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Bluetooth Stereo: The Song Doesn’t Remain the Same

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bluetooth_iconThinking about a set of Bluetooth Stereo headphones for your mobile handset with A2DP support? I don’t blame you. I really enjoy listening to wireless stereo music on my Palm Pre (s PALM) with the Altec Lansing BackBeat 903 headset. Those got me to sing and dance, but the exact same headset on an iPhone 3G has Sascha Segan singing a different tune.

In his review of the iPhone 3.0 software on, I noticed this tidbit about using the very same Altec Lansing’s on an iPhone 3G with the latest firmware:

“One new feature, stereo Bluetooth, bombs. Music on our Altec Lansing BackBeat headphones was so full of hisses and distortion it was laughable—almost as if Apple was saying, “This is why we hate stereo Bluetooth.” The headphones weren’t the problem, as the same music files sounded much better on a BlackBerry Storm.”

On the other hand, James is thoroughly enjoying the new AD2P support using his Plantronics Pulsar 590E (s PLT) headphones. So what gives?

If I were in the market for pair of Bluetooth stereo headphones, I think I’d be looking for reviews and tests of it with my particular handset. I wouldn’t think that different combinations would produce different results, since A2DP is profile of a wireless specification, but obviously there’s some hiss-tory of differing results.

30 Responses to “Bluetooth Stereo: The Song Doesn’t Remain the Same”

  1. PMJI here, but can someone please recommend a BT headset exists that handles calls & music reliably well on both Palm Pre & iPhone 3Gs (I haven’t decided which handset to get, and may switch back & forth)

    I look forward to completing my port…

    from [iPod plus (Palm Centro on Palm Desktop) & Thunderbird on WinXP]

    to [Pre or iPhone & Thunderbird/Sunbird with Google IMAP/Contacts/CalDAV on XP/Mac/Fedora].

    Finding decent, reliable, stereo headset over BT supported by both Pre or iPhone would be nice so thanks, in advance, for any helpful suggestions on that.

  2. John Frum

    I use iPhone 3.0 stereo bluetooth in my car with a Jensen WBT210 receiver that performs about as noise- and distortion-free as bluetooth is capable, regardless of where the phone or receiver are located. It’s also perfectly acceptable with earbuds, requiring hardware the size of a small mp3 player but adding none around the ears. I paid all of $13 for it.

  3. laurnzo

    Okay i thought it was just me but i’m using a Motorola 9-HD bluetooth on my iphone 3G and i must agree with some that apple sucks when is comes to stereo Bluetooth. I mean come on, i’m a crazy Apple fun and i can say say i own almost every brand of their products but also trying the headphone on my Macbook pro and my brand new iMac.One my brother cheap toshiba laptop his G1 phone and i was jealous. Apple need to step up in certain area i think.

    • Is it possible that your headset (sascha) is bugged? I’ve had a lot of experience with Bluetooth audio both for personal use and reviewing them for One device, a MSI Bluetooth receiver, had an extremely weird bug where sometimes it would lose its perfect connection and go into a state where it sounded more like AM radio than anything else. I never figured out what the problem was as the device was poor even when working correctly, nor have I ever encoutered this bug on any other headset, but it sounded a lot like what you had with the BlackBeat (just permanent and not random like on mine), since so many people find that headset to work just fine. Bluetooth audio depends on so many things, from the stream format, the transmitting device, the receiving device (headset), decoding etc – might be a unit-specific malfunction. With the MSI receiver I had the bug several times using a Nokia E51, but never using a Sony A820 mp3 player, any of my Bluetooth transmitters nor any of my other A2DP cellphones.

  4. 1. Don’t pay attention to the PCWorld article. The writer didn’t really bother really testing A2DP. What she states is complete BS, I’m afraid.

    2. A quick warning: a lot of A2DP headphones don’t work OK with the iPhone 3G while listening to / watching streamed contents (incl. YouTube) via Wi-Fi. Please check out for more info (particularly the last two updates). The, in this respect, useless headphones also include the Plantronics Pulsar 590.

