Review: TEN Technology naviPlay Bluetooth Headphones

These stylish headphones sound great, but expect to pay extra.

David Haskin, Contributor

March 14, 2006

5 Min Read

TEN Technology's naviPlay Bluetooth Stereo Headset for iPods has everything that iPod users seem to want. They're stylish, well-designed, sound great, feature some interesting new technology.

This Bluetooth headset for iPods also is noteworthy for a couple of other reasons. For one thing, this is among the first over-the-head Bluetooth headphones we've seen. More importantly, this system has the potential to interact with a lot of other Bluetooth devices, including phones. And, while pricey, these headphones sound quite excellent.

Plugging It In

Unlike many Bluetooth products that use a dongle that attaches either to a computer or to a media player or other device, naviPlay uses a special iPod docking system. It comes with adapters for all iPods except the Shuffle. To set the system up, you click the adapter to the dock and plug in the cable that came with the iPod into the back.

The cable charges both iPod and Bluetooth transmitter. In addition, you can synchronize the iPod while it's connected to the dock. Note, though, that this approach makes the headphones useful primarily only for listening to music played by the iPod. TEN is trying to work around that problem so that the headphones can be used with other Bluetooth-enabled devices but, as will be discussed below, it hasn't yet fully succeeded.

These are among a small number of Bluetooth headphones designed for over-the-head use -- most others are behind the neck models in which the actual headphone speakers rest on top of the ears. While the Bluetooth radio isn't heavy, because it is built into the headphones, that form factor sometimes gets wearisome for long periods of use. However, that wasn't a difficulty with the naviPlay headsets, which, besides being supported by the whole head, weigh only four ounces.

Besides comfort, sound quality is another strong point of the naviPlay headphones. No, you won't get the same level of nuanced clarity that you'd get, say, from wired but less expensive mobile headsets from vendors like Grado or Sennheiser. But I found the sound quality to be markedly superior to the other Bluetooth headphones I've tested, particularly in the mid- to high ranges.

One reason for the good sound quality is that these are sealed headphones that employ soft padding to very effectively seal out outside sound. This isn't necessarily a benefit unless the other sonic properties of the headphone are well engineered and; in this case, they care. A side benefit is that, while these headphones have no digital noise cancellation capabilities, they seal the ears so well that they are appropriate for situations such as flying.

TEN also put some thought into the appearance of these headphones -- the polished black plastic with gray padding subjectively looks good. Another positive is the long-lasting lithium-polymer battery, rated for eight hours of use.

Also, like many other Bluetooth headphones, the naviPlays have controls on the phones themselves for switching tracks, adjusting volume pausing. More than the ioGear Bluetooth headphones I tested a number of months ago, naviPlay's controls are easier to use. This is important because when you are, say, changing volume or switching tracks, the whole thing is done by feel since you can't see the actual controls. In this case, it is intuitive to figure out, by feel, how to operate the controls.

For Every Plus …

More than most products, however, for most of the pluses mentioned above, there is a minus. For instance, while the headphones look and sound great, they aren't foldable, making them somewhat bulky to travel with. Similarly, while the controls are easy to use by touch, when you are using the system, you can't manage the volume of your iPod on that device itself.

The biggest frustrations, though, came from Bluetooth. The Bluetooth between the naviPlay base/docking station and the headphones worked easily and flawlessly, although I was a bit dissatisfied with the range. Rated with a range of between 9 and 30 feet, in our tests, the range was somewhere between.

More frustrating, though, was that TEN uses the A2DP Bluetooth profile, which is designed to work with other Bluetooth devices that use the same profile. However, it didn't work with another A2DP-compliant system, Logitech's Wireless Music System for PC, which I recently reviewed. The Logitech system sometimes recognized naviPlay but, even when it did, it wouldn't play music through the naviPlay headphones.

That's because, while both use the same A2DP profile, they use different flavors of Bluetooth. And, given the iPod-only approach to this system, A2DP is the only hope for playing music through the headphones from sources other than iPod.

In a similar vein, the naviPlay headphones come with a built-in microphone and the ability to automatically switch between an iPod and a cell phone. But, so far, virtually no cell phones support A2DP, although a spokesperson for TEN said that should change significantly in coming months.

The bottom line is that these headphones look and sound great, but you'll pay a premium. However, given that they work only with iPod, a handful of other Bluetooth devices (at present) and not at all with devices that aren't Bluetooth-enabled, many users may not find them a particularly good value.

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