Motorola S10-HD stereo Bluetooth headphones review
Stereo Bluetooth headphones have long been one of my favorite topics on theONbutton. I’ve not been shy about my issues with the lack of choice in this sector and frustrations about Apple’s imperfect Bluetooth implementation on iOS. The winds of change look to be blowing in the right direction though. Apple’s latest version of iOS now supports proper stereo Bluetooth remote control (AVRCP) and hopefully that means manufacturers will feel free to launch a wider range of headsets. Motorola has had stereo Bluetooth headsets in its lineup for some time and we’ve previously reviewed the S805 and S9-HD, finding both to be solid contenders. The company has built upon the S9-HD’s design to deliver the new S10-HD and we have one right here, so let’s see if it’s any good shall we?
First impressions of the Motorola S10-HD
With the S10-HD, Motorola has stayed with a similar behind-the-neck design to the S9/S9-HD. As with the S9 family the ear arms of the S10-HD that house the controls and headphones are flexible, while the rear piece housing the battery, USB charging port and power button is solid.
The whole device has a more rubberized feel than the S9 family. They both feel built to a similar high level of quality, but I’m guessing the rubber coating of the S10-HD is designed to make the headset more sweat-resistant than the S9 family. Many people chose the S9 headsets or the Plantronics BackBeat 903/906 as jogging partners and while the S9 seemed to be more sweat resistant than the Plantronics design, the S9 was still vulnerable to moisture. The headset itself feels about the same weight as the S9/S9-HD, although the rear piece is slightly wider presumably to accommodate a higher capacity battery.
The ear controls are near identical to the S9 series, with the track play/pause, forward and back buttons on the right earpiece, while the volume and call controls are on the left earpiece. The only material difference with the controls is that on the S9-HD a long press on the track forward button would toggle the SRS WOW enhancer on and off, whereas this enhancer is not present on the S10-HD.
There are four sizes of ear fittings in the box to allow for a comfortable fit in the ears. They serve a more significant purpose than just comfort however; more about this later. Other items in the box include a power adapter and manual.
Getting comfortable with the Motorola S10-HD
The S9 series was always a polarizing headset. Some people loved the snug fit, which practically guaranteed that they would never fall out of your ears by accident. Others meanwhile found the fit too tight for long term comfort. The S9 series headsets also loosened gently over time, so they became more comfortable after frequent usage, while still retaining a sure-feeling fit.
The S10-HD feel just as snug as my S9-HD did on Day One, although the S9-HD look visibly looser at rest after a year of use than the brand new S10-HD. The various earpieces have a significant impact upon comfort too, because while the smaller ones allow the arms to grip closer to the side of the head, the larger ones push the arms out. So if you find the fit too tight against your head, trying the larger earpieces might be helpful.
Walking around, although the rear piece of the S10-HD is sizable it doesn’t seem to get in the way as much as the rear of the S9-HD. This might just be due to the shape of my head, but I found I could move my head up and down more freely with the S10-HD than with the S9-HD. Having said that, they do still seem to restrict movement of the head when looking upwards.
Using the Motorola S10-HD
The S10-HD enters pairing mode when switched on for the first time. You can of course also get it into pairing mode after that as well. The headset paired with my iPad and BlackBerry Bold 9700 easily and subsequent reconnections were extremely quick and reliable; I never needed to re-pair the S10-HD, which is in keeping with Motorola’s typically excellent record with Bluetooth devices.
If you’ve ever used an S9 series headset then your fingers will fall naturally onto the controls of the S10-HD. For newcomers, it’s an easy headset to get to know. I found I needed to be a little more precise with key presses compared to with the S9-HD, perhaps that’s because the rubber coating adds a little more distance between the headset’s exterior and the interior button contact.
One of my issues with the S9-HD was that it often lost the Bluetooth signal when walking in open areas or far from other objects, with the phone in my trouser pocket. This resulted in choppy music playback. This has definitely improved with the S10-HD. The new headset’s receiver seems far more able to hold onto a Bluetooth signal when walking around. I went for a brief run with my phone in the front and then back pocket of my shorts, and the S10-HD held the signal without dropouts in both cases.
