I am almost never satisfied with a majority of electronics because I’m the type of user that pushes them to their limit. I know what technology is capable of, so I tend to try to leverage it to suit my needs. One of my “needs” is to have a lightweight hassles-free headset. I wanted wireless so I don’t have to deal with getting tangled in cables, and plugging and unplugging it. I want one that can run all day (or a few days) on a single charge. And I want the sound to be good for casual listening—not that over-compressed first or even second generation wireless audio.
Bluetooth headsets have been out for a while. But they’ve been historically overpriced for what you get. IMO, they should be no more than $20 above the fidelity level of a wired headset. So, with Sony’s $100 MDR7 series the “standard” of a good price:fidelity balance, I figure a “sports*” headset like this should be no more than $50. When I found Noisehush NS400, it was exactly what I wanted, & only $35. I was very happy with the audio quality for the price and the sports band (where the band goes behind your neck) is the perfect balance of non-intrusive & convenient — meaning you can put them on and take them off in 2 seconds. But once I got used to them, I found one more “need.” I wanted to be able to connect to my phone, my computer and iPad simultaneously. Until the Bluetooth spec update that added “multipoint,” this desire was wishful thinking. With a street price of $50, Audio 66’s Bluetooth Sport is the first device to meet all my needs, including multipoint.
Pros: Multipoint, Good price:fidelity, quick & easy (multi-)pairing, battery life, shows battery level on compatible linked devices, 2nd set did not drop out
Cons: first 1 defective: bluetooth dropped out, bass light unless you get a tighter seal, Pleather pads, “Lobot-esque”
Wireless Stumbling Block
The first BTS I got had a bad bluetooth receiver which cut out if I turned my head. I knew this because I know a bit about RF—being a licensed Amateur Radio operator— & the Bluetooth spec of 10 meters (33′ — less with obstructions). It lost the signal and cut out even less than 3 feet away almost every time I put my head between the control earphone and my computer which was very annoying and very atypical no matter how “noisy” an RF environment is. I returned the first device and got a second which won’t drop out if I turn my head even 15′ away with a few (wooden) walls between myself and the transmitter. BTW, If you have a bluetooth device that cuts out within 10 feet with little to no non-metal obstructions in between it, you device is probably defective like my first one was. I would request an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization) for another. BTW, I notice a lot of people have reported this problem with many types of bluetooth devices—especially bluetooth audio devices, since signal disruption is far more noticeable. Quality control during manufacturing & testing could be a lot better for bluetooth devices.
The most important factors of a headset are the sound quality in and out. Any review that starts with the look or tertiary considerations first is immediately suspect—wireless connectivity is even more important, and why I list it first. The sound quality is comparable to the NoiseHush NS400. This headset has the exact same form factor* as the NS400s except the earphones are about 1cm (3/8″) wider which make them look slightly dork —like Lobot— unless you have a huge head. The sound isn’t audiophile grade but great for casual listening. The Bass is noticeably weak like all small on-ear headphones compared to over-the-ear headphones. But if you push the earphones gently against your ears a seal is formed and the bass response improves — comparable to mid-sized on-ear headphones. (Replacing the “pleather*” earpads—mentioned later—will also improve bass response.)
These headphones are loud enough to block out most ambient noise. In use, I can block out a busy café and focus on whatever task I’m doing by listening to music from my laptop, and seamlessly switch over to take a call. The audio response favors mid-frequencies, like voice. With less dense material [think (anti-)folk, ambient electronic, 3 piece alt-rock and new wave from the 80s] the headset delivers more competent sound reproduction, that — while not punchy — can hold up to casual listening. With my critical listening ear on, the definition of the low-mid to mid frequencies with dense source material (pop, rock, other walls of sound) is average to good and remains fairly constant across the range—you won’t hear nuances that pro-level drivers can deliver, but the quality is consistent until the headset reaches full volume, at which point sound definition suffers in the mid-lows the most. If you don’t have very good listening skills you might never notice this unless it was pointed out to you with material you know back and forth. Note: I tested with every genre in my lossless catalog from Elvis Costello, the Clash, The Fixx, Squeeze, the Jesus and Mary Chain (don, Raveonettes, The Faint, DarkDriveClinic, Aesthetic Perfection, GoFight, Sirus, Regina Spektor, Leerone, Metroland, IAMX… I could go on, but some of you are nodding off…
Even though my source material is lossless, Bluetooth uses A2DP which itself uses SBC (sub-band coding) which is lossy. The reason I tested with lossless audio was so that the weakest link in the audio chain would be headset itself. If I tested with lossy material, I couldn’t be positive if the audio quality was a result of the audio file or the headset.
The mic is hidden at the bottom of the control side of the headphones. It is good for phone calls and the voice audio quality is stellar. People sound like they should if your carrier offers high quality voice connections, FYI. It can be problematic is there is a lot of wind (or if you are running against a slight breeze), like all mics. This is just a limitation that could be fixed, but it doesn’t happen enough to warrant taping a piece of a wind screen over it.
Best Feature: Multipoint! (get it if you have multiple devices to connect to)
As mentioned, I loved my NS400s except I have multiple Blutooth devices. Before getting this headset, I would have to disconnect from one and link to another, and also preplan whether I listened to music on my iPhone or other device while out and about with more than just my phone. Now, with multipoint, I don’t have this problem. I can listen to music on my laptop or iPad & have a call come in on my iPhone. The BTS graciously switches over to the phone to take the call and pauses the music on my iPad (or laptop if I have that connected instead). Note: this can only connect to 2 deices at once, not 3—so if/when the ability to connect to more than 2 devices is available I’ll upgrade again.
