Many years ago I jumped onto the “wireless headset” band wagon. Why did I take the plunge? I was tired of running over my headset wires with my chair. My headset was either being violently ripped off my head, or rudely unplugged from my computer. Ultimately, the headset wires were shredded from being run over. As a matter of fact, I spent more time repairing the wires than I care to think about.
After replacing several headsets, I decided to “splurge” and buy a 900 MHz wireless headset (no mic) for $99. The specifications looked great: a range of almost 100 feet! It didn’t resolve needing a wireless mic, but at least I could listen to music and play games.
Let me tell you about 900 MHz – it sucks. Every turn or tilt of my head caused static. I tried every conceivable channel combination and antenna position. As for “almost 100 feet” …. yeah, right. Fifteen clear, un-obstructed feet and I would start to lose signal or just drop the connection. I’m sure I could have stood on my head with my arms and legs strategically placed in order to maximize the signal, but at only 15 feet … come on.
Then there was the battery life. Two AAA rechargeable batteries seemed to last about 20 minutes. You may be asking, “why did he put up with this?” At almost $100 I should have returned them, but after throwing them on the ground a few times, the headset stopped emitting static. Actually, it stopped emitting any sound and I’m sure the store wouldn’t take it back in that condition.
I have since gone back to normal “wired” headsets, but there must to be a better solution today. With that experience behind us, we’ll review BlueAnt’s X5 Stereo Bluetooth Headset – with a removable microphone!
|Standard||Bluetooth Specification V1.2|
|Support Bluetooth Profiles||Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), Headset, Handsfree|
|Battery Life||Standby > 200 hrs, Audio or Voice Connection >12 hrs|
|Charging Time||< 3 hrs|
|Weight||2.7oz with battery|
- Wireless Stereo Music (PC and phone)
- Wireless Voice / VOIP (PC and phone)
- Connect to any standard 3.5mm audio jack
- Detachable Microphone
- Easy Charge via USB port
- Pairing for up to 10 different Bluetooth devices
Getting to know the X5
Step 1: Release the X5
After cutting my fingers on the plastic fortress, I freed the imprisoned X5 headset.
Every cable came in its own resealable bag; nice touch, BlueAnt. I sat there and gazed at the X5. The online pictures do not do the X5 justice. Good color and design. The headset is small, light, and fashionable. The headset falls into the “around the neck” variety. That means that is rests on the top of your ears and wraps around your head and neck, not on top of your head. This baby is light and feels great, even for long periods of time. My only complaint was that the channel that hides the wire going to the left earpiece was not trimmed correctly and irritated my ear. A bit of filing / scratching off the excess plastic and it felt fine.
Step 2: Charge the X5
The quickset guide indicated that I should charge the headset and the audio and voice streamer each for at least three hours. Ok, how many of you REALLY fully charge a new toy? Well, after an hour, I tried to use the headset and it wouldn’t sync with the streamer. OK, I actually began following the directions and charged it for the full three hours (they both charge through provided USB cables). They also include an AC power adapter to charge one of the devices from any wall outlet. The headset’s charging port doubles as the microphone port, reducing unneeded ports.
Step 3: Setup the X5
Every Bluetooth devise I’ve used and configured seems to have different procedures and quirks. After charging the two devices, the pairing was straight forward, but took a minute or so to figure out whether it was successful from the LED light signals. The headset and the streamer both have blue and red LED lights that indicate if the device is paired. If they are blinking red, the device is running low on power. If they’re alternating between blue and red, it’s ready to be paired. Blinking blue means the device is paired.
Since my laptop does not have built in Bluetooth (yes, I know… how can I live without Bluetooth?) I had to use the two provided 3.5mm audio cables. One is a stereo cable for audio only, and the other splits for both audio and mic jacks; I used the latter. So, the headset is paired with the streamer and the streamer is now connected to my laptop.
Step 4: Crank up the Music
I fired up my laptop, plugged in the X5 audio streamer, and played my favorite album, waiting to absorb the music. Well … not bad, but not great. The headset’s middle and upper ranges are crisp and clear, if maybe too tinny. The headset lacked bass and tried to made up for it by being loud. Maybe BlueAnt tried to save battery life by limiting the bass? I walked around the room and, to my surprise, the headset didn’t miss a beat. I didn’t experience static, and the X5 never dropped the signal.
The X5 gave me over 20 feet of clear sound and didn’t start cutting out until about 25 feet. Considering my past experience, this was a huge improvement. I was amazed at how clear the sound was and at the freedom the X5 gave me. I love the volume buttons. They are intuitively mounted near the top and bottom of the right earpiece. The volume granularity is stepped nicely to provide 12 audio levels from a whisper to almost deafening. The X5 come with both vinyl and foam speaker covers. This is a nice touch since not everyone likes vinyl covers.
Step 5: Test the Microphone
I plugged the microphone into the X5. The microphone is only a few inches long and uses the same port as the USB charge, saving space. The port is covered with a small rubber plug that keeps the port clean. I fired up Skype and ran the microphone setup, but my PC did not detect a microphone. OK, I’ll admit I didn’t read the manual but I figured it would just work. Nope, the X5 is designed to perform as a stereo headset or a mono headset with microphone, not both. You can use the X5 as a stereo headset or as a mono headset with microphone. That’s a shame. I was hoping to Skype while play a game in full stereo. When you switch from stereo to voice, the audio become monophonic.
