 failed in that. So, something was improved there.
I would anyway wait till the new Sennheiser Momentum is available. Then you can just order them, and the Fidelio, and compare by yourself. The MK2 I see that are available in Amazon. In the 6 pages of sellers I have found 2 who fulfill through Amazon, which means you can return and get a refund.
I have just tested the new Urbanite XL Wireless, it is very good but does not sound close to the UE. It is harder and faster. So, you can avoid it.

Canman's picture

Hi Tyll,

Let me start by saying that love your work and appreciate the substantial effort that has gone into this comparison exercise.

However, I have noticed that you included the new model of the Ziks but the same old version of the MDR-1RBTs you reviewed a while back (which has since been discontinued in most regions), and not the current MK2 model? It has had a number of improvements around both sound (especially bass) and features (most notably AptX).

Additionally, this review would have been much more exhaustive and complete with the inclusion of offerings from Philips, AKG and Plantronics, although it was great to see that the AF62 was included.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Yup. It's not an exhaustive survey, just what I happen to have on hand. I will keep looking into this though, and reviewing more BT cans as time goes on.
david8613's picture

Thanks tyll for all your hard work, please keep bringing more bluetooth headphones reviews, I just hate wires. I'm using the recently released sony mdr xbr950bt bass boost headphones, pretty good set of cans. Would you like to review mine? I'd be happy to send them for review to hear your thoughts. Oh and just so you know I picked my third pair of ue 9000, they were that good!

mankind's picture

H, im new to Forum but all i wanted to say is that i just replaced my b&w p7 + Fiio e18 combo with the Marleys, after i got tired of carrying it.

Are they worse sounding? yes but sitll amazing, a bit bright (bass still good) and artificial but for mobile application when you are a grownup and dont want to carry cans made out of plastic they are awesome!
I bought them not testing before after they were mentioned here so TY!

henry97071's picture

Could the sound quality difference between wired and wireless be a result of the quality of the DAC in the earphone versus that in the source device?

red71rum's picture

I agree that the Meelec Af62's are great, had them since June. Have you tried the Plantronics Backbeat Pros? I got them last month and they are pretty amazing.

david8613's picture

Tyll I would love to read your review of the sony mdr1rbt mk2 and the plantronics backbeat pro, those are the 2 I'm looking at now for my next purchase.

kayla247's picture

The Sony MDR1RBT MK2 are a decent pair of headphones giving a nice range of sound, some deep bass (if thats what you like), and the mids and highs are pretty clear too... though there are new bluetooth headphones available that easily compete. check out this list I think it is updated often http://www.pricenfees.com/best-bluetooth-headphones-for-running.html . Generally speaking, the more money you have to buy, the better product you will get. ( I wouldnt go strictly by the rating of these because it seems like headphones were given a lower rating based on higher price) but then 10 pairs that are listed all seem to be high quality, its just a matter of how much you want to spend. I personally own the Jaybird's and am happy with them

david8613's picture

Tyll you really need to hear the plantronics backbeat pro, its a very very nice product I think you might like it.

bradle.y.will20@gmail.com's picture

Well I don't think it's one of the absolut best choices for Bluetooth headphones though, it's not too well ranked among other sites from what I understand, I found them here http://www.headphonesunboxed.com/best-bluetooth-headphones-for-running/ for example. I personally use the Jaybird Freedom Sprint and am pretty happy with it.

Sir Joe's picture

Hi Tyll, I am a low profile reviewer, one of those whom the Companies not offer and even refuse to send headphones to review (not even if then I send them back).
Still, I am very passionate with BT Headphones, quite obsessed actually, I have compared 24 of the best ones (and some less best ones, and a few pretty bad ones).
And I do not plan to stop.
My review of the Bose Soundlink On-Ear in Amazon is in this moment the top "most helpful".
And I have opened a Thread in Head-Fi, called "Huge Comparison of all the Best Bluetooth Headphones", although finally I still did not write a proper comparison because I use all my free time still comparing new ones. But people start asking me for suggestions. Which was the idea. I wanted to give back something, in change of what I have received from other reviewers.
And where I live I can return things easily, which not everybody can elsewhere.

