I've always thought Bluetooth headphones were kind of silly. A solution in search of a problem. After all, how hard is it to plug in headphones? And is it worth having them be wireless if the batteries are just going to die on you at an inopportune time?
Well, we've come a long way from the early days of Bluetooth cans. They no longer drain their batteries after just a few hours of use, and it's actually really convenient to wander around the house listening to music without needing to carry around an iPod (or these days, an iPhone).
I've changed my mind on Bluetooth headphones. They're really, really nice.
Earlier this year, Apple's newly acquired Beats division released their Beats Solo2 headphones. In my review, I said that the new Beats were much improved from older versions in terms of sound quality. That's true with the Bluetooth version of the Solo2 as well, but you still don't buy them for sound quality alone.
Of course, they sound great — the Bluetooth version of the Solo2 are nearly identical to the wired version. In both size and sound, they're very similar.
While not quite an Apple quality box (not yet, anyway), the wireless Beats Solo2's are well packaged and easy to open. They really are almost identical to the wired versions, able to be folded up into a compact package half their usual size, with a zippered storage bag for travel. Other accessories include a USB charging cable and a removable wired cable with mic and volume buttons that allows the Bluetooth Solo2's to be used like the normal wired version if the batteries die or with non-Bluetooth devices like airplane entertainment systems.
My unit came with its battery charged three-quarters out-of-the-box, so it was ready to go. When you hold down the power button on the bottom edge of the right earcup, it comes alive with a series of pleasant beeps. After it turns on, the headphone searches for a Bluetooth device to connect to and — at least with an iPhone or a Mac — can easily be paired through the Bluetooth Settings menu or System Preference pane.
The headset has some hidden buttons on the left earcup. Press the B for play/pause, and press above and below for volume up/down.
There's also a built-in microphone for hands-free calling when it's in Bluetooth mode, though I thought the connection was rather tinny and not suited for noisy environments. Instead, you can plug in the hardwired audio cable, with microphone and control buttons inline, which works considerably better.
The Bluetooth Solo2 is rated at 12-hours of use, and that proved to be relatively accurate during my testing of the device. It charges via USB and only takes an hour or two to top off. A LED "fuel gauge" is built into the bottom of one of the headsets, giving easy access to the current charge status with a press of the power button.
With the wired version now priced at $250 (USD), the $300 (USD) Bluetooth version of the Solo2 is a comparative bargain. You can still get a relatively higher quality headset for less money, but as I pointed out in my review of the wired version, you don't buy these strictly for audio quality. You also buy them because of the giant "B" logo on the side.
Beats remain hugely popular headphones sold by a marketing juggernaut with numerous celebrity endorsements. One of these includes a slightly corny television campaign featuring Cincinnati Bengals superstar wide receiver AJ Green having some difficulties with his wired headphones:
With a thirty-foot range — I was able to listen to music from my Mac all throughout my three-floor townhouse with minimal issues — the Bluetooth Beats Solo2 are an effective and well-made set of headphones, though certainly a bit on the pricey side. Nevertheless, Apple will sell an absolute ton of them.
Available in four colors, the black version is available now at Apple Online and Retail Stores, with white and royal blue versions shipping soon. A red color is currently only available at Verizon stores.
Beats headphones are massively profitable and, though they're unlikely to make a significant impact on Apple's bottom line, anything the company can do to diversify its product portfolio away from the iPhone (which contributes well over half of its total revenue) is a good thing.
If fashion and branding are high on your priority list for headphones, these might be perfect for you. I suspect many will have these wireless Beats tucked under the Christmas tree this year. Will they make your gift or wish list? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.