eFrontier.co.nz sent me one pair of their Bluetooth stereo headphone sets to have a look at. Now, these are fun to have around: having wireless audio from almost any source, including your mobile phone, is fantastic.
The company currently offer 2 combinations of Bluetooth stereo heaphones, both using the same stereo headphone receiver (BES102), but one comes with a USB Bluetooth AV dongle (BED101), while the other (being reviewd here), with a very useful 3.5mm jack stereo Bluetooth Audio Adapter (BES103).
The headpones on their own are great as you can pair with almost any Bluetooth device to listen to its audio output, and it has a plug-in microphone so it can be used as a handsfree headset also. Paired to your pocket PC, tablet PC, or notebook, you could be chatting away on Skype as I did through my Pocket PC and CafeNet (a local Wi-Fi hotspot service), or listening to any other voice quality audio stream such as a training video.
When used this way the headphones will mute any other audio to allow you to receive phone calls over the headset profile from your Bluetooth cellphone, and resume the original audio upon completion of the call. Without any additional drivers, using only the common headset or handsfree Bluetooth profile, you can still listen to music, though it will be a low bandwidth mono sound like that from an AM radio.
To listen to stereo Hi-Fi sound however, you will need to be paired with a Bluetooth device that supports the A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) profile. This is part of the fairly new Bluetooth Specification V1.2 that is not yet integrated into many devices’ operating systems. IVT’s BlueSoleil 1.6 is an example of Windows-based Bluetooth software supporting the A2DP profile, but not many Bluetooth vendors supply their hardware with this software.
For Windows Mobile Pocket PC devices there isn’t yet any freely available driver updates that implement this profile. HP apparently have some drivers available for their iPAQ Pocket PC models, but only if you buy their Bluetooth Hi-Fi headphones!
This is where the BES103 Bluetooth Audio Adapter comes into the picture. Plug it into any stereo 3.5mm headphone jack or RCA outputs, turn it on, and it transmits any audio input through the A2DP profile to the paired headphones nearby. The sound was great, and I was literally listening wirelessly to MP3s from my Pocket PC within half a minute. No drivers to install, auto-pairing, simple and easy. Of course I did have a short cable and dongle hanging out of the headphone jack of my Pocket PC, but it wasn’t too inconvenient.
The BES103 audio adapter actually has a female headphone jack input, and comes with a male to male headphone jack cable, as well a dual male RCA splitter cable, so it can take a stereo audio feed from most audio appliances. It could do with an adapter jack to go down from the larger stereo jack to the 3.5mm headphone jack, but adapters and cables like that are easy to find.
The BES103 audio adapter provides a link to the headphones if your audio source does not support A2DP
I have since used this combination to listen to music from my tablet PC, from my portable CD player, from the headphone output of my TV, and from the stereo out of my DVD player. I could listen to the TV with the volume down late a night or in bed.
Along with a power/action button and a blue LED to indicate staus, the BES102 headphones have built in volume up/down buttons, and forward/back buttons. The power/action button takes on several different roles, depending on how it is being used (eg to answer/hangup when serving as a handsfree cellphone headset, mute when paired to the BES103 audio adapter). The forward/back buttons only work with digital media players when you are paired with a Bluetooth 1.2 device, so on my tablet PC with BlueSoleil 1.6 installed, the headphones forward/back buttons would instruct Windows Media Player to jump forward or back a track, and the power button paused the player until pressed again. This “remote control” functionality is actually provided through the Audio Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) which, like A2DP, is part of the Bluetooth 1.2 specification.
I like the combination of the BES102 headphones and BES103 audio adapgter, as the audio adapter is very useful for non-digital situations. However I was dissapointed to find that the BlueSoleil 1.6 software, or other such software, does not come as part of the package when you buy them together. The software comes when you buy the headphones with the Bluetooth AV USB adapter though.
IVT's BlueSoleil software enables A2DP & AVRCP support
I would hope in the future the BlueSoleil 1.6 software, or something similar, would come with the BES102 headphones independent of which dongle/adapter you choose to buy it with, if one at all. Without such software you are not getting access to the full functionality of the headphone unit itself.
eFrontier have indicated they hope to be able to sell the headphones separately in the near future, but it was unclear what software they would come with.
Wireless of any sort has its benefits, and the freedom from cables is great, but unlike your standard headphones, you will need to keep both the headphones and the audio adapter charged up or you’ll find yourself dissapointed. The Y-cable that comes with the power supply/charger means you can charge both at the same time. Once charged, you should be able to get 5-6 hours of continous sound from both pieces.
Since the BES103 audio adapter, and the microphone for the BES102 headphones/headset both use the standard 3.5mm jack plug, it means you can easily replace/upgrade some components should they break or be lost. On the flip side of that, the microphone on these headphones is not integrated into the headset like it is on some other models (see BlueTake’s iPhono headphones) so it is yet another piece to carry / lose. The microphone supplied is flexible, but stil gets in the way a bit when folding them up, something that could be less of an issue if the headphones came with a muli pocket pouch of some sort.
Price-wise, this combination checks out at around NZ$250 (US$180). Apart from the difference in microphone style, and some aesthetics, it provides the same functionality as BlueTake’s i-Phono headphones (read review) which are still priced at over NZ$310 (US$220) in the local market.
Overall, these are a great, albeit pricey, addition to your multimedia gadgetry, and a pleasurable enhancement to listening in private without the hassle of cables.
Pros (With BES103 audio adapter)
Wireless!! No more wire tangles, can move around the room freely.
Double as a cellphone or other headset.
10-15M range for Stereo/A2DP profile, more on mono headset profile.
Great variety of audio sources usable.
5-6 hours of operation per charge.
Only one charger, no other charging options (5-6 hours per charge).
Bluetooth 1.2 (A2DP) profile not native/current on many devices.
Need to install Bluetooth 1.2 driver/software.
Could do with a carry pouch.
Microphone cannot fold-away, so must be removed to fold up.