BlackBerry Bluetooth headphone showdown

CrackBerry Idol - Joseph
By Kevin Michaluk on 9 Aug 2010 11:00 pm EDT

BlackBerry Bluetooth headphone showdown

Let's say you're in the market for Bluetooth stereo headphones. Good choice. You'll be releasing yourself from the tyranny of wires and ending the saga of headphones yanked from ears and BlackBerrys yanked from desks. But gaining the freedom to walk about and audio controls as close as your right ear comes at a price. Bluetooth headphones aren't cheap, and any savvy consumer will consider a whole host of questions before pulling the trigger. How well do they sound? Are they comfortable? Am I buying the right one? That's where this article comes in.

In this showdown, I put the BackBeat 903, MOTOROKR S305, the LG HBS-250, and the MOTOROKR S7-HD in a head to head to head to head (phone) competition. Product descriptions and statistics only tell part of the story. I wanted to know how well these devices performed in the real world, with an actual person using (and abusing) them. Which set of headphones sounded the best? Which were most comfortable? Best controls? Worst in show? All will be revealed...after the break.

The Tests

Each of the four Bluetooth headphones was evaluated in a number of categories. In Form & Function, each device was rated on how well the AVRCP controls were implemented. The Audio/Video Remote Control Profile lets most Bluetooth users to control pause/play, next and previous track, and - in some cases - fast forward and rewind. AVRCP and its stereo-Bluetooth loving cousin, A2DP are available on most newer BlackBerrys running OS 4.2 and later.

In Signal, I tested how well each of our products performed under real life uses. What's the true range of the headphones? Bluetooth is rated to a maximum range of about 33 feet, but only two of the four actually made it that far (and one quite a bit further).

All of the Bluetooth headphones in the article also double as handsfree headsets. So you can listen to tunes and call mom on the same device. Making use of the call recording option in Google Voice, it quickly became apparent which device sounded the best. Results in the Phone section.

Finally, and most importantly, Music. The primary function of any pair of headphones, be they wired or wireless, is to make music sound great. Think thumping bass and high fidelity are something you can't get with BT Headphones? Read on.

The Devices

BackBeat 903: The Defender
Play Time: 7 hours Standby Time: 168 hours

BackBeat 903

The Good: Sounds great and looks stylish - most of the headphone's hardware is hidden behind the ear. OpenMic system uses the 903's microphones to provide a little of the "outside world" when music is paused, allowing you to better hear what's happening around you.

The Bad: Some will find the in-ear headphones uncomfortable. Bass performance is best when the earbuds are set juuuust right. Unfortunately, that sweet spot takes a while to narrow down.

MOTOROKR S305: The Contender
Play Time: 6.5 hours Standby Time: 96 hours

MotoROKR S305

The Good: Nice sounding-bass notes, clear high notes. At under $50, it's the least expensive of the group. Holds comfortably in place against your ears.

The Bad: A mostly inflexible band connects the two earphones. Motorola advises the user to place the band so that it holds away from the neck. Not so practical when lounging on the sofa or the bed. Lightweight, but feels cheap and flimsy; mainly because the control buttons rattle.

Play Time: 8 hours Standby Time: 288 hours


The Good: Very good-looking headphones. Form, flair, and modesty (the indicator light is a small LED hidden under the decorative grill) were obviously high on the list of priorities when designing this beauty. Sound quality is there too; SRS WOW HD audio enhancement makes every song sound better. Padding feels comfortable against the ears.

The Bad: The headphones hang somewhat loosely from the ears. A tighter fit would have provided better sound and reduce the "bouncing" feeling you get while wearing them. The physical on-off switch - though a great idea - is difficult to use while wearing the headphones.

LG HBS-250 (The Dud)
Play Time: 8.5 hours Standby Time: 330 hours

LG HBS-250

Form & Function

BackBeat 903 (8/10): The BackBeat 903 has two buttons and a thumb wheel to control the headphone functions. The simplicity of the design makes for easy use of the headphones. To use the Play/Pause and call features, however, you really have to press in on the headphones. This can be a bit uncomfortable as I literally had to jam the headphones into my ear to actually press the buttons.

