Be Set Free with Bluetooth headphones

While recently making a return the gym,  I had decided to forgo my usual Zune for music, and decided to utilize my Motorola Droid2 Android phone.   It seems more and more I’m opting to use my phone for music, videos, and podcasts since I always have it with me.  I was pleasantly surprised that the interior of my gym provided excellent coverage, so I was able to listen to live music streams out of Germany while working out instead of needing to sync media to the device ahead of time.

In the past,  I was one of the people who thought “I prefer a separate media device than just my phone”, but I believe after using an Android phone for so long,  the ability to use true multi-tasking has made it a much more viable alternative than to have to carry a specific device for media.   The ability to stream media through several applications outweighs the need to sync media via a computer.

Motorola HD-S10 Bluetooth Headphones

Motorola HD-S10 Bluetooth Headphones

Bluetooth Headphones

Since I was making this natural conversion,  I figured I’d attempt to see about replacing the annoyance of wired headphones while being active.  In the past I had used the Jawbone Bluetooth headset, which supports the A2DP profile for single ear audio listening such as verbal podcasts, so a true pair of bluetooth headphones seemed like a good prospect. I had looked at several reviews of current stereo Bluetooth headphones, and settled on giving the Motorola S10-HD first crack at determining if a bluetooth headphones were mature enough to be considered over wired headphones.   I had read reviews about their improvement over the previous S9-HD model in the terms of reliability, sweat proof,  and outdoor usage.  However,  several reviewers felt the S10 had inferior sound quality to that of the older S9, which had me skeptical.  It seemed subjective since others felt the sound quality was an improvement.   Only the in home testing would tell me if they were something that I would find acceptable, so I decided to order a pair to try out for myself.

Headphones Overview

Once the headphones arrived,  I was impressed with the overall physical styling of the unit itself.   They are designed to be worn over the ear, while the rear part “floats” across the back of your neck for support.   When worn over the ear, there are also audio controls on the left headphone for volume, and play/pause, while on the right there are audio controls for Next/Prev and phone control.  The only other button is the power/pair button on the back of the unit.   All of the buttons are sealed under pliable rubber,  and the micro USB port on the back is also concealed behind thick rubber, which contributes to it’s “sweat-proof” design.  The unit also comes with 4 variable sized silicone ear gels to allow the wearer to choose which size provides the best fit for the individual ear size.

Phone Setup

So,  after charging the unit for a period of time,  I attempted to pair them with my Android phone which was quite painless.   To pair the headphones with a bluetooth device,  just hold down the power button till the LED stays  constant blue to initiate pairing mode.  Once the unit is in pairing mode,  telling the phone to scan for Bluetooth devices quickly identified the headphones and allowed it to pair.   Since the S10-HDs support the  Headset, A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Protocol) , and the AVRCP (Audio/Visual Remote Control Protocol) bluetooth profiles, the phone allows it to be used as a headset for telephone calls,  stereo headphones for music and media, and the ability to control the phone via the hardware controls on the headset.

First Thoughts

After setting them up on the phone, I slipped them on over the ear, which immediately felt a bit tight around my head.   After thrashing my head around,  I felt the headphones were in little danger of flying off my head as they felt rather secure.  I found the audio to be acceptable with the default ear gels,  but certainly not the same sound quality as one could expect with wired in-ear headphones.   I had attempted to try several of the included ear gels, and was surprised that when changing them it dramatically altered the sound quality of the output of the headphones themselves.   Once I found the gel that offered me the best audio for myself,  I found the audio to be quite good when you consider you have a wireless stereo headset and not directly wired into the audio device.

Daily usage

I found that initially while using these headphones for activities,  the started to cause my head to hurt due to the snug fit.   After a few days though,  they seem to have been broken in (or my head had become numb!) and they feel rather comfortable.   Alternatively, I found that if you wear them low on the neck “under ear” they are can be more comfortable as long as you don’t need to make alot of side to side head movements, since there are some movement restrictions in this scenario.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I ended up using these headphones for more than just gym time, since they also paired easily with my laptop for listening to media while working at home or in the office.   They also make one of the best bluetooth headsets to use while on long conference calls, since the stereo nature drowns out exterior noise so you can focus on the conversation.   There have been more than a few occasions where I have been on a conference call in the in-car bluetooth, and when I get to my destination slip on the S10-HDs to continue the call outside the car.

Home Usage

Since I was using these headphones on the go, or while working from home to freely move about my surroundings, some other use cases were also possible.   I normally listen to audio while going to sleep, and my wife has often told me she was concerned about me falling asleep with the headphones on and potentially wrapping around my neck in my sleep.   I’ve since switched to using the S10-HDs in the “under-ear” position, and they have been a dream to drift off to sleep wearing.   The headphones will automatically turn themselves off after a period of inactivity of Bluetooth audio, so setting a simple sleep timer on my phone means the headphones will also turn off shortly after.   The headphones so far have been quite resilient due to their rugged construction, so sleeping with them on has not been an issue so far.

Unfortunately for my wife,  I’m pretty much a night owl, either working late or with the TV on while she is attempting to sleep.   If you have ever watched an action movie late at night constantly raising the volume while people speak, and quickly lowering the volume during gunfire or explosions,  a nice pair of headphones would ideally solve the problem for both myself and my wife.   Since I was using the S10-HDs for connection to my phone, I wondered if I could use the audio from the TV over bluetooth to watch TV peacefully at night.

Bluetooth Audio from Television

Motorola DC800 Bluetooth Gateway

Motorola DC800 Bluetooth Gateway

A quick search on the web revealed the existence of the Motorola DC800 Bluetooth gateway device which appeared to do exactly what I had wanted. It supported using stereo audio composite connections from the audio device (in my case, a television) and streaming it to paired devices over Bluetooth.  I found several sellers for the device on Amazon, as I don’t think Motorola directly sells the device itself anymore on their website.  I ordered one ($40ish) and waited for it to arrive.

Once it arrived, the unit itself is quite diminutive with 2 LEDS on it to show you the status of power/pairing modes.   The device is powered by a standard mini USB cable which is included, and audio can connected to the device by the RCA stereo connectors (Red and White).  I initially planned on routing the audio out of the Cable box,  into the DC800, and out of the DC800 directly into the TV.   However it appears the DC800 does NOT support pass through audio, and the input and output connectors are one way.   Since the device can setup as a receiver for the case of you wanting to stream mobile audio via Bluetooth to your stereo system,  or in my case a transmitter to transmit audio to the the Motorola S10-HDs.  It cannot do the same function at the same time, as only a single device appears to be able to pair at a given time which is what I would expect.   I was able to route the audio from the secondary output of the cable box to the DC800, while the primary audio is directly connected to the television so you can don’t have to change cables to swap how the audio is presented.   You could also consider a audio switch to manually toggle between the 2 output devices from a single audio source, but this seemed more user friendly.

Motorola DC800 Bluetooth Gateway - Rearview

Motorola DC800 Bluetooth Gateway – Rearview

I was very impressed with this setup since now I could listen to television at night without having to man the volume controls and keep waking up my wife.   I also am able to use the Xbox 360 late at night with the same benefits of wireless headphones.   I have used the larger wireless headphones from Turtle Beach, like the X40 series, but these are far to bulky to use while laying in bed.   Since the HD-S10s are using Bluetooth and not infra red like the other headphones,  they don’t need a clear line of sight so audio is not hampered by the position you are laying in.  I also should point out that the HD-S10s appear to support being paired to several devices at the same time (as long as they are not connected at the same time, like Multipoint), since you don’t have to re-pair the device when switching between Phone/PC/DC800,  just connect it to the device you intend to use.

Conclusion

So after using the Bluetooth headphones for a few weeks, I have to say they definitely a different dynamic with usage.  While there is audio quality loss compared to wired headphones, the wireless scenarios that are possible with them outweigh the drawbacks.  They are excellent for listening to verbal podcasts,   and do quite well for music listening or television watching.  These won’t replace your favorite cans if you are an audiophile, but the new found freedom you get without having to be tethered to your device while being active, or just moving around your home is a delightful experience.  So if you are on the fence about giving Bluetooth headphones a shot, I encourage you to be set free wires and try it for yourself to see if the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

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