I’m changing things up a bit for this article which will be an amalgam of what I’ve traditionally done in separate articles.
First up, I want to thank MobileZap for sending me a pair of Avantree Audition Bluetooth Stereo NFC Headphones to review. These Avantree headphones are just one pair of a wider range of Bluetooth headphones available at their website here. Form the purposes of this review, I’ll be comparing the Aventree headphones against the Logitech UE9000 headphones I bought last year.
I have to say that I have never heard of Avantree before and likely not many of you reading this article either. With the headphone landscape dominated by the likes of Sennheiser, Bose and others that have been around for ages you could be forgiven for not knowing about Avantree. So, this was going to be a good opportunity to test the mettle of a lesser known brand in Australia.
Anyway, let’s kick things off first with the unboxing video and a quick look at the headphones:
Essentially, you’ve got the basics to get going:
- the headphones (of course),
- a stereo audio cable,
- a USB to micro USB cable,
- operating instructions, warranty and marketing literature.
I guess the main difference in the unboxing experience is that the Avantree headphones don’t include a hard case like the UE9000 headphones but when you consider that you are obtaining almost feature parity for roughly one quarter of the price some concessions must be made.
The other potentially minor differences are the absence of a 3.5mm to 6mm stereo adapter and an AC to USB power adapter which are included with the UE9000 headphones. Stereo adapters are fairly cheap from eBay or an electronics store and the majority of consumer devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers all feature 3.5mm stereo sockets. Also, many people will likely have USB power adapters from other devices that can do the job perhaps at a different rate of charge.
Anyway, speaking of features lets cover off the big hitters for the Avantree headphones:
- Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity with aptX codec (this enables high fidelity audio),
- on-ear controls,
- built-in microphone,
- built-in battery.
So, NFC is appearing in more devices these days and not just for the purposes of making financial transactions. NFC in the context of the Avantree headphones allows you to pair them with another device with an NFC reader without doing any of the traditional Bluetooth pairing process. Just hold the devices together at the NFC spot on the headphones, accept the request to pair on the other device and you’re done. The Logitech UE9000 headphones unfortunately do not feature NFC at all which is perhaps disappointing for their price.
That’s not the only utility for NFC though. If, like me, you use multiple devices you may want to change the active connected device. All you need to do is tap the NFC-enabled device to the headphones (once turned on) and the connection will be established. No need to go rooting around in the settings of your device to find Bluetooth devices and activate the connection!
The deal is sweetened further for those of you who might use two phones (one for work and one for personal use, or whatever). This will allow you to receive audio and phone calls from either device without having to disconnect either. However, you can only have one device engaged with audio at a time, they won’t play over each other and only the last device to send audio will end up being heard in the headphones. This could get rather interesting if both phones ring at the same time or if you’re already on a call on one phone and the other one rings. The UE9000 headphones can’t manage this either – only one device at a time.
As far as Bluetooth audio quality is concerned it is helped considerably by the presence of the aptX audio codec in the Avantree Audition headphones (as well as the Logitech UE9000 headphones). If you’ve tried standard A2DP Bluetooth audio in the past you would have found that audio quality resembles that found in regular telephone calls (albeit perhaps a bit better). In a nutshell, if you’re looking for Bluetooth headphones then make sure they are aptX enabled.
Rounding out the features are on-ear controls, a built-in microphone for voice calls (be it mobile phone or Skype) or for gaming, and a built-in battery rated for forty hours (rechargeable via USB). All of these features are present in the UE9000 headphones.
However, the UE9000 does “one up” the Avantree Audition headphones with its noise-cancellation capabilities which would account for a good portion of the price difference.
For a closer look at the headphones and a demo of the NFC Bluetooth pairing process check out the below video:
Let’s move on to the construction of the headphones.
What I noticed immediately was how light the Avantree headphones were in comparison to the UE9000 headphones – 179 grams (0.39lbs) versus 363 grams (0.8lbs) according to my scales. This is actually a big difference for something that is going to be on your head for a while either for music, videos, gaming or voice calls.
The difference in weight seems to be primarily due to differences in materials and density between the headphones. The UE9000 headphones feel solid with some heft thanks to a good chunk of metal in them whilst the Avantree headphones may feel hollow with a less than premium feel to them in comparison. In fact, the only place where you see metal externally on the Avantree headphones are on each side where the cans connect to the headband with two prongs.
