TheONbutton Durham Computer Services

Remote IT Support and Computer & Technology Help in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh NC

iPhone 3GS: stereo bluetooth now mainstream?

Apple’s decision to enable stereo bluetooth on the iPhone 3G will bring the technology into the mainstream, but has it remained on the periphery for a reason?

Like mono bluetooth headsets, stereo ones need to be paired. Nowadays this is straightforward but some phones and headsets have better recollection than others. There so many headsets and phones out there that inevitably some have better bluetooth inplementations than others. Pairings sometimes have to be re-established; this can be due to the phone or headset not being the best at remembering its partners.

Once you’re happily connected, you’re using the A2DP profile which gives audio streaming. If your phone and headset support AVRCP then you’re also getting remote control over music playback as well as calls. This is awesome and has made wired headphones redundant for years for many cellphone owners.  Now that iPhone 3G S has partially caught-up with this technology (allowing play/pause but not track skip), owners have an option to make those white wired earbuds disappear.

So how do you find a good headset? Here are a few options…

Motorola S9 HD

The S9 HD is a one-piece-behind-the-neck design similar to its predecessor, the S9.  The receiver and battery are housed in the connector band with call and playback controls living on the frame outside the earbuds. The power button and mini-USB charging port are on the underside of the connector band. There are three buttons on each side aligned vertically which makes controlling the S9 HD a snap once you’ve mastered the layout. Multi-function buttons are kept to a minimum; it’s the opposite of working a current generation iPod Shuffle.

Pairing was a good expeience with an HTC Touch Pro and Samsung Epix, with both phones picking up the S9-HD’s mono and stereo bluetooth profiles as well as playback controls.

Speech quality was good indoors but outdoors call recipients complained of some wind noise. Music quality was excellent, with solid bass and clear treble with the SRS WOW enhancer left off. With the enhancer on the sound took on an overly bass heavy response with low-mid frequencies being over-emphasized.

When I was standign still outdoors, music playback was consistent but on the move this became a variable experience. In a envionment with lots of objects providing reflections the bluetooth connection was solid. However in open spaces free of people, cars or walls the playback would become choppy unless the phone was close to the headset.

As with many other stereo bluetooth headsets the S9-HD seems to employ timestretching technology to extend playback whilst allowing its music buffer to fill. This results in perceptible pitch changes from time to time; I would rather pay a few dollars more for a larger onboard buffer.

The S9-HD is comfortable for long periods of use and feels light on the head. Some pairs of glasses can sit on top of the earpieces which can be an odd feeling, I found I could wear sunglasses without difficulty after getting accustomed to the feeling. YMMV.

On balance I liked the comfort and sound quality of the S9-HD, but the choppy music playback when walking through wide-open spaces can become annoying.

Panasonic RP-BT10

Sometimes using your own headphones is a must (I’m looking at you, Etymotic lovers) and Panasonic created the RP-BT10 with this in mind. Resembling the previous generation iPod shuffle the RP-BT10 sports transport and volume controls on the main unit and a call control button on the microphone cable. This cable has a standard 3.5mm headphone socket for you favorite cans.  There is a bespoke charging cable, so no USB cable charging option here.

Pairing was a smooth process. The spring-clip mechnism on the main unit allows positioning of the RP-BT10 closer to your phone if necessary for greater connection reliability. Of course if you plan on making calls you will need to ensure the mic is reasonably close to your mouth.

Sound quality is of course dependant on your choice of headphones, the bundled set are OK and need on a snug fit with the supplied ear fittings to get the best out of them.  The benefit of the RP-BT10 though is that you can use any 3.5mm headset you want.

By nature of its design the RP-BT10 also allows you to create a semi-wireless connection between a phone and a stereo system. Simply use a stereo 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable to connect the RP-BT10 to most stereos’ auxiliary input, which will turn your phone into a useful makeshift jukebox.

The RP-BT10 is a good choice if you want to use your own headphones, but the downside is that it re-introduce wires into your setup…and isn’t that what the iPhone community is getting excited about being able to give up?

Motorola S805

Last up in our trio is the Motorola S805. This big DJ-style headset fully covers the ears with call controls on one side and payback on the other. The S805 employs rocker wheels on each earpiece to control volume and track selection.

Control buttons are large and easy to press

One the underside of one earpiece is the charging port, which uses a standard mini-USB connection.

As with the other two devices, pairing was straightforward.  Once in use the buttons on either side pulse in blue, although fortunately this feature can be disabled by pressing the call and play buttons simultaneously for a couple of seconds.

In use callers found my speech to be crystal clear both indoors and outside. Music playback was very good with almost no droputs. Bass frequencies were slightly less pronounced than with the S9-HD, but the overall sound was easy to listen to for prolonged periods.  The headset, although large, was also comfortable and did not feel heavy on the head.

The pitch-shifting effect was evident on the S805 as with the S9-HD, although significantly less so. I’m guessing the S805 has more onboard buffer memory, which would also explain its resistance to dropouts.

Overall the S805 is a great headset as long as you can live with its size.  The S805 is certainly not the most discreet headset available, but its form usefully keeps ears warm and noise out on windy days.

Listen-up, here’s the bottom line…

These are three very different headsets. As a portable one piece solution the S9-HD is a good bet as long as you stay around objects or remain stationary when listening. The RP-BT10 allows use of your own headphones but makes you wire-y. Finally the S805 provides excellent connection strength and a balanced soundstage.

Each one however suffers from sporadic connection issues and even if these are forgiven by savvy owners, they may deter non-techie users from long term usage.  In my opinion this has been a delaying factor to widespread adoption of stereo bluetooth technology so far.

On the other hand I am hopeful that the release of the iPhone 3G S will create renewed energy in the stereo bluetooth market with new product offerings and greater reliability.  I can’t wait to see if Apple releases a headset!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

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Jun 21, 2009 - Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Audio, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Well, so much for Apple releasing a headset. I’m not very happy about the choices out there. Although for my uses, I’m going to try the S805 just based on the current Amazon price of $37. Hoping someone will come out with the perfect BT headset that allows full control on my 3GS, great sound, , etc

    Comment by Gary | Jun 25, 2009 | Reply

  2. I have the S805 and love them (now) when I first got them I had another handset (HTC candybar) from which I experienced drop-outs and poor range. Now I have an Acer F900 and experience no drop-out and a range of 7m-9m indoors through walls etc. They are big – I feel a little self conscious in public but the sound quality compels me to use them irrespective. Thanks for the tip on turning off the flashing blue lights!

    Comment by Sads | Feb 18, 2010 | Reply


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