Review: Kensington Bluetooth Stereo Headphones with Microphone
Back in October, 2008 when Kensington sent over the Bluetooth Stereo Headphones with Microphone ($80, aka BT3071), we weren't exactly sure what to make of this accessory: the fairly generic-looking wireless headphone and microphone set was complete with an old-fashioned big headband and earmuff-style design, and using glossy black and matte silver plastics -- would any iPhone user really want to wear something like this in the age of tiny single-ear headsets? With the release of iPhone OS 3.0, which adds stereo Bluetooth streaming capabilities to the iPod touch 2G, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS, accessories such as this one suddenly begin to make a little more sense, but it's clear that they still need some work in the design and functionality departments.
Kensington achieves its unusually low $80 asking price by cutting a couple of corners: all you get in the box are earphones and a USB charging cable to connect them to your computer for power. There’s no dongle for stereo audio use with older iPods or the original iPhone, no carrying case, and frankly very little design panache in the earphones themselves; they look as if they could have come from any company. But if you look closely, it turns out that the Bluetooth Stereo Headphones with Microphone actually have a few interesting features.
There’s an unusually powerful Bluetooth 2.0 chip inside that promises and delivers a 60-foot broadcasting range when used with the iPhones and iPod touch 2G, integrated volume, track, and play/pause buttons, and surprisingly comfortable earpads. This unit might not look attractive, but it doesn’t feel bad when you’re wearing it. Kensington uses the big earpieces for a big battery, so that you can achieve up to 23 hours of music playback or 19 hours of talk time—huge numbers by contrast with most Bluetooth headsets.
Sonically, however, the Bluetooth Stereo Headphones with Microphone aren’t all that hot. On a positive note, the headphones do properly perform left channel audio through the left speaker and right channel audio through the right, something that can’t be taken for granted with wireless or even wired accessories. But there’s a very noticeable hiss when you put them on for music or calling, the audio is very flat, and the microphone’s only okay. Callers told us that we sounded audible but a little muddy—not quite up to snuff with the integrated mic on any iPhone. And, as with other Bluetooth headsets and speakers we’ve tested to date, the controls on this one are wonky with the iPhone OS 3.0 software Apple released for iPhones and iPod touches. Only the volume controls work when the iPod touch 2G, iPhone 3G and 3GS are in music mode; the play/pause and track controls do nothing. In phone mode, the play/pause button and volume buttons work, too. This isn’t Kensington’s fault—it’s Apple’s—but at least for now, the Bluetooth Stereo Headphones with Microphone don’t offer a complete control solution, just a way to listen to music and answer phone calls.
Overall, Kensington’s Bluetooth Stereo Headphones with Microphone are a decent pair of headphones with a decent mic at an attractive price. They’re not stylish or high-fidelity, but they do offer impressive wireless range and enough comfort to sate some users. We’re holding out for something smaller, but if you can find these inexpensively and just need headphones to use for many hours at a time before recharges, we wouldn’t dissuade you from giving them a shot.