However, these metal prongs do not house the audio wiring – a cable is exposed on each side of the headphones between the cans and the headband. As such, you probably don’t want to be too careless when storing or adjusting the headphones or adjust them too often for that matter. That said, the cans are adjustable by about three centimetres which should cater for most shapes and sizes of heads.
Once you’ve made the necessary adjustments the Avantree Audition headphones are quite comfortable given the ear cushioning and its light weight which negates the need for lots of padding in the headband. These headphones also clamp to your head nicely if you’re on the move. I’ve certainly not had issues when I’ve gone on a long walk or for a jog. The ear cushions were also large enough to allow my ears to fit comfortably and achieve a good seal.
The other aspect I am going to cover are the buttons on the left can. There are three buttons that control a variety of functions, including:
- turning the headphones on and off,
- manually putting the headphones into pairing mode,
- answering or ending a phone call,
- pausing or skipping audio tracks,
- adjusting the volume up and down (a range of sixteen steps).
The buttons certainly do their job but I did somewhat notice that they are obviously plastic both in the way they feel and sound when you push them. I could really hear the buttons as they are pushed and released moreso than the UE9000 headphones. This might not be a big deal if you have volume leveling on all of your music and your playlists are exactly the way you like them though.
There are two aspects I have considered here regarding audio quality – the speakers and the microphone.
I reckon most people will be happy with the speaker sound quality, Certainly with the advent of generic audio solutions that have replaced dedicated sound cards inside computers and the quality of the earphones included with many smartphones/tablets these headphones can offer an improved audio experience (particularly at the price point of AU$75). You may also notice a difference between wired and wireless sound quality – I found that wired audio quality was better than using Bluetooth.
More critically, I did notice a difference compared to the Logitech UE9000 headphones. The Avantree Audition headphones lose some of the overall audio definition with bass that can be a bit muddy and trebles that were a little muted. I found it far easier to discern subtleties in a track like ABC played by the Vitamin String Quartet where I could hear the bow on the double bass gripping the string on the lower bass notes with the Logitech headphones. Granted, perhaps I am a little more sensitive to that sort of thing having played double bass back in school but perhaps something worth knowing if you enjoy the smaller things in your music. Otherwise, you can still lose yourself in some good music turned up enough to block out the outside world even if temporarily.
Admittedly, Logitech has touted its “UE sound signature” tuning for the UE9000 headphones which when paired with active noise-cancellation certainly makes for enjoyable listening (even over Bluetooth). Whilst Avantree doesn’t make this sort of claim for its Audition headphones you do need to weigh up the value proposition particularly if you are aware of your personal audible limitation and budget.
As far as the microphone in the Audition headphones goes, well… it works. It’s not terrible but it’s not fantastic either and the same goes for the Logitech UE9000 headphones. I would put this down to a Bluetooth limitation where the fidelity for microphones is lagging behind those of speakers rather than the actual quality of the microphones themselves though. Certainly, when I have had phone calls with my wife she could notice a significant difference between the microphone in the Avantree Audition headphones and the standard microphone in my Nokia Lumia 1520 (with the Lumia 1520 being the clearer).
That said, people can still understand you but be prepared to repeat yourself particularly if you are prone to mumbling or talking with your mouth full (tut tut, manners!).
In the world of audio reproduction you do tend to get what you pay for but as humans we do have inherent, personal limitations as to what we can hear. There are people who love and appreciate ultra high fidelity or lossless format audio and others in the vast majority who are happy with something that sounds “good enough”.
These headphones could perhaps be suited for teenagers who want to listen to music, game and yammer with their friends and you get more bang for buck if you need to get several pairs of headphones. Otherwise, if you are a casual LAN party goer then the Avantree Audition headphones might just be the ticket for you particularly if you don’t want a stereo cable getting in the way of your mouse, keyboard and chair.
For the features that the Avantree Audition headphones offer in comparison to the Logitech UE9000 headphones I reckon there is excellent value for money to be had. Sure, you don’t get active noise-cancellation and it probably won’t make a difference to your assessment if you’ve not had headphones with that capability in the past.
I believe many people are content with the ear buds that came with a device and will happily use those until they die or go missing and then use another pair of ear buds from another device. The Avantree Audition headphones will represent an improved audio experience with the convenience of Bluetooth and NFC along with great battery life for that market.
Whilst the Logitech UE9000 headphones have a premium fit and finish the Avantree headphones still look perfectly fine and do a pretty good job at the same time at around a quarter of the cost. For headphones that tick many of the same boxes I think you’ll be hard pressed to find an alternative at this price and level of sound quality that is packed with the same level of functionality.