We love a bit of innovative gadgetry here at No Sleep Gamer, and ‘military bone conduction technology’ on the side of the box of Artershokz’s new Bluez Bluetooth stereo headset is certainly a good way to get our attention. Mainly because we’ll need all the help we can get when Battlefield 4 rolls out later this year.
This open ear headset isn’t like ones you’ve used before (shh, you military types, it’s new to us). Instead, the earpieces rest near your ears on your ears bones (see above image), leaving your ear holes free and still able to take in sounds around you.
This could be your phone ringing, a housemate shouting for you, or just taking in the sound from your TV during a gaming session as most headsets usually cut off or dampen one or both ears to outside sounds. If you want to sync the device to an MP3 player or smartphone to listen to music on the move it will also make you more aware of your surroundings. You’ll have a better chance of hearing a car while out jogging for example.
The waterproof headset is very light (43 grams) and is designed to fit snugly on various head sizes, but without pinching. The back bar rests on the neck and even the gentle bouncing while running isn’t particularly noticeable. It helps that the sound remains stable throughout any movement too. A somewhat flimsy strap can be clipped on to secure it more firmly, but I did notice some pinching behind the ears then. I preferred the bouncing to be honest.
Once you have the headset on straight, you get great stereo equalisation. You’ll be able to notice if you don’t have the earpieces lined up properly, as the sound won’t feel as loud in both ears. It’s a little odd getting the sound to balance via your ear bones rather than the usual areas, but once you’ve found your sweet spot it’s easy to go straight there next time you put the headset on.
There are some downsides, albeit only for music playback rather than online chat or calls. Ramp up the sound and any heavier sounds send out vibrations onto your ear bones. It’s borderline ticklish, and can also feel uncomfortably strange. Mess around with the strap a little and you may be able to push the earpieces closer, dampening the annoying sensation but keeping the bass booming, albeit possibly at the cost of pinching the tops of your ears. At the top ends of the volume settings the sound can start to break up more compared to similarly priced regular headphones, but there’s a strange delight to feeling headphones bounce around your head during particularly bass-heavy tracks. Also, try opening your mouth really wide for a few seconds; it moves the earpieces closer to your ear for a quick loud boost. Nitro for your ears?
Anyway, enough about tunes. Onto the talking end of the headset. The microphone built into the left earpiece is reliable for multiple uses including chatting to friends and team-mates on your PS3/PC or when taking a call from your mobile phone. After syncing the headset up with a Blackberry for MP3 playback, it had no problems going straight into phone mode when receiving calls. A quick tap of the left earpiece’s button connected calls with ease – very handy for any drivers or cyclists out there. Double tapping the call button redials the last call or holding the button down opens up the voice dialling menu. Responsive, reliable, impressive.
Setting up the Bluez on your PS3 is super simple. Turn on the headset and ask your PS3 to find any Bluetooth devices and enter the passkey (the default one is 0000). The PS3’s settings on the XMB will allow you to adjust the mic’s sensitivity, but I found the default setting to be fine fresh out the box. Asking around, other gamers had no problems hearing me at all. This is comfortably the best sound output I’ve had on PS3. Even compared to headsets with separate microphones that were closer to my mouth.
The visual design is enjoyably sleek with a shiny finish on the outside and a matte finish on the inside that helps to avoid smudgy fingerprints when accessing the rear buttons. As you can tell from the model pictures, they look a bit like sunglasses being worn backwards, but at least they serve a purpose. Whereas wearing your sunglasses in such a manner instead of popping them up onto your head means you’re an utter prat.
Compare the Bluez to the one-eared Bluetooth earpieces with a mic on a stem or headphone cable-attached mouthpieces (look at me I’m Secret Service!) and they seem much more acceptable. If you are going to wear the headset out in public it’s worth bearing in mind that the speakers are quite loud to people nearby. Phone calls won’t be private and your music choices may be scrutinised. So, don’t be one of those bellends on the bus who thinks speakerphone in public is acceptable. We will find you.
I don’t wear glasses myself, but I had a few friends that do try out the headset and they found the design worked well around various frame sizes. They mentioned that many traditional headsets are a bit of a pain with glasses. Thanks to the bone-conduction placement of this one though, there weren’t any problems. I managed to fix a pair of sunglasses both under and over the frame. Good times if this sunny weather sticks around.
Buttons are kept to a minimal, which is a good thing seeing most of them are behind your head. Two arrows can be tapped to adjust volume or held to skip a track forwards or backwards. The on/off switch is sturdy enough to avoid accidents. There’s also a covered micro USB port for charging. The left earpiece has a button to pick up or end calls from your phone, while the right side has a play/pause button.
Charging the device from your laptop, PS3 or a USB plug can take up to three hours and will get you up to six hours of battery life. Music playback will drain the juice fastest, but online gaming use is much more forgiving.
The signal range of the headset proved excellent for my purposes; although it relies as much upon the device you’re tethered to. The sound never dropped from my PS3 from my viewing position of no more than ten feet away. I was fully able to wonder around my house away from my mobile phone (Blackberry Curve 9320) without it dropping any sound from my MP3s. I had to go outside and put about 20 feet and two thick walls between us before losing the connection. Reconnecting simply meant walking back within range.
The Aftershokz Bluez costs about £99 and for your money you’ll also get a charging cable and an armoured, zipped carry case which has enough room for a phone or MP3 player too. A two year warrantee is also included for peace of mind.
- Clear microphone sound for gaming and taking calls
- Bone conduction technology allows you to hear what’s going on around you
- Comfortable design and clear sound
- Can tickle and vibrate during loud/bass-heavy music tracks
- A bit pricey, for casual users
- Can be loud to people around you
The main selling point here is the open ear design that allows your ears to take in sound from outside of the headset too. This provides some great advantages whether using it for phone calls, talking with friends when PC/PS3 gaming or listening to music on the move. As a headset that looks good, sounds good and talks a good game, the Aftershokz Bluez is a great all-in-one purchase for chatty and energetic music lovers and gamers.
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