In the aftermath of CTIA’s Super Mobility Week last month, I got a few different versions of headsets to review from the manufacturers. I decided to test them out in different situations to see how well they performed (which ended up taking over a week).
I got out my Samsung Galaxy S7 and tested the sound on a couple of games (Bloons TD 5 & Hearthstone), a YouTube video (whatever Phil DeFranco posted that day), and my Lil Wayne Pandora station.
First, I tested them in my room and wandering around the house. Next I wore them on a mile-long walk around the city of Flagstaff. Then I took them on a 30-minute bike ride to see how they fared.
This is what I learned about my headphone preferences based on comfort, functionality, and appearance while testing them out.
1. Rowkin BitCharge Wireless Ear Buds ($129.99 on Amazon)
Have you ever watched a spy movie or show and wanted to go on a spy mission? Rowkin’s BitCharge wireless earbuds are about the closest we’ll ever get to that. These tiny earbuds come with a USB battery that can charge the earbuds using magnetic conductive charging and a standard smartphone via USB.
Like any USB backup charger, it uses micro-USB instead of lightning or other proprietary Apple cables, but since it connects via bluetooth, it can be used on the latest iPhone.
One earbud can be used at a time, or you can connect them to each other before syncing with your phone (which will see the pair as one device). Unfortunately, battery life is limited to three hours (much less for continuous music), so multiple pairs would be necessary to rotate out and use full time.
Learn more about Rowkin’s earbuds at the company’s website.
I found these earbuds to be relatively comfortable, and with 3 interchangeable sizes, I imagine fit won’t be much of an issue for people. The sound was great during the games and DeFranco’s voice, but it was muted and lacking for music purposes.
However, overall, it was acceptable so long as you’re not a stickler for sound quality on music. The lack of built-in amplifiers made these buds rely on the phone’s volume controls, which was better than relying on the phone’s built-in speakers, but not as good as the old, wooden, hi-fi turntable we have.
When used for a call, I was able to hear as though the phone was right up to my ear, and the voice commands worked surprisingly well. Leaving my phone upstairs in my room, I wandered around the house without breaking the connection (though it did stutter quite a bit while I was downstairs), but once I went out either outside door, it immediately cut out.
Once I got outdoors, the microphone in these earbuds became less useful, though the sound quality held up surprisingly well. While walking along heavily trafficked roads, the vehicle sound was somewhat dampened (though still audible), and the high frequency treble and vocals came through much louder and brighter than I expected.
Cranking up the speed on my bike, the wind noise didn’t affect the sound quality at all. However the voice commands weren’t as useful anymore because the wind, bumps, and my speed were distorting my voice. I also feared them falling out my ear while moving my jaw at high speeds.
If only there was some kind of bass and they lasted longer than two hours, these earbuds would be perfect for marathons, triathalons, and other such events. They’re also sweat and water resistant, which is nice because it rains a lot in Flagstaff.
One issue I did have was when near the hospital and other businesses I assume having strong Wi-Fi signals, the sound would cut out. Also when I threw my phone in my pocket, I noticed the signal would have issues.
Overall, these are great earbuds for times when you want to pretend you’re a spy. My roommates and I are already working on ways to utilize them as such, but until then these earbuds are unlikely to get daily music use.
Giving up some functionality for discreteness, the Rowkin Bit Charge earbuds are still surprisingly good at what they do well. What sounds like standard, non-powered earbuds indoors holds up surprisingly well outdoors.
If I were looking for a bluetooth headset that didn’t make me look like a douchebag, these are definitely the set I’d choose. They even work well if you want to wear one earbud to keep an ear on your phone in class or during a meeting.
There’s a ton of practicality to them that I’ll hold on to them for, however for music, they weren’t good enough for my needs.
Final Grade: B-
2. VXI BlueParrott Hi-Fi S450-XT Over-Ear Wireless Headphones ($179.99 on Amazon)
Going to the opposite side of the spectrum, I also received a pair of wireless, over-the-ear, DJ-style headphones from blueparrott. They synced even easier than the Rowkin earbuds because they also include NFC-syncing, which the Galaxy S7 is capable of. By enabling NFC on the phone and holding it against the right earpiece (the one with the blueparrott button that’s actually on the left side in the above pic), everything was synced within seconds.
Equipped with Bluetooth 4.0, I noticed very little difference in latency between these and the Rowkin earbuds, which utilize Bluetooth 4.1. However, because they’re powered speakers with more room to work with, the S450-XT have much better sound quality. It also includes Class 1 Bluetooth, with an advertised extended range of 300 feet (that was easily halved by my house’s walls), these are definitely headphones for audiophiles.
The noise-cancelling properties of these headphones were apparent as soon as you put them on. Isolating any background noise, I was able to fully appreciate the pings and whistles of the games, while DeFranco’s show felt instantly more polished and professional (since I was now hearing the full spectrum of the voice his pro mic picked up). Tuning in to Lil Wayne, the sound quality was the best I’d heard out of my phone since I bought it at the beginning of the year.
When used for a call, I was more focused on the conversation and able to block out distractions much easier. Leaving the phone upstairs, I was able to roam the house and take the trash to the curb without breaking the signal, though it did finally break up as I approached my neighbor’s house. It was interesting to know someone could stand on the sidewalk by my house and access my phone through a bluetooth signal.