    • Sascha is a well-respected technology writer and one of the *tops* in the smartphone space. I also know him personally as a peer. Are you *certain* he didn’t really really bother testing A2DP? I don’t think so.

      It’s certainly fine to offer opinions, (welcome even!), but stating opinion as fact like this is rather disrespectful to Sascha and the community-at-large. It’s fine if you disagree with him (or me, for that matter), but you might want to word those opinions a little differently next time.

    • To Kevin C. Tofel (sorry, there isn’t a “Reply” link associated with your message; that is, I can’t directly answer you):

      1.) I’m just trying to find out whether this is an AT&T firmware / iPhone 3G-specific bug. If it is, then, it easily explains why Sascha had dramatically different results.

      2.) OK, I agree I was a bit too attacking – I apologize. However, I still have problems with Sascha’s aproach in general.

      As I’ve pointed out in my article, A2DP is the world full of incompatibilities. (There’s a reason why I evaluate the A2DP / AVRCP capabilities / compatibility of each handset or firmware version I review using tons of A2DP headphones – I want to be absolutely sure I don’t run into a particular incompatibility problem.) In a magazine article one may not want to publish a bad review of a given handset just based on tests with a single pair of headphones. Sascha may have preferred, after seeing the disastrous results, either testing the iPhone 3G with other headphones or completely dropping the subject and not mentioning it at all. Nevertheless, just telling his readers the iPhone 3G has very bad and sub-par BT stereo wasn’t the best approach.

      When there’s chance a given headset + BT headphones combo produces very bad results, it may be a simple compatibility issue. Which is very common with A2DP, the standard’s being new and a lot of handset / headphones manufacturers simply not following the standard / trying to make their gadgets compatible with everything else (see for example the play/pause incompatibilities with Symbian S60 phones.)

      Note that I’m in no way an Apple fanboy. I’ve published a lot of negative reports on its A2DP and AVRCP support. Yes, it does lack – but certainly not at the audio quality department (at least when it comes to the T-Mo specific firmware). As far as audio quality is concerned, the iPhone 3G has equally good (or bad, if anyone feels A2DP simply can’t deliver Hi-Fi audio quality) sound reproduction as ALL of the competing smartphone operating systems. I’ve run some very thorough tests and I can say that there’s no difference in audio quality between a T-Mobile firmware-based iPhone 3G and Windows Mobile (with a new, 6+ OS; that is, already with decent A2DP support) / Symbian S60 / Blackberry 8800.

      Note that, being a T-Mo subscriber, I could only test the T-Mo firmware (without any hacks – my iPhone 3G isn’t even jailbroken). The AT&T firmware may indeed have completely messed up A2DP, which AT&T and/or Apple didn’t find out. That is, I’m not stating Sascha’s results just can’t be right. It’s highly possible AT&T / Apple have indeed messed the A2DP support in their AT&T-specific firmware royally. Hope someone will be able to conduct some comparative reviews (the AT&T 3G and any other smartphone) – I’ve cross-posted my request (original at ) to many iPhone boards. As soon as I have some comparative results, I tell you all.

  5. I’m not selling anything, but my Motorola S805 headphones sound great. :) I’ve had a couple drops, every 3-5 minutes, but it syncs up again. I’m recharging to see if that might be the problem.

    Apparently the remote control protocol (AVRCP) isn’t supported, though, because the play/pause and track up/down buttons don’t work.

  6. mike klein

    Some formatting woes on prior post…sorry.

    Should have read “bt works better on $400 phone than $2000 computer systems”.

    How can WM6 deliver a better experience than WinXP?

    • Actually the point is the BT works flawlessly on my $200 phone, my $400 phone but not my $600 iphone. I can listen to music in stereo all day on my nokias.

      That said BT also works better with my $500 windows PC but is a litle flakey on my $2000 Macbook Pro. So the big question is why can’t Apple get it right?

