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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.

Another unique feature of the 10245 is a MicroSD card slot located on the right earpiece that supports direct playback of audio files hosted on a memory card. This feature explains the confusing second set of control buttons along the edge of the right earpiece. This card slot isn't a feature I would use, but it could be useful for people who don't own a portable audio device — or who don't want to bring their phone or tablet to, say, the gym or when relaxing in bed.

The larger size of the 10245 also allowed for a larger battery, giving the 10245 longer playback time, roughly 20 hours, than that of the other headphones here.

My chief complaints with the 10245 were its balky controls and poor microphone performance. As I mentioned above, I've come to expect mediocre microphones on Bluetooth headphones. As with most of the headphones here, voice quality on calls was acceptable. The built-in track-control and volume buttons worked fine in my testing. However, the multi-function center button was quite frustrating to use. I never had a problem with the button recognizing a finger press, but which function that press would activate was often a guessing game: I would sometimes initiate redials when trying to power down, or playback would resume playing as I was powering down, or nothing would happen at all. (I'm guessing this is a software issue that might get worked out in a future revision.)

Ultimately, my experience using the 10245 was as mixed as the phrase "Monoprice Premium" sounds. Certain aspects of the 10245 were well executed while other areas were, well, not. What makes the 10245 a solid recommendation here is its solid build quality and its remarkable audio for the price. The 10245 is king of the hill under $100.

Subjekt Pulse Bluetooth Headphones
Subjekt's $100 Subjekt Pulse Bluetooth Headphones aims to provide both style and performance, says the company. The headphone's plastic headphone sports a large Subjekt logo on each side, just above each earpiece. The earpiece extensions are stamped metal and provide about an inch of extension on either side. In the past, I have been skeptical as to the value of folding headphones. Not headphones that fold into a small bundle, but those that fold into a less large bundle. Using the Pulse, which doesn't feature any folding for compactness during travel, I missed the small reduction in footprint even a single hinge in the headband can afford.

(My review sample of the Pulse had a matte-black headband with glossy black lettering. Subjekt has since revised the Pulse to use a glossy black headband with white logos, but the two versions are otherwise identical.)


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