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Bluetooth headphones offer freedom of movement

Among Bluetooth headphones, there are two definite standouts that earn strong reviews from professionals and users alike. The Bose AE2W (Est. $250) earns high marks from reviewers for its good sound quality, comfortable fit and easy-to-use controls. For Bose's first foray into the Bluetooth market, the company simply took its popular AE2 wired headphones and affixed a Bluetooth module to the left earcup, where the cable would normally connect. One particular feature that sets these cans apart from others is their ability to pair with two devices at once. This means that if you're listening to music via one Bluetooth-enabled device (such as a home theater receiver) and you get a call on your Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, you can automatically stop or pause the music to take the call, using the AE2W as the headset, and resume listening as soon as you hang up.

Professionals and users describe the Bose AE2W wireless headphones as very comfortable and lightweight. Most of them also say the sound quality is very good, although they note that it's a bit "hard" or "hot" on the high end and weak on bass. Some users say its maximum volume is too low, and we also saw a few complaints about "popping" or "sizzling" noises. Users are impressed with its wireless range, with many saying their music kept streaming well beyond the device's stated 30 feet. David Carnoy of CNET adds that the controls are "easy to operate by feel." One feature that most reviewers don't care for is the AE2W's looks: Several reviewers describe the grafted-on Bluetooth module as looking "strange" or "bizarre."

The Sony MDR-1RBT (Est. $245) also receives excellent reviews overall. Both expert reviewers and users praise its sound quality, comfort and sturdy construction. One feature these Sony Bluetooth headphones offer that the Bose set lacks is near field communication (NFC). This feature allows the headphones to pair automatically with any NFC-equipped device simply by tapping the NFC chip against the headphones' right earcup. Campbell Simpson of PC World Australia calls NFC "absolutely the killer feature," saying it makes pairing almost as easy as plugging in a cable. However, many devices -- including all current Apple devices -- don't use NFC, and Lauren Dragan of TheWirecutter.com says her team of testers couldn't get the feature to work at all. On the whole, the dual-pairing feature on the Bose headphones seems more useful, which is why those cans earn our Best Reviewed pick among Bluetooth headphones. Still, for overall quality and value, it's hard to go wrong with either the Bose or the Sony.

Other Bluetooth headphones get somewhat more mixed reviews. For instance, the Harman Kardon BT (Est. $175) earns praise from experts for its excellent sound performance and comfortable fit. These headphones include aptX technology, which is designed to improve the sound of Bluetooth audio, although this feature isn't compatible with all devices. Reviewers also admire its retro styling, with a steel band connecting two large, rectangular, leather-covered earcups. Their closed-back, over-the-ear design makes them suitable wireless headphones for TV use. However, in user reviews at Amazon.com, the Harman Kardon headphones earn only a lackluster 3.6 stars out of 5. While owners like its sound quality, there are many complaints that Bluetooth performance is unreliable. Also, some users find the headphones heavy and uncomfortable.

Users are much more enthusiastic about the Jabra Revo Wireless (Est. $205). Owners say they're comfortable and built to last, with great sound quality and easy Bluetooth pairing. Dragan names the Revo Wireless as the best Bluetooth headphones on the market, saying they sound great, feel great and have "intuitive touch controls." However, David Carnoy of CNET is less impressed. He says the Revo has much muddier sound than other Bluetooth headphones in this price range, such as the Harman Kardon BT. The Jabra wireless headphones include NFC pairing, but Carnoy says it's not that big a plus; he finds it just as easy to pair the headphones with an iPhone 4S, which (like all current Apple devices) doesn't use NFC.

At the very top of the price spectrum is the Parrot Zik (Est. $400). In terms of looks, these headphones are undeniably striking: large, leather-covered earcups and a gracefully curved headband, available in four different finishes. Most reviewers say they're also reasonably comfortable to wear, though some have a few quibbles about their fit or weight. Both experts and owners like the intuitive, touch-sensitive controls as well. Unfortunately, not all reviewers think the Zik sounds as good as it looks. Tim Gideon at PCMag.com describes the sound as "far too bass heavy," while Michael Calore of Wired says it has a "slightly amped-up, glassy sheen." The Zik ships with an app that lets you adjust the sound to your taste, but Dragan complains that the headphones are "completely dependent on their app"; without it, you can't even listen to music through a cord. Overall, the consensus appears to be that the Parrot Zik headphones are good, but not great -- not exactly what you want to hear about a $400 piece of equipment.

Cheap Bluetooth headphones sacrifice some durability

While the very best Bluetooth headphones run $200 or more, it's possible to get quite good performance from a pair that costs less than $100. The MEElectronics Air-Fi Runaway AF32 (Est. $70) gets high marks from both professionals and users for its 12-hour battery life and great sonic clarity. Reviewers say the sound quality won't satisfy audiophiles, but it's more than good enough for casual listening. Also, unlike some Bluetooth headphones designed for musical enjoyment, the AF32 makes a very decent phone headset. The peppy red-and-black color scheme adds a dash of style, as well.

Most reviewers give these MEElectronics headphones high marks for comfort. CNET's David Carnoy says, "I had no problem wearing them on a 30-minute commute every day to and from work," though he admits they can get a bit "steamy" in warm weather. Most owners at Amazon.com and Newegg.com also find them comfortable to wear, though some complain that they don't stay on the head very securely. Reviewers' other main gripe is the headset's flimsy plastic construction.

While most reviewers consider the AF32's sound quality perfectly acceptable, Lauren Dragan and other editors at TheWirecutter.com are unimpressed with it. They prefer the Swage by Rokit Boost (Est. $50), which they say sounds better than some Bluetooth headsets that cost five times as much. Owners at Amazon.com agree that the Swage is a great value, with good overall sound and easy-to-use controls. Most of them say its built-in microphone works well too, though some think the gain is too low. They also like its angular styling, which the team at TheWirecutter.com found "odd."

The Swage's biggest weaknesses are comfort and durability. Reviewers agree that the headphones have a tight fit that can put pressure on the ears with prolonged use. Also, many Amazon.com users complain that the headphones stopped working within a few months after purchase. On the plus side, they say Rokit Boost's customer support is very responsive and easy to work with.

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Bose AE2w Bluetooth Headphones - Black
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New: $249.95   
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Average Customer Review:  
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Jabra REVO Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headphones - Retail Packaging - Black
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Parrot Zik Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones with Touch Control - Black/Silver
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New: $399.99 $335.00   
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