Product Review: Bluetooth Headphones Group Test
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Product Review: Bluetooth Headphones Group Test

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Wireless is the future, no doubt, but do these four mid-priced Bluetooth headphones sound good enough to kill off the cable?

I am quite attached to cables, cabled audio in particular, and have always found better sound via a nice quality cable than via Bluetooth. However, technology is evolving all the time and Bluetooth is no exception so let’s take a look at where we are in 2018. We’re now up to Bluetooth 5 but only top-end devices including the Samsung Galaxy S8 + S9 and Apple’s iPhone X feature it, while the rest of us are still using version 4.0, 4.1 or 4.2. I am happy to say that since 4.0 the sound quality has been pretty decent and since then new versions have primarily improved only data speeds and the power saving features of Bluetooth, but lets put the sound to the test!

I am quite attached to cables, cabled audio in particular, and have always found better sound via a nice quality cable than via Bluetooth but... Click To Tweet

Here we have three new Bluetooth headphones, the first, Wicked Audio Raiders are small and lightweight, the JBL Harman E55BT are over the ear and noise cancelling and the Crazybaby Air are tiny, independent earbuds, so we are looking at a range of styles and technologies here but I would classify all these as low to mid-range in price (Under $200). I will also include the reasonably priced Skullcandy Crushers I reviewed last year as a reference. I tested them all with a MacBook Air and an Honor 7X which use Bluetooth 4.0 and 4.1 respectively. I don’t know about you but I still only buy laptops and smartphones that include a 3.5mm jack, I might not always use it but it is there if I need the best sound possible so lets take a close look at these Bluetooth samples to see if I should I throw away my old school wired headphones now or wait a bit?

I only buy devices that include a 3.5mm jack but lets take a close look at these Bluetooth headphones to see if I should I throw away my wired cans now, or wait a bit Click To Tweet

 

Wicked Audio Raider

The Wicked Audio Raiders are very small and very well designed, carved from walnut for a classy look and with Neck Lock technology, a cable that, well, locks them around your neck. Minimal is the word that best describes these but despite their size they claim an 8-hour battery life, I got 6.5 hours in my test but that is still damn good and charging was very quick! They have a Mic for calls and track controls mounted on the cable and should work up to 32 feet from your device.

The Raider gets its street cred from being carved from dense walnut wood. Wood speaker chambers deliver hi-res sound, producing extremely crisp highs and rumbling lows that’ll make your whole body tremble.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air wicked audio raider skullcandy

Voice recordings sounded great via 7X but very tinny and scratchy via the MacBook but on both devices music sounded quite good Click To Tweet

The results were interesting, via the phone, there was faint static when no audio was playing which was annoying but this was not the case when connected to the MacBook. Voice recordings sounded great via 7X but very tinny and scratchy via the MacBook but on both devices, music sounded quite good. The Bass and treble were well defined but the mids were quite muddy, especially with complex tracks but they were generally a comfortable listen.

We want you to hear the music the way it’s intended to be heard; undistorted. You’ll hear the music in it’s original state. The way the artist intended it to be heard. You’re going to get Earth shattering, rock you to the core, ghetto blaster bass! Bass so kind it will put a smile on your face for days.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air wicked audio raider skullcandy

When inserting and removing the buds there was a crunchy plastic sound, like scrunching up cellophane in your hand, strange but this was not evident while you are wearing them Click To Tweet

I really liked the design and features of the Raiders but for the price the sound is only OK, however, there was another issue. When inserting and removing the buds there was a crunchy plastic sound, like scrunching up cellophane in your hand, strange but this was not evident while you are wearing them. Overall they are OK Bluetooth headphones for the money but spend a little more and you can get better results.

Buy $54.99

 

JBL Harman E55BT

These JBL E55BT wireless over-ear headphones feature up to 20 hours of battery life with an incredible 2 hour charge time! They offer wired or Bluetooth connections and have active noise cancellation. While comfortable, design wise they are nothing special but I found the sound to be really good. They are not bass or treble heavy as most mid-priced headphones tend to be but are very well balanced across the range.

For noisy commutes, however, they would be ideal, blocking out the passengers around you Click To Tweet

With a sleek appearance, various color options and the added convenience of a detachable cable with remote and microphone, you’ll never want to be seen without your E55BT headphones.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air wicked audio raider skullcandy jbl harman

These were a bit of a surprise and the open and crisp sound was very good for music but did make listening to speech, tinny and a bit sharp Click To Tweet

They excel at detail and give a very considered sound that lets you isolate and identify instruments in arrangements. I did find the noise cancellation a bit over the top and when no audio is playing the cancellation can make the world around you feel strange and I got a bit disoriented when standing up. For noisy commutes, however, they would be ideal, blocking out the passengers around you.

The ergonomic around-ear design means that your entertainment continues and your fun factor gets amped up no matter what you’re doing – working, commuting, or just making your way around town

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air wicked audio raider skullcandy jbl harman

These were a bit of a surprise and the open and crisp sound was very good for music but did make listening to speech tinny and a bit sharp. They are unremarkable to look at but somehow stylish at the same time, not over the top, however, if you want that JBL offers the E series in a variety of garish colours.

