By Andrew Liszewski
I like the idea of a wireless pair of headphones and finally being able to cut that cord that seems to have a knack for getting tangled in subway turnstiles. But while there are certainly plenty of wireless options already on the market, I’m particularly picky when it comes to the type of headphones and earbuds I use. So for me, the next best thing is a wireless adapter that lets me just plug in my own pair. And thankfully with the flood of multimedia-capable and Bluetooth-equipped smartphones on the market, these have become far more prevalent as of late. I recently had the opportunity to take Sony’s MW600 Hi-Fi Wireless Headset for a spin, and you can find my full review of it after the jump.
The big concern most people have with wireless headphones, including myself, is the extra bulk and weight that’s added by the inclusion of Bluetooth hardware and rechargeable batteries. Things keep improving year after year, but it’s still going to be a while before we see wireless earbuds that are indistinguishable from their tethered brethren. So for the time being I think an external adapter like this one from Sony is a fair compromise.
But that’s not to say I think the MW600 is too big or bulky. It’s remarkably light given it’s packing a rechargeable battery, and I think if it were made any smaller it would cramp the button and display layout, making it difficult to use. Though you can’t see it in the above shot, the display uses a simple white text on black scheme motif which provides a good level of contrast and readability, though admittedly that reflective silver coating does make it a bit difficult to see in bright sunlight.
Of course the biggest advantage to using an external wireless adapter like this is that you can use your own headphones, since it’s got a standard 3.5mm jack on the side. It also allows you to switch it up between earbuds and over-the-ear cans for when you’re out and about listening to music, or crashed on the couch watching TV/playing video games at home. And since most people will probably be using the MW600 with a smartphone, it’s also got a talk button and a built-in mic for making or receiving calls and activating voice commands.
On the opposite side to where you plug your headphones in you’ll find a microUSB port for charging and the power switch which is a simple hold to power on/hold to power off affair. Obviously I would have preferred a miniUSB port here since I’m swimming in mini to standard USB cables at this point, but I can understand the microUSB choice to help keep the MW600 on the smaller side.
On a 2 to 2.5 hour charge the MW600 is able to stream your tunes for about 8.5 hours under optimal conditions, but as usual that depends on how loud you have it set and the type of music you’re listening to. Talk time is rated a bit more at 11 hours, and it includes something Sony refers to as an ‘FM radio’ (presumably some kind of ancient legacy technology) which is also rated at 11 hours of use. You’ll also want to keep in mind that listening to your music over a Bluetooth A2DP connection will be an added drain on battery life if you’re using it with a smartphone.
Now I’m the type who’s constantly skipping tracks and adjusting the volume when listening to music, so I tend to carry the MW600 in hand when I’m out using it, but on the back there’s a simple spring-loaded clip for tethering it to a jacket or bag strap. Along the bottom edge of the MW600 you’ll find a simple set of playback buttons including play/pause, forward and reverse which are used for controlling your music. The play/pause button can also be held down for switching between the Bluetooth sync modes and that aforementioned ‘FM radio’.
Everything on the MW600 is laid out and functions exactly how you’d expect it to, except for the volume controls. They’re located on the top side of the adapter, and what might look like a standard + and – rocker switch is actually a touch sensitive strip you slide your finger across. It certainly works, and you can either adjust the volume by sliding your finger over the strip again and again, or by sliding it and then holding your finger in place which keeps the adjustment going.
But to be perfectly honest the touch sensitive strip unfortunately comes across as more of a gimmick than a useful feature. Like I mentioned before I tend to hold the MW600 in my hand when listening to music and I’ve found that the volume gets accidentally adjusted more often than not when I absentmindedly touch the strip. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a deal breaker though, since it does make adjusting the volume with one hand a lot easier, particularly if the adapter is clipped to something, but I can’t say I’m its biggest fan.
My beef with the volume slider aside, I know that the MW600 technically doesn’t let you cut the cord altogether since you still have to use a wired pair of headphones with it. But it does work great if you’re using a smartphone as an audio source and would prefer to keep it stashed away in your pocket or in a bag. For that purpose it just simply works as you’d expect it to. It’s got the bare minimum of functionality that such a device would need which I think is a good thing because it helps keep the battery life maxed out as much as possible.
Sound quality is of course the same as you’d get with any audio device relying on an A2DP Bluetooth connection, which for the most part is as good as a direct headphone connection I’ve found. While I’m sure someone out there would find something to nitpick about when it came to sound quality, I think even the above-average consumer probably won’t be able to discern any difference. Or at the least they’d be willing to accept a bit of compromise in the sound quality department when you factor in the added convenience of a mostly wireless connection to their Bluetooth devices.
+ A better alternative to a wireless set of Bluetooth headphones since it allows you to swap in different pairs as desired.
+ Decent battery life when listening to music (~8.5 hours) given its size.
+ Light and compact.
+ Easy to connect and pair to A2DP Bluetooth devices and supports connectivity to multiple devices at once.
+ Includes something called an ‘FM radio’.
+ Includes a built-in mic and talk button for taking and placing calls.
– I’m not a huge fan of that touch-sensitive volume strip.
– Would have preferred a miniUSB charging port instead of microUSB.
– Reflective finish on the display makes it difficult to see outside in sunlight.
– Listening to music over an A2DP connection will diminish your smartphone’s battery life even further.
– Yet another device that has to be charged every couple of days with heavy use.
Sony Ericsson MW600 Hi-Fi Wireless Headset – $59.99
If you have any questions about the SE MW600 Wireless Headset you’d like answered, please feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll try to respond to them as best I can.
*Disclosure: This review unit has been provided by Sony Ericsson free of charge, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.