Hauppauge's XFones PC-2400 rock in the 2.4GHz spectrum range, but they're not Bluetooth. Funny, since that's the same frequency Bluetooth uses. No, the XFones have nothing to do with the 'tooth standard. Instead, they operate alongside using their own proprietary USB dongle.
This poses positive and negative points, which we'll discuss shortly. What it means for most people, though, is that these are simple plug-and-play wireless cans, modestly aimed at movie fans who can't peel themselves away from a laptop or PC. For £80, that's a promising offer. Time to get plugging and playing, we think.
Break through the unanimously hated blister packaging and you'll find a pair of attractive sturdy and fairly weighty headphones. There's an extremely comfortable head support to help you snag a snug fit, and well-padded earcups are soft without applying too much pressure to the head. It's very comfortable to watch a whole movie (Twister, in our first test) without getting sweaty ears.
The 'phones themselves contain a pair of 40mm drivers, powered by three AAA-size batteries that sit inside one of the cups. That's good news then if you're using these on-the-go and need to give them more juice.
Once you've 'plugged', you're ready to 'play'. There's no software to install on Windows XP and the 'phones are already paired with the transmission dongle. What you will have to do is install the CyberLink PowerDVD software that comes bundled. Though not because Hauppauge thinks you'll need DVD software, but because the pseudo-surround sound experience you'll want to enjoy -- Dolby Headphone -- is handled by PC software, not the headphones themselves, and as such can be used with any headphone model -- wired or wireless -- that are plugged into your PC.
But the PC-2400s are pitched simply as wireless RF headphones, not super-deluxe, mega-awesome, movies-only headphones, so don't think for a second Hauppauge is trying to pull a fast one. That said, it has certainly produced a fast transmission, bandwidth-wise, anyway. The dongle-to-headphone datarate goes up to 6Mbps, which is considerably larger than Bluetooth's sub-1Mbps datarate -- that means these should sound better than if they used Bluetooth -- and you should be able to move 10m away from your computer before you lose reception.
An issue of note here: despite operating on a Bluetooth frequency, you can't use these headphones with a Bluetooth transmitter, such as the one in your MP3 player, mobile phone or laptop. You have to use the supplied USB dongle. Annoying? A little. Necessary? Probably. But you can set the dongle to simultaneously transmit to numerous pairs of XFones, should you want to.
Perhaps all this 'I'm-not-being-friends-with-Bluetooth' nonsense makes a little sense, as true plug-and-play functionality without any pairing meant we were up and running within seconds. Thanks to its decent bandwidth, it also means there's no additional audio compression happening between PC and headphones, and pumping some lossless audio into the wireless cans gave pretty decent results for a sub-£100 pair.
But the real fun started when we fired up PowerDVD and switched on Dolby Headphone. The difference it makes is extraordinary, and turns the convention 'in-head' stereo image into a wholly 'out-of-head' experience, with very realistic pseudo-surround performance. The XFones performed well with Dolby Headphone, and as wireless headphones go, they're certainly capable of producing a realistic movie experience. Music sounded fine as well, with good bass and decent enough overall tone.
On occasion, we noticed significant interference from other Bluetooth devices, and again once when hooked them up to a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop. But this was remedied by easily changing the broadcast channel on the USB dongle, so it was never a major issue. Reception was generally good, too, and the 10m range of transmission seemed accurate, as we didn't notice any major drops in signal quality until a significant distance from the PC.
If you're using a Mac, you'll get the headphones to work, but the included software will not. This means you won't get the pseudo-surround sound experience from Dolby Headphone. Sadly, this is really a PC-lover's package for the most part.
With generally decent sound quality, a comfortable build and a good price point, Hauppauge's XFones PC-2400 are a sound choice.
Do bear in mind though that the virtual surround sound processing is handled solely by software available from any good retailer. If you've already got a good pair of cans and just want an amazing headphone movie experience, you needn't pay this much. But as a complete package, we're impressed.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday