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Rocking out with stereo Bluetooth

Stereo Bluetooth headsets let you listen to your music without wires.

Now that the iPhone OS 3.0 firmware has added stereo Bluetooth functionality to the Apple iPhone, we thought it would be a good idea to revisit stereo Bluetooth and what it promises.

Motorola Rokr S9 HD with iPod adapter
Motorola Rokr S9 HD with iPod adapter Motorola

Stereo Bluetooth, or A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), is essentially a Bluetooth profile that lets you stream music from one device to another without the use of wires. The technology has been around for years, and almost all music phones have this feature. In fact, it was quite a big letdown that the original iPhone and iPhone 3G did not have this built in when they first launched, considering the iPhone's iPod heritage. Still, it's better late than never. The iPhone OS 3.0 update also brought stereo Bluetooth to the iPod Touch 2nd gen. If you have a music player instead of a phone, you can also purchase additional stereo Bluetooth adapters, like this Motorola D650 iPod adapter.

Stereo Bluetooth headphones come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some, like the Motorola Rokr S9 HD, are meant for active lifestyles, as it's shaped to hug the sides of the head. Others, like the Samsung SBH-600, are meant for serious audiophiles, especially with its promise of surround sound and bass boost. We also like the mono-to-stereo headsets, like the Plantronics Voyager 855, that can change from a mono headset to a stereo version simply by connecting an additional ear bud. One of the more popular stereo headsets among our readers is the Jabra BT3030, which isn't really even a headset so much as it is a pendant that you can use with any pair of 3.5mm-compatible headphones.

Samsung SBH-600 can be used without wires
Samsung SBH-600 lets you listen to your tunes wire-free Samsung

Most of these headsets have microphones, with the ability to both control the music player and handle phone calls. Sound quality differ from headset to headset, so be careful what you buy. For example, the Samsung SBH-600 is great for listening to music, but no so much for making calls--the outgoing call quality isn't so great.

A note about the music player controls: In order for you to manage your music player from the headset, your phone needs an additional Bluetooth profile called AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile). This lets you use your headset like a remote control so you'll be able to play and pause songs, fast-forward through tracks, adjust the volume, and so forth. This is one of the few failings of the iPhone OS 3.0 firmware--it has a very limited form of AVRCP. We could play/pause music and adjust the volume from the headset, but we were only able to change tracks with the iPhone itself.

We've reviewed several stereo Bluetooth headsets here at CNET, and have compiled a simple Best Portable Wireless Headphones list, as well as a shorter list of the most recent stereo headset reviews. If you wish to learn more about Bluetooth, here's a link to our Bluetooth Quick Guide feature. As always, if you have more questions about this, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me.