Cloudy Days and Connected Nights

With tablet and iPhone in hand and head in the clouds

Sony DR-BT 101 Bluetooth Stereo Headphones: are wonderful!

with 11 comments

With a strong aside on the Jabra Halos.

My new Aspire Timeline 1810TZ comes with Bluetooth built in, and, of course the iPhone 3G (or 3Gs or iPod Touch 2) with OS3 has full A2DP Bluetooth stereo (well, as full as anything Apple is likely to be…but more on that later). I hate to be tied down by a headphone wire. Call me strange but, while I don’t mind wearing headphones, not being able to get up and walk around without worrying about the cord gets to me after not very long. Even if I stick the player in my pocket. I feel like I am on a short leash. Not a good feeling. I listen to the iTunes app and Pandora on my iPhone while working some, and would listen more, only I work at home and it is not always possible to have music on in my bedroom/office while others are doing other things (like practicing real music or giving music lessons) in the living room (small house). And I like to watch a few programs on Hulu and CBS.com of an evening, and, again speakers are not always possible. And, thirdly, I travel a lot, and spend a lot of time in hotel rooms. I own a few sets of travel speakers, but can’t always pack them. So, I resort to headphones, of which I seem to have a lot of pairs already. They, however, all have cords. I don’t like cords.

So this week I shopped for Bluetooth stereo headphones.

I did some research on-line of course, and pretty well settled on the Sony DR-BT 101 as the right set of features and the right price. However, when I went to Best Buy to pick up a pair I allowed the fine young gentleman manning the iPhone section to recommend a pair of Jabra Halos. The Halos do look a lot more elegant than the Sonys, and they fold, and come with a carry bag, both of which are attractive to a traveler. However, I should really have known better than to take the advice of anyone who works for Best Buy, let alone a fine young gentleman who had probably been hired a few days before Thanksgiving for the Christmas rush.

The Jabras, nice as they are in concept, simply do not work with an iPhone (something the FYG in the iPhone section might have been expected to know). Apple may have built in A2DP for stereo, but their implementation of AVRCP, the Bluetooth control protocol, is idiosyncratic at best, and the Jabras simply could not communicate with the iPhone to do simple, but essential, things like setting the volume…and since connecting a Bluetooth device to the iPhone disables the volume buttons on the phone itself, that means that you can only listen to the Halos at full volume…not pleasant, or advisable in the long run (though they sound great!). (Looking around the net, I discovered that the Jabra’s volume control does work with some iPhones, some of the time. So call me unlucky.)

Then too, apparently Windows 7 lacks native A2DP support of any kind. I finally got the Jabra’s to work with my Aspire by running a driver update program for Windows 7 RC which I found on the Broadcom site. I am still not sure it is true A2DP, but it is stereo of some sort. [See Update below.]

To add insult to misery, after a few hours of messing with the Halos with both the iPhone and Aspire, they simply stopped working at all. Windows still showed them as connected, and the volume graph in the Sounds control panel looked like music was being transmitted, but the Jabra’s were dead.

Sony DRBT101/BLK Over-the-Head Style Stereo Bluetooth Headset

So they went back, and I bought the Sony DR-BT 101s I had originally gone in for.

The Sony’s come in an ugly blister pack, and were, by the way, way over in the PlayStation section, not with the real Bluetooth headphones at all. They are somewhat flimsy looking, though hopefully serviceable if reasonable care is exercised. They are a bit heavy (especially compared to the Jabras) and not very tight on your head. You have to avoid quick motions while wearing. While on, though, they are actually quite comfortable over your ears.

As far as Bluetooth stereo goes, they work great with the iPhone. Volume controls work. Pause/Play works. Jog/shuttle does not work (thanks again, I am certain, to Apple), but I can live without that (a little research shows that jog/shuttle does not work with any Bluetooth stereo headphones on the iPhone). They pair quickly and easily, and even include a dedicated pairing button.

And the sound is amazingly good! I will say that again: Amazingly good! Wonderfully good. And I own some pretty good headphones to compare them with. The sound is balanced and smooth…good solid bass, clear vocals, and ringing highs without being shrill.

