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Hands-on with Sennheiser’s MM550 stereo Bluetooth headphones

Around this time last year we went hands-on with the Sennheiser MM450 stereo Bluetooth heaphones.  They sounded great but were expensive, around twice the price of Nokia’s BH-905 and even more still than Sony’s excellent (but not noise cancelling) DR-BT50.  Sennheiser has updated the MM450 with the MM550 which, unlike the on-ear MM450, sports a closed back design. Just like the MM450, the MM550 is able to stream music over Bluetooth (A2DP), handle calls and offers playback remote controls (AVRCP).  I scored a listening session with the MM550 this week and here are my impressions.

Update: We’ve now written a full review of the Sennheiser MM550, or you can continue on this page and read our initial hands-on impressions.

Features of the Sennheiser MM550

  • NoiseGard™ 2.0 noise cancelling technology, available when using the MM550 either wirelessly or wired
  • Stereo Bluetooth A2DP, AVRCP and hands-free calling
  • TalkThrough – one press of a button turns on the external microphone so you can hear outside sounds without removing the headset
  • Neodymium magnets and patented Duofol diaphragms
  • SRS WOW HD™ sound enhancer
  • Large closed back ear cups
  • Direct cable option
  • Integrated track and volume controls
  • Collapsible and a carry case is included

Listening to the Sennheiser MM550

In the demo the MM550 was paired to a Motorola Droid and the pairing process was straightforward.  I was in a fairly noisy environment and the noise cancelling was turned on when I put on the MM550.  Outside noise was significantly attenuated although by no means silenced.  As with most noise-cancelling headphones I was able to hear people speaking around me but there was a notable difference between when the noise-cancelling was engaged vs disengaged.

When I pressed play on the MM550 it was immediately clear that this is a rocking set of cans.  The SRS WOW HD enhancer was switched on and, while I’m not a fan of that feature on Motorola’s S9-HD, on the MM550 it produces a superb  sound.  Basslines are solidly resolved, there’s an airy top end that creates a perception of openness and the soundstage is wide without sounding artificially stretched.  What’s great of course is that with the noise cancelling turned on, you can enjoy all of this at lower volume levels.  This is the kind of reproduction though that makes you want to crank it up to 11; a truly engaging, driving and yet non-fatiguing sound.

Interestingly all of that good stuff went away when I disengaged the SRS WOW HD.  I often find that headsets that have enhancers sound great in one state but not both.  Typically I prefer the natural balance of the headphones with the enhancer switched off, as long as the engineers have done a good job.  With the MM550 however the sound became empty and tinny with the SRS WOW HD disengaged.  Now admittedly I only spent a limited time listening to the MM550 but I honestly don’t think this was a perception issue as I switched between the on and off positions of the enhancer.

Other funky features of the MM550 include TalkThrough, which mutes the music and activates the external mic so you can hear outside sounds.  This worked well and is a very useful feature.  The MM550 is also collapsible for portability.  It’s not quite as compact when folded as the Sony DR-BT50, but the collapsing is a handy feature.  The MM550 also comes with a detachable cable for use as regular wired headphones, which makes them good travelling companions for travelers who want to make use of in-seat entertainment and other wired sound sources.

The Sennheiser MM550 is rated to give 20 hours of talk time, or 8h/10h of wireless music playback with/without noise-canceling engaged.  Although I would love to listen to the MM550 for that amount of time, I didn’t have the opportunity to test these claims.  I also didn’t try making any calls with the MM550.  I did however try all the playback and volume controls, which worked fine when paired with the Motorola Droid.

If you’re reaching for your wallet, I’ll warn you that the MM550 will retail at $499 so it’s unlikely to fit within all budgets.  If money’s no object though, for music lovers they’re definitely the best sounding stereo Bluetooth headphones I’ve heard.

Neil Berman

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Nov 10, 2010 Posted by | Audio, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Shiny Stereo Stars: Motorola S805 Review

Ban the wires from your bod with these

Ban the wires from your bod with these

I’ll try to keep this short for reasons which will become apparent.  Bluetooth headphones are all the rage at the moment with big hitters like Jabra, Plantronics and Motorola selling several models in different formats. Recent sets have even included a dog tag design.  There have also been some high end designs from the likes of Sony and Motorola. I’ve got my mitts on the Motorola S805 DJ headset, let’s see what its like.

Control buttons are large and easy to press

Control buttons are large and easy to press

First impressions of the Motorola S805

The S805s are closed back style headphones with nice ‘n soft ear pads and a cushioned adjustable head band. The black finish looks smart rather than showy and the fit on my head is snug rather than heavy or tight.

On the left earpiece is a call button and track skip rocker, the right earpiece has a play/pause button, volume rocker and mic. There’s a charging port under the left ear alongside a wired headphone port for use with the supplied 3.5mm adaptor so you can listen to non bluetooth sources. There’s also a semi-hard travel case in the box.

So that means stereo bluetooth audio (A2DP) with playback control (AVRCP), bluetooth hands free with seamless music integration and non-bluetooth wired audio.

