Editor's note: Crave's Eric Mack, a self-proclaimed Bluetooth addict and bargain hunter, rounds up some of his favorite low-cost wireless headsets and mobile speakers.
Bluetooth is everywhere these days, making my own addiction to wireless audio devices harder to control. The good news for people like me who love the freedom of cordless listening is that all that competition is bringing prices down. You can still spend a pretty penny on the latest and greatest in Bluetooth, but the truth is that more than ever, some less expensive products provide lots of value.
A prime example is the Phoenix 2 by Beacon Audio. This follow-up to the first successful Phoenix pumps out plenty of volume for its size via two 360-degree speakers and a subwoofer and adds a microphone that converts this little cube into a speakerphone. Ten hours of battery life adds to the convenience, and it retails for $79.99, almost half the price of Beacon's top-of-the-line speaker that adds NFC and the capability to pair with a second speaker for true stereo. That's cool, but the Phoenix 2 will suit most people's needs just fine.
The flashiest and fanciest Bluetooth headsets can still run you more than $100, and they'll treat you well, but you can get a very similar experience out of a middle-of-the-road earpiece like the lightweight Marque series from Plantronics.
When my Jawbone Era came to an untimely end on a patch of pavement, I replaced it for a fraction of the cost with the Marque. It lacks some of the funky gestures and bone conduction technology of the slick Jawbone, but on a daily basis, I hardly notice the difference. One knock against the Marque is that it comes up a little short in the noise cancellation department, but the Marque 2 improves upon its predecessor, and you can shell out a little more cash for the newer model and still spend less than you would on a fancier headset like the Jawbone.
I might be a different person today if I had some of these in college. Let's see if I remember my calculus: Cool mobile speakers = better social life = less time spent in computer labs = me writing for Gawker in 2013. Like I said, I'd be a different person, not a better one. (Kidding, Mr. Denton!)
Or I might have just rocked more Matchbox 20 in the computer lab and turned out the same. Either way, I'd definitely put one of these puppies at the top of my campus shopping list today. Its rubberized exterior feels tough and durable for the wild times, and sound quality is great for a $69.99 cube that can be easily tossed in a backpack. It even comes in clever college colors like "Husker Red," "Notre Dame Navy" and my personal favorite: "Tiger Yellow." I'll let you guess what kind of tiger I am (hint: our football team is currently undefeated as I write this).
Much like the Bluetooth mobile speaker craze that seems to be under way right now, a few years ago every company with a toe in the Bluetooth pool seemed to come out with a set of in-ear Bluetooth stereo earphones for active use. The Jaybird Freedom earbuds, Jabra Sport stereo headset, and Motorola S10-HD are among the more popular models that are still around. It seems these products must not have taken off like the manufacturers hoped, because new versions don't seem to be forthcoming.
This is good news for bargain hunters, as many of the above models are now available at deep discounts from Amazon and elsewhere. I had a set by a company called xStream (essentially a $30 knockoff of the Motorola S10-HD) that performed fine for a few years in the dry western climate here. If you exercise in humid environments, you'll want to go with something like the Jabra or Jaybirds.
I owned a Jabra Extreme before "upgrading" to a three-figure top-of-the-line headset to see what I was missing. The answer turned out to be that I wasn't missing much outside of a few gimmicky features that I didn't need. The latest iteration, the Jabra Extreme 2, matches most of the important features on the more expensive headsets currently available and does it for $79.99 or less.
This is perhaps the toughest Bluetooth device I've ever had my hands on -- and that's saying a lot since I've run over both a Jawbone and a Jabra headset with my truck and then dug them out of the dirt, stuck them back in my ear, and found that the Katy Perry tunes pouring forth from them hadn't missed a beat.
The bike-handlebar-shaped Buckshot also comes with a handlebar mount so you can jam out while hitting the trail on your mountain bike. It's also water resistant and shockproof, should you fail to use that handlebar mount properly. I haven't really found a bike trail near my home where the notion of blasting pop tunes doesn't seem totally obnoxious, but the added speakerphone kind of makes sense if you really need to take a business call while ripping up some single track.
The best feature here though again is the price -- it can easily be found for less than $50, a steal for this kind of ruggedized gear.