Review: SoundOn WHP-i230 Digital Wireless iPod Headphones
As much as the world has been hoping for aesthetic breakthroughs in stereo wireless headphone technology, certain physical realities have impeded revolutionary products - namely, the sizes of wireless chips and batteries, and the inability of developers to make even smaller earpieces completely wire-free. Consequently, though there have been sleeker stereo wireless headsets such as Logitech's FreePulse and iSkin's Cerulean F1, companies such as Wi-Gear have for several years left their headset bodies virtually unchanged, instead focusing on tweaks to the technology inside.
That might explain why SoundOn’s new WHP-i120 Digital Wireless iPod Headphones ($179) look like a throwback to an earlier era: the silver and black, over-the-ear headphone design looks like a cheaper, generic version of Bose’s QuietComfort 2, with only a few changes. WHP-i120 ships with a silver and black iPod dongle, a generic but Bose-like ballistic nylon carrying case, and a wall charger. The left earcup has track forward and backward buttons, plus a power button, a link button and a hidden blue light that flashes when the power’s on. This notably differs from iSkin’s and Wi-Gear’s designs in lacking volume controls and a play/pause button—for whatever reason, these features need to be accessed on the iPod itself. A USB port at the bottom of this earcup lets you recharge a 10-hour integrated battery.
There’s nothing noteworthy about the right earcup, or the rest of the headphones, the plastic of which creaks a little on your ears when not powered on, while the speakers inside emit a barely audible tone when the power’s on and nothing’s playing. These are small issues, but they collectively demonstrate that neither Apple nor its disciples had any real role in WHP-i120’s design. From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s one of the geekiest iPod wireless headsets we’ve yet seen, though it’s worth mentioning that it’s not solely limited to iPod use; SoundOn also sells a separate USB dongle that can connect the headset to a computer. Silver and black go better with aluminum MacBooks and MacBook Pros, right?
If you can get past the looks of its parts, you’ll find that SoundOn has actually done a pretty good job with the technology inside these earcups. Interestingly, it has used its oversized plastic housings to hold four total speaker drivers—two full-rangers, and two subwoofers—as well as a 2.4GHz digital wireless chip with a promised 100-foot operating distance. Pairing is nearly effortless, requiring one-time pressing of one button on the headphones and one on the dongle, and performance is very good.
Most of the wireless headsets we’ve tested have been limited to 30-foot distances, but in our testing, WHP-i120 actually achieved SoundOn’s number: even with obstructions, we were able to walk three rooms away from a connected iPod and still hear its music through the headphones. This compared favorably with the improved wireless distance we saw in the iMuffs MB220, though SoundOn allows its signal to digitally degrade with bleeps and bloops at the edges of its range rather than turning the music off entirely. SoundOn’s wireless dongle design, like most we’ve tested, attaches to the bottom of an iPod and drains power rather than relying upon its own battery. The impact on iPod battery life will vary widely from model to model.
What’s most important to mention at this stage is that we actually enjoyed listening to music through WHP-i120. Though the drivers SoundOn has chosen aren’t the best we’ve ever heard in the treble department, at or around this price level, they do a very good job with mids, mid-bass and bass, with a sound signature that manages to properly achieve bassy warmth without washing out part of the midrange. We wouldn’t call these audiophile-quality earphones, but they’re more than good enough for most people, then aided by the comfortable pads and related isolating abilities of the earcups. They’re a lot more comfortable to wear than the iMuffs, and sound better. The only things we really found ourselves missing were the extra remote control buttons, which made volume adjustment in particular less convenient than it should been.
Overall, SoundOn’s WHP-i120 wireless headphones strike us as just worthy of our general recommendation: thanks to their wireless performance, sound quality, and comfort, they’re solid enough that some users will be willing to look past the fact that they are large and utterly lacking in style. Every stereo wireless headphone we’ve tested to date has some issue that precludes it from being truly mainstream; though they’re not ideally designed, at least the WHP-i120s are comfortable and listenable.