Bluetooth headphone showdown

MOTOROKR S305 (7/10): The S305 integrates seven different buttons in to the right-side headphone. The buttons are easy to press and you don't have to jam them into your head to use. That being said, I thought the button layout was a bit clumsy. The power button was especially difficult to find while wearing the headphones; the trick is to use your thumb instead of a finger. This being a pair of headphones, you'd think the Play/Pause button and not the call button would be at the top; not so.

Bluetooth headphone showdown

MOTOROKR S7-HD (10/10): I loved the controls on the S7-HD, big controls that my large hands can use. The Play/Pause button is on the right ear and the call options on the left. The S7 uses two control wheels for playback and volume on the right and left sides, respectively. Rotate the left wheel forward to increase volume, backwards to decrease. The right side has a similar story.

Bluetooth headphone showdown

HBS-250 (4/10): The controls on this device were incredibly small. The two volume buttons are located at the top of the ear and are very difficult to find by touch alone. To turn the volume up, you almost have wedge your finger between your ear and the decorative front covering. It's the power button that is the worst of all. Holding the large button on the right side turns on the HBS-250, and it doesn't take much effort. So easy, the device can turn on while it's in your pocket, repeatedly dial (because the power and call buttons are one and the same) your boss, who will later say that you "sounded like Satan." But, maybe that's just me.

Bluetooth headphone showdown


BackBeat 903 (6/10): Signal loss was measured at the point where the headphones began repeatedly skipping and cutting out. The BackBeat managed a not-so-impressive 23 foot average. Within that range, the 903 sounds great; providing you're not walking too fast. For whatever reason of Bluetooth physics, the unit was extremely sensitive to body parts - specifically my arm - between the transmitter and receiver. For brief periods, the unit would experience a loss of signal and then immediately return to the music. This occurred in about 10 of every 50 steps.

MOTOROKR S305 (7/10): As one of only two devices to meet the rated range of 33 feet, the S305 maxed out at a very impressive 37 feet. Conducting the walk test, the S305 experienced much less signal loss than the 903; about 4 times for every 50 steps.

MOTOROKR S7-HD (8/10): The S7 reached just beyond 27 feet before loosing signal; adequate, but not perfect. Again, Bluetooth physics raised its ugly head, as the S7 was also plagued with signal loss as I walked about, though not nearly as bad as the BackBeat 903. This time, it was about 6 times for every 50 steps. It is worth noting that both the S7-HD and BackBeat have their Bluetooth radios in the left ear, while the other two are in the right. For these tests, my BlackBerry was clipped to my left side.

HBS-250 (9/10): The -250 has a massive range. In the tests I conducted, the -250 made it all the way to 53 (fifty-three!) feet before losing signal. In the walking around test, the HBS-250 had the least signal loss of all - with almost none (once per 50 steps). With such care given to the signal quality, it is a shame LG couldn't engineer a better sound.


BackBeat 903 (6/10): When using the 903 as a phone device, the call quality is the audio version of a pixilated television image. Seriously, it sounded like an old 1990's streaming video.

MOTOROKR S305 (10/10): Wow. The phone audio quality on this thing is amazing. During the week, I had several people tell me that they didn't even know I was on a headset. After listening to Google Voice results, I agree.

MOTOROKR S7-HD (5/10): The S7-HD had a decent sound. However, it sounded as though the audio was over processed, possibly the result of using it in a somewhat noisy environment. But the real world is a noisy environment, and it shouldn't sound like you're making calls from underwater.

HBS-250 (8/10): Fairly good handsfree device. The audio quality was nothing too spectacular, but it wasn't overly processed like the 903 and S7-HD. Audio came through easy to understand and without being garbled.


BackBeat 903 (8/10): As the BackBeat uses an in-the-ear headphone, almost all outside sound is cut off; so notes and lyrics come through clearly. To me, it sounds like the music is playing directly inside my head. The bass notes come through well, but I have heard better. Still, the quality of music playing through the headphones is quite high.