Sound on the laptop is slightly different, though, upon reflection, just as good. Just different. Somehow. Adjusting the equalization (Acoustic) in iTunes improves it to my ear. It probably has something to do with the compression algorithms used to send the data. The Realtek HD audio controls on the Aspire have no effect on the sound through Bluetooth Headphones, and, in fact, the headphones do not appear in the Realtek control panel at all. Again, I suspect that the drivers I have installed might not support full A2DP. The buzz around the net, as I mentioned earlier, is that Windows 7, itself, does not support A2DP at all, and I was actually surprised to find drivers that work as well as they do on the Broadcom site. (Eventually, hopefully, Microsoft will remedy this lack (I am not holding my breath, but I remain hopeful despite past history)).

By the way, just installing the drivers from the Broadcom site does not work. You need to download the little updater program and run that. It will automatically download the right drivers for your system and install them. Restart, and you should be good to go.

[Update: after two days of using the headphones with the Broadcom drivers, Windows 1) lost contact with the headphone control panel so I could no longer pair them manually  with the laptop, 2) auto pairing resulted in really discouraging sound (probably headset, not headphone), and then 3) Windows started giving me a can not initialize Bluetooth stack message.…I tried everything I could think of, but both Windows and the Broadcom updater insisted that the driver was the latest and everything was working fine. Even after uninstalling the headphones and reinstalling, uninstalling and deleting the driver, reinstalling, etc. (several times), I could still not get the headphones to work with the laptop again. I ended up purchasing the BlueSoliel Bluetooth stack for $30. It works…so far…great, and is definitely full A2DP stereo…the sound is much improved from the Broadcom stack…or so it seems to me…and BlueSoliel has lots of advanced options for other Bluetoothie stuff too.]

The headphones work with iTunes, Media Player, Chrome (as in Hulu), and everything else I have tried them with. Volume control on the headphones seems to be independent of volume control on the computer. Both work, somehow, but increasing volume on the headset does not move any volume sliders on the laptop that I have yet discovered. On the other hand, sliding any of the volume sliders on the laptop definitely changes the volume of the headphones. Go figure. Also, the pause and play control, and, wonder of wonders, the jog shuttle control, only works if the program you are attempting to control is the top (active) window in Windows 7, though, of course, you can be listening to iTunes while working in another app.

The Sony’s also have a built in mic, and, interestingly enough I just accidently made a call while listening to music on the iPhone…that is, I paused the music and used the phone without thinking, and, of course, it connected through the headphones. Surprise surprise. They worked fine. Amazing.

And, while talking about communication devices, I read several places around the forums that the Sonys do not work with Skype on the laptop, I just tested them, and, once you have Skype set up correctly (Tools, Options, then the Audio panel, then choose Bluetooth headset under both mic and speakers ), they do in fact work, and work well. Again, surprise surprise. [Bluesoiel also includes headset drivers.]

So, all in all, the Sony DR-BT 101 stereo Bluetooth headphones are wonderful. Great sound. Fully functional with both iPhone and (with some driver finagling) the Netbook. Reasonable price. What more could you ask? Highly recommended. Just be careful not to break them.

p.s.

It is now a week after first writing this and several days after installing the BlueSoiel stack, and I have used the Sony headphones every day, for several hours. I have to gush a bit. You can not imagine the difference between cordless phones and corded. I can get up and walk to the other end of the house, to the kitchen, to make tea while listening to iTunes on my netbook in the bedroom/office…and the music just keeps on playing. While in the kitchen, if my wife wants to talk, I touch the pause button in the right ear-piece and all is good. If I want to skip a track while sitting in the living room, several rooms away from the netbook and iTunes, I just hit the jog control. Simple. Bluetooth headphones are amazing.

