The best small, portable, cheap bluetooth headphones


I’ve used the LG HBS-730 for a couple of years now. They have APT-X, neck microphone, volume play/pause skip forward and back, and call buttons, and my favorite is that they’re earbuds.
The buds snap magnetically onto a flexible neckband that has the hardware and buttons. They cost about $50-$60. The only downside is that eventually the joint where the wire enters the earbud wears out. But they’ve lasted much longer than $50 in equally high-end plugin earbuds would.

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Ah, after reading the review, I’ve come to understand this reviewer is very picky. No earbuds (half of all bt headsets), but also not cans (pretty much the other half). The earbuds are for people who want to drive or work hands free and take calls, the cans are for “audiophiles” who don’t want to risk “cabling distortion” even though they’re using the 2.4gHz spectrum which is jammed to the gills.


If you want a more comprehensive review, without the funny specificity of this one (no blinking lights?) then checked out 59 pairs.


Has Bluetooth audio ever managed to overcome its bandwidth and latency problems?

Sorta. There’s an apt-x codec that acts something like AAC-HEv2. It claims “CD quality audio” but really it’s somewhere around 32-48kbps coded with a lowpass around 10kHz, and the range from 10-20kHz is parametrically encoded as noise hints at an extra few kbps, so the upper end is sorta predicted from what the bottom half’s harmonic series+noise. I have pretty awful hearing, but I can tell that it sounds different than a full spectrum source. But on the other hand, it sounds a lot better than AM-radio.


It’s a tradeoff. Bluetooth standards limit the digital bandwidth you have available, so either you compress the audio a lot (causing latency) or limit the audio bandwidth (ok for mono voice, not so good for stereo music), or both. You could use a codec that trades off audio quality for latency.

I’ve given up on using Bluetooth headsets for telephony - I mainly used them in the car, but my current car radio has Bluetooth so it doesn’t need them, and current phones let you use wired stereo audio headsets both for music and for telephony, so I’ll generally use earbuds when I’m on the go and slightly better headsets when I’m at home or the office. Much simpler, doesn’t need battery charging, covers both ears, lower latency.

I do find the problem frustrating, though, because a headset talking to a modern smartphone would be an efficient way to do hearing aids cheaply; the main problems are comfort and getting two microphones, one for each ear. Bluetooth latency would be too high compared to wires.

I use a Nokia BH-214 little collar clip headset and Sony MDR-E0921 short cable earbuds(surprising good durability), supplied earbuds are crap, beware there are mostly good and crap fakes out there. Since it is a 3.5mm audio jack I can sort-of take calls(airplane noise requires yelling into the mic) in the air using my CEP modified David Clark headset or I can listen to music low with the aircraft radio turned up, if it works with 300ohm transducers you can use any headphones you like and it will be plenty loud. Nokia has newer models and Jabra makes a pretty good BT hands-free clip with 3.5mm audio too.

I must percieve time with below average granularity, as I’m almost never bugged by latency. I’ve had a friend dick around with the track sync with VLC on a few videos, just to test it out and have a blinded test, and I typically don’t start to notice the latency until it’s around 150ms out of sync, which seems to be about 100x more than normal. Maybe I have slow nerves? Slow brain? Or maybe I’ve got a big cache?

I wonder too, if it has implications for why I’m generally pretty clumsy…

That’s not a very high bar, there.

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Yea, I am probably panel 2.


The standard bluetooth hands-free profile is practically indistinguishable from AM-radio to me. The CSR APT-X codec, to me, sounds about the same quality as HE-AAC at 64kbps, perhaps a little better. And honestly, I need the mids and overblown high-end in order to make phone speech intelligible.

A2DP is pretty good quality, no?
(edit +wikipedia)

I used to use a Bluetooth earpiece for calls. Worked okish, but remembering to keep it charged was a pain. I was never satisfied with audio quality of Bluetooth for music (a few years back, which is the last time I looked). Once I got a set of IEMs that had a mic on the cable, I ditched the earpiece. One less thing I have to keep track of.

I’ve never had equipment that uses A2DP by iteslf, so I’ve never had a chance to test if it’s any good. First bt headset I bought had APT-X built in, which I can turn off on the phone, but that makes it drop down to the original hands-free profile. And I’m happy enough with whatever the APT-X codec is doing, so I’ve never looked into buying a bunch of different headsets, and instead just replaced the HBS-730 when it eventually broke.

Heh. Audiophiles do seem to go a bit overboard, but…I have tinnitus, and even I could tell the difference between a decent set of wired head/ear phones and a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

I had a problem for a while with my laptop switching to regular BT voice codec and it is AM radio compared to say CD or better A2DP IMHO, you caould really tell that the setting had flipped back to the default.
I use the BH-214 with a Nokia N900 and it is great for music and audio books, combined with Sony MDR-E0921 ear buds or my CEP DC headset is always loud enough for even my blown out ears.

I’m just a 25 year old survivor of the '00s rave scene. My ears are pretty badly blown out for my age, but I’ve never been picky about audio quality. Shoulda listened to my dad. He worked as an electrician for 30 years in heavy commercial construction, but he hears better than me, because he wore his earplugs, and didn’t fall asleep leaning against 2400 watt PA speakers.

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That’s called passing out, not falling asleep.

I personally prefer earbuds, because they’re better for working out, and I’ve tried a few BT options. The best have been the BT dongles like the BH-214 mentioned above. I splurged on some JayBirds but found the fit to be uncomfortable and that there was some kind of “sprong” noise when running with them. I’m waiting for a really well-reviewed pair of active noise-canceling buds before I purchase again. Until then I’m sticking with my incredibly outdated but reliable Jabra BT3030.

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One point of clarification: The True Audiophile probably wouldn’t accept, let alone buy based on, ‘watts’ without substantial further elaboration.

Aside from the fact that rated wattages on cheap gear are usually total lies (Oh, hey, the wall-wart is 12v, 1A, and one of the inefficient non-switchmode ones; but the ‘peak music power’ is allegedly 800 watts, that definitely works out…), virtually all gear has a range where it can, in fact, continue to emit sound without electrical fires and/or permanent damage; but the distortion is so egregious that you wouldn’t want to try it.

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