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Last month I kicked off this series devoted to personal stereo and music on the go with a review of the Sony DR-BT21G Bluetooth wireless headphones. These headphones use earcups with miniature fabric-covered speakers that play into the ear without being actually inserted in the ear canal. This month we have Motorola earphones with earbuds that insert into the ear canal. There are advantages to each type of sound delivery. Since they’re less invasive, headphones are likely to be more comfortable, though that’s not always the case. Earphones, properly seated and sealed, can block out noise in the wearer’s surroundings, allowing music to be predominant over extraneous sounds. Earphones also call less attention to themselves in a fashion sense, should that be of any concern. I’ve found that headphones can be quite a bit warmer than earphones over a long period of time, which is why I have lately been leaning toward the latter. Whichever type you choose, I must emphasize my conclusions from last month: Bluetooth and wireless are the only way to go for those pursuing sports or other vigorous activities who want to take music with them. It’s appalling that so few manufacturers have realized this, so sets like the Motorola are very welcome.
The Motorola S10-HD earphones ($79.95 USD) come attractively packaged in a compact plastic box 5.25" by 5" by 2.25" high. The earphones themselves are easy to see through the clear plastic top, while accessories are out of sight under the white plastic bottom. These accessories are a cord and transformer for charging the earphones, an instruction booklet, and four different-sized sets of ear cushions. The instruction book is unusual in that it’s only 2.5" by 3" and quite thick, as it’s presented in English, Spanish, and French, with large sections of legal facts and warnings in all three languages.
Unboxed, the ‘phones are 5" by 5.5" by 1.75" and weigh a scant 1.6 ounces. The unusual one-piece design is made of some sort of memory plastic and has been mixed with a substance more like rubber. There’s a status light and a power/pairing button in the neck band; the other controls are placed on the arms in the inch above the actual earbud. Volume up and down and phone buttons are on the left arm, and the play/pause and skip forward/skip back controls are on the right. The neckband also contains a light that indicates the current function of the earphones, and pulling aside a small flap will reveal a USB port for charging.
Use and observations
At first glance, the pincher-like design of the S10-HD seems like it might be totally uncomfortable, but it’s a really clever design. The plastic stretches so that the buds are in your ears without danger of popping out, but once you have them on, the plastic relaxes so the fit is snug but comfortable. I’m sure this won’t be the case with every head size -- it’s impossible to design a one-size-fits-all unit -- but I think this one will fit most. I also found it easy to charge the unit using the provided cord. Motorola claims eight hours of play time, nine hours of talk time, and ten days of standby time. I still put all my chargeable units on the Idapt dock before going to bed, but I forgot one night and the earphones still had plenty of power, so I’d judge Motorola’s estimates to be accurate.
Pairing was simple. I just pressed the power button, waited for the proper light configuration, then turned on the Sony transmitter I plug into my iPod Nano to enable Bluetooth, and away I go. I found reception to be very good, maxing out at about 30’, though position of the transmitter seemed to be somewhat critical. You need a good sight line between your transmitter and the S10-HD. I was happy with the behind-the-head design -- the neck band stood out from my neck an inch or so but didn’t restrict my exercising on benches that had a head rest. Since the one-piece unit has strong build quality, I could put it in my gym bag without a case (none is provided) and feel safe about it.
As far as sound goes, I had to experiment quite a bit. As mentioned, there are different sizes of ear cushions provided with the S10-HD, and that’s not just for comfort. The sound, bass in particular, is altered considerably depending on which cushions you choose. Once I found the right ones, the sound was very good, with plenty of well-focused bass and a good, clear midrange. If the unit has a fault, it’s in the reproduction of upper frequencies, which can be mushy and ill defined. One set of cushions I tried corrected the highs to a great extent, but I heard little bass with them in place and I had to go back to the ones that gave me tight bass. It’s possible that getting the sound you want will take a bit of compromise. Once I was adjusted, I got punchy bass on the J. Geils Band’s “Come Back,” along with a clean midrange and rolled-off highs. I wouldn’t want to listen at home like that, but for the gym it was quite good, certainly for a moderately priced unit. One thing I should mention is that these earphones have been designed to be sweat proof by using special silicone seals and hydrophobic mesh. Nothing ever got in the way of the music.
There are a few things I didn’t like about the S10-HD unit. For one, the volume is going to be limited with many transmitters; only the volume controls on the Motorola have any effect. This was certainly true of mine, and though I could push it to the top and be satisfied for J. Geils Band, Cake, or even Glee, the volume was too low to be good with classical music and its wide dynamic range. Then there are those controls. The mini push buttons are little bumps under a rubber covering, and they’re right at the place where if you push them hard, you’ll jam the buds farther into your ears, a potentially painful experience. I found a solution that involved putting another finger under the arm and pushing out while my index finger was pushing in on the button. It’s a design flaw in a unit that has many design strengths, and it’s a small price to pay for wireless earphones that make the whole sports-exercise experience thrilling and free from wires.
. . . Rad Bennett
- Apple iPod Nano (sixth generation)
- Apple iTouch (third generation)
- Sony TMR-BT8IP Bluetooth Transmitter
Motorola S10-HD Bluetooth Wireless Headphones
Price: $79.95 USD.
Warranty: One year limited.
Motorola Mobility, Inc.
600 North U.S. Highway 45
Libertyville, Illinois 60048