25 January 2008

REVIEW: Insignia Bluetooth Stereo Headphones

While I typically don't like to post consumer product reviews on our corporate blog, this one is different... really.

As a developer, I have fallen prey to what appears to be a stereotypical developer behavior -- listening to music while coding.   Whether it's a behavior picked up through "peer pressure" or my own personal inability to focus without some sort of constant noise to block out my surroundings, I don't know.  However, listening to music has become critical.

In addition to my music listening, I have also begun to extensively use Skype.  Over the last two years, Skype has become an indispensable tool for all Consejo consultants to communicate with each other and our clients -- whether through VOiP, IM or file transfers; Skype just works. 

As a result of all of these uses of audio with my laptop, I began searching for a decent set of stereo headphones that had an integrated microphone.   For me, I was specifically looking for something that had the following characteristics:

  • Stereo headphones that produced good quality sound
  • Integrated microphone that could be used with Skype or other audio recording tools
  • Wirelessly attached -- I've tried wired headphones and they're just inconvenient
  • Long battery run-time -- I looked for something that had more than a continuous 8 hour run-time (tough to find)
  • Rechargeable via a USB cable
  • Rechargeable via AC cord
  • Reasonably priced.  For me, this meant under $100.

Although I found a number of candidates, most had short runtimes, were too bulky to fit in my laptop case (since I travel extensively, this was also key) or were too expensive.  Ultimately, I found the Insignia brand Bluetooth-attached headphones at Best Buy.  At $49.99 and a 10 hour run-time, they fit the bill.


Figure 1 - Insignia Bluetooth Headphones (model: NS-BTHDP)

I have been using these headphones for about three months now.  In that time, I've never run the battery totally down.  In addition, they can pair with more than one Bluetooth device (e.g. my computer and my cell phone), making it possible to listen to music and, when a call comes in to my cell phone, switch to that device and then switch back when the call has completed.  

Beyond all of this, here's what I really liked about these headphones:

Advantages

  • Decent run-time. 
    My experience is that they easily last a full eight hours of continuous use, but will likely last longer.  In addition, should the batteries start to run down, you can have the headphones simultaneously connected to a USB port and continue to list simultaneously.  The cord defeats the wireless nature of the unit, but at least you can keep using them while they recharge.
  • Multiple Device Pairing
    The headphones can pair with more than one device.  I'll typically pair the headphones with my cell phone and my computer.  This allows me to take calls on my mobile phone and listen to music without having to switch listening devices.  It may seem trivial, but given the number of calls I get throughout the day and the fact that when I'm not talking on the phone, I'm usually using my laptop, switching between headsets is really inconvenient!  One other advantage is that the A/V control profile on my laptop will pause Windows Media player when a call comes in and resume music play once I disconnect the call.  As a side note, my cell phone is a Samsung BlackJack, I've also used the headphones to listen to music on that device as well; it works very well.
  • Controls on the headset
    The headphones have audio control controls right on the headset.  Volume, connect/disconnect, play/pause, track selections and power are all conveniently located on the right headphone.  It took a bit to get used to the location of the controls, but once my muscle memory kicked in, I was able to control both my phone and my laptop without too much trouble.
  • Range
    I have been very impressed with the range.  Bluetooth is supposed to be good for up to 33 ft and I have, on many occasions, used all of that range plus some.  Whether this is a consequence of my laptop's ability to transmit or the headphone's ability to receive I don't know.  In fact, (for better or worse) it seems that the connection is either there or not; there's no graceful degradation in sound quality as I move away from my laptop  -- when you get too far away, the sound stutters and then ends.  I regularly use the headphones on my laptop in the basement of my home (where my home office resides) and walk up to the first floor without an interruption in sound.
  • Price
    At $49.99, the headphones are a real bargain.  I had originally thought about buying the Motorola Rokr stereo Bluetooth headset at $99, but with only a six hour run-time, I didn't think they'd fit my work schedule.
  • Comfortable and Light
    The headphones are only 2.8 ozs and are very comfortable to wear for long periods.  I've not had a huge success in wearing most headphones for long periods -- most  are either too tight or too loose and become very uncomfortable after two to three hours.  I've worn these for four hours or more without a problem.  That said, everything eventually becomes uncomfortable and I'm often glad when I can take them off.

