Thursday, December 27, 2007


I haven't had much success with Bluetooth headsets in the past. They never seemed to fit my ear properly and while I had a hard time hearing, people on the other end of calls always complained about the sound quality.

I was ready to throw in the towel on my most recent Bluetooth headset, the Plantronics Discovery 655, when the PR folks for TRITTON Technologies asked me if I wanted to check out their latest Audio Xtreme (AX) BlueStream bluetooth stereo headset.

I jumped at the opportunity because not only did my current headset suck, but I also wanted to see how my Samsung Blackjack Windows Mobile 5 handset would fare as a music player when paired with a Bluetooth 2.0 enabled stereo headset. The Blackjack supposedly supports stereo audio playback through A2DP, but has some Bluetooth issues and so I wondered if the AX Bluestream would work well.

The AX Bluestream, which retails for US$79.99, is a 2.5-inch long clip-on device that has a universal 3.5mm jack at the top so you can plug in any stereo headset. It also sports an "OLED" display for displaying Caller ID, volume, and music playback status, and has a built-in microphone, rechargeable Li-Polymer battery and mini USB port for charging and firmware upgrades.

The AX Bluestream comes well-equipped out of the box with stereo headphones, a mono headset, USB charging cable and an USB AC adapter. The manual is OK and it was simple to pair the device with my Blackjack. In fact, I was also easily able to pair the AX Bluestream with my home Intel iMac running Leopard, which I will get to later in the review.

Instead of using the supplied stereo headphones, I've been using ones from my iPod shuffle and they worked fine for my needs. I usually clip the AX Bluestream to my shirt near the neck so the mic can pick up my voice better. The device's clip function could be better as it doesn't hold on to thinner fabric shirts that well.

Other than some Blackjack Bluetooth quirkiness, the AX Bluestream really shines for voice calls. Having headphones in both ears makes a world of difference. Conversations and conference calls are much clearer and louder whether I'm at my desk or in a noisy environment. And for people at the other end of the phone call, there have been no more complaints that I sounded like I'm under water or far, far away. Overall the feedback from people I've called regarding the voice quality emanating from the handset via the AX Bluestream has been very positive.

On the music front, I sideloaded some MP3s from my iTunes collection to the Blackjack's microSD card and turned on its Bluetooth stereo headset capabilities. After manually launching Windows Media Player and playing a song, the AX Bluestream's support for AVRCP allowed for remote music playback control. I could play, pause and skip to the next or previous song by pressing buttons on the device.

Sound quality of the music played through the AX Bluestream was pretty good. Not high fidelity/audiophile levels nor as good as connecting headphones directly to an iPod, but that is probably due to the limitation of Bluetooth 2.0 itself. The tech is beyond me but it has something to do with audio compression and data transfer caps. Suffice to say, music sound quality was fine for me and I could envision using the Blackjack as a music player if Windows Media Player wasn't so crappy. There is no way to quit the app other than through a forced quit, which is very annoying as it's a multi-step process. I might have to investigate acquiring a 3rd-party music playing app if I keep the Blackjack much longer.

As I mentioned earlier, I was also able to pair the AX Bluestream to my iMac with Leopard.This let me use the device to "wirelessly" listen to iTunes and other content via the iMac, which was pretty cool. I could walk around my living room listening without being tethered to the iMac. Too bad I couldn't be paired to two different devices at the same time, such as the iMac and my Blackjack. Now that would be really useful. I didn't try it with Skype but I'm pretty sure that would have worked as well.

Since the AX Bluestream uses a jack to plug in stereo headsets, I read some complaints claiming it's not really wireless because it requires wired headphones. I actually liked being able to customize the device with stereo headphones that best suited my needs instead of being limited to a vendor's design.

So if you want an integrated, one-piece Bluetooth stereo headset without any wires then the Tritton Technologies AX Bluestream is definitely not for you. However, if you have a favorite pair of headphones and want a reasonably priced Bluetooth device that not only works very well for hands-free voice calls but also for listening to audio content in stereo then you can't go wrong with the AX Bluestream.