The good news is that you can switch between stereo and mono/voice mode simply with a press of the power button. The mic’s sound quality is a bit muffled but sufficient for most conditions. I would not take it outside in a wind storm, but I cannot think of any Bluetooth headsets that could. I’ve tried many headsets (Bluetooth or otherwise) that are much worse than the X5.
Step 6: Battery Life
My X5 ran for over 5 hours and it was still going strong. I couldn’t devote the 12 consecutive hours as listed on the BlueAnt specs. I know that the headset ran for several days without charging and I used them for at least an hour each day. This is very admirable considering the small size and weight of the X5. At 2.7 ounces, the X5 is very comfortable and a joy to wear.
I have one complaint that relates to the batteries, though. The battery compartment on the headset and the streamer is too easy to accidentally open. Several times I would put the headset on and the battery would fall off. It is annoying to chase after the round battery and put it back on. I would recommend that BlueAnt beef up the clasp or customers tape the darn thing closed.
Other noteworthy features of the X5
What else does this headset do? Well, it IS a Bluetooth device capable to pairing up with up to 10 devices. The X5 supports A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). According to BlueAnt, “A2DP technology is a new music revolution allowing you to send CD quality stereo music from one device to another without wires. A2DP is stereo music sent over Bluetooth without the hassle of plugging cables.” I have a Samsung SGH-T629 cell phone without A2DP support. I wondered if the X5 would still work with my cellphone and curiosity got the better of me. I paired the two up, and fired up an MP3. No sound, but that did make me wonder if MP3s would play on my normal Bluetooth earbud. Nope, that Bluetooth did not play MP3s either, so I blame my phone for not being A2DP compatible, not the X5.
The X5 has the ability to remotely control music on AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) capable devices. Since I do not own an AVRCP device, I’ll leave up to you to play with.
I plugged the microphone into the X5 and called a friend on my cell phone. The call was clear and much louder than my ordinary Bluetooth earbud, much louder. My friend indicated that I sounded a little muffled but still very clear. I was able to walk around my living room with my cellphone sitting on the table. My friend had no clue that I was walking around. Again, this is a testament to the quality of the X5 wireless technology.
A cool thing I found with the headset involves the ability to pair up with multiple devices. I was listening to streamed music from my laptop when my cellphone rang. I forgot that I had paired it to my cell phone. Scared the… well, you can guess my reaction. I was able to push one button and answer the call. When I finished the call, I pressed the button on the headset and I was back to listening to music. Nice! Now I have another use for the headset.
I found the BlueAnt X5 Stereo Headset with Microphone an overall pleasing product. While it fails to provide stereo while in voice mode, it does more than any other wireless headset for less than $150. In voice mode, it provides great sound and adequate voice pickup. In stereo mode, the X5 needs a bit more bass but the mid and upper ranges are very good. Battery life was outstanding considering the 12 volume levels and range of the headset. Aside from the small imperfection of the headset and the design flawed battery compartment door, the X5 was very comfortable, and provided plenty of sound. I would have added a nice carrying case or bag in order to transport all the cables and definitely a zipper pouch for the microphone.
Presentation/Packaging: 10. Unit was well packaged. I recommend using a scissors or some other sharp object since the plastic case likes to eat fingers. All the components were nicely packaged in resealable bags and the cables were twist-tied.
Design/Layout: 7.Very nice design, solid construction, well placed buttons, and straight forward pairing. The battery compartment doors are too easy to open, though.
Documentation: 10. Assuming you read the directions, the Quick Setup guide was great and the full manual was very thorough.
Features/Options: 10. Holy cow, this thing can do so much! I wish I had the proper devices to actually test all the features. The ones I could test worked great. Once you get accustomed to the buttons and their functions, the X5 is a great headset.
Audio Quality: 7. The mid and upper ranges are clear and crisp. In mono mode, the X5 is very good with sound since conversation usually does not need bass. The 12 distinct volume levels offer great control. Low volume was faint and highest volume level was really loud. In stereo mode however, the X5 needs more bass. The X5 is unable to run Stereo speakers in Voice Mode.
Voice Quality: 9 Clear, if a bit muffled. Removable microphone is both an advantage and disadvantage depending on how often you plan on using it.
Comfort: 10. The X5 is very light and comfortable to wear for long periods of time. The two different speaker covers allow you to select the comfort level. I think the small imperfection on the earpiece was a fluke so I will not count that against the X5.
Battery: 10. Running for over 5 hours without a full charge and still no sign of dying? Over 200 hours of standby… OUTSTANDING.
Cost: 9. I’ve spent $60 on a Bluetooth mono earbud and $99 on a wireless headset, and they both failed to inspire me. The X5 is listed at $139 (USD) and the nearest competitor is over $200. I call that a great buy.
Final Score: 82/100. If BlueAnt can improve the bass, the battery compartment door, slightly improve the voice quality, and find a way to allow stereo in voice mode, the X5 would be perfect.