Blue Ant has taken a fairly standard pair of behind the neck headphones and added Bluetooth controls and the A2DP profile
to them. The most interesting part of the package, other than the fact that it is one of the first products with A2DP to hit the market, is that it comes with a transmitter pod that sends and receives analogue audio to and from the headset, using standard 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks.
Both the headset and transmitter charge from a Mini-USB socket and use the same kind of battery pack. Two USB to Mini-USB cables and a wall adapter (which also ends in Mini-USB) are included for charging when you’re not near a computer. We’re looking forward to Mini-USB replacing the various chargers we are used to, as most of the new range of Bluetooth devices are using it as a power source.
A small detachable boom microphone can plug into the same Mini-USB port used to charge the X5, and during calls the X5 will revert to a traditional mobile phone headset instead of a high quality pair of wireless headphones. The buttons still control incoming and outgoing calls, and pressing the ‘call/play’ button will pause your music and switch to the incoming call. When you do, the quantum leap in fidelity that the A2DP profile has over the headset profile is revealed.
There’s room for improvement in the fidelity department, as they sound like they’ve been governed to 192Kbps MP3 quality. The drivers themselves aren’t ultra high fidelity units, so we are yet to see if they or A2DP are holding back the full potential of the sound. Nonetheless, for first generation hardware without cable clutter, you can relax and enjoy the sound. You wouldn’t want to wear them for extended sessions because they get uncomfortable after a while, but that’s true for most behind the neck headphones.
During quiet pieces, vocals tend to overpower the rest of the music. They work best with dance and drum & bass, but still sound a little muddy. The detail in subtle, quiet tracks isn’t as clear as it ought to be, however music with more presence hides the lack of detail well, putting them on par with other headphones of this style. They can still be a little scratchy at the high end, which is noticeable when cymbals and synthesizers are playing together, but as a package the sound quality, along with functionality and extras, make for a decent pair of headphones.
The most interesting part of the package is Blue Ant’s inclusion of an audio transmitter, which will accept an analogue headphone input and transmit it to the X5 using Bluetooth. When the transmitter is in use, there is no way of controlling the connected device, however it still streams audio to the headphones (and if the microphone is plugged in from the headphones, albeit in low fidelity mode). This is useful for PCs if you are having problems with drivers -- you can bypass the issue entirely by using the audio transmitter instead of Windows’ settings. You can also plug it into your iPod or anything else with an audio output but without A2DP Bluetooth to pick up the signal wirelessly with the X5s.
It’s not perfect, though. Unlike other Bluetooth devices, the only way to tell that the X5 is on is by looking at the flashing LED on the side of the headphones. Our review unit’s ‘call/play’ button rattled when we were jogging with it, which was noticeable and irritating, however we suspect this was just a pre-production quirk. It would also have been nice if audible cues for functions had been included, but it’s among the cheapest of the new wave of Bluetooth A2DP enabled headsets so we’re willing to make some concessions.
We may see better A2DP headphones as more are introduced into the market, but for now the X5s perform well given their relatively low cost and the fact that they are amongst first generation of A2DP headphones.