Review: IOGEAR Bluetooth Kit

IOGEAR's Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset Kit is a surprisingly competent Bluetooth system for wirelessly listening to not only MP3 players, but also home stereos, home theaters and even Bluetooth-enabled cell phones. Unfortunately, like so many Bluetooth audio devices, the range is far less than advertised.
I haven't yet fully jumped on the Bluetooth bandwagon, so I didn't expect much from IOGEAR's Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset Kit. But I found a surprisingly competent Bluetooth system for wirelessly listening to not only MP3 players, but also home stereos, home theaters and even Bluetooth-enabled cell phones.

In particular, I've had doubts (and, to some extent, still do) about Bluetooth as a technology for listening to high-end audio. However, for minute-to-minute use, the IOGEAR headphone and adapters provided surprisingly good sound. The kit is expensive and has a few other gotchas, which I'll discuss later, but overall, IOGEAR did an excellent job of delivering on the promise of Bluetooth.

As with similar products such as the Logitech Wireless Headphones for iPod, IOGEAR includes a wrap-around headphone and a wireless adapter that you plug into small devices such as MP3 players and the headphones. Unlike the Logitech system, however, this one also comes with a series of adapters and cables for use with other equipment.

Set up is trivially simple. First, you use the double electrical adapter to charge both the headphones and the adapter, a process that took just over two hours. Then, you plug the adapter into the device, and then turn it and the headphones on. While they are creating the connection, a blue light on each blinks; when the connection is made, which took about 10 seconds, the lights stop blinking and you're ready to go.

I used the kit with two MP3 players and, using the extra adapters, with my television and home stereo. In each case, once the connection between the headphones and adapter was completed, all worked more or less as expected, with little difficulty. The kit also comes with a boom mike for connecting to Bluetooth-enabled phones. In my tests, the kit performed at, or even slightly better than, the rated six hour battery capacity.

To backtrack a bit, though, there I did run into a couple small difficulties. For some still-unexplained reason, when I plugged the adapter into my Creative Zen Touch audio player, the IOGEAR system wouldn't transmit the right-side channel. I didn't have that problem with other headphones or with my other MP3 player. The system only worked properly with the adapter plugged about two-thirds of the way in the Zen Touch, but that isn't a very satisfactory solution since it was easy for the adapter to slip out.

Another area in which the device didn't quite perform up to IOGEAR's claims was in transmission distance. I tried the system outside with no impediments -- the greatest distance the system functioned at was 53 feet, not the 66 feet the company claims. Inside, with walls and other obstructions, the best distance I got was 30 feet before audio break-up started. The behind-the-head style of headphones isn't my preferred form factor -- I've never found them to be altogether comfortable and these were no exception. But that's a subjective issue and, besides, given the slightly greater weight of the Bluetooth gear in the headphone, that style probably provides the best stability. Still, particularly after an hour or so of listening, I became very aware that these headphones were hanging on my head.

Design-wise, the headphones are a mixed bag. They have a decidedly cheap plastic feel and pushing the on-board control buttons-- it has buttons for volume, muting and for switching to the next or previous track on devices that support this function via Bluetooth -- felt mushy. However, one thing I did like is that the headphones are foldable, making them a good travel companions.

The most important thing about headphones, of course, is the sound quality. Despite the cheap feel, these headphones produced surprisingly strong sound, particularly in the mid-ranges and the high end. Bass was adequate.

The phones have a reasonable frequency range of 20Hz to 20KHz. Separation was strong, making for a brighter, clearer sound than I expected. Overall sound quality was just a notch below my everyday portable Sennheiser PX 100s, although they weren't in the same league, not surprisingly, with my higher-end Grado headphones, which I use with my stereo.

There was, however, one sonic drawback: A moderate level of hiss and whine, which seems to be the norm with Bluetooth headphones. It was mostly, but not completely covered up at average volume but was clearly audible at lower volumes but it was there nonetheless. This wasn't a major drawback, but it was a drawback.

Overall, IOGEAR's Wireless Bluetooth Stereo Headset Kit is a boon for anybody who wants to listen to music without being tethered.

But there are some drawbacks, some of which are relatively minor. First, the included documentation stinks. More thorough documentation is available on-line, but the written assistance that came with the kit could best be described as a brief pamphlet -- it wasn't very complete. Another drawback -- more of an annoyance, really -- was that the power adapter cord for charging the adapter and headphones was only three feet long, which was not nearly long enough to conveniently put on any horizontal service that I own. So, I had to charge the units on the floor beneath the electrical outlet.

A slightly more serious complaint was that the inevitable weight of the Bluetooth radio in the headphones made it uncomfortable after an hour or so of use. Not much can be done about that, I suppose -- at least until Bluetooth technology becomes even more compact. But I thought I'd mention it.

A more major complaint is its range. I found the kit invaluable for sitting at my desk, getting up for a cup of coffee or poking my head outside without missing any music. And, perhaps better still, it enabled me to listen to music on my stereo while on the sofa without the need to stretch a cord all the way across the living room. But I couldn't wander anywhere I wanted throughout the house.

Another qualm is the price: $179 is a lot of money for above-average headphones and a handful of cables and adapters. If you already have a Bluetooth adapter, you can buy the headphones alone for $99. But while expensive, this system works well, produces excellent sound quality and enabling use on a wide variety of items.

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