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Small, Portable, Inexpensive Bluetooth Headphones Review

Last updated on October 18, 2014.

I started looking at Bluetooth headphones after the Apple Watch was announced, since I think they’re probably the future and wanted to know what was out there. But once I started using them, I was surprised how much I liked them.

My criteria for inclusion in this review:

Very few models met these criteria. After some research, I ended up with the Sennheiser PX 210 BT, Jabra REVO Wireless, Sony MDR-10RBT, and Creative HITZ WP380.

Left to right: wired PX 200-II i (for scale), PX 210 BT, REVO Wireless, MDR-10RBT, wired Bose QC-25 (for scale). Creative HITZ WP380 not pictured since it was added later.

The same headphones, folded to their smallest sizes.

Small portable headphones always bring major compromises, usually in sound quality and long-wearing comfort, to achieve what’s most important for practical portable use. This class of headphone should be as small as possible, closed, and inexpensive — sound quality is far less relevant than physical characteristics.

And that’s good, because their sound quality spans a narrow range from “simply awful” (Sennheiser) to “slightly less awful but with far too much bass” (Sony, Jabra). Older Bluetooth headphones could blame the very lossy, low-complexity, low-bitrate Bluetooth audio codecs for their terrible sound, but modern Bluetooth codecs can sound much better. However, none of these sounded distinguishably different in wired mode — the cheap, small drivers are the limiting factor, not Bluetooth.1

Fortunately, while all of these suck for music, I mostly use portable headphones for podcasts, and they’re all good enough for that. From most to least expensive:

Sony MDR-10RBT ($189):

I find myself using the MDR-10RBT when I plan to wear them for a long time for their comfort, but only if it’s cold outside, since the earpads get so sweaty. Still, the boomy resonant steps while walking are annoying, and the overpowering bass is distracting. I can’t recommend it.

Jabra REVO Wireless ($170):

I wanted to like these as much as The Wirecutter did, but the touch controls are truly infuriating. I’m always swinging the volume too far when trying to make a small adjustment, accidentally adjusting the volume when I mean to skip forward, or accidentally invoking a control when I’m simply feeling for where they are. Touch controls should always be visible and reliable, and these are neither. They make the REVO too frustrating to ever use, and I definitely can’t recommend it.

Sennheiser PX 210 BT ($96):

When I first got these, the tight headband and blinking blue LED almost made me return them. But after the headband loosened up and I disabled the LED, I started taking them on walks far more often than the others due to their small size and better controls. The frequent dropout blips are pretty annoying, though.

Creative HITZ WP380 ($80):

I can’t recommend these for anyone. They’re simply too uncomfortable, and the substantial audio and control delay is too annoying.

Ultimately, if you’re going to get one of these, the only one I can recommend is the Sennheiser PX 210 BT. The caveats are substantial — they sound bad, and the reception dropouts are annoying — but I’ve found that I simply love walking and listening to podcasts with wireless headphones so much that I’m willing to overlook those major downsides.

Going back to wired headphones during my dog walks seems clunky and antiquated now. Bluetooth improves overall convenience much more than I expected. I just hope better models come out soon.

  1. For reference: the PX 210 BT sounds similar to the wired PX 200-II i and AKG K451, and all of these sound much worse than almost every headphone in my larger-wired-headphones review. But they’re also bigger, more expensive, and not wireless. ↩︎

  2. From the manual, page 13: from a powered-off state, hold the center button until the LED flashes blue and red, then press the volume-down button. ↩︎