Disadvantages

  • Microphone Sound Quality
    The microphone in the headphones is built in to the right ear piece.  There's no boom and it seems like it picks up more than its share of the surroundings background noise.  It does work reasonable well, but it's not as good as a dedicated wireless headset.
  • Profile Madness
    Whether it's a consequence of my laptop's Toshiba Bluetooth module, the driver or simply "the way things work," I can't use the headphones as headphones with a mic on my laptop.  In order to use the mic on my laptop, I needed to create two profiles -- one for dedicated headphones (no mic) and one as a headset (with a mic).  I would probably be content to listen music in "headset" mode, except the sound quality takes a dive in this mode (sound quality is noticeably fuzzy).  For this reason, I tend to use the headphones paired with my mobile phone for conversations and my laptop for music, unless I'm going to use Skype extensively.
  • No Convenient Carrying Case
    As I mentioned earlier, I travel a great deal.  As a result, I rely on my laptop case to contain all of the equipment and supplies I need to haul around from client to client.  As it is, my case weighs in at around 25 lbs (with all of my gear).  It's become quite packed and space is at a premium.  In addition, because of the amount of stuff, everything is packed tight and when the bag is tossed (thrown into a rental car seat or shoved under an airline chair), items inside the bag are crunched.  For these reasons, I wanted to protect my investment by buying something that would keep them safe while occupying minimal space in my laptop bag.  Unfortunately, a quick search around the Best Buy did not yield a suitable option.  In fact, Best Buy does not sell any sort of case for them at all.  After looking for about 20 minutes, trying everything from a CD case to a camera case, I couldn't find a good solution.  As a result, I've been carrying them around, precariously floating around the inside of my bag.  So far, nothing has broken, but we'll have to see after a year...
  • Difficult pairing with a iMAC
    I happen to have both iMAC (PPC not Intel-based) and Windows machines in my office.  The MAC is primarily used for testing, but I do have Skype and some other common services (like e-mail) configured on the machine.  I've had difficulty pairing the headphones with the MAC and have not had success (once paired) getting them to work.  Looking through some discussion boards leads me to believe I'm not the only one.  However, I'm not committed enough to spend time trying to fix the problem. 

So, in short, if you're looking for a pair of decent, reasonably priced, wireless headphones, you should consider the Insignia NS-BTHDP.   If you have them, I'd love to hear your feedback as well.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just picked up one of these, and wish I'd read a few more reviews first. Your review is spot on - unfortunately for me, the poor microphone quality is a show-stopper. These'll be heading back to Best Buy tomorrow. I'd rather use a corded headset and be heard clearly.

Tim_Fred_007 said...

I have used both NS-BTHDP which doesn’t include the dongle\transceiver\radio as I already own one, and the NS-BTHDST which includes the dongle for my girlfriend. Both headphones work fine with the dongle that came with it. But I also have 2 other transceivers, everything is paired but my Logitech f-0414ad does not seem to like it at all. it turns blue very briefly when it goes to transmit my music and the headphones beep saying that they are connected successfully followed by an immediate disconnect and reconnect (this repeats until the device is unplugged) now I also have a Logitech C-UV35 dongle that connects using the bluesoleil stack installed on windows XP Sp2. Everything in question uses a2dp, avcrp, and are 1.2 standard and have a security key of 0000. The C-UV35 plays audio but is delayed and pauses repeatedly even though the media player was never paused. When I do pause the player the music continues to play, it seems to be playing audio from some buffer and it still skips/pauses… some buffer. With bluesoleil the data sent and received can be viewed, after I pause the player and the music stops data is still being sent to the device without anything being heard, then the data stops after about 1 second of inactivity. My slvr l7 works perfect with the headset although using only the hfs profile. In anyone has complete documentation (not the manuals that come with the devices, as they don’t contain what I require) I may just have to talk to the dev team of these devices… that is if I can find out how to talk to them :) *hint hint* :)

Inqoinf said...

I can't seem to get the microphone working for any applications. Do you happen to run this with Vista and one Ventrilo or maybe have a tip or two for me. Not looking for extensive tech support. No one seems to really use this as their main mic on the pc so i've not found much to help me out. I did e-mail Insignia but have yet to get a reply.

Shawn said...