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Written by singraham

December 23, 2009 at 10:38 am

11 Responses

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  1. […] more here: Sony DR-BT 101 Bluetooth Stereo Headphones: are wonderful … Social […]

  2. Appreciate the review although I have to say,I disagree. Now, first off, I have not tried the Sony DR-BT 101 so I have no basis for comparison. My disagreement is that #1, they don’t work with the iPhone, as well as Win 7. As for the iPhone,I have a 3gs, they pair and connect fine. The only issue is that the iPhone itself, thanks to Apple’s implementation of Bluetooth, does not support (yet) the Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP).Thanks to this,the Halo’s controls are rendered partially inoperative. You can raise and lower volume, but play/pause or track skip will not work. That’s the iorst disagreement…they do raise and lower volume.
    As for issues with Win 7, I also had to download the driver from Broadcom. After that, I had to make the headset the default for Win 7. Now, when power up the Jabra’s, they immediately connect. Upon turning them off, playback resumes through my laptop speakers.Ppretty flawless and so far, no issues. Sounds like maybe you had a bum pair. I may have to give these Sony’s a whirl though. Thanks!!

    Joshua Ghazal

    December 23, 2009 at 11:54 pm

  3. Hi Joshua,
    Thanks for the comment. I did some research after buying the Halos and not being able to get the volume to work with the iPhone, and it appears that the issue is mostly with 3G phones and is hit or miss. Some phones work and some don’t…or some headphones work and some don’t. Still, given the problems I would not recommend the Halos for iPhone use until Apple fixes the AVRCP issues.

    singraham

    December 24, 2009 at 5:43 am

  4. Hi, read you review on DR-BT 101 head phones as I was given one as a present but unfortunatly I cant get them to plat music from my pc running windows XP with a bluetooth dongle A2DP, I can get perfect sound through them via my mobile phone. Have downloaded the WIDCOMM Bluetooth Software for Windows but when I run it and its searching for my bluetooth devise it says it cannot switch it off as I may have BT keyboard or other devise which cannot be turned off but have no other devises, so it will not install, any help or ideas how I can get round this problem.
    Many thanks.
    Rich.

    Richard Harrisson

    January 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm

  5. I bought a pair of these headphones tonight after looking for a wireless set so I can travel around my University without working about a cord. They don’t sound as good as a pair of headphones I use to mix/monitor recordings with, but they sound really good for <$100 headphones.

    A few concerns I have with them: How well will the foam ear covers handle being used several hours every day? Also, the plastic looks like it could be brittle. But with proper care, they should last a while.

    I was comparing the sound quality from my laptop (MacBook) and my iPod Touch. You're right, there is a difference. I think the MacBook sounds slightly crunchy while the iPod Touch sounds clean and clear. It could be interference, but my suspicion is that the bluetooth on the laptop uses a different compression.

    Thanks for the review.
    Flick

    Flick

    January 13, 2010 at 1:15 am

  6. Hi there Stephen!
    I know this review is quite old but I’m searching for a new pair of headphones and I’m just interested in audio quality…which would you suggest between halos and bt101? sony looks ugly to me but not a big deal since I plan on using those at home only. I’d dare to go out with the halos, btw.
    Now I have a motorola 820 (so so for sound quality) and a plantronics 590a (stunning sound but very fragile plastics…they’re held in place with some adhesive tape all around….)
    Thanks in advance!

    Mike

    December 7, 2010 at 7:26 pm

  7. Thanks for this review. I’m in the buying process right now and this was useful. Did you look at the Sony DRBT50 as well?

    Tom Markiewicz

    December 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm

  8. The DRBT50s were well out of my price range.

    singraham

    December 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm

  9. Understood. So a year later do you still recommend these?

    Tom Markiewicz

    December 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm

  10. Still recommend them. I use them a lot and they have held up well. With the latest Broadcom drivers, you do not even need to buy bluetooth drivers for advanced stereo.

    singraham

    December 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm

  11. Hi I read you review and purchased the Sony headset you mentioned, mainly for use with Skype or VOIP apps. I have an iMac and an iPhone 4 but am unable to get them to work with Skype at all, in fact they seem to do something which freezes and ultimaltey crashes the app. I have the settings for headset and mic in Skype itself.
    They sound great with music on both mac and iPhone but I really want to be able to Skype with them.. and ideas as to why I can’t do this?
    Thanks!!

    Winterchild

    January 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm


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