Aerielle AudioBug ABWAS-150 review: Aerielle AudioBug ABWAS-150

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1.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Cute, buglike transmitter.

The Bad Unstable reception; noisy signal even when reception is steady; muddy headphone sound quality; not usable with a PC or a stereo system; mismatched battery life between dongle and headphone.

The Bottom Line Due to their dependence on unreliable FM reception, the Aerielle ABWAS-150 wireless headphones are useless to anyone in an urban environment.

3.7 Overall

Aerielle AudioBug ABWAS-150 RF Wireless Audio System

With Bluetooth profile 1.2, wireless stereo headphones for use with MP3 players and cell phones that play music have suddenly become reliable, viable, and cost effective. Most important, Bluetooth is almost devoid of the local interference that plagues all previous wireless stereo technologies: 900MHz, 2.4GHz, FM, IR, and so forth.

For example, take the two-piece Aerielle AudioBug ABWAS-150 RF Wireless Audio System ($89.95). With the beetle-looking AudioBug AB-250 Mobile FM Transmitter dongle, Aerielle uses patented wireless technology to send high-fidelity stereo audio signals from virtually any audio device to the AudioBug FM-4100 Wireless Headphones within 15 feet.

Pretty cool idea, except it doesn't work--at least not in FM-flooded Manhattan. In fact, performance is so abysmal that we're prone to ponder the sanity of its creators. Rarely have we used a product that fails so miserably.

Like many FM-based RF audio systems, such as those used to transmit signals from your iPod to your car stereo, you have to set both the dongle and the headset to one of four FM frequencies: 88.1, 88.3, 88.5, or 88.7MHz. Out in the country, these frequencies may be relatively open, but getting a clear FM connection in the car in an urban area using an FM transmitter--such as the Aerielle-enabled Kensington Digital FM Transmitter ($79.99) designed for the iPod--is a challenge at best. These low FM bands are sure to be occupied, creating a level of interference that any FM transmitter would have trouble overcoming. While wandering around a big city, getting a steady, clear connection between a portable player and a headphone using FM transmission is nigh impossible.

At least the design of the Aerielle AudioBug isn't half bad. The headphones aren't as comfortable as a set of full-size Sony or Koss 'phones, but they're tolerable and fairly stylish. And the bug dongle is certainly cute--its blue LED "eyes" light up when the standard stereo minijack at the end of its foot-long "tail" is inserted into an audio device such as an iPod or a portable DVD player. But you'll hear mostly static or even the faint traces of a local FM station through the static when you turn on and put on the headphones. When we hit play on our iPod, we didn't get a clear stream, relatively speaking, until we moved the bug dongle around a bit. We did manage some clear reception--that is, until we started moving around. Then reception, loudness, static, and sound quality all seemed to change randomly and sometimes violently, with earsplitting suddenness. For every minute of solid, clean reception, we suffered through 10 minutes of varying combinations of volume spikes, static, and interference. And results were even worse on the street, where high-powered taxicab and dispatcher radios--juiced up to overcome local FM traffic regardless of frequency--created an even worse FM cacophony than inside.

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