I have gotten the headphones to successfully work on my Dell laptop using Vista SP1 (no additional driver installation necessary). It appears that, unlike XP, Vista automatically creates several profiles for the headphones, but does not automatically select the device when they're connected. I had to explicitly choose the headphones once I had "connected" via bluetooth. Then, I had to choose the appropriate profile that included headset w/mic support. That seemed to do the trick. I hope this helps.

Inqoinf said...

Thanks, I appreciate the info. I wound up taking them back because I finally figured out exactly that. Every time I wanted to do something I had to change profiles. I hope its not this way with every wireless/bluetooth headset. I found a logitech headset that is due out soon, i'm hopeful about it. I did like the Insignia because, in theory, it would have worked with my phone and pc... win some lose some. Appreciate the feed back though.

Hooligan said...

Need help...my NS-BTHDP has a constant blue light on for some reason. it doesnt turn off and neither does it go into pairing mode (red..blue..red..blue)

i even tried to charge it and see if it made any difference but in vain.

anybody know what could be done.

Shawn said...

Hooligan:

I've had this happen once. The way I corrected the situation is to press and hold the play/pause/phone pickup button on the right ear. This is normally how you turn off the device and you'll have to hold it WAY longer than normal. Eventually, the headphones will power down. Wait 10 seconds and power them back up.

Anonymous said...

Need help!
I just bought this NS-BTHDST headset. I got it working with skype, but I can't seem to listen to music or video on my pc(running XP). Can anybody help me out?
Thanks for any help!!

Shawn said...

Anonymous:

On XP I had to create two bluetooth profiles for the headphones -- one that acted as a "headset" and one that acted like "headphones." The difference is the sound quality and the ability to use the mic (the headset setting didn't sound very good, but I could use the mic).

In order to listen to music, I had to connect using the headphone profile. To use Skype, I had to disconnect the headphone profile and connect with the headset profile.

The other element is what device your laptop is using for sound. On my laptop, the default sound device was my onboard sound card. To listen using headphones, I had to change the default sound device to the bluetooth device that shows up when the headphones are connected. On Vista I have to do this constantly, but on XP, the OS seemed to figure out that when the headphones are disconnected it should use the onboard sound card.

I hope this helps.

Sarah said...

I have a new computer and I can NOT get the NS-BTHDST to connect or play ANYTHING on my laptop. Does anyone know what's wrong?

Shawn said...

Sarah:

I would check a few things...

1) Make sure the headset device is showing up in the list of available AND connected devices; you can usually do this by going to your Control Panel and double clicking on the bluetooth symbol. If the device isn't there, that's your problem.

2) If the device is there, but you're still not hearing any sound, make sure the device is being used by Windows as a sound device; by default, Windows will pick the onboard sound card. You may need to explicitly select your headset.

I hope that helps.

Shawn

Dingo said...

I bought the headset yesterday at BestBuy. This morning after charging all night, I turned it on now the blue light stays on solid and will not turn off or pair with my Samsung Beat. Held the multifunction button for 5 minutes, will not power down. back to BestBuy......

Anonymous said...

Sarah,

Are you sure your computer has built-in Bluetooth capability?

Anonymous said...

I also havee a NS-BTHDST which was quite easy to install and make run on my laptop with Windows XP. However, with the new computer, Vista Home, 64 bit, I simply cannot make it work. I have looked for any special driver on the internet and could not find.
Checking with Driver Protective, it shows I have the updated driver. However, cannot make it worked. It is connected but the sound always comes out from the computer speakers, not trouhg the headsets. Does anybody nows what shall I do to correct this problem?
DAf

Anonymous said...

I had the blue light "stick on" while connected to my T-Mobile G1 and I could not get it to turn of for anything! Even plugging it in to charge would show BOTH red and BLUE lights! I finally took it apart (4 screws under RH ear cover and 1 on main PCB and UN-SOLDER the red B+ battery wire from the PCB and re-solder back. Sort of like hard booting a computer. Worked fine after that. I guess I could have waited till the battery ran down, but it had me kinda PO'ed! The "need to know NOW factor" kicked in! รถ

Anonymous said...

to reset the ns-bthdst headphones without taking it apart, plug it into the charger and press the volumes + and - at the same time. This will reboot the headphones. I use to have to let the batteries drain to reset the solid blue light.
hope this helps

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