I often disagree with the reviews of some famous reviewers, like Thewirecutter and sometimes also Cnet (specially coming to Beats).
Apparently my tastes are more in sync with the guys of Digitalversus and What Hi-Fi.
But I see that I happen to like your reviews and to agree with them.
Although for what I understand, you do not use EQ when you review?
I generally start without EQ but then I apply EQ to see how can the sound improve.
I do not use any program, only my ears, and I have none of your long experience, so I had to manage to understand headphones and learn to differentiate.
And I am pleased to see that when you describe the ones I have tried, you reach similar conclusions.

I wonder what will you think of the ones which in this moment (each for a different reason) are my favorites, when you will try them:
Fidelio m2BT
Pantronics Backbeat Pro
Sennheiser Urbanite XL Wireless
Harman Kardon BT
House of Marley Liberate XLBT

The Akg K845 leave me confused because they are technically good but emotionally neutral, and quite soft on the bass. I generally consider them objectively good and subjectively boring.

Cheaper but very good ones are the Supertooth Freedom and, surprisingly, the Skullcandy Hesh 2 Wireless.

The Sony MDR-XB950BT is a nice options too. Limited, but nice.

The JBL Synchros S400BT is interesting, for me better than the Beats, but similarly extremely overpriced imo.

I am happy to have finally decided to visit your website, I never wanted before.

I wish you all the best :)

Sir Joe's picture

Hi Tyll, my previous comment should have not been posted here, i wrote it in the general Wireless Wall of Fame.
Whatever.
Reading it again, with the bigger experience of now, it sounds a bit naiv.
I have reached the 30 BT Headphones tested, as you can see in my Thread in Head-Fi. And I have been contacted by three companies for testing and suggestions.
Which is cool :)
I have a new love, the Audio Technica ATH-WS99BT. I think you should try it, for me it is the best BT Headphone around in this moment. But I have my ideology, which you can read in the first post of my thread. So the way I judge headphones is a bit different than what I see that most reviewers adopt.

Still, the reason why I came here today is because I am testing the Meelectronics Air-Fi Matrix2, and I remembered you had reviewed them positively, but I have found (through EQ) how badly they respond on bass frequencies and how quickly they distort if equed, especially under the 60hz.
I did not remember you talking of this, so I came to ask, and I find it cool that you also noticed it.
As you say, I also find that without EQ it is not a problem. They do not boost the bass, so it is not noticeable, until EQ is used.
They are nice, you are right.
Almost no hiss from the amp and nice presence in the vocals, so that they are also good for podcasts and TV (where silences reveal hiss).

I have kind of changed my mind on some of the BT Headphones which I named before as being my favourite. Well. Maybe if you have a look to my thread you can let me know what you think.

Cheers.

Palinowe's picture

Hi Tyll!

Thanks for your review, that's a great piece of information. I did not figure it out, however, if these headphones support codecs like aptx and aac? I was not able to find that out on beats website either :( codec support seems to be important for wireless headphone fidelity. To my understanding, Beats are oriented on iPhone users, do they really support aac?

Palinowe's picture

i am not sure how this comment got here, i was writing it to your review of Beats Studio2 Wireless...
So basically the question is about Beats Studio2 Wireless.

guerillaw's picture

Thanks for the review and for including realistic "street price" information therein. I found a lightly used pair on amazon for even less than 80 and I am so glad I did.
The battery life and convenience are incredible.
For this asking about how it measures against something like the momentum, no it is not quite that good, but for sound under $100 dollars it competes very well and if you throw in the bluetooth convenience it is a must buy for any headphone person.

I use them regularly for everything except super critical listening and love them. Taking calls, listening to podcasts, youtube videos, background music all sound great. Works wonders when doing housework--can't tell you how many times I yanked my etymotics out of my ears while washing dishes, cars etc.

Thanks for brining this product to our attention!

guerillaw's picture

Sorry, above Refers to the MEE Electronics Matrix 2

drii's picture

Well I don't think it's one of the absolut best choices for Bluetooth headphones though, it's not too well ranked among other sites from what I understand, I found them here http://www.headphonesunboxed.com/best-bluetooth-headphones-for-running/ for example. I personally use the Jaybird Freedom Sprint and am pretty happy with it infact.happy new year sayings 2015
http://happynewyearimages2016hd.net/happy-new-year-2016-images-for-whats...

Pages