Outside, the S450-XT greatly dampened the noise from traffic, wind, and other distractions. I didn’t feel weird wearing such large headphones, as it’s what I’m used to. I also noticed over a dozen people walking around Flagstaff with similar style headphones, so perhaps I’m accidentally in style again. The mic had no problem picking up my voice at any point, and it folded out of the way when I didn’t need it.
While riding my bike, these felt less like they would fall off, and even when worn over a baseball cap at high speeds, they were comfortable. I was able to get the music up to an enjoyable volume, but even at half volume, it was enough to block out all but sirens, car horns, and the occasional helicopter. Overall I was impressed by how great these sounded. And with up to 24 hours of talk time, I was able to go all day without worrying about the power cutting out. If it did, there is a cable included to go wired instead of giving up sound altogether.
As a long-time student of music, the S450-XT is the best audio I’ve heard my smartphone produce. Whether wireless or wired, the connection was steady and consistent, and I got a full range of treble, bass, and mids.
These headphones are a great value that can be used on a wide variety of devices, including a PC, Android/iOS/Windows Smartphone, or even a video game console. The quality is every bit as good as Beats, but without the premium price tag (costing as much as a wired pair of Beats, about $80 cheaper than wireless Beats).
Final Grade: A
3. VXI BlueParrott Reveal Pro Single-Ear Bluetooth ($129.99 on Amazon)
Remember when Bluetooth headsets were a thing, and everyone had these things on their ears? It’s a bit out of style these days, but I was still curious about how well these OG Bluetooth headsets hold up against other styles. The Reveal Pro was sent alongside the S450-XT and includes the same Class 1 Bluetooth 4.0 technology, so I decided to give it a go to see if it could satisfy modern smartphone audio and entertainment needs.
When this style of headsets first came out, iPods still existed for audio, and only techies and pirates like myself watched videos on their mobile phones. Engineered mostly for voice calls and navigation, I was excited to explore my hipster town looking like a douche.
The audio on the Reveal Pro was comparable to that of the Rowkin earbuds, although I was able to amplify the sound past the phone’s settings to get a little more sound. Unfortunately, that sound was only in one ear, leaving my other ear open to the world around me. That’s the point of the design though, so I pushed through and started playing the games. Thankfully even great games like Bloons and Hearthstone don’t focus too much on sound, so I was able to enjoy the experience all the same.
DeFranco’s show, however, felt like a phone call, and Lil Wayne just wasn’t meant to be listened to with one ear. However, the range of the Reveal Pro almost equaled the S450-XT, as I was able to roam my house with no issues. It did, however, lose connection when taking the trash to the curb.
When roaming around town, having one ear open to traffic made it pretty much impossible to enjoy music, but I was able to make a call and engage in a decent conversation. The over-the-ear hook secured the headset to my ear, so I never felt like it was going to fall off while riding my bike at high speeds.
I didn’t get any strange looks, so perhaps people are just being polite. Maybe these headsets are back in style again too.
Although the mic and speakers sound better, the battery lasts longer, and the connection can handle a greater distance than the Rowkin earbuds, the blueparrot Reveal Pro suffers in that it can only be worn on one ear. It may be possible to wear two simultaneously, but such a level of turbo-douchery could also reset time and destroy the universe.
Great for calls and voice navigation, this design is unlikely to make a comeback until smart glasses become more prolific on the consumer market. Until then, it’s a great enterprise tool that still hasn’t found its fit among consumers.
Final Grade: C-
4. Samsung Galaxy S7 Standard Wired Earbuds ($6.95 on Amazon)
Having owned an iPhone 5s, I’m familiar with Apple’s earbuds, and Samsung’s design (so far) is holding up much better. Both the USB cable and earbuds that came with my Galaxy S7 are still in pristine condition after 8 months, which is more than I can say for their Apple counterparts. It’ll still need to last another year, but if it it does, this set of earbuds will serve as my definitive proof that Samsung has better design than Apple since Steve Jobs’ untimely death.
Featuring pretty much nothing but a built-in volume control and play/pause button, these earbuds are the basics that come with the phone and can be replaced for under $10. A third-party pair has to go above and beyond the standard these set to be worthwhile.
The earbuds are somewhat comfortable but have no noise cancelling properties. The sound does come out surprisingly clear, and both games and DeFranco are enjoyable. Listening to music on these headphones is definitely preferred to listening on the built-in speakers, but it still has very little bass, and it’s not as full of a sound as I’d like.
Making a call on the headphones sounds good enough, and leaving my phone on my bed and roaming around the house, the earbuds were forcefully removed from my ears as my phone crashed to the floor, hanging up on my friend in the process.
Outside, I can still hear the traffic and wind, but I’m able to turn the music up high enough to drown it out. It’s just a couple decibels above Rowkin’s earbuds, but enough to make a difference. Unfortunately the wire is annoying. I tuck it into my shirt, but I can’t slip it into my pocket without feeling it pull on my neck a little. At 6’2 (1.9 meters for the tiny-dicked retards in the audience), I’m apparently just taller than South Koreans deemed it necessary to care about. Now I have to choose to either slouch or carry my phone in my hand like a pleb.
Riding my bike and making a call isn’t the best idea, but when I stop, people can hear me more clearly. Overall, there’s definitely room for improvement.
Not the greatest headphones in the world, Samsung’s default earbuds definitely beat Apple’s. The sound quality is good enough for music, and the wires, though annoying, are much sturdier and hold up under my constant usage.
I only wish the noise-cancelling properties were better, the wires were gone, and I could drown out the world with the bass-heavy beats of Lil Wayne.
Final Grade: C+