Review: Bluetake i-Phono mini BT450 Bluetooth Stereo Headset
Pros: The smallest and lightest stereo Bluetooth 1.2 headphones we’ve tested, using a simple soft neck cord and clip-on earphones rather than hard plastic attachments - a big (though not complete) step forward in user comfort. Good sound quality; thanks to rechargeable batteries (and included wall charger), doesn’t draw iPod battery power for its 6 hour play times.
Cons: Instability and fall-off of audio transmission at sub-20 foot distances, as well as lack of pocketability, makes these less than ideal for certain wireless applications. Initial pairing is a challenge. Transmitter is designed only for older iPods and dangles awkwardly off of nano and 5G iPods with adapter cable. Headphones still aren’t as visually neutral as non-Bluetooth headphones.
Over the last couple of months, we’ve shown First Looks on iPod Bluetooth accessories from Bluetake, Logitech, and Wi-Gear that were originally developed for use with iPod 3G/4G/mini models, holding off on reviews in the hope that their manufacturers would quickly release improved iPod 5G and nano-ready replacements. Of these companies, only Logitech has partially retooled its product, and as such, we’ve decided to provide only brief reviews of these accessories on the assumption that few of our readers will be willing to purchase them in semi-compatible form. For sake of brevity, we’re also restricting the scope of our reviews to iPod performance, and not general Bluetooth performance. First up is Bluetake’s i-Phono mini BT450 series Stereo Headphone Combo Pack ($150), which includes a pair of headphones and a transmitter that are also sold separately.
The first and very best thing about this package is the impressive design of Bluetake’s BT450Rx Stereo Headphones, which represent a significant improvement in wearer comfort from literally all of the other Bluetooth headsets we’ve tested to date. Bluetake has all but eliminated two of the five or six biggest problems users have experienced with earlier competing headsets, namely weight and neck discomfort, by reducing the size of its earpieces and eliminating the hard plastic neckband that has bridged all of the pairs we’ve tested.
Instead, the BT450Rx connects the left and right phones with a piece of medium-thickness cable - good for careful users, not for clumsy ones or young children - and attaches them to your ears with clip-on plastic mounts. The mounts use a combination of hard plastic and soft rubber to lessen ear fatigue, and while they’re far from our ideal in comfort, they’re much better in this regard than the other Bluetooth headsets we’ve seen. If you’re not adverse to clip-on headphones, you might well actually want to wear these outdoors while running; though they’re a little techie in appearance, black, white, and charcoal colored versions are available to meet your preferred fashion needs.
The new headset is counterbalanced a bit by the new transmitter (BT450Rx), which as its name suggests appears to have been designed largely for use with the iPod mini. On the mini, it mounts centrally but unattractively, overhanging the iPod’s sides by a bit and not really matching its shape. For 3G and 4G iPods, you can pull a rubber stopper out of its bottom surface, enabling its headphone connector to be realigned for proper central positioning on their tops, where it’s a bit shy of each full-sized iPod’s left and right sides.
Aesthetics aren’t as big an issue here as the transmitter’s extended headphone connector, which was designed for these iPods and no others - the connector is used only to enable track forward/backward and play/pause comments, controlled with a small 3-way rocker switch on the right earpiece. It doesn’t let you control volume or draw iPod battery power: both the headset and transmitter contain their own rechargeable batteries (6 hours of continuous play time), which can be charged simultaneously with an included wall charger. As a consequence of this design, however, you’ll need to use an included cable adapter to attach the transmitter to your iPod shuffle, nano, or 5G, which means that the transmitter will dangle loosely off of each new iPod, just like Bluetake’s older i-Phono.
We also found it unusually difficult to initially pair the headset with the transmitter - most of the sets we’ve received make this easy, or come properly paired right out of the box. This set didn’t, and required an odd double button press - and hence, an instruction manual - to flip the headset into pairing mode. Getting the two devices to communicate after initial pairing also required a little help; you need to hold down the transmitter’s power button for two seconds, even though its front blue light begins to flash normally after only a split-second button press.
Our other two concerns were sound quality and transmitting distance. Positively, the BT450 set sounds pretty good by Bluetooth 1.2 headset standards, with greater apparent treble detail than Logitech’s earlier Wireless Headphones (iLounge rating: B-), but less bass. Bluetake’s solution actually sounded nearly as good as Wi-Gear’s iMuffs, which we preferred by a small amount. The problem was that BT450’s stability in distance and obstruction testing was the worst of this bunch; the headset’s signal began to break up intermittently as we moved more than 7 feet from the transmitter, and disappeared completely at 20 feet. We found BT450 practically unusable when our iPod was placed in a pocket for walks or runs outside. though if you’re willing to armband or belt clip your iPod, you’ll have better luck. iMuffs did a little bit better on this test, but Logitech’s set was the best.
Overall, BT450 improves in two ways - both related to comfort - on Bluetooth headsets we’ve previously tested. It also sounds good, assuming that you’re able to be satisfied by clip-on style headphones, and is considerably cheaper than the BT420EX model Bluetake released some time ago. For these reasons, it’s as generally recommendable by today’s higher standards as its predecessor was in 2004. But its distance performance, lack of pocketability, and only quasi-compatibility with current-generation iPods ultimately limits its appeal. It’s clear that Bluetake has come quite a way with these headsets, but in our view, there’s still a lot left to be done before a combination of iPod earphones and transmitter is ready to satisfy the vast majority of our readers.