Review: Blue Sadie Headphones
One year ago we reviewed the Blue Lola, a headphone unlike any we had seen before. This year, Blue returns with the Sadie ($400), an updated version of Blue’s Mo-Fi that stays true to the company’s design aesthetic. The Sadie’s key differentiator is a relatively powerful amplifier hidden inside a package no bigger than the Lola, promising to reduce power usage on your portable devices. Though the Sadie sounds good, we’re still having trouble wrapping our heads around how Blue headphones wrap around our heads.
The Sadie ships with all the right accessories – a charging cable, 1.2m cable with inline controls (iOS and macOS compatible), a 3m cable, a 6.3mm jack adapter, and a soft carrying pouch. The short cable’s control pod is positioned close to the ear and feels solid, though the buttons would be easier to differentiate if they were spaced slightly apart. We appreciate the inclusion of a longer cable, but we think that it could have benefitted from fabric sleeving or thicker insulation. It’s possible to charge the Sadie while listening, but we don’t recommend it – power input adds a lot of noise to the signal.
Though we liked the Lola’s pearl white finish, the Sadie is a much better looking headphone. The Sadie’s matte metallic gray finish with silver accents, textured rubber surrounds, and convex logo caps are substantial aesthetic improvements. We also like the removal of the chrome rings around the cups which, by comparison, look out of place on the Lola. We think the Sadie’s classy new paint job appropriately turns down the volume on an otherwise striking design, but we have one complaint: lights. When the Sadie’s amplifier is activated, white LEDs behind the logo on each ear glow in a circular pattern. This is entirely a personal choice – maybe we’re just getting old – but it’s hard for us to understand why anyone would want lights on the outside of their headphones.
One thing that appears unchanged from the Lola is the Sadie’s multi-link headband mechanism, made of no less than nine robust moving parts. Blue says that this mechanism keeps the Sadie’s pads parallel to the head; though not parallel, the pads do maintain the same angle relative to the head as they’re pulled apart. We’re not sure that that the multi-link headband is necessary to achieve this goal – most headphones rotate freely at the yoke – but it works as advertised. However, like the Lola, this architecture and complexity comes at a price; weighing in at over 450 grams, the Sadie’s weight is hard to ignore.
Unlike other headphones, the Sadie’s headband does not lock into a specific size. You’ll resize them every time you put them on; it’s a three-step process of sizing them horizontally, sizing them vertically, and then making minor adjustments for comfort. The Sadie clamps hard against the head; this is great for seal and isolation, but might be slightly uncomfortable for some users. The Sadie’s ear pads are thick but stiff, with openings just barely large enough to fit our ears that became warm within an hour of listening. We think comfort could be greatly improved with softer pads and larger openings. If you’ll have any issue with comfort, however, we think it’ll be with the Sadie’s weight – especially during longer listening sessions, this much mass on your head is hard to ignore and can lead to fatigue. Massive headphones are common in the hi-fi world, but it might take some time for new audiophiles to get used to.
The Sadie can be used in three modes – Off (passive), On, and On+. Even with the amplifier off, we had no problems driving them from a phone or laptop to loud volumes. With the amplifier on, we got a substantial volume boost that was the equivalent about 5-6 volume notches on an iPhone. According to Blue, this helps save battery on the portable device and provide significant amplification beyond the point where the device’s amplifier might start to distort. This works as advertised and, thankfully, we did not detect any coloration added by the Sadie’s amplifier. However, this feature is not appropriate for all setups – as an analog amplifier boosting an already amplified signal, the Sadie is also amplifying any noise that might be coming through the device. We heard this when we tried the Sadie’s amplifier with powerful desktop amps; as a low-impedance headphone, switching the Sadie “On” can add an audible hiss to the background. We think the Sadie’s amplifier is best used only when needed.
We think the Sadie sounds very good. Whether in passive or “On” mode, it provides a clean, warm sound with a slightly softened treble that we found non-fatiguing. Since the Sadie is marketed as an “audiophile” can, we put it up against our best expensive reference headphones; it was only then that we found its sound to be just a bit congested, its soundstage just a bit narrow, and its imaging just a bit less resolving. At a fraction of the cost, however, we think the Sadie is a very good performer when paired with a wide range of genres, except perhaps for slightly recessed upper midrange that can make metal music sound a bit dull.
The Sadie also features an “On+” bass boost mode. Blue deserves credit for their restraint here – they could have easily made a boomy, bloated bass boost that would have made every track a mess. Instead, On+ mode targets the bass guitar and kick drum like a sniper, providing just enough boost to add presence to the low end without ruining the song. It’s a guilty pleasure that we enjoyed playing with – testing each song to hear what it would be like with a little sweetening. One problem we experienced, however, is that activating On+ added low-pitched noise even when no music was playing; we can’t say whether this issue is limited to our review sample or native to the amplifier. We’re hoping it’s the former.
In our time with the Sadie, we experienced a number of minor issues that might have been specific to our review sample, but we feel are worth reporting. The amplifier mode knob mimics knurled aluminum, but it’s loose with about 1mm of play in either direction; this detracts from the illusion. Activating the analog amplifier makes the 3.5mm jack “hot” – plugging and unplugging can result in loud pops and feedback into your ears. The multi-link headband – already a polarizing design – developed a creak after a few days, and some paint chipped off one of the joints. We don’t consider any of these dealbreakers, but they did detract from a product that otherwise seems well thought-out.
Twelve months have passed since our introduction to Blue’s headphone concept, and we find ourselves in almost the same place that we began. Blue has built a unique, high-quality headphone in the Sadie but, at $400, it may be straining the upper limit of its price category. The Blue Sadie has a pleasing, relaxed, “Mid-Fi” sound plus a built-in amplifier that makes it more versatile than the lower-end Lola. However, the Sadie has extreme design features that will be polarizing to some users or, in some cases, cause issues with comfort and portability. This headphone isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay.