High-quality Circumaural Bluetooth Headphones for iPhone 4

Discussion in 'iPhone Accessories' started by kha0s, Mar 3, 2011.

  1. kha0s macrumors member


    Nov 23, 2009
    Over the last couple years, I've been progressively engraving podcasts and audiobooks into my daily routine. Don't know how I ever managed to get along without them. It recently became clear that the time for Apple's earbuds was up. In consequence of that, I started researching for some worthy headphones for my iPhone 4. Since I'm a sucker for wireless and mobility, bluetooth connectivity presented itself as an early must. Nonetheless, because the whole point was to enhance and refine the audio listening experience, I feared that bluetooth bandwidth limitations would seriously undermine sound quality. Those fears were scattered by this post which underlines that, with a practical data transfer of 2.1 Mbit/s, "Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR" has more than enough bandwidth to effortlessly stream CD quality audio. Read several other forum threads on the wildly controversial "wireless vs wired" topic. The bottom line from that was that "wired" headphones
    will always give you better sound quality, although, for the non-audiophile casual listener, current bluetooth technology should to the trick.

    Besides bluetooth, I also envisioned the following set of features for my top-notch headphones:

    -> Circumaural style of wearing (speaker covers the entire ear) + stero: I've read solid reports that supra-aural headphones, unlike circumaural, tend to cause "ear fatigue" after a couple hours of use.
    -> Noise cancelling system: I often do my listening in the midst of noisy public transport commutes and clamorous vacuum cleaners. Noise cancelling would avoid having to pump up the volume to deafening levels.
    -> Hands-free calling: despite not being part of my original brainstorm, it gradually became apparent that hands-free calling would be a pretty nice add-on to have.

    After several hours of unyielding research, I finally managed to boil it down to the following list: Sennheiser MM 550 Travel, Sennheiser MM 450 Travel, Sennheiser MM 400, Sennheiser PXC 360 BT, Sennheiser PXC 310 BT and Sennheiser PX 210 BT. All the previous models can be elegantly collapsable for easier transportation, all have the insightful option to connect through a 3.5mm audio cable, and a couple incorporate the creative "TalkThrough" feature.

    From the above list, only two are circumaural: Sennheiser MM 550 Travel and Sennheiser PXC 360 BT. The former allows for "hands-free calling" but has no "apt-X®" support, whilst the later boasts "apt-X®" support but has no "hands-free calling". Either one is outrageously expensive.

    Taking into account my features list, does anyone know of another model I should be considering? If not, is there any mate out there with hands-on experience on the two above circumaural models? If so, does the "apt-X®" feature really makes that much of a difference in sound quality? Is the "hands-free calling" worth it? Which one would you advise?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. shaz408 macrumors newbie

    Mar 5, 2011
  3. kha0s thread starter macrumors member


    Nov 23, 2009
    Had already bumped into your AVForums thread during my initial research.:cool:

    I've taken my time to think it through and have decided to go full steam ahead with the Sennheiser MM 550 Travel model. The prospect of having to purchase an external bluetooth adapter in order to enjoy apt-X® on my iPhone 4 has been germane to the decision.

    Should get it in a week or so. Will post hands-on impressions then.

    Cheers mate!
  4. ToutSuite macrumors member

    Apr 2, 2010
    I just bought a pair of the MM 450s. I'm not sure if they're what you call circumaural - they sit on top of the ears, they don't envelop them completely. Regardless, the sound quality is very, very good, the button and control layout make sense, and I have worn them for 2+ hours at a time with very little ear fatigue. They're a bit tight on my head, but I assume they'll continue to loosen over time (I've had them about a month now).

    Hope this helps!
  5. marc.garcia macrumors regular

    Jul 26, 2010

    I own a pair of Jaybird sb2. I use them with my iPhone 4 and sound quality is just ok (iPhone does not support apt-x, at least not on iOS 4.2.1 yet).

    I like my sb2 but I guess we are talking about different things here cause the sb2 cost about 100$.

    I wish I could test them with a apt-x source in order to fully experience what they are capable of.

    Does anyone know whether apt-x is a software or hw thing? Could apple just introduce it in a firmware upgrade?

  6. kha0s thread starter macrumors member


    Nov 23, 2009
    Received my Sennheiser MM 550 Travel headphones last Monday. After one week of heavy use, I've yet to find a significant shortcoming to point out. The product works just as advertised and I can now say it was worth the investment. Here's the breakdown of my hands-on impressions:

    Bluetooth vs Audio Cable: which one has better quality?
    After meticulously testing dozens of music files and a couple audiobooks, I was unable to tell the difference between listening through "bluetooth" or using the "audio cable". Both methods sound exactly the same. Suppose that if you're some kind of music "Rain man" it's possible to tell them apart. I certainly couldn't.

    Are the circumaural ear pads comfortable over long periods of listening?
    Yes they are. At first it seemed that my large ears wouldn't fit into the ear pads, although a more diligent headband adjustment quickly proved otherwise. The highly-cushioned pads feel very comfortable to wear. No "ear fatigue" whatsoever over long listening stretches (2 hours). The only drawback I found had to do with the fact that your ears do become significantly hot after a while. Even though this may be a plus in the winter time, I imagine it to cause some discomfort during the summer.

    How effective is the noise cancelling system?
    Since these are my first "active noise cancelling" headphones, I really don't have any reference to compare them with. That said, the "NoiseGard™ 2.0" functionality is far from perfect, and you can always count with hearing some ambiente noise getting through. Notwithstanding, I did found it exceptionally efficient in cancelling out low-frequency humming sounds. Because of that I think it will fare very well on airplanes. Should be able to test that out myself in a couple weeks. On the downside, activating "NoiseGard" does cause the sound to loose some of it's original richness and vibrancy. Even if you aren't able to bear the "sound quality degradation" trade-off, there's still a very good change that he passive noise reduction provided by the heavy insulated ear pads will do the trick. I've certainly found it to be the case in my personal experience.