  7. mike klein

    Bluetooth is a huge failure in my experience.

    For several years (and even now) products were marketed with no clue as to what you could actually do with them (i.e. which profiles are supported).

    Blink an eye and you lose your connection and get stuttering.

    Blink an eye and your ‘saved’ profile is magickally erased and your prompted for a PIN again.

    Good luck streaming farther than the end of your room. Only Class1? product I’ve found didn’t do A2DP well at all…yet was marketed with A2DP support.

    I haven’t found a computer yet which works well handing off to Skype/etc. yet my mobile phones based on WM6 seem to have no problems in this area.

    That’s right…bt works better on $2K computer systems.

    How many times have you tried to bang out a connection only to see “connection refused” and no explanation why.

    I’ve wasted too many hours trying to get music to stream and I’m an idiot….just plug in those wired headphones.

    BT is a pig w/lipstick.

  8. I had much the same with the sony ds-220 adaptor, some times fine, some times a tiny odd glitch, other times unlistenable (on a train last night).

    The same system on a laptop works perfectly, and I had the same effect on a blackjack whilst trying to do other tasks so I think it’s processing power required to multi task that is the root cause.

    Might work better with the ompf of the 3gS?

  9. TimJDav86

    My Moto s9 head set works great with the 3GS….all-be it, for some reason it semas to get disrupted very easily compared to my touch 2g with 3.0…or when I used to use my bluetooth doggle

  10. That’s all better than you get if you own any Philips headphones. Iphone apparently doesn’t recognise them as A2DP even though they work on any other A2DP device even my Macbook. No fair Apple … fix it please!

  11. spinedoc

    Sounds like another of those “audiophiles” that claim to hear the difference between analog and digital formats, or that claim monster cables make music sound better.

    I’ve been using both my 3g with 3.0 AND my new 3Gs with the A2DP and they both sound awesome over my Lubix NC1’s, mind you this is in a heavily populated gym a good 30-50 feet away with iron and/or my arms over my ears a good quantity of the time.

    Good stuff, thanks Apple for finally getting around to it.

    • I second the Lubix comment! My LC1’s suffered over the past few years, but Lubix has been kind enough to replace them for free (even out of warranty!) Their “Bass Boost” like sound profile thing gives the headsets a deeper more “full” sound that most other A2DP headsets out there (or at least the ones I’ve tried).

      I will agree with the heart of this post though. A2DP with the exact same headset and the exact same sound file played through my WM6 phone and my WinXP PC make slightly different, but noticeable changes in the music. But then again, with different post decoding processing, it should be a little different. Otherwise it’d be saying that my $150 Sony MP3 player should produce the exact same MP3 DAC as a $10 one from Walmart! And before someone goes and yells at me about how bluetooth is not an analog protocol, let me remind them that A2DP is not a “MP3” streaming protocol, but in fact it’s own audio data protocol. DAC to ADC then over bluetooth. There’s bound to be a bit of differences with those given all the bluetooth chip manufacturers now days!

  12. Sasha Segan has never been a fan of A2DP. Thus I’ve never had confidence of his reviews on that topic. Maybe he lives and works in some sort of a2dp wormhole of interference.

    jkontherun’s review of the Altec Lansing BackBeat 903 headset has given me 90% in confidence to save up for it. The 10% is left for lust over the Jabra Halo. Both of those headsets charge over microUSB and are compatible with my N97.

  13. Scotty

    I found I got hiss with my iPhone 3G and the HBH-IS800’s if I didn’t have pure line-of-sight. Today I’ve found that my spiffy new iPhone 3Gs works rock solid even when I have it in it’s belt holster with my arms folded over it.

    I’d also get skips and other ummm phenomena with the 3G and A2DP. With more RAM and a faster CPU and more offload tot he GPU the 3Gs has delivered zero hassles with A2DP so far today. I can email, take pictures and email them, text message, all with no affect on the A2DP sound.