Tuesday, 01 December 2009, 20:19:48 EST

Is four months long enough to go without an update? Seems so.

When I started my new job at CSU I made it a point to re-join the gym on campus. Not long afterward I learned about stereo Bluetooth headphones and upcoming support for them in iPhone OS 3.0. I've never particularly cared for using wired headphones in the gym, so I decided to give some Bluetooth ones a try. I did a bit of research and settled on the Motorola ROKR S9-HD headphones. I have been using these headphones for about four months, and feel comfortable writing a review of them now.

When I first got the headphones I let them charge and then noted my initial impressions. Copied verbatim, these are my initial impressions:

  1. Light weight

  2. Surprisingly comfortable

  3. Medium ear bud covers are most comfortable for me

  4. Large and medium covers have an extra bit of rubber that makes noise when the headset jostles

  5. High notes have a warped tin-like sound (e.g. the hi-hats in Don't Damn Me by Guns N' Roses)

  6. SRS WOW is muddy and distorted on most rock music (e.g. Guns N' Roses)

  7. SRS WOW off sounds good with rock music and classical

  8. SRS WOW on sounds pretty good with techno (hardcore, jungle, DnB)

  9. Breakdown by Tom Petty sounds good with it either on or off

  10. Overall, SRS WOW is a waste of time

Based on my initial impressions, the headphones seem rather poor, right? Well, that depends on how you intend to use them. But I'll get back to that.

Points (1), (2), and (3) are really the only postive points in my initial impressions. When making my decision to buy the headphones I thought they would be heavy and tight. I can barely tell they are on my head when I'm using them. They remain mostly stationary, even when running on a treadmill or doing jumping jacks. The headphones come with three rubber ear piece covers: small, medium, and large. The large cover is attached by default. It is definitely nice to have the ability to choose the most comfortable cover.

The sound of the headphones is generally okay. I definitely wouldn't use them over my MDR-V700DJs for casual listenting. Or even the MDR-NC7s I use at work. But for working out in the gym, the S9-HDs work quite well. The SRS WOW feature tends to make the bass overpower the rest of the music. Which is disappointing, because the feature is on by default. So every time you turn the headset off, the SRS WOW feature will be enabled the next time you turn the headset on again. Thankfully it is simple to turn SRS WOW off; just press and hold the "next track" button for a few seconds. You will be able to tell when you have held the button long enough. SRS WOW modifies the sound of the music significantly. About the only time I can really recommend using SRS WOW is as I mentioned in (8). Still, it doesn't sound good with a lot of songs.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm using this headset with an iPhone; an iPhone 3G to be exact. There are some caveats with this combination. For some reason, the Bluetooth implementation on the iPhone does not support the track forward and track backward buttons. So if you want to skip around in your playlist, you will have to do so via the phone's interface. But the phone does support volume up/down, play/pause, and phone call answer/hang up. So the most vital functions are present.

Speaking of phone calls, the headset actually performs quite well at handling them. I have received a couple of calls while in the gym, and each of them has gone smoothly. The person on the other end didn't complain about being unable to hear me, and their voice was very clear in my ears. This feature is a big plus for the headset.

One big point of concern is the environment in which the headset is used. When I first got them, I would put them on to listen to music while walking from my truck to the gym. With my phone in my pant pocket, the audio would skip (basically exactly like a scratched CD) constantly. If I held my phone in my hand, and didn't move the phone much, the skipping would not be quite as bad. If I put my phone in a shirt pocket, the skipping would virtually disappear. From what I have read, this is a direct result of not being indoors. The manual for the headset suggests getting an armband for your music device if you are going to be using it outside. I think that would work well, provided you put the band on your upper arm, and don't move it much.

Indoors, the headset works very well. And I keep the phone in my pocket except for when I'm on a treadmill or elliptical. The only time I get any skipping is when I try to do other things with my phone. For example, using the notes application to write down workout information will cause some skipping. If the phone is simply playing music, with the screen locked, it will be fine. Most of the time. There are times that the audio will skip if I have Wi-Fi enabled on my phone, even if I am not using it. I believe this will improve with newer versions of iPhone OS, and newer versions of the phone. In fact, the iPhone 3GS probably doesn't have as many skipping issues when indoors. But I don't have one of those for testing.

Finally, a short note about battery life. I spend about forty-five minutes in the gym with the headset powered on. I can go to the gym four, maybe five, times before having to recharge the built-in battery. I tried to get a sixth session out of the headset once, and the battery died about ten minutes before I was done exercising.

In conclusion, if you are in the market for wireless Bluetooth headphones to use in the gym, the Motorola ROKR S9-HDs will get the job done. They work very well in an indoor environment. If you want something that will work outside, then you are better off using wired headphones.