Wearable tech just got a little weirder. Avantree, known for its Hive headphones, just released a stereo headset packed with uncommon features – the Audition. It’s one of the few Bluetooth headsets offering Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, micro-USB support, 3.5mm jack, an integrated microphone and Near Field Communication (NFC). Many readers may not fully understand why a headphone would include NFC. In short, NFC lets users quickly pair their headphones with tablets and smartphones.
But does the Audition’s cutting edge specs, design and quirky NFC capability justify its $79.99 price tag?
The competition in the NFC Bluetooth 4.0 headphone market segment appears sparse. Many of the companies buy from off-label Chinese manufacturers and stamp their own brand on it. From what I can tell, there exist a handful of Bluetooth 4.0 headphones, but to my knowledge, most are all rebranded devices, which are based on the Avantree Audition’s design. The few comparable devices are the $85 Bluedio R2 headset, which offers almost identical specs to the Audition and the $75 Syllable G18 headphones, also offer similar specs.
Design and Aesthetics
The Audition’s red and black-matte design feels soft and pliant to the touch. On the left earphone sits a volume rocker, microphone, power button and the NFC array. The volume adjusts through holding down either the volume-up or volume-down button. Tapping these buttons either skips forward or backward whatever music track you’re listening to. Red, woven fiber sheaths the cables connecting the earphones. A red, silicone rubber material accents the tops of the headphone speakers. Aesthetically, it’s a polished, great looking design.
From a structural standpoint, they look rugged. Modern headphones seem to be designed to fail and there’s almost always a plastic component along a major point of stress. The Audition, however, uses plastic-covered alloy along every movable part. To test this, I ran a magnet along the exterior of the headphones, where there could exist structural weaknesses. At all points, there seemed to be some ferrous material, holding it together. Headphones break for a variety of reasons, but a cursory analysis of the Audition indicate a sturdy design.
Avantree packs a minimal number of accessories with the Audition. Included in the white cardboard box sits a micro-USB cable, for charging, and a flat, red 3.5″ headphone jack. You also get an very minimal instruction manual (which is available for download) and a warranty card (1-year).
Living with the Avantree Audition Headphones
Avantree advertises the range as 30 feet – which may be true, however, I found that walls dramatically reduce the range. A single wall reduces the range to around 20 feet, about the space of a small apartment. However, considering that it’s intended for mobile use, a short range doesn’t take much away from its utility. I should also point out that wireless frequencies and ranges are strictly regulated by the American FCC. Chances are that most Bluetooth 4.0 headsets will offer a very similar range as the Audition.
I couldn’t locate the specific kind of battery used in the Audition. Given the size restriction available, it’s likely a 500-800 mAh Li-ion battery. When used on a Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (LE) compatible device, the battery life comes out to an impressive 20-days of standby. When used 2 hours per day, the battery stretches out to a full two weeks — around 28 hours of use, at low to medium volumes. Avantree advertises that the battery lasts 40 hours (which one should assume uses the lowest volume settings). However, at the lowest volume setting, the sound is barely perceptible. Even so, the Avantree outlasts every Bluetooth earpiece and headset I’ve ever tried, by orders of magnitude. However, compared to other Bluetooth 4.0 headsets, it offers similar battery life.
The Avantree Audition worked flawless on all my NFC enabled devices, my Windows 8.1 laptop, Windows 8.1 desktop and Ubuntu media center. They also worked perfectly on a Bluetooth 3.0 (Ubuntu media center) connection. Overall, no device failed to pair with the headphones. The audio quality on all systems remained high.
Avantree’s headphone offers great audio quality for a wireless headset. It uses a circumaural, over-the-ear design, combined with a closed-back — meaning you get better bass performance than in-the-ear headphones. The Audition isn’t directly comparable to USB or wired devices using magnets and large drivers in terms of loudness, and (in particular) bass. Overall, the sound comes in crisp, without distortion, at all volume levels. For the price, it’s hard to find a similarly specced wireless earphone.
It also includes a degree of noise-cancellation. By design, its over-the-ear construction blocks out a lot of ambient noise. It’s good enough that you may not want to wear them while out jogging, as it might cancel out the sound of a car bearing down on you. If you’re interested exclusively in noise-cancelling headphones, however, other headphones exist. However, the top-tier noise-cancelling headphones tend to cost a fortune, like the overpriced Sennheiser MM 550-X.
On the downside, the internal microphone runs the precipice of being complete rubbish. While the earphone’s audio quality is excellent — the microphone, while audible, sounds weak. It’s also impossible to boost the microphone volume. I tried attaching an external microphone to the 3.5″, which unfortunately did not work. For comparison, the microphone sounds slightly better than a smartphone’s speakerphone.
Another issue: There’s an apparent audio quality difference between the left and right earphones. For some reason, the left earpiece sounds a lot better than the right. Reversing the headset proved that the left earpiece provides better sound quality than the right. It wasn’t very noticeable — in fact, I almost missed that observation entirely. Even with the diminished audio quality on the right earphone, the Audition still sounds better than most other Bluetooth headphones.
So you may wonder – what could NFC possibly do on a headset? It works like this: You can pair and connect simply by tapping an NFC-enabled phone against the headphone’s side. It’s just that easy. However, for NFC to work, both devices must be turned on. The headphones, when not connected to any device, will automatically shut off. And the Android device must be turned on and unlocked. The process feels easier than going through a Bluetooth pairing process. It even works when Bluetooth isn’t active. For anyone owning an NFC-enabled device, the Audition is an amazing wireless headset.
On the downside, the NFC signal extends only a few centimeters. It also transfers poorly across physical barriers. For example, my phone’s case almost completely inhibited the NFC signal. Similarly, the conductive skin on my Nexus 7 severely limits its functionality. When free of such barriers, NFC works flawlessly. Just a simple tap to connect and it feels like you’re living in the future.
Fit and Feel
I have a gigantic head. Most adjustable strap hats fit only on the largest setting. That said, the Avantree headphones do accommodate my oversized melon – but only stretched to their maximum size. So if you also suffer from some kind of skull giganticism, the Avantree headphones could fit you, but only barely.
Fortunately, even on their largest size-setting, the headset feels fairly comfortable. I even went jogging a couple of times with them on, and suffered from absolutely no slippage issues. They clamp on tight. That may cause some discomfort, for those with sensitive ears.
On the downside, the Audition doesn’t provide full ear coverage. While they do completely cover my ears, providing the same degree of noise negation as a fully over-the-ear head headset, the outer ring of the ear-cup mashes up against the flesh of my ears. I can noticeably feel its presence at all times.
Should you buy the Avantree Audition?
I consider the Avantree Audition as excellent wireless companions to NFC-enabled Android devices. They offer users quality, functionality and versatility over comparable Bluetooth headsets. While a number of clones exist, which replicate Avantree’s headphones, you might not want to roll $80 of dice on rebranded devices.
Anyone in the market for a wireless Bluetooth 4.0 LE headset, who also owns NFC-equipped smartphones, will love the Avantree Audition. Even if you don’t have NFC, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better priced Bluetooth headset with an over-the-ear design, 3.5″ audio-in, internal microphone and quality construction in the $70 market segment. For audiophiles wanting a superior audio experience these are definitely not for you. Try a wired, fully circumaural headphone.
How do I win the Avantree Audition?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
Congratulations, Diane Vescio! You would have received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. Please respond before August 9 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.
This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, July 11. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email. View the list of winners here.
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