Pairing the Motorola S805

Wired headphone port sits next to charging port

Wired headphone port sits next to charging port

Pairing to my HTC S620 was straightforward with the phone detecting both hands free and stereo audio profiles. As with many bluetooth headsets various things started lighting up blue at this point. Thankfully Motorola understood that S805 owners are buying into a sound rather than sci-fi experience, so the cyborg-looking lights can be easily disabled.

Using the Motorola S805

Hands free conversations come through well, with minimal background noise as with most modern bluetooth headsets and voice dialling is also supported.

Music playback just works beautifully.  On my HTC s620 I called up a playlist in Windows Media Player, put the phone in my bag and controlled the rest from the S805s.   Sweet.  Tunes come banging out of these cans so hard you think you’re in a Detroit club. Basslines are solid, treble comes through clearly and I had no dropouts unlike the otherwise excellent Logitech Freepulse.  The S805s even paired to the Freepulse’s headphone output bluetooth transmitter so I was able to watch TV without using the S805’s wired connection.

The soft earpads are comfortable for extended use

The soft earpads are comfortable for extended use

That’s not to say they’re the last word in headphones.  In a wired listening test against my reference Beyer DT250s the Beyers deliver a significantly better performance in terms of frequency reproduction and sound stage.  In a fairer wired test against the more consumer oriented Beyer DT231 Galactic, the S805s come out with a more open and balanced sound stage with clearer highs whilst the Galactics deliver more in the middle and lower frequencies.  Both are easy to listen to without fatigue for decent amounts of time.

For those conscious to protect their hearing, the closed back design provides useful passive background isolation allowing for comfortable low volume listening…and conveniently protects your ears from the cold which is an added bonus for East Coast winters.

The bad news?  They’re DJ-style big cans which is a question of personal taste and they’re bag rather than pocket friendly.

Is the Motorola S805 a stereo star?

The good news?  Overall the S805s are awesome and worth the money as a high-end accessory for any music-loving owner of a stereo bluetooth cellphone.  Fortunately at the time of writing the S805s were available at several retailers for less than the (deep breath) $249 MSRP. In fact I saw them on sale in short supply for a lot less than that at Amazon and Buy.com.  Nuff said, get that plastic armed and ready.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Sep 13, 2008 Posted by | Audio, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Logitech FreePulse Review

Wireless headphones. A great idea often unstuck by uncomfortable cans, poor sound quality and bulky base stations. Now lightweight bluetooth stereo headphones are streaming into stores, but there are still questions about whether they can change this perception. Let’s get Logitech’s FreePulse 2 into the interrogation room.

The FreePulse is a ultra-lightweight bluetooth headphone set with a cool neckband look and graphite coloring. The right ear unit houses the controls with volume, power, muting and track selection, although only some devices will be compatible with all of these functions. Flexible rubber over ear hooks keep them from falling off your ears. These hooks can be repositioned for custom fitting. Also in the box are adaptors for various iPods and a small bluetooth transmitter for standard 3.5mm headphone sockets. This allows the FreePulse to get audio from anything with a headphone output. Nice. Putting them on for the first time is slightly confusing, as the neckband sits at the bottom of the ear units rather than the top. Once figured out though, fitting is easy and the FreePulse feels secure, comfortable and, most importantly, lightweight when sitting correctly. The key is to play with the ear hooks to get the right fit.

The FreePulse paired to my HTC TyTN straight away and the phone recognized them as wireless stereo phones. Within seconds stereo music was streaming to the cans…and the sound quality was surprisingly decent.

Both bass and treble came through well enough, with an emphasis on the lows. There were pronounced peaks around the 1-3 KHz midrange, which is where snare drums and vocals live. This combination makes the FreePulse real rocker’s cans, and when I cranked up the volume I found myself dancing around the room in no time. The slightly overdone bass can smother some clarity at times, which can be remediated if you have an equalizer on your music player. There is a bass boost on the headset, but I didn’t find it particularly sweet sounding. At the other end of the spectrum I plugged the headphone dongle into my Teac Reference system, which receives a SPDIF audio feed from my Media Center. After some quick cutting of the offending bass and midrange frequencies on the computer’s output EQ, the sound quality of the FreePulse was extremely impressive.

Transmission quality was strong throughout my (admittedly small) apartment. The FreePulse had no problem holding a connection at around ten meters through a wall, although as the distance increased from the source, momentary dropouts started to occur every thirty seconds or so. The dropouts also occurred outside with the phone in my pocket and as the battery weakened after around five hours. However the dropouts only became annoying when watching movies as lip sync issues emerged. I can only imagine that this is a buffering issue when some data packets don’t make the full journey and need to be resent, which is a problem in any data streaming situation. I found that momentarily pausing the film sorted this out.

I found the FreePulse worked well both in and outdoors. I could jog without them falling off, and when fitted well they only became tiring after a couple of hours. They always had plenty of volume range as long as they were receiving good level from the source. Best of all, they just have a subtle power light, as opposed to a huge geeky flashing indicator which afflicts so many bluetooth headsets. So I could happily wear them without feeling self conscious. At a MSRP of $99.99, the Logitech FreePulse is good value given the packaged headphone adaptor, solid sound quality and comfortable wearability at home, in the gym or in the street. I recently saw them advertised at one large electronics store for $49.99. I bought them straight away.

Neil Berman

www.neilberman.com

Feb 10, 2008 Posted by | Audio, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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