Given how cool wireless technology is, you have to feel rather sorry for Bluetooth that it is forever synonymous with those horrible ear-pieces. I'm no judge of people for what they wear, but the Bluetooth headset seems to be reserved only for angry taxi drivers and businessmen who cannot spend five seconds off the phone!
Although stuck with this reputation, Bluetooth is really all about short range wireless data transmission using as little power as possible. Now in its fourth generation, Bluetooth is able to send much larger amounts of data than before and is able to do so much more than give men in grey suits something tiny to shout into whilst confusing passers by.
My favourite Bluetooth gadget has to be the wireless headphone.
Bluetooth headphones for listening to music have actually been around for quite a while and the introduction of Bluetooth-stereo made them appealing enough for me to bite and get a pair of Logitech FreePulse headphones for use in the gym a few years ago.
The advantages of wireless headphones are obvious, especially when out and about. No cable to get in the way when listening to your mobile about town. No way of accidentally throwing your precious MP3 player across a running machine, as once happened to me when the cable caught my arm. Equally, two way communication means that you can remote control your device without having to get it out your pocket when you just want to quickly adjust the volume or skip a track.
As with most technologies, the cost has come down over time and it’s possible to get a pair of Bluetooth headphones very cheaply. For example, I have a pair of ExPower BH02s that can be had for under £15 on Amazon. They look the part and do a job too. However, if you want a pair of decent headphones with the advantage of wireless, you’re going to have to shell out some serious cash.
But what if you already own a great pair of headphones? Wouldn't it be great if just once in a while you could cut the chord?? (Metaphorically speaking. Put those scissors down!)
Let me introduce you to the Sony SBH20s. Yes, on the box they look like a pair of Bluetooth wireless headphones, and that’s what they are. But look closer and you’ll see the headphones are detachable from the bluetooth technology, This means they can be attached to anything with a headphone (3.5mm) jack! At only £25 typically on Amazon, this little box with the shiny clip can convert your existing headphones to wireless!
Being the proud owner of a pair of Sennheiser Momentums and AKG K550’s I was keen to see whether the cheap conversion to wireless came at any hidden cost.
So what’s in the box for £25?
If you’re looking for a complete solution, there is a pair of headphones here for starters. They’re of the in-ear variety, which I struggle to get comfortable with, but there are three different bud sizes included, so most people should find a size that fits and they sound fine.
Next we have the Bluetooth adaptor itself, which we’ll take a closer look at in a moment, a charge cable (USB) and wall adaptor (US style). Your phone charger will likely do the job if you’re outside the US (and not wedded to Apple) and the instruction manual.
So to the wireless adaptor itself. It’s absolutely tiny and reminiscent of an iPod Shuffle at just over one inch square. The battery life, quoted at 9 hours (and verified in several customer reviews - I’m afraid I topped it up, but will update if I find different later) means you’ll get a full day of listening out of it and the clip on the back means it can be attached anywhere you like and the controls can be kept accessible whilst your player is hidden away.
Bluetooth is a standardised technology, so any Bluetooth music device should be able to send tunes to it. The usual pairing procedure is needed to get them working, but if your gadget has NFC on board (another short-range radio, but this time for touching devices) when you can literally hold the player and the Sony together for a moment and they will pair automatically. I connected my Nexus 4 this way and was very pleased at how quick and easy it was.
Operating the Sony is simple. On the move it’s actually easier than operating your phone, which can stay in your pocket. On the front, there are play, pause,skip and stop controls and you can also take calls if you’re connected to a phone. Oddly, it doesn't seem possible to initiate a call, which would be an omission.
The stainless steel clasp on the back does a great job of keeping the Sony where you put it and round the edges, you have your power-switch, headphone socket, volume rocker and the micro-usb port hidden behind a protective flap for charging. It’s all up to Sony’s usual excellent build quality.
I also tested the Sony at home against my Momentums and the AKGs. These are both big over-the-ear headphones that sound fantastic when the source is good, but could really put a dent in the wireless dream, potentially showing up every flaw. Now I’m not a hardcore audiophile, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good the sound was. Early iterations like my Logitechs and cheapos like the ExPowers sound heavily compressed and muffled, but the Sonys lose little of the detail and only some of the punch as I tried everything from rock, through electronic and a bit of classical. I would still chose a cable for sitting at my desk or on the sofa, to get the best sound I can, but the compromise here for the convenience of wireless when needed is pleasingly small.
The Sony you see in the pictures was loaned to me for a review, but the evening before I had to return it, I realised something that made me pick up my phone and order one on the spot.
It’s not only headphones that this little guy can make wireless. It’s speakers too.
Bluetooth speakers are all the rage, but they are typically one box solutions where anything under £150 sounds terrible and even the best don’t match a pair of stereo speakers properly spaced apart. Again, they’re very convenient, but I've yet to be blown away and the DependentOnGadgets household still makes do with a pair of NXT (flat) speakers and a subwoofer in the kitchen that used to belong to a computer.
Instead of taking my mobile out of its protective case and hunting for the cable as I usually do when burning some food to music, I simply plugged the Sony into the TDKs, stood back and jacked up the volume! Boom! I'm £25 worse off, but I shan't be buying a Bluetooth speaker, potentially saving £150. The TDKs don’t have to go in the bin and I have a new gadget in the post.
A friend had a similar epiphany when he discovered this was a very cheap way to add Bluetooth stereo to his car.
Depending on your requirement, if you have an occasional need for wireless headphones, or a decent pair of active speakers that could get a new lease of life out of a cheap upgrade, I can totally recommend the SBH20s.
Strong sound, strong convenience.
Bluetooth himself would have approved.
Check out my gadget recommendations on HaveYouSeen.com and buy from known retailers with cashback.