For the past year and a half I’ve used a Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth Headset. It was the evolution of the Voyager Pro UC that I reviewed in 2011. Not long ago I discovered just how many times such a device would survive a pass through the laundry…which is exactly once. A second pass through the laundry caused its’ demise.
The loss of the Voyager Legend left an obvious hole in my arsenal. Such matters I take as an opportunity to try something new, or at least re-evaluate my needs.
There was a time when I made a lot of use of a BT headset while travelling. In that application it’s role was in support of basic telecom use. More recently I have not been travelling at all. My primary use of a headset has been for listening to the local NPR stream while walking our dogs.
Further, this past year I’ve revisited some of my early love of flying sport kites. This involves time spent outside in city parks listening to music on a headset. Most typically I’ve used a wired headset. The Etymotic Research HF5 are a favorite in that arena. I love the audio quality afforded by the HF5s, but the wires do get in the way.
A single-ear design, the Voyager Series was never satisfactory for listening to music. Their A2DP implementation was adequate for listening to an online NPR stream.
Several friends reported their approval of the LG Electronics Tone+ HBS-730. Feeling stingy one day I ordered something that looked exactly like the HDB-730s, but was only $19. When it arrived I gave it a try, but was dismayed. It’s performance was wholly unsatisfactory. It was cheap Chinese knock-off. There were so many things not to like that I won’t even bother with the details.
A few days later I once again conferred with friends about their use of the HBS-730, HBS-750 and even the newer HBS-800 model. Their collective opinion remained clear, they thought highly of the LG Tone+ Series. So I bit the bullet and ordered the HBS-730.
When they arrived a few days later I was again dismayed to find that they were unacceptably bad for listening to music from my Nexus 4 mobile phone. They were only marginally acceptable for listening to our local NPR stream.
I’d never used a BT headset for listening music in the past. Was I simply being too demanding? Or was there something askew? Surely everyone I’d asked about the LG headset had a similar expectation of quality. I thought that I must have overlooked some unknown technical detail.
The following week I made a point of asking Bluetooth expert Carles Cufi about CSR’s APT-X codec when he appeared on #VUC501. APT-X purports to be THE way to achieve HiFi sound over Bluetooth. On paper it certainly looks good:
- Compression ratio: 4:1
- Audio Format: 16-bit, 44.1kHz (CD-Quality)
- Data Rates: 352kbps
- Frequency Response: 10Hz to 22kHz
- Algorithmic Delay: <1.89ms @ Fs 48KHz
- Dynamic Range: 16-bit: >92dB
- THD+N: -68.8dB
Sadly, what I have since discovered is that APT-X support in headphones is decent and growing, but it’s support in mobile phones is limited. More specifically, it’s not supported by my Nexus 4 or my wife’s Nexus 5.
On that basis it became clear that the headset was falling back to the Bluetooth standard SBC codec. I’ve come to find that its implementation varies, with results from stupidly-bad (the Chinese headset) to (I am told) acceptable-for-music.
I remain committed to the Nexus series as my preferred approach to the Android mobile realm. Since literally none of them support APT-X I guess I’ll stick with my trusty-if-tangled wired headset for now. I’d be interested in hearing from other Nexus users about their experience with BT wireless headsets for listening to music.
Along the path of researching this post I found The Headphone List to be a great reference for in-ear-monitors and related technologies. My current favorites, the aforementioned Etyomotic MC5 (full review) made their 2014 Earphone Buyers Guide. Their article on Making Sense of Bluetooth Headphone Technology is a great single point of reference for most things Bluetoothy.