Sunday, February 17, 2008

Not for the image conscious: BH-604 bluetooth headphones...

The BH-604's appearance is very typical of a good quality pair of headphones except that it does without wires. Its size is, well, large. The silver parts are actually plastic that is textured to feel like aluminium. The "leather" parts are nice and cushy and make it one of most comfortable pair of headphones I've used, and I've used plenty in my lifetime.

The left can has no functioning buttons on it.

Everything is located on the right can.

Here you can find the call answer button, play/pause button.

Rewind/forward buttons.

And also the volume slider, charger port, microphone and multi-function LED.

The cans' range of movement is pretty big and ensure they fit you nicely.

There is also plenty of extension to make sure they fit the largest of heads.

Here are a few side by side pics with my full sized AKG K271 Studio headphones.

Pairing up is a simple affair. Press the big answer call button until the LED flashes a blue light, scan for new devices with your phone, enter the "0000" passkey, and you're done.

Now, to the main event. How does this thing sound?

The first thing that strikes you is the big sound. It sounds pretty similar in character to my Sony MDR-Z900.

The bass is pretty hyped up, but not in an unpleasant way. The big drivers ensure there's plenty of bass extension, making music sound big instead of sounding like someone pushed up the 100hz band up by 12db.

The mids and highs are pretty natural sounding, requiring no EQ to smoothen out any frequencies that are sticking out.

However after about 30 seconds, it dawns upon you that what you're listening to is obviously not full resolution. It's no fault of the headphones but rather, the inadequacies of the transfer protocol.

Sound quality is pretty grainy. Hi hats and crash cymbals tend to crack. High and forceful horn lines sound distorted. The fingernail contact of intimate acoustic guitar playing is mostly lost or mis-translated. Reverb tail ends get lost and hence misrepresenting the intended ambience. Lower frequency inadequacies aren't as obvious as our ears are more sensitive to higher frequencies. But they're there. Again, the key work here is "grainy".

I'm sure if you connect a wire to this pair of headphones, it would sound very good, as presented by it's overall tonality. It's just too bad the weak link is the bluetooth transfer protocol.

As the amplifiers are integrated into the headphones are not in any way dependent on the phone itself, you can get pretty big volumes out of this thing. Great for drowning out the world while travelling on a train or something. The big bass helps this impression too.

Battery life as claimed by Nokia: "Get up to 18 hours of talk time from less than 1.5 hours of charging. Listen to music longer with up to 19 hours of music time and up to 2 weeks standby." I don't see a reason to doubt their claims. So this thing should give you plenty of juice to last through some serious listening time.

Conversations with it's built-in microphone is very good. The other party has no problems hearing you and you get a nice big sound of your caller's voice piped into your ears. Press the nice big button to answer calls. Can't get simpler than that.

Music automatically pauses while you talk and automatically resumes after you're done. All done smoothly with the appropriate fades. Classy.

So what's my conclusion? If you can get past its form factor, it's probably one of the best sounding stereo bluetooth headphones you can buy. Telephony is a treat through it too. It's so comfortable you can wear it for hours on end. It feels reasonably well made and will probably take some abuse. Battery life is great. No wires make it really convenient to use while carrying a bag.

Personally, the bluetooth transfer protocol is still far away from achieving an acceptable standard of audio fidelity. I'd use it at home for unfussy listening. But it's not worth looking like a club DJ out in public for the sound quality.

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