Initially our intention was to compare every kind of Bluetooth headset and headphones available. As we were using the headphones in our day-to-day lives, we realized that certain headsets were better designed for particular functions. Optimizing a product design for one usage often involved decreasing important characteristics of another function. This is analogous to building a car. If you want something fast that can go from 0-60 is 4 seconds flat; it's probably not going to get the best gas mileage, or be of much use hauling 3 kids around town. The bottom line is those who want the best headphones for listening to music, or watching videos, have a different product profile than mobile warriors looking to make VOIP calls (more on this topic at the end).
In this product comparison, we are looking for the best Bluetooth headphones to listen to music and watch movies on your iPad. While we emphasized sound quality for music and video playback, all of the Bluetooth headsets have built in microphones and VOIP capability. Next week we will have a product comparison for Bluetooth headsets designed primarily for voice conversations that are iPad compatible, and play stereo sound.
The criteria for our product recommendations are sound quality, fit / comfort, battery life, features, and build quality. The greatest weight is our scoring was given to sound quality (approx 40% of the weighting); with the other 4 categories given weights equally divided with the remaining allocation. All the Bluetooth headsets recommended were tested with both the iPad 1 and iPad 2 running iOS versions as early as 4.2. Going back to our car analogy, you can not expect an inexpensive car like a Ford Focus to compare with the performance of a high end car like a Ferrari. With that in mind, we also broke our recommendations into the best iPad Bluetooth headphones within a given price range.
One last tip before we begin is there there no such thing as a Bluetooth headset designed for just the iPad. So if you are browsing online, or walking through the aisles of Best Buy looking for products with the words "iPad Bluetooth Headsets" scrawled on the packaging, you will be severely limiting your selection. When shopping for a Bluetooth headset or headphones for your iPad, just look make sure it's a stereo headset or A2DP capable. The Bluetooth headset you buy for your iPad should work with your cell phone and Bluetooth enabled computer as well.
Best Bluetooth Headsets for your iPad under $ 40: Arctic Sound P311
Arctic Sound P311 (MSRP $ 39.99)
Our winner for the best Bluetooth headset under $ 40 is the Arctic Sound P311. If you are a techie the name will sound familiar as Arctic Sound is a division of Arctic Cooling, a Swiss owned company that makes CPU cooling and computer accessories. While the MSRP of the P311 is $ 39.95, you will find this headset online for around $ 30. It does everything you want out of a headset at a fair price. We loved this headset over more expensive Motorola and Sony models. Sound quality was indistinguishable from the Motorola and Sony models but the features that won us over were the amazing battery life and the folding design. In addition to testing it with the iPad, we were able to pair this headset with a PlayStation 3, laptops (MAC & PC), Android Phone, iPhone, and Nokia Phone with no problems.
We paired the Arctic Sound P311 with an Android phone, iPhone, and Nokia to test sound quality when making phone calls. Our friends on the other end could hear us just fine. Sound quality was crisp and there was no lag or choppiness in the conversation. For VOIP and cellular pairing, the P311 includes a hidden integrated microphone, built-in sound processor, and Advanced Clear Voice Capture (CVC) technology. The latter is just a fancy way of saying noise cancellation technology. While the microphone picks up on your voice during calls exquisitely, the noise cancelling function is not on par with higher end headsets such as the newest model Jawbone or Plantronic headsets. If you plan on speaking with a person in a noisy place such as Starbucks during the morning rush, the background noise will bleed into the conversation more than the high end headsets.
For music and video playback the sound was excellent for a device of this class. The music was crisp and vibrant at higher range. The built in high fidelity drivers were able to process sound in low range without any cracks or squeaks. The bass does sound flat when compared to higher end headsets and surround sound speakers. These are not the headsets to do sound editing on your MacBook Pro, but if you are watching Netflix on your iPad or listening to your iPod app, sound quality is excellent.
Fit / Comfort
Weighing just 2.5 ounces, the P311 is very light. The closed acoustic ear cups provides good comfort as we could where them all day without a fatigue or irritation. Some of our readers may not like the behind the ear design but we found this ideal if you are planning to use these headsets at work, as they will not mess up the hair like over-the-head headsets.
One of the most useful features is the right earphone has 5 buttons that control certain settings. They allow you to answer a call, adjust the volume and forward / reverse the music. The device you pair the headset with must allow these functions but we found most do. If paired with a cell phone and there is an incoming call, the Inter-Call-Manager will play a ringtone into the headset. The music will then be paused and will resume after ending the call. Pairing to my iPad was not a problem and the controls worked for volume, skip, reverse, and pause. The Antic Sound P311 does not support multipoint Bluetooth.
