Review: TEN Technology naviPlay Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headset Kit for iPod
Pros: A well-built Bluetooth transmitter and headset kit which allows you to listen to your iPod’s music wirelessly from a distance of roughly 20 feet away, or from inside a bag or pocket. Comfortable headset includes a microphone and the ability to work with popular Bluetooth cell phones, interrupting iPod music automatically for incoming and outgoing calls.
Cons: Headset’s retro design won’t appeal to all users; unlike predecessor, lacks audio output port for use with a home stereo system. Price is high by comparison with competing products, including at least one with a superior noise-reducing microphone for cellular purposes, and wireless distance isn’t as impressive as top 30-foot options we’ve tested.
Since mid-2004, we’ve reviewed 10 different Bluetooth wireless audio accessories for various iPods, noting that only one of them - TEN Technology’s naviPlay Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Kit (iLounge rating: A-) - has reached our high recommendation level. Now, a year later, TEN has released the naviPlay Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headset Kit ($200), a version of the earlier product that includes its own pair of wireless headphones.
To backtrack for a moment, the original naviPlay consisted of two parts: a white audio transmitter that connected to the iPod’s Dock Connector, and a unique little white box that combined a remote control, an audio-out port, and a microphone. Both components included rechargeable batteries. You could connect the white box to your stereo and use your iPod as a remote control up to 30 feet away, or connect the white box to your favorite earphones and toss your iPod into a backpack, or use an optional pair of wireless headphones and skip using the white box altogether. Additionally, naviPlay could be paired with a Bluetooth-ready telephone, automatically interrupting iPod music with calls and using its integrated microphone to let you talk. We applauded this versatility, and later noted that no competing product offered all of its features in a single package; naviPlay was also the only major Bluetooth product to remain viable when Apple stopped including top-mounted accessory ports on iPods.
With the Wireless Stereo Headset Kit, TEN has dropped the unique white box from the package - actually, all of the white plastic parts have been replaced with glossy black ones - and instead integrated its technologies into an “old school” headset with padded earcups and an internal microphone. iPod play/pause, track forward/backward and volume up/down controls are found on the left earcup, along with a phone call button; a mini power port and recharging light are on the right one. An included USB cable lets you recharge the headphones between uses; you’ll get around eight hours of playback time at maximum volume from a short (under 7-foot) distance, and less time at greater distances.
The other part, called the naviPlay iPod Adapter, is mostly unchanged. It works with every Dock Connector-equipped iPod - 3G, 4G, 5G, nano, and mini - thanks to an included set of six plastic clip-style adapters. You can stand any iPod up on its bottom with the Adapter attached, or make it recline thanks to a pop-out stand on the Adapter’s back. Recharging this component requires you to connect your iPod’s Dock Connector cable to a port on its rear; both the iPod and naviPlay can recharge at the same time. (Intriguingly, TEN’s package shows that a pair of naviPlay Bluetooth Speakers is in the offing, and that the Adapter can be used to broadcast directly to them - or a car with a Bluetooth stereo system - as well.)
We’re not going to rehash all of the details from our prior naviPlay review here, because the underlying technology (Bluetooth 1.2) is the same, the iPod Adapter is the same, and the performance is the same, so you can read more about them there. But there are a few highlights worth noting. Highly positive is TEN’s extremely simple pairing system; pressing the play button on the headphones and the single power button on the Adapter always results in a connection, and cell phone pairing is as simple as holding down the play button for eight seconds, then telling your phone to look for naviPlay.
Incoming calls to our test phone automatically rang through the headset, and paused the iPod upon connection; you can un-pause the iPod with the headset when you’re done. When making outgoing calls, the headset smoothly transitioned from iPod music to letting us hear the phone’s keypad, then our calls, but didn’t pause the iPod; instead, music appeared whenever the phone went silent for several seconds. This was actually sort of cool, but some users may prefer a more aggressive automatic pause for outgoing calls, as well. Call quality was good; we liked how callers sounded, and they said the microphone sounded very good - a little shy of the improved one in Wi-Gear’s Dock Connector version of iMuffs, which we were testing at the same time.
Music quality is very much like the prior naviPlay. You still get slightly less than CD-quality sound - barely noticeable now that you can’t use your own wired, defect-revealing headphones with the system - and TEN’s wireless headset acceptably leans towards bass, rather than remaining neutral. The earcups do a decent job of isolating outside sound, and are comfortable, but certainly look very retro - as with Macally’s BlueWave (iLounge rating: B+), you’ll have to decide whether you like their appearance.
The new naviPlay’s range was also about the same as before. TEN’s headset and Adapter properly maintained their connections at close distances, including when the iPod was pocketed or bagged, and we didn’t experience any interference or static during testing. However, the connection still becomes a bit spotty past 20-foot distances; you may experience a pause or a complete interruption at 22+ feet away. This is a bit short of the distance performance we’ve seen from top Bluetooth options, which can work more reliably from a full 30-foot distance.
Overall, we had generally positive feelings about the naviPlay Bluetooth Wireless Stereo Headset Kit, though they were mitigated by one key factor: the $200 asking price. While this isn’t high by 2004 and early 2005 Bluetooth standards, more recent wireless headsets have been selling for $150 to $180, including the newest iMuffs, which deliver a very similar experience for both iPod music listeners and cell phone users. The new naviPlay is good, but still not cheap, and not as bleeding-edge as its predecessor was a year ago.
Since true Bluetooth 2.0+EDR accessories - those promising superior audio quality and battery life - have not yet been released, the key distinguishing factors between available, highly similar Bluetooth options are their versatility, looks, comfort, and pricing. The new naviPlay is technically as good as before on sound quality and range, but lacks its predecessor’s stereo cable/wired headset output feature, and forces you to use included headphones you may or may not want to wear. For these reasons, we think the Headset Kit is a good offering, and recommendable, but at this price, there are other options worth considering as well.