MOTOROKR S305 (7/10): For a pair of $50 wireless headphones, these sound pretty good. Heck, they sound pretty good for any pair of headphones. The S305 delivers an impressive amount of that sweet bass sound; combine that with clear vocals and high notes, and you've got a recipe for some nice headphones. Music on the S305 doesn't have the same high-quality sound that the S7-HD has, but it's pleasant to listen to nonetheless.

MOTOROKR S7-HD (9/10): I was extremely impressed with music capabilities of the S7-HD. Bass punches through these speakers with an amount I would not have expected from Bluetooth headphones. The SRS WOW HD - I don't come up with the names, I just report them - greatly improves the quality of sound coming through the A2D Profile. It's difficult to describe, but the music sounds more vibrant - more real - when the SRS feature is turned on. The fourteen levels of volume control are a nice feature as well.

HBS-250 (3/10): Remember AM radio? Yeah, just about that bad. To me, it seems the HBS-250 was designed first as a Bluetooth device (great signal, remember?) and as a pair of headphones second. These sound terrible. The 5 music "enhancing" equalizer presets change the music from crappy to murky. There is no bass to speak of, and even high notes seem muffled. Even without the volume turned up to what is laughably called "maximum," I can hear the speakers crack. Without a doubt, the HBS-250 has the worst sound quality of all the headphones reviewed here.

The Winner

Bluetooth headphone showdown

Using a simple turn of the hand on the Bluetooth headphones' controls, I skip to the next track. It's one of my favorites (Land of 1000 Words); I smile. I smile because I'm listening with the MOTOROKR S7-HD. I can hear the snare, hi-hat, bass, and tambourine all playing with their distinctive percussive voices. I hear the sound of a pick strumming the strings on a guitar. I hear vocals, distinct and clear. I hear bass lines any headphone would be proud to claim. I hear all of this on the S7-HD, and I love every moment of it.

Reader comments

BlackBerry Bluetooth headphone showdown


Kevin (aka Ryan Seacrest): We're down to the last four reviews for the featured accessory review round of CrackBerry Idol. Joseph impressed the judges with his audition video and app review. Let's see what they think this time around!

CrackBerry Idol Judges

Dieter: Great video, great review! You hit all the details just right without being overwhelming. The clever and informative way you step through the features in the video really helped show the different strengths of each headset.

Georgia: Holy hell, did you ever rock this video review Joseph! You did it all, editing, music, solid speaking voice, excellent production quality. The written review covered all the points with finesse as well. You are a force to be reckoned with in this competition, awesome job!

Craig: Joseph this was a great review. The video had high production value and was edited to be to the point. The video flow was good and you covered all aspects of a Bluetooth headset. Your written review was well written and very thorough. Great job!

I did not watch the video yet, as I'm on my phone and about to go to bed, but the written review was excellent! Great job covering a lot of material but not overwhelmingly!

That was by far the most informative review so far. You touched on nearly every aspect there is to take into consideration when purchasing a BT stereo headset. The only thing missing is how long the battery life of each headset was. I love how you did the audio comparison so the user could hear the difference and not just take your word on it. Using a visual to show how extreme the distance differences were was also very cool. Not to mention you did it all in under 5 minutes! Top notch written review as well. 9.5/10

I only read the review, not the video...

but what's with the LG not having a good bad? And the signal quality? By your account the S305 was better than the S7-HD, both in range and signal quality, but the S7-HD garnered higher marks?

Informative otherwise!

Great video man, I'll admit that I really haven't watched all the previous videos, only randoms ones here & there, glad I watched this one though. Again, great job.

I purchased the rokr about three months ago, and have since had to have it replaced twice. I'm not returning this one, even though it's acting up too. Sometimes it won't turn on, sometimes it won't turn off. Sometimes it will be on and connected, but no sound will come out. Three sets of the headphones, all have the exact same problems.

Kevin, use these headphones for a regular basis for two weeks, you'll see what I mean. Terrible shame, they really are great headphones.

This was a very good review, I have no questions about the headset devices, this is probably the best bluetooth headset review i have ever seen

Enjoyed the video, loved the written review. Excellent Job! I liked the scenes of the drawings on the ground to demonstate distance from the base and simulation to show us how the different headsets sound. I thought your written review was as good as any professional review I have seen. I liked how you broke it up into sections, how your placed your pictures as to be natural headers, I liked your bold face font and rating for each headset, and I appreciated your short paragraphs for each evaluation. Your review read well. Now, no evaluation is complete without a con. :-) So, let me share what I didn't like about your review.