Buy: £79.99 reduced from £99.99 on Amazon in the UK

 

Crazybaby Air

These Air headphones from Chinese company Crazybaby are the future of wireless Bluetooth audio. They are tiny, independent, earbuds and come with a very cool portable charging and recharging capsule, they look amazing and I was relieved to find they sound as good as they look. The Air buds demand a good fit, so come with a variety of rubber buds and I easily found a pair that kept them firmly in my ears with no discomfort. They also have a speaker for calls and work with Personal Assistants including Google, Cortana & Siri.

We believe wireless is the future of music. Air is the world’s 1st carbon nanotube true wireless stereo headphones. With a companion portable charging capsule, you can experience high-fidelity wireless music anywhere

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air wicked audio raider skullcandy

Crazybaby have used 5.2 mm customized speaker drivers and cutting-edge Carbon Nanotube diaphragms to deliver the best sound I have ever experienced from any headphones Click To Tweet

The tiny size means you only get three hours out of them but the charging capsule contains a battery that will top them up on the move, perfect for commuting. I tested them on trains, planes and, yes, automobiles and enjoyed great sound with excellent noise isolation. Crazybaby have used 5.2 mm customized speaker drivers and cutting-edge Carbon Nanotube diaphragms to deliver the best sound I have ever experienced from any Bluetooth headphones. It is perfectly balanced with strong bass, lush mids and crisp treble and most revealingly does not get confused or muddy on complex, driving tracks. Vocals are so detailed and human it is hard to believe the Air buds are so tiny and for the price, they deliver a wonderful experience. The Bluetooth 4.2 protocol increases the data transmission speed by 2.5 times, if you have a 4.2 capable device, meaning higher bit rate music files play better giving a rich and luscious, yet detailed sound.

In a world flooded with Bluetooth technology, Air is a cut above the rest. The latest CSR high quality decoding chip provides a consistent reliable connection that never drops out. By including the latest embedded CSR chipset, Air delivers high-performance TWS (True Wireless Stereo)

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air wicked audio raider skullcandy

The Crazybaby Air buds are simply without peer in the mid-priced headphone category, sounding incredible and useful in all sorts of situations including travelling and VR Click To Tweet

The Crazybaby Air buds are simply without peer in the mid-priced headphone category, sounding incredible and useful in all sorts of situations from working to travelling, gaming and VR. Their one flaw is the bud to bud Bluetooth connection which drops quite frequently in environments with lots of electrical appliances and Wi-Fi around. Performance in my home office was not great. Sitting at my desk next to seven powered appliances the bud to bud connection was a bit patchy but out and about the dropouts happened less regularly. This is a major annoyance but the sound quality is so good that I was happy to live with an occasional connection glitch. If they fix this issue and put more capable Bluetooth chips in the next model they might just create the best wireless headphones in the world.

Buy: $169

 

Skullcandy Crusher

The key differentiating factor with these headphones is what Skullcandy calls “Stereo Haptic Bass”, which basically means that they vibrate! Yes vibrate, you read me right, they actually vibrate. The goal is to create a sense of full immersion into the music, video and VR content being consumed, and after testing them out I have to say my initial reticence has turned into enthusiasm, these headphones rock, and jiggle!

 

With the bass slider set to zero, they provide a solid, easy listen with no hard trebles or booming low frequencies to distract you from enjoying the music. They would be a pleasure to listen to for long periods and do not stress the ear while reproducing a variety of musical genres well. I generally prefer a more lively soundstage with more definition in the mids and trebles than was on show here, but that can also lead to fatigue, something I didn’t suffer with the Crusher Wireless. They also let you plug in via a supplied cable that transmits audio the old way and powers the headphones, nice touch for when your batteries run dry.

Sturdily made and very comfortable the Crusher Wireless look the business in matt black and I was able to wear them without the usual pressure pains for several hours at a time. They were a little tight out of the box but loosened up quickly and remained glued to my head no matter how much I moshed to Iron Maiden, nor did they loosen their firm grip while I ran to catch the tube home. Like all passive, noise-cancelling headphones they can grow a little warm in use due to the padding required to dampen exterior noise but it does not get to the point of becoming uncomfortable and was worth it for the calming effect of screening out the noise of the London commute.
The Haptic Bass feature is easily activated via a slider, a nice touch which means you can really personalize your experience according to the media you’re using it with. The tech works by analyzing the audio signal input, boosting the bass at the same time as providing haptic feedback, and the effect feels like a pretty neat trick which I can see other brands catching onto in the near future, especially with the growing popularity of immersive VR experiences. The Crusher advertises an impressive 40-hour battery life, and after charging it via a micro USB I can attest to the fact it was still going strong after over 27 hours of constant use. As this is a serious weakness of other wireless headphones I’ve tested in the past it was a major tick in the box for me.
Buy: £149

 

Conclusion

Looking at the lightweight earbuds, the Crazybay Air wins hands down for sound quality but have connection issues and short battery life while the Wicked Audio Raiders have great battery life but only OK sound. In the over the ear samples you get very good battery life and good sound but with very different qualities, bassy and solid or crisp and detailed, so I can only recommend you try out a range of different products before you buy. Every person is different and every pair of headphones will provide a different experience so hunting for a pair that suit your lifestyle and taste is no easy task but what I take from these tests is that for under $200 you can get a pair of wireless Bluetooth headphones that sound pretty damn good.

 

 

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