    How about the headphones overall sound quality?
    Again, I'm no audio expert, but can honestly say that my music and audiobook never sounded better. Not surprisingly, there's no possible comparison with Apple's earbuds. Saw some users complaining bitterly about the maximum volume being to low. Although that may have a ring of truth to it, it seems to me that whole point of getting these headphones is to be able to enjoy crystal clear audio WITHOUT having to pump up the volume to deafening levels, but hey, that's just me. Despite being marketed as one of the flagship features, I have yet to figure out what's the deal with "SRS WOW HD™". To this date I'm still looking for that song that actually sounds better with the "SRS" turned on.

    Do the headphones get along with the "iPhone 4"?
    They sure do. The bluetooth pairing process is as straightforward as it gets. Besides volume adjustment and call-handling, A2DP also allows one to seamlessly pause, fast-forward and skip tracks. It's just a matter of pressing the correct control button on the right ear cup. According to the product instruction manual, the headphones are capable of saving connection profiles for up to 8 bluetooth devices. I did managed to successfully pair them with my "iPad", "iPhone 2G" and "Macbook Pro", although that still left me 4 devices short from the advertised limit.

    What else?
    The "TalkThrough" function works as described and the collapsible ear cups are certainly a plus for the frequent traveler. The carrying case serves it's purpose well enough. The plethora of wall chargers and audio adapters included surely can't harm. The headband is exceptionally resilient and the overall build quality is nothing short of outstanding.

    In closing, I'm very pleased with my purchase. As far as "circumaural bluetooth headphones" go, the "MM 550" are definitely in a league of their own. If you want to take it to the next level and money isn't a problem, go full full steam ahead with them. If money is a problem, start saving.

    One final en passant note to highlight that the current versions of both "Skype" (iPhone/iPad) and "GarageBand" (iPad) don't support bluetooth headphones. If personally found the lack of bluetooth support on the "Skype" iPhone app to be particularly disheartening. It completely subverted my plans to carry out "NoiseGard" conference calls while cleaning up the house. Hopefully Skype's developers will be hammered into including bluetooth support on future versions.

    That's about it! Will post extra feedback once I've done some airplane testing.

  7. shaz408 macrumors newbie

    Mar 5, 2011
    Thank you so much for putting such a detail feedback.

    can you please also confirm how is the call handling through mm550. do you have to shout for other person to hear your voice or is this as normal as using any other blue tooth hands free ? Also how is the quality of sound whilst on call

    thank you
  8. jalyst macrumors 6502

    Aug 17, 2009
    It's a shame they leave APT-X out of their top end MM's :(
    I own the MM 100 but was also considering their top-end MM.
    Having no apt-x I will have to rethink that...
    Hopefully there are other quality competitors in this wireless headset space now.
  9. kha0s thread starter macrumors member


    Nov 23, 2009
    shaz408: Call handling is very well implemented and works flawlessly. I don't use the headphones for cell calls that often, but the few times I did the other person heard me just fine. No need to shout. The substandard cell coverage in my area has always resulted in low-quality sound during calls. It thus unfair to judge the headphones call performance under those conditions. Bluetooth support for the "Skype app" would level the playing field and provide some solid testing ground for the microphone. I wonder if Fring has support for bluetooth headphones? If it does, I'll post back with some more enlightening intel about the mic quality.

  10. kha0s thread starter macrumors member


    Nov 23, 2009
    The "airplane testing" results are in and they are nothing short of remarkable. The "NoiseGard™ 2.0" cancelled out the low-frequency airplane humming noise with prodigious effectiveness and "TalkThrough" managed to rinse the flight attendants voice crystal clear. I actually understood them better with the phones on! Quite unexpectedly, I've also discovered that the "NoiseGard™ 2.0" feature allows one to use the "MM 550" as airtight earplugs. If you want to take an airplane nap in style and silence, these phones are definitely the way to do it.

    All the above holds true in the subway and bus. The noise cancelling excels in noisy environments. It seems that noisier the environment, the better "NoiseGard™ 2.0" will fare.

    That pretty much wraps my review on the "MM 550". Hope it helped a couple mates out there to reach closure.

  11. hebhansen macrumors newbie

    Dec 27, 2009
    Mm 550

    Thx. for the brilliant walk-through of the MM 550 above. I was looking into those and the picture you draw is convincing, thx.

    However, let's correct one huge misunderstanding. MM-550 Travel does indeed support Apt-X. The source for this is Sennheiser themselves:

    To my knowledge iPhone support the codec from iPhone 4 and higher.

    Mac Mini support Apt-x from mid 2010. This also goes for Macbook's and iMacs

    What I am wondering is the following...

    Apt-x beeing only a codec, it seems to me that only Soft ware is required to get support for apt-x. I have upgraded my Mac Mini 2009 to Lion, so ... is apt-x now supported???? or will I need a new'er mini?

    Same for iPhone. An upgraded 3GS that runs iOS5.X will it support apt-x or is HW required? and why?
  12. scottieprior macrumors newbie

    Feb 13, 2012
    I had a pair of DRE studio beat one year ago. and now I have to say I am very disappointed that they have broken. I can honestly say that they are the best headphones on the sound effects. I've heard but durable the poor and the reason is that every week need to replace the battery.
  13. hebhansen macrumors newbie

    Dec 27, 2009

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