MacAlly BlueWave Bluetooth headphones
MacAlly has recently released their new BlueWave headphones, which incorporate Bluetooth (see http.www.bluetooth.com) wireless technology to eliminate the annoying wires that tether headphone users to their iPods or computers. The Weeks Division of MyMac.com Labs spent some time using the BlueWave, and found it to be a fine product.
If you don’t know what (or who) Bluetooth is, you’re probably not alone. True blue nerds know Bluetooth technology is named after everyone’s favorite Danish king, Harald Bluetooth, who ruled Denmark from 940 to 985 AD. For more than you ever wanted to know about Harald, surf to http://www.cs.utk.edu/~dasgupta/bluetooth/history.htm
Bluetooth technology is a short-range (up to 30 feet) wireless protocol that allows wireless devices to communicate with each other. It’s especially suited for gadgets that don’t need to move large amounts of data. Mice, keyboards, and now headphones, are prime candidates to use Bluetooth to banish connecting wires. Bluetooth makes it easy to get your devices to talk with each other, using a simple process called “pairing.” Once paired, you’re on your way.
MacAlly’s BlueWave package comes with everything you need to get started, including batteries. Who doesn’t hate buying a new gadget, then finding out it needs batteries to run? Naturally, the batteries will be the kind you don’t have at home. MacAlly supplies 4 AAA batteries, two for the headphones, and two for the Bluetooth transmitter itself.
Aside from the headphones, batteries and RCA patch cable to connect the ‘phones to your stereo, your $169.99 will get you a Bluetooth transmitter/dongle, which lets you use the BlueWave with audio devices not equipped with built-in Bluetooth. It’s a rather small box that plugs into the headphone jack, and sends the audio output to the headphones themselves. Obviously, sending audio from an iPod is one thing MacAlly has in mind. But you can also use the Bluetooth transmitter with computers that don’t have built-in Bluetooth, so you can wirelessly stream music from any audio source to the headphones. Even Windows PCs can use the BlueWave, with either the dongle or built-in Bluetooth.
It gets even better, as the headphones have an RCA line-out jack that allows you to output audio from the headphones, connecting them with a patch cable (included, naturally) to your stereo! This allows you to wirelessly stream music from either your iPod or your Mac to your stereo, using the headphone unit as a pass-through. Suddenly, the rather high list price of $169.99 is not looking so expensive after all.
Setting up the BlueWave with iPods.
Once you’ve installed batteries into both the headphones and the transmitter dongle, plug in the dongle to the headphone jack of the iPod, and turn it on. Flip the power switch on the headphones, and Bluetooth technology will automatically pair the dongle to the ‘phones in a few seconds. That’s all it takes. Kudos to MacAlly for a simple and foolproof setup process. Plop the headphones onto your skull, and enjoy!
Headphones must fit properly to be enjoyed. During medieval times, ill-fitting headphones were used as torture devices. If you can’t wear them for long periods of time, there’s not much point in owning them. The BlueWave fits my head and ears wonderfully. The ear cushions are leather pads, providing comfortable listening for over two hours at a stretch. The headband tension is good, with no “head caught in a vise” feeling. Users of David Clark aviation headsets will know what I mean. The ear muffs fold inside the headband for easier transportation, making the headphones easy to carry.
MacAlly says the batteries will last for up to 48 hours. My tests have accumulated over 24 hours of usage, and the batteries are still good. Be sure to turn off both the dongle and the headphones when not in use. Both the dongle and the headphones have a power-on light, but they are small and easy to overlook. Unlike wired headphones, the BlueWave will not work without batteries, so packing a spare quartet of fresh AAA’s is a good idea.
The BlueWave has good audio quality. I used to call myself an audiophile, but too much time around jet airplanes has reduced some of my high-end hearing acuity. Even so, I found the BlueWave provides enough high-end response to provide full sound, and bass output was more than adequate. You’re not buying high end Sennheiser electrostatic headphones, but Sennheisers are overkill for the compressed audio files most users listen to.
After I’d finished flogging the BlueWave with my iPod, I turned to my 15″ G4 PowerBook, which has built-in Bluetooth. Since I own no Bluetooth gadgets, I had the ‘Book’s Bluetooth turned off. With built-in Bluetooth off, you can treat the laptop just like an iPod; plug the dongle into the headphone jack, power up the dongle and headphones, and start playing music. No muss, no fuss, no pairing needed, and good sound.
But if you’ve spent good money on a Bluetooth-equipped Mac, why not use the built-in Bluetooth, and skip the dongle? You’ll have one less gadget to lose, and one less set of AAA batteries to run down.
MacAlly’s printed instructions were not totally clear on how to set up the BlueWave for built-in Bluetooth. However, MacAlly has a new FAQ on their website describing how to pair the headphones with Bluetooth-equipped Mac.
The process is easy using Apple’s Bluetooth Setup Assistant, with the pairing working right the first time. There’s one catch; remember to change the sound output device in the Sound preference pane to use the BlueWave. Forget this step and the headphones will be working, but not getting any sound from the Mac. I preferred to skip the dongle, and use the built-in Bluetooth when listening to iTunes on the ‘Book. The audio quality was the same, and it’s much more convenient, once you’ve used the Bluetooth Setup Assistant to do the pairing.
MacAlly advertises a 30 foot range for the BlueWave, and I found their claims to be no more exaggerated than other manufacturers. I could get good reception with no intervening obstacles up to 20 feet away from the iPod or the PowerBook. The sound rapidly becomes static-laden when you move further away from the transmitter, and the signal vanished more than 25 feet away. When walls separated the headphones from the transmitter, range was reduced. For consistently good sound, stay within 15′ of the transmitter.
I did not test the line-out feature of the BlueWave, as the AUX-in jacks on my pre-amplifier are both occupied and difficult to reach.
After a week of testing, I have only a few quibbles about the BlueWave. The power LED light is too small, making it difficult to know if the headphones are on or off. Since dead batteries leave you dead in the water, misreading the power LED light can make the ‘phones useless.
The volume knob could be a bit larger, and less sensitive. I found a small movement of the volume knob could increase the volume more than I expected, with startling results.
MacAlly has engineered great wireless headphones for both iPods and computers. The BlueWave is very comfortable, provides good sound, and is easy to set up. If your computer has built-in Bluetooth, you can use Apple’s Bluetooth Setup Assistant to pair the BlueWave, and leave the dongle at home. The BlueWave is a bit pricey, but you get a great product for your money.
MyMac rating 4.5 out of 5