Initially our intention was to compare every kind of Bluetooth headset and headphones available. As we were using the headphones in our day-to-day lives, we realized that certain headsets were better designed for particular functions. Optimizing a product design for one usage often involved degrading important characteristics of another function. This is analogous to building a car. If you want something fast that can go from 0-60 is 4 seconds flat; it’s probably not going to get the best gas mileage, or be of much use hauling 3 kids around town. The bottom line is those who want the best headphones for listening to music, or watching videos, have a different product profile than mobile warriors looking to make VOIP calls (more on this topic at the end).
In this product comparison, we are looking for the best Bluetooth headphones to listen to music and watch movies on your iPad. While we emphasized sound quality for music and video playback, virtually all the Bluetooth headsets have built in microphones and VOIP capability. Next week we will have a product comparison for Bluetooth headsets designed primarily for voice conversations that are iPad compatible, and play stereo sound.
The criteria for our product recommendations are sound quality, fit/comfort, battery life, features, and build quality. The greatest weight is our scoring was given to sound quality (approx 40% of the weighting); with the other 4 categories given weights equally divided with the remaining allocation. All the Bluetooth headsets recommended were tested with both the iPad 1 and iPad 2 running iOS versions as early as 4.2. Going back to our car analogy, you cannot expect an inexpensive car like a Ford Focus to compare with the performance of a high end car like a Ferrari. With that in mind, we also broke our recommendations into the best iPad Bluetooth headphones within a given price range.
One last tip before we begin is there no such thing as a Bluetooth headset designed for just the iPad. So if you are browsing online, or walking through the aisles of Best Buy looking for products with the words “iPad Bluetooth Headsets” scrawled on the packaging, you will be severely limiting your selection. When shopping for a Bluetooth headset or headphones for your iPad, just look make sure it’s a stereo headset or A2DP capable. The Bluetooth headset you buy for your iPad should work with your cell phone and Bluetooth enabled computer as well.
Best Bluetooth Headsets for your iPad under $40: Arctic Sound P311
Arctic Sound P311 (MSRP $39.99)
Our winner for the best Bluetooth headset under $40 is the Arctic Sound P311. If you are a techie the name will sound familiar as Arctic Sound is a division of Arctic Cooling, a Swiss owned company that makes CPU cooling and computer accessories. While the MSRP of the P311 is $39.95, you will find this headset online for around $30. It does everything you want out of a headset at a fair price. We loved this headset over more expensive Motorola and Sony models. Sound quality was indistinguishable from the Motorola and Sony models but the features that won us over were the amazing battery life and the folding design. In addition to testing it with the iPad, we were able to pair this headset with a PlayStation 3, laptops (MAC & PC), Android Phone, iPhone, and Nokia Phone with no problems.
We paired the Arctic Sound P311 with an Android phone, iPhone, and Nokia to test sound quality when making phone calls. Our friends on the other end could hear us just fine. Sound quality was crisp and there was no lag or choppiness in the conversation. For VOIP and cellular pairing, the P311 includes a hidden integrated microphone, built-in sound processor, and Advanced Clear Voice Capture (CVC) technology. The latter is just a fancy way of saying noise cancelling technology. While the microphone picks up on your voice during calls exquisitely, the noise cancelling function is not on par with higher end headsets such as the newest model Jawbone or Plantronic headsets. If you plan on speaking with a person in a noisy place such as Starbucks during the morning rush, the background noise will bleed into the conversation more than the high end headsets.
For music and video playback the sound was excellent for a device of this class. The music was crisp and vibrant at higher range. The built in high fidelity drivers were able to process sound in low range without any cracks or squeaks. The bass does sound flat when compared to higher end headsets and surround sound speakers. These are not the headsets to do sound editing on your MacBook Pro, but if you are watching Netflix on your iPad or listening to your iPod app, sound quality is excellent.
Weighing just 2.5 ounces, the P311 is very light. The closed acoustic ear cups provides good comfort as we could where them all day without a fatigue or irritation. Some of our readers might not like the behind the ear design but we found this ideal if you are planning to use these headsets at work, as they will not mess up the hair like over-the-head headsets.
One of the most useful features is the right earphone has 5 buttons that control certain settings. They allow you to answer a call, adjust the volume and forward/reverse the music. The device you pair the headset with must allow these functions but we found most do. If paired with a cell phone and there is an incoming call, the Inter-Call-Manager will play a ringtone into the headset. The music will then be paused and will resume after ending the call. Pairing to my iPad was not a problem and the controls worked for volume, skip, reverse, and pause. The Antic Sound P311 does not support multipoint Bluetooth.