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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.

However, the rest of the Arion appears to be composed of highly commoditized components. It seems to share more than a few parts, and an overall design, with a handful of other models on the market, including the Subjekt Pulse, covered below. To the credit of Eagle Tech, the company has added the unique battery-level indicator, as well as modified audio alerts: Instead of basic beeps and tones indicating power and connection status, the Arion features a synthesized voice that, for example, speaks "Power On" when the headphones are turned on.

I listened to a variety of music with the Arion and it doesn't stray far from other headphones of this design: The midrange and mid-bass are scooped out which gives a muffled or hazy presentation. The bass is limited but acceptable for most music.

Other positive aspects of the Arion include a solid built-in microphone. I had great success in terms of accuracy with Siri and dictation. This was an unexpected difference from the Subjekt Pulse, which I had tested before the Arion. Voice quality on calls was acceptable; I suspect the quality was limited more by my cellular connection than by the microphone hardware.

And while Eagle Tech claims 13 hours of playback time, which is about average for headphones in this price class, I found battery life to be at least that good. I was generally able to go over a week between charges.

For ease of use, portability, and the convenience of always knowing how much charge is remaining, the Arion is an easy recommendation, especially given its low price. Eagle Tech has taken a commoditized design, added some nice touches, and come out with a respectable headphone that manages to differentiate itself from the crowd.

Manhattan Flyte Wireless Headset
Manhattan's $110 Flyte Wireless Headset is a visual departure from other headphones in the review. The company says the Flyte is meant to invoke 1960s and 1970s sci-fi, and, indeed, I would describe the look as retro space age. While the materials and construction are comparable to those of the other headphones in this price range, there is just more of that plastic. However, when it comes to practicality, I found the Flyte to be bulky without any real benefit from the added volume. And, oddly, I found the headband to be on the small size: Despite the Flyte's very good ear cushions, I had sore ears after an hour or so of listening. If you have a smaller head, you may be fine, but if your head tends to the large side, this isn't the headphone for you.

The layout of the Flyte's playback control buttons is unique among Bluetooth headphones I've seen. Rather than grouping all those buttons onto one earpiece, the controls are split across both earpieces. Track-forward and -back and volume buttons are arranged in a four-way button on the left side, while the play/pause/answer/connect button is located on the right earpiece. I found the switches to be well designed, providing positive feedback and requiring just a comfortable click to activate. The Flyte's power switch is a discrete slider located on the inside of the headband, just above the left ear.


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