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Budget Bluetooth: Six wireless headphones for a song

J. Andrew Yang | Feb. 3, 2014
We've all heard of Moore's Law, which posits that the number of transistors on a typical integrated circuit doubles every two years. But one of the overlooked side effects of such technological progress is the proliferation of cheap chips. For example, the price of Bluetooth ASICs, used in everything from audio devices to smart watches to fitness monitors, has dropped dramatically over the past few years. As a result, a growing number of small vendors are bringing stereo-Bluetooth headsets to market at prices that would have been unheard of just five years ago. I took a look at six budget-priced Bluetooth headphones to see if there are (finally) affordable options worth considering.

Similarly, in my listening tests, the soundstage was well centered, but it consistently presented itself slightly behind me, and no amount of repositioning of the headphones gave me an acceptable arrangement. For most of my source material, the projected soundstage was also extremely small, as there was no sense of a broad space across which a band was positioned. Rather, it seemed as though the band was seated directly beside and slightly behind me. I can't be sure whether this audio character is due to the BT400B's drivers or to the Linx Audio processing — there's no way to disable the processing — but I suspect that most of the issues are due to the sound processing.

As with most Bluetooth headphones on the market, the BT400B provides headset connectivity. You activate Siri, and answer and end phone calls, using the primary button on the side of the left earpiece. I didn't find the BT400B's microphone to be as good as, say, the inline microphone on Apple's iPhone earphones — call quality was acceptable, but Siri accuracy was below average. In addition, a small tube leads from the exterior of the left earpiece into the microphone, which is recessed into the earpiece, and that tube has the potential to jam up with debris, further affecting the microphone performance.

If your listening is exclusively limited to podcasts and spoken word, then the BT400B performs admirably. However, I have a hard time recommending the BT400B as a general-purpose set of headphones, especially once you factor in build quality and price.

Eagle Tech Arion ET-ARHP200BF Foldable Bluetooth Headset
Eagle Tech's $70 Arion ET-ARHP200BF-BR Foldable Bluetooth Headset, available in a range of six colors, is the least expensive model I tested. Unfortunately, the first pair I received had seen more than its fair share of review time, and the battery refused to hold a charge. The Arion has enough unique features, however, that I waited for a functional review sample instead of simply dropping it from the roundup.

The first of those features is that the Arion is, inexplicably, the first pair of Bluetooth headphones I've tested — at any price — that provides a simple battery indicator on the headphones themselves: A small button on the right earpiece, when pressed, triggers a series of LEDs that give feedback on the remaining charge. (Some models, including the Arion, can at least display a battery indicator on your smartphone or tablet's status bar.) It might seem like a lot to say about a seemingly mundane feature, but one of my biggest grips while testing Bluetooth headphones over the past year has been having no idea how much charge remains and having a device die during use.


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