So how does music sound through the S10-HD? The S9-HD was a solid performer, easily improving upon the original S9, and the S10-HD keeps the reputation going strong. But to tell you more about the characteristics of the sound quality I need to go back to the earpieces.
While it would appear that the different earpiece sizes just impact upon comfort, they actually have a profound impact upon the sound characteristics of the headset. At a basic level, the larger earpieces produce significantly more bass than the smaller ones.
Listening more deeply, it seems that without any earpieces fitted, the S10-HD has a presence peak around approximately 1-3kHz, which is the frequency range of much of the human voice. This characteristic accentuates vocals and is similar to the effect heard when selecting a ‘Pop’ equalizer preset on many stereos. The bass and treble frequencies are still there but the boosting of the midrange pushes the vocals to the foreground.
The acoustic properties of the earpieces has an effect of boosting the low end frequencies, and this is most pronounced with the largest earpieces. I found the most balanced sound was with the second largest earpieces.
With these fitted, basslines were solidly resolved without being over-accentuated. By comparison while the Plantronics BackBeat 903 produced a more open airy sound with more room at the treble end, the Motorola S10-HD is the headset to choose if you want a pumping bassline. Just like the S9-HD, the S10-HD can produce an amazing amount of clear bass, which really is remarkable given the small size of the headphone drivers.
What’s also great about the S10-HD is that while the bass often gets lost to street noise on other headsets, the snug fit of the larger earpieces means that the bass remains intact when walking around wearing the S10-HD.
Of course the S10-HD will let you make calls as well, and it does a reasonable job of this given its design. Callers’ voices come through very clearly, but for them to hear you it helps to be in a quiet environment since the mic is mounted on one of the earpieces.
There are a couple of issues with the S10-HD. As with the S9 series, the fit will probably continue to polarize opinion regarding how comfortable the S10-HD is to wear over extended periods. I found the S10-HD to be very comfortable when worn for a long time with the second largest earpieces. But your mileage may vary depending upon the shape of your head.
The other issue relates to the volume of the S10-HD. Some devices surrender control of volume to the Bluetooth headset, and both the iPad and Bold 9700 behaved this way with the S10-HD. In both cases I found that the minimum volume did not go low enough for all use-cases I would envisage for the headset. I actually thought that the unit Motorola had sent me was faulty but the second one they sent had identical volume levels. I then paired the S10-HD to a Samsung Epic 4G and this issue was not present, since the Epic 4G allows you to control the master volume from the phone when connected to a Bluetooth headset. Whether this is a problem for you will depend upon your cellphone and how loud you like to listen to music. If your cellphone allows you to control music volume on the phone when connected to a stereo Bluetooth headset then this will probably not be an issue for you at all.
It’s worth mentioning that the Plantronics Backbeat 903/906, Sony DR-BT50 and Motorola’s own S9-HD also exhibit this issue, although those headsets go down to lower minimum volume level than the S10-HD. These headsets should really all be able to output a negligible volume level if requested. Perhaps it is an issue with the Bluetooth A2DP stereo audio streaming protocol rather than the headsets, since it seems to affect so many of them – I’d be interested to find this out.
Motorola S10-HD: The final sound-check
At $79.95 the S10-HD comes in at $50 less than the S9-HD did when it was released last year, and if you’re a fan of the Motorola S9/S9-HD then the S10-HD will most likely appeal to you. Equally if you’re looking for a headset to wear when jogging or working out, the S10-HD should be one of the headsets near the top of your shortlist. The sound quality of the S10-HD is very enjoyable and uniquely configurable due to the characteristics of the earpieces. I love that Motorola has vastly improved the S10-HD’s ability to hold on to a Bluetooth signal compared to the S9-HD. If Motorola, along with other manufacturers, could resolve the minimum volume issue then the S10-HD would be pretty close to perfect.