Headsets are not strictly for music. I think your review in general and your chosen winner put emphasis on music only. What about listening to podcasts and audiobooks where you don't have deep bass and driving sounds to "feel" the music, the sound? You chose a winner that had a low rating in one of your key criteria for ranking the headsets. I think your review would have less bias had you chosen a headset that was great in both areas.. music and normal sound. But over all, you did an excellent job. I look forward to your next review.

Great job on the review, especially the video!

I do have to say though, since I've owned four different sets of BT headphones (two of which you reviewed), I was shocked to see you liked the S7's and especially the Backbeats as well as you did.

I do agree that the S7's have great sound quality, but I don't agree that the SRS WOW feature makes it better. I was horribly disturbed by the SRS feature as it muddied the sound and made it unnatural. TO me fake surround sound is a disgrace. I also don't like the cord on them as it sticks to my neck and pulls on the ear pieces whenever I turn my head. I look like a dork, but I solved that problem by wearing the cord under my chin instead. Also, the S7's have a hard time maintaining stereo connection if my phone is holstered on my belt. If I move the phone to my left side (the S7 antenna is on the left ear piece), things are better, but it still cuts out. Overall though, they are a nice set for using at work, just not for the walk/bus to work. Overall, I'd probably give them a 7.

The Backbeat, IMO, are just plain awful. The only redeeming quality they have is that they are good for working out/running, but the phone has to be strapped to your left arm in order for them to maintain signal. You can't even hold the phone in front of your face to watch a movie with these things or they cut in and out! Unacceptable! The sound quality is good as long as you don't turn the bass boost on. If you turn the bass boost on they distort so badly even at low volume that it is painful. With the bass boost off the bass is sufficient, but not impressive, even if you get them in that "sweet spot." And aside from taking a long time to find that spot, once you find it it only lasts about a minute because the Backbeats absolutely will not stay in any position you put them in. I also hate the controls on them. Having the track and volume in the same controls is a nightmare, especially when running. It's almost impossible to hold that tiny lever long enough to change tracks without completely stopping and concentrating on the track change. Overall I'd give these a fail at about a 4.

As for what I've liked the best so far?

The Samsung SBH-600's which are sadly no longer made had the best range of any of the sets I've had so far and the sound quality was exceptional. They are too large for exercising or the like, but great for bus rides and home use. I would have rated them at least a 9. Sadly I sold them in a moment of stupidity...

motorola S-9. I didn't realize just how good these were until I replaced them with the Backbeat after running the S-9's through the clothes washer (oops!). For an in the ear headphone the S-9's were unbelievably comfortable and had amazing sound quality. The biggest downer with them was the battery life. They were only good for 3 or 4 hours of play time. They also suffered a somewhat short range, but were acceptable. Definitely the king for working out and running. Should have bought them again instead of the Backbeats...ugh!

Thanks for all the comments, folks. They've made my day. I even appreciate the criticism. I've been worrying what the CrackBerry Nation would think. After watching this past week's reviews, I know it's not going to be easy deciding on who to vote for.

I do need to make a correction. The last headphone in the "bathroom" scene is mislabeled. It should have been labeled as the MOTOROKR S305. I truly apologize for making this error and will proof my work better in the future.

When I'm looking for a review, this is what I'm looking for. It is very thorough and easy to read. I was able to get a quick synopsis of the overall scores and then dive deeper where it mattered for me.

I'm lookin forward to your future reviews.

There where two things that where very distracting. The background music and the transitions scenes. The transitions is not a big deal, but the choice of background music made it hard for me to focus. Your voice is clear and easy to understand, I would not distract the viewer by overlaying music during your presentation, maybe play it in transitions.


Everything in this review is SPOT ON! They look great, sound AWESOME,controls are easy to use...just got them and charged for the 2 hrs. I haven't had a call them for a steal online at 35 dollars from TigerDirect...they fit great, light, stylish,comfortable..LOVE THEM..I see a long and happy relationship with these.