The Arctic Sound P311 has a built in rechargeable 400mAH lithium polymer battery similar to the lithium polymer technology Apples uses for the iPad and MacBooks. The manufacturer claims up to 20 hours of listening / talk time for the Arctic Silver but you can only achieve that time under very unrealistic circumstances. When talking on the headset for over an hour and spending the rest of the time listening to music at mid volume, we averaged 12-14 hours per charge. While not the 20 hours claimed by the manufacture, this was enough for a full day's work and double the battery life of other headsets. Mobile warriors will love that the Arctic Sound P311 headset charges via mini USB instead of a proprietary design. If have a Blackberry, you can use that AC Adapter or USB cable to charge the headset leaving one less item to lug around. Charging time starting from a dead battery is about 4 hours. A USB cable is provided for you to plug into your computer or iPad AC adapter.
The Arctic Sound P311 comes with a nylon hard case so they easily tuck away safely in your briefcase, purse, or backpack. The headphones themselves are made from hardened plastic. Because of its folding design, it can be damaged if you too much force is applied against the hinges. By no means does it make the heads fragile as the headset was accidentally damaged a few times without any damage.
Bluetooth Compatibility: Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR, A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HFP 1.5
Jabra CLIPPER Bluetooth Stereo Headset (Ear bud Style)
Best Bluetooth Headsets for your iPad under $ 100: Plantronics Backbeat 903+
Plantronics Backbeat 903+ (MSRP $ 99.99)
The Plantronics Backbeat 903+ is the upgrade for Plantronics best selling 903/906 series. The Backbeat 903+ was released last year incorporating the newer Bluetooth standards. The most important feature this headset has over the Arctic Sound P311 is the multipoint Bluetooth technology. What multipoint allows you to do is pair two Bluetooth devices with one headset. As long as your devices support multipoint, you can pair your cell phone to the Backbeat 903+ while streaming audio from your iPad. Most new phones support multipoint including the Android and Blackberry platforms. Both the iPhone and iPad support multipoint as long as you are running iOS version 4.1 and above.
Why is multipoint so important? If you have a multipoint, you will not miss a call if you are listening to music on your iPad or iPod! If your iPhone rings while your blasting away Metallica on your iPad, the Backbeat 903+ supporting multipoint will pause the music, and notify you of an incoming call. The one touch features on the Backbeat 903+ will allow you to answer the phone without having to physically answer it.
We recommend not paying MSRP by searching online for the best deal. We bought our Backbeat 903+ on Amazon for $ 69.99.
In terms of sound quality when making phone calls, the Plantronics Backbeat 903+ is superior to the Arctic Sound P311. This is the result of the superior noise cancelling feature and windshield. The headset has two microphones instead of just one. Both microphones are positioned to be shielded from direct wind. Plantronics calls their noise cancellation technology AudioIQ2. Basically what happens is they microphones pick of your voice and digitally erase the background noise to provide a superior phone conversation.
The Backbeat 903+ has a rich and vibrant sound, and can stream music, video, and app sounds from your iPad. The headset has an enhanced bass that provides a defect, and more earth moving feeling than the P311. While the Backbeat 903+ does have noise cancellation technology, it should be noted that it is for voice calls and not streaming music.
Fit / Comfort
Like the Arctic Sound headset, the Plantronics 903+ is a behind the ear design with close fitting earpieces. Each earpiece adjusts three ways for a custom fit.
The Backbeat 903+ has a unique technology called OpenMic that allows you to hear what's going on around you with a touch of a button. The Backbeat also supports one touch controls allowing you to start / end calls, and control music functions such as volume and pause / play. Voice alerts tell you if there is a low battery, when there is an incoming call, and when you have lost a phone connection. You can also monitor the battery level of the headset on your iPhone with built-in software. And as discussed earlier, the Backbeat 903+ supports multipoint allowing you to connect to your cell phone and iPad simultaneously.
Battery life provides 7 hours talk time. Standby time is 7 Hours. Charge time is 3 hours and the charging interface is micro USB. An AC Adapter is provided.
The Backbeat is constructed of high impact plastic designed for more abuse than a typical headset. If you are runner or plan to use the Backbeat in the gym, you will love its sturdiness and flexibility. The headphones can fold up and a soft protective bag is provided.
Sony DR-BT100CX Ear Bud Style Stereo Bluetooth Headset