Review: Wi-Gear iMuffs Bluetooth Headset for iPod
Pros: A pair of microphone-equipped Bluetooth stereo headphones that works with both (older) iPods and Bluetooth wireless phones, enabling you to keep one headset on for music and telephone calling. Headphones run for comparatively long 12-hour run time on included battery. Smallest transmitter we’ve seen paired with an iPod wireless headset, with good (but not CD-quality) sound quality and balance, and 30-foot broadcasting distance.
Cons: Incompatible with currently shipping iPods; only recommended for users of discontinued 3G, 4G and mini models. Headset remains large by most standards, and both less comfortable and fashionable than many people will prefer; wireless connection is frequently interrupted when transmitter is pocketed or bagged, and despite Bluetooth 2.0 billing, can’t take advantage of +EDR standard supported by newer computers.
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. Our second review is of Wi-Gear’s iMuffs ($180), which follow in the tradition of Logitech’s earlier Wireless Headphones (iLounge rating: B-), with a couple of advantages and disadvantages.
Our biggest gripe with the Logitech Headphones was simple: like some of the other Bluetooth headsets we’ve tested, they just weren’t comfortable for extended wear, which we’ve heard multiple manufacturers blame on the required size of stereo Bluetooth 1.x-compatible electronic components. So we were initially excited to hear that Wi-Gear had switched over to the newer Bluetooth 2.0 standard, which developers have said would allow for smaller, more comfortable stereo Bluetooth devices.
But as it turns out, Wi-Gear’s implementation isn’t exactly as expected. First, the company doesn’t support the “extended data rate” version of Bluetooth 2.0 (also known as Bluetooth 2.0+EDR) found in Apple’s latest computers, which offers superior audio quality and component miniaturization options. Since very few devices support this equally new and limited flavor of Bluetooth, iMuffs don’t benefit much from its inclusion; when not paired with your iPod, you’ll basically be limited to using them with older Bluetooth 1.2 devices. Second, and more surprising given Bluetake’s superior efforts with its Bluetooth 1.2-enabled i-Phono mini BT450 set (iLounge rating: B), Wi-Gear’s earpieces are on the large side - just as big as Logitech’s, though a hint more comfortable. On a positive note, they offer 12+ hour play times between recharges, which is perhaps the single biggest benefit of the company’s choice of chipsets, and come with both a wall charger and USB cable for recharging. A computer will do the trick if a wall outlet’s not available.
Instead of shrinking the headphones, iMuffs instead shrink the only component that doesn’t matter much for comfort: the iPod transmitter. On a positive note, the transmitter is an impressively thin component that could, in fact, fit perfectly on an iPod nano; although it looks odd on the top of other iPods, it’s smaller than any of the transmitters we’ve seen from other companies. Unfortunately, the transmitter actually isn’t physically compatible with any current iPod - shuffle, nano, or 5G -because it uses an extended headphone connector to provide track forward/backward, play/pause and volume controls on your right ear, and draws power from the iPod’s battery. Unlike i-Phono mini, no adapter cable for newer iPods is included, so you’d need to buy one of the $20 accessory adapters soon to be sold by ABT, BTI or Targus if you wanted to make it work with nanos or 5Gs.
Other than pricing, which Wi-Gear is at least temporarily offering at an attractive $130 level to compete with similar products, there are two reasons you might want to consider iMuffs. First, and thanks to an integrated microphone, they can work as a headset with many Bluetooth-ready cell phones, providing similar functionality to d.Muse’s standalone Bluetooth phone adapter iBlue (iLounge rating: C-). Properly paired with your phone and the iPod transmitter, the headphones will interrupt and pause your iPod music whenever a phone call comes in, and let you carry on at least a monaural conversation without taking anything off. In our testing, pairing was fairly easy and worked well with our test RAZR V3 phone.
Second, the iMuffs sound good; better in our testing than both Logitech’s Wireless Headphones and the BT450. Though still not CD-quality - something we’ll need to wait for true Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, at least, to experience - they have a nice enough balance of treble detail and bass to be more than acceptable to our ears. We’re not fans of this style of headphones, but if you are, you’ll find the sound unobjectionable given the rest of the features in the package.
Our only other caveat regards iMuffs’ performance in distance and obstruction testing. They did better than iPhono mini, communicating with the iPod when used in a stable position at the edge of their stated 30-foot range, but sometimes suffered from brief interruptions when we walked around past the 15-foot point, and frequently had issues when we placed the transmitter in a pocket for a walk or run. Logitech’s Wireless Headphones, by comparison, didn’t sound as good but had fewer of these distance and interruption issues.
Overall, iMuffs offer a Bluetooth wireless listening solution that, like iPhono mini, is generally recommendable for owners of older iPods, but still in need of additional tuning to create an experience that will appeal to the masses and newer iPod owners. This is a good start, but we’ll be looking for more comfortable (and better-looking) earphones, a transmitter that properly fits current iPods, and greater signal stability when pocketed or bagged in the next generation of iMuffs, which we’re hoping will be available sooner rather than later.