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.
But even if this system worked relatively flawlessly, there are still problems. The bug is powered by the often elusive CR2 photo battery, which delivers 40 hours of transmission, while the headphones get only 20 hours from a pair of AAA batteries. Combined with the power concerns of your portable playback device, you now have three different sets of batteries to maintain. And there isn't a rechargeable option for either the bug or the headphones.
Suddenly, that silly wire connecting your headphones or earphones to your iPod doesn't seem so inconvenient.
The Aerielle AudioBug is even more useless with a home stereo system for silent TV watching or music listening, or with a PC--local interference from these components results in nothing but static, severely limiting the functionality of this system. But even if the AudioBug could be used with a stationary stereo system, its 15-foot range is almost a joke. Wireless Bluetooth headphones, such as the Logitech Wireless Headphones ($149.99), deliver wireless sound up to 30 feet away.