Sitting in front of us are seven different over-the-ear headsets from seven manufacturers that want us to believe their product is "unique." Unfortunately, nothing is "unique," although each of these sonic boomers has a feature or two that sets them apart from the others.
All of the headsets included in this batch feature a heavy, booming bass, which seems to be a trend to attract those of us that prefer overpowering bass lines to "enhance" our musical enjoyment. Also, most of them feature built-in microphones and wireless connectivity (mostly Bluetooth) so we can answer phone calls while playing games, exercising or listening to our favorite tunes. So what makes them different?
The Polk 4-Shot ($159.95) is a headset that was designed to be used with the Microsoft Xbox One gaming system, but it can also connect to your smartphone or tablet. The headset connects to the gaming system's wireless controller via a cable and an adapter, so it's really not "wireless" in the truest sense of the word. It also attaches to mobile devices using a stereo headset cable. What makes the Polks different is the microphone, which retracts into one of the ear cups to keep it out of the way when you don't need it to chat with other gamers or take phone calls.
The new Beats by Dr. Dre Solo 2 ($199.95) was, by far, the most comfortable headset we used. These also need a cable to connect to your phone or tablet and are Apple-centric, meaning many of the features built into the audio cable (the ability to take calls, change tracks and control volume) will only work with devices made by Apple. Of course, the fact that Beats by Dr. Dre was recently purchased by Apple could explain this phenomenon. This, for us, limited their usability, but had no impact on their ability to deliver great sound - - - except for that ever-present booming bass line.
JBL's Synchros E50BT headphones ($149.95) provide wireless connectivity via Bluetooth technology, but that's not what makes them "different." This is the only headset we played with that can "share" what you're listening to with a second headset using what JBL calls ShareMe technology. Of course the other headset also has to be equipped with ShareMe to work. Also, the microphone is inserted in one of the ear cups, eliminating the need for an audio cable. JBL says the headset's built-in battery can deliver 18 hours of play time without a charge. This may be a bit of an exaggeration (most boasts of this type are), but even if it delivers 12 to 15 hours on a single charge, it beats most of its competitors.
Soul Electronics' Combat+ headphones ($199) feature interchangeable ear pads and are "sweat resistant" for those of us that exercise while listening to music. The headset also comes with a Kevlar audio cable with a built-in microphone that allows you to answer phone calls and control the volume. Like the Beats, these controls tend to work better with an Apple mobile device. It will work with Android devices and PCs, but without the optional Apple apps.
The Ear Force i30 from Turtle Beach ($299.95) is another Apple-centric device (hence the "i" in its name), but we discovered that it will also work with Android phones and tablets. This is one of the few new headsets that offers noise cancelling technology and built-in dual microphones. It also gives you the option of connecting to your devices using Bluetooth or a cable. As with the other Apple-centric headsets, some of the features (more specifically those controlled by Apple apps) aren't compatible with Android devices or PCs, but the basic functions (volume control, bass and treble settings, etc.) worked fine with our Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone. Also all of the buttons to control these features are built into one of the ear cups.
Motorola's SOL Republic Tracks Air headphones ($199.99) were the only ones that offered Bluetooth and NFC wireless connectivity with all of the controls for volume, to answer calls, etc. built into the right ear cup. The manufacturers boast a wireless range of 150 feet and 15 hours of play on a single charge, which, again we take with a grain of salt. But what really made us fans of the headphones is their ability to connect to two devices at the same time - - - one Bluetooth enabled and the other via NFC. This allows you to, for example, watch a movie on a tablet and still be able to answer your phone using the headset.
Last, but not least, are the Flips Audio HD Headphones ($120). These are the only headphones we tested that can be "flipped" to face outward and be used as speakers. The lack of wireless connectivity puts them at a disadvantage when compared to other headsets, but their relatively low price and their ability to "flip" will make them attractive to those of us that just want to enjoy good music without the frills.
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