I have found a few very minor caveats with multipoint: if you are connected to 2 devices at once, the phone takes precedence over the laptop or iPad when you click the call/multipurpose button. So, you can accidentally click to pause a track on your laptop and suddenly the other device starts playing music. Also, while switching sources, the second one can cut out for a quarter second a few seconds after it switches over. I assume it is the headset switching over to a low power mode connection to the other device.
Pairing (+instructions for my non-tech-savvy peeps)
Pairing and connecting to the 66Audio Headset is a lot faster than previous generation BT headsets, which could take up to a minute to find and connect. Reading the instructions for pairing takes longer than pairing them. To put you device into pairing mode:
- start with the 66s powered off.
- Hold down the big multi-purpose button (phone icon) for about 8 second until you hear the double beep (or see the LEDs start flashing red/blue)
- when you see “66 Audio BTS” on your device, choose pair.
To pair another device, disconnect the headset (turning off bluetooth is the easiest way to guarantee a problem free second pairing), power down the headset and repeat the pair steps above on the second device. It can be paired with more than 2 devices at once, but can only be connected to 2 at a time. After initial pairing, simply connecting to the headset can be done by powering them on in proximity to 2 previously paired devices & has been 100% reliable and fast. (Faster & more reliable than previous BT devices). If you have 3 devices in proximity, either turn one of the device’s BT off or disconnect the headset from the unwanted device if it’s already powered on and connect to it from the desired device.
Battery & Charge Indicator
If you have a newer device (with Bluetooth 4.0 & up if I recall correctly), there’s a good chance the headset’s battery level will be shown next to the Bluetooth symbol on the device. On my iPhone 5s, I can easily see the current battery level & can better decide when to charge the headset. With my previous set, I sometimes ran out of power unexpectedly. Being BT4, also means they are more miserly with power draw. The battery life on these is probably as advertised (25 hours continuous music playback). I can listen to music or other things pretty much as long as I want to. My prior headset did 10 hours easy, so no surprise that since these one’s earphones are larger, that they can last so long. I notice rather than charging these every few days like my previous set, these only need a charger a few times a week with heavy use.
The headband folds for travel and rests behind the neck when in use, instead of on top of your head like conventional headphones. This means you can wear hats and still put these on and take them off quickly without removing your hat/scarf. They are great for walking/running around, and if it weren’t for the large Lobot width of the earphones, people would hardly notice them. I can rest these around my neck when not in use all day and forget I have them on. Other people reviewed these and said they sounded horrible and the “headband” would only fit a child’s head: these people don’t get that the band goes behind your neck with the curve near each earphone hooking over on the top of your ears—so it’s a “neckband.” Because they rest on your ears, using them can get slightly uncomfortable after a few hours especially if you are wearing glasses. Wearing these with glasses can make taking off either tricky. I tend to put the glasses under the band since the glasses will stay on my head if the headset gets knocked off. (Note: both my pair of glasses are solid steel and have thin temple an earpiece that tapers, so I can do this smoothly. If you have standard glasses, plan on taking the headset off before taking off your glasses.)
The headset is durable, but not indestructible. So, while they shouldn’t break in normal use, doing things that would break bendable plastics or forcing the buttons down past their click point can break devices like these. The neckband itself is very flexible in addition to its folding-hinge, and the NS400s I have use the exact same design and plastics & both my pairs have lasted over 2 & 3 years. I expect these to last at least as long. Also, one comment mentioned the loud click when adjusting volume etc. This is basic physics: the headset is acoustically coupled with your ear, which transfers sound like anything solid against your ear. The soft click sound up close can seem a bit distracting. I notice it, and like that I can hear physical feedback instead of beeping that some BT device do. If the clicking annoys you, you can turn them up and down on your phone too. (Note: When you turn them up to maximum volume the device will emit an audible beep though.) If you can’t stand it, then there’s other options but not with this great mobile form factor. (Ear buds tend to take longer to put in and can fall out while talking or walking for some people, so I prefer this style.)
The biggest caveat physically is they use the same pleather foam earpads that will wear out long before the device breaks. My solution was to purchase a set of replacement earpads made of real leather (for about $10). The upside of this is they get a tighter acoustic seal & bass response also improves. If Audio 66 released a premium leather earpad version for $10 more, I would definitely pick them up.
Style is relative. So, while some hate the look of neckbands, most people really don’t care. If you can knock anything, it’s the physical size of the earphones. But without the extra ~3/8″ you wouldn’t get 24+ hours worth of battery. So, this is a trade off, and I think Audio 66 made the right call. A smile on your face tends to outweigh anyone calling you dorky, and if they call attention to it, you have a “Birkenstock-level” counter: “but they’re awesome!”
I recommend these for
- anyone that wants decent sound without a hefty price
- is tired of getting tangled up in cords while listening to music
- needs a lightweight pair of travel headphone with a long battery life
- has more than one bluetooth device they want to connect to simultaneously
- wants better sound than stock earbuds that come with phones
If you can check off multiple reasons above, you should definitely get these (& return them for another set if you get drop-outs within 15′ because that’s not normal).
In keeping with my “I wouldn’t recommend anything to people I wouldn’t use myself” ethics. I bought these on my own initiative and received no compensation for my review. In fact, Audio 66 has no idea I reviewed these, unless someone points them at it. In which case, you guys and gals can send me a few pairs for friends ;)—which I would have to update this article to include that if you decided to. :^D