Look, No Wires! On Finding My Perfect Bluetooth Headset

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Ever since I heard of the concept, I wanted a pair of headphones that required no physical connection to a device to work. No more entanglements, premature shorts, and most useful of all, increased flexibility when exercising and the like. The only problem? And this might be just me, but perhaps other blind folks agree: bluetooth headphones can be difficult to power on and off accessibly. At least, if you haven’t located a pair built just so.

My first set of bluetooth headphones were a Christmas gift to me in 2016. Uproar Wireless, I’m uncertain of the exact model number as I don’t think it listed in the bluetooth connection as most current models do. They were fairly small and the pads fit well, meaning that I didn’t feel like they would come off easily due to repeated entrance and removal from my backpack. They lacked the flexible speaker though, so that putting them into more confined spaces was difficult.

The real issue though was the power button. I could get the unit to power up and connect to my iPhone, but when I attempted to turn it off, the headphones would call my wife as I held the button down. At 6:30 in the morning. Obviously this was a no-go. The odd thing to me was that this behavior was not entirely consistent, and sometimes the headphones would indeed shut down as I had hoped, emitting a series of descending beeps.

This inability to predict what would happen, as well as the fact that the headphones lacked enough volume to allow me to hear in louder places such as our employee break room, caused me to shelve those and return to my old, wired set. I continued to use these as they slowly deteriorated, now to the point that I basically have to put the raggedy speakers that have no padding, and in which only one still kind of works, against my head.

About a month ago though, someone on my Facebook page spoke of a feature in the latest iOS called Live Listen that turns the iPhone into an FM system with a pair of bluetooth headphones. This means, I suppose, that I can have sound beamed into my hearing aid if I wanted to, say, listen to someone speaking in a larger room. I still haven’t actually tried this feature, but I intend to look it up and see if I can discern it.

Before that can happen though, I must track down a workable headset. So I dare to venture back into this, and on recommendation from a Twitter follower, I acquire the MPOW H5 Noise Canceling variety. These do have considerable volume, and an impressive amount of bass. They make music and other programming sound fantastic. They even have those flexible speakers, as well as the option to connect via the headphone jack. But when listening via Bluetooth, they would beep anytime I interacted with VoiceOver or even pressed the volume up-down switch. While mildly annoying, this was tolerable.

The power button, however, is what really dissuaded me from using them. Though it audibly says “Power Off” when the button is held, sometimes twice, for four seconds, my wife says a green light continues to shine. And sure enough, when I go to try and connect them the next day the 30-hour battery is drained and I must resort to a hard connection. This leads me to one conclusion, I need something with a switch I can flip bon or off.

My wife sets off on a search to find such a device, carefully combing Amazon reviews to see if mention of an on/off switch is made. Finally, she locates the Plantronics Backbeat Go 600 Noise-Isolating Headphones. I’ve only had them a couple of days, but they seem to be just what the doctor ordered. When I push the switch up, they say “Power on, Battery High, Phone 1 connected”. If I continue to push the switch, it becomes something of a rocker. I imagine that is how you can switch between multiple, connected devices. I wonder if any other, lower-priced, headphones allow for this kind of thing. (I just can’t bring myself to spend 300 bucks on a set, not yet at least). Anyhow, these headphones also allow for a wired connection if you choose, and say they can remain charged for up to 18 hours. Mine still report that the battery is high so we shall see how long they last. There is also a long button that, when pressed, reports the status again.

They don’t have the bass of the MPOW, but this is ok as I discovered an AppleVis podcast (AppleVis is a site for blind people that helps us with all things Apple) that shows me how to use the iPhone’s equalizer. With this, I can set it to “Small Speaker” to make music sound good in my headphones, or “Spoken Word” to improve the quality of audiobooks. I have found that this works wonderfully with my new set, and am finally able to truly enjoy bluetooth connectivity. I thought I would post about them, just in case any of you were pining for something similar, (i.e.) ones that do not require holding down a button and hoping.

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