Sony SBH80 Review: MH1C goes wireless

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Sony’s Livesound MH1C in-ear earphone pretty much redefined price/performance when ClieOS first brought it to the attention of Head-Fi back in 2012. I was equally impressed with it in my review months later, finding little to dislike except for the rubbery flat cable.

Since then, the street price of the MH1C has come up and the competition has intensified, but it remains one of my favorite earphones in its price range, one again making it into the 2014 version of my in-ear earphone buyer’s guide earlier this month.

As noted above, the MH1C has one major drawback in my view – the cable. It is a j-style cord, meaning uneven cable lengths to the left and right earpieces with the longer cord meant to be worn around the back of the neck – a scheme that has never really caught on with headphone users in the US. It is also rubbery, which causes it to tangle more than a flat cable should, and moderately microphonic. The MH1C also boasts a 4-button remote designed for Sony Xperia devices, which provides only limited functionality with Apple and most Android devices.

I have always hoped Sony would re-release the MH1C with a different cable, but instead was contacted by Sead Smailagic of Sony Mobile with news of the SBH80 – a wireless evolution of the MH1C.

Design & Functionality

 

Sony SBH80 earphones

The SBH80 earphones utilize a “wearable” form factor, putting the battery and major circuitry in a single housing worn at the back of the neck. This is also where the micro USB charging port, power button, and NFC tag are located. From there, semi-rigid wires extend around both sides of the wearer’s neck, terminating in two small pods that rest on the shoulders and hold the microphones (two mics are used for high-quality voice transmission) and remote control buttons. On the left side we have the Play/Pause and Next/Previous Track buttons. On the right side are the volume controls and a button that controls headset functionality with phones. The SBH80 doesn’t seem to have a Siri/Google Now/Voice control feature, but that’s alright with me.

The earpieces are attached to the remote control “pods” by about 8 inches (20 cm) of cable on either side. The cords used here are light and thin in cross-section, the exact opposite of the MH1C cables. They don’t get in the way and the earpieces can even be worn over-the-ear if necessary, which eliminates excess cable slack.

Wireless technology

 

The SBH80 utilizes a Bluetooth v3.0 chipset with support for the aptX codec as well as NFC and Multipoint. For an introduction to Bluetooth audio and a brief overview of Bluetooth audio profiles, codecs, and other technologies, see my recent article on Bluetooth audio.

aptX a proprietary audio codec designed to encode a CD-quality (16-bit / 44.1kHz) audio stream without loss of sound quality. It is capable of consistently good audio quality, with the caveat being that both the headphone and the source must be aptX-capable – if either one lacks aptX support, the default SBC codec will be used instead. My Nexus 5, for example, does not support apt-X, nor do Apple devices such as iPhones and iPods.

Like all Bluetooth headphones, the SBH80 will use the SBC codec with devices that do not support aptX. SBC is capable of audio streams with bitrates of approximately 330 kbps at its best, but is also capable of mid- and low-quality streams. If you’ve ever experienced compressed, unnatural audio from a Bluetooth headphone in the past, a low-quality SBC stream was most likely to blame. In the absence of aptX, high-quality SBC will deliver very decent audio quality. However, low- and even medium-quality SBC streaming is undesirable for music and should be avoided.

With headphones that support high-quality SBC streams, such as the SBH80, sound quality over SBC wil depend on implementation on the transmitter side. A USB Bluetooth transmitter I picked up for $2 from a Chinese deal site, for instance, sounded absolutely atrocious because it defaulted to the lowest SBC quality. Installing a better dongle in its place produced much better results.

SBH80 earphones showing NFC area

NFC and Multipoint provide the SBH80 with additional functionality. NFC is a wireless standard used as a “handshaking” shortcut to establish connection. Bluetooth devices that support NFC can be paired and connected by simply bringing the NFC chips together, without ever opening a Bluetooth menu. The caveat is that that both devices have to support NFC for this to work.

NFC allows me to pair and connect the SBH80 with my Nexus 5 much more quickly and easily than with other devices by simply tapping the NFC area of the headset (located under the NFC logo) against the appropriate spot on the back of my phone. This doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but it is surprisingly convenient in everyday use.

Multipoint, too, is very handy, allowing the SBH80 to maintain two Bluetooth connections simultaneously. With Multipoint, I can have my computer and phone, for example, both connected to the headset at the same time. If I am listening to music from my PC and a call comes in on my phone, the headset will allow me to take the call and then resume music playback from the computer automatically once the call is over.

General use

 

I’ve had relatively limited experience with wireless headphones, but broke out my old Sennheiser MM400 and also borrowed a MEElectronics AF32 from a friend to compare Bluetooth functionality. Both of these on-ear sets displayed better signal stability at maximum range (past 20 feet) and longer battery life, but otherwise had no advantages over the much more compact (and better-sounding) SBH80.

I’ve also purchased and returned a generic aptX-enabled Bluetooth in-ear in the past. While the sound quality was decent, it went back due to unacceptable range and a constant buzz in one channel whenever the Bluetooth connection was active. The SBH80 a much better-designed device by miles.

Sony SBH80

In truth, I’ve been using this unit for close to a month and don’t really have any complaints pertaining to usability. It’s been coming pretty close to the advertised 6-hour battery life, which is great for a wireless in-ear. The wearable design is more convenient than I had expected and all of the small details make it more so. For example, the main housing vibrates when a call is coming in just in case you don’t have the earpieces in your ears.

One thing I noticed is that the range depends on the Bluetooth transmitter – the one in the Nexus 5, for example, does a better job of maintaining signal integrity through walls with the SBH80 than the Bluetooth USB dongle I use with my desktop PC, or the Bluetooth built into my Asus laptop.

On the conventional earphone side, the SBH80 retains all of the features that made the MH1C a great earphone – the passive noise isolation is very good and the earpieces are extremely small, lightweight, and comfortable. The latest iteration of Sony’s eartips works very well, too. Some wind noise can be heard when using them in high-wind conditions, but unless I’m using them on a bike, it’s not problematic.

Lastly, the microphone setup deserves a special mention – unlike any other stereo headset I’ve tried, wired or wireless, the SBH80 received nothing but compliments when it comes to voice quality. I even prefer using the SBH80 in my car over the built-in Bluetooth, again for the superior voice quality – I simply pop one earpiece in when the unit indicates an incoming call.

Sound

 

In testing the audio quality of the SBH80, the following equipment was used:

  • CSR Bluetooth dongle with aptX support on Windows 7 x64
  • LG Nexus 5 with high-quality SBC (source)
  • Fiio E7 and HiFiMan HM-901 with IEM card were used as baseline sources for the Sony MH1C.

The first thing I did was compare the SBH80 to its corded predecessor, the MH1C. Anyone interested in my original MH1C review can find it here.

The MH1C and SBH80 sound extremely similar at their best. It makes sense that they should, as they are based on the same transducer. To my ears the SBH80 seems to have a touch more low end presence, especially in the subbass region, relative to the midrange. It is also a little smoother through the treble. Combined, these changes make it sound a little warmer and overall even more forgiving than the MH1C. I personally like the slightly more crisp and edgy treble of the MH1C as it’s still an extremely smooth earphone, but for some listeners the SBH80 will be clearly preferable. In any case, the newer model provides a warm, clear, and smooth sound on a performance level I have not previously experienced with a wireless set.

The bass is deep and full, with an emphasis on sub-bass rather than mid-bass, resulting in good overall bass quality. Considering the amount of the bass enhancement, control is rather good, although it’s still not as tight as the bass of Sony’s similarly-priced balanced armatures models, for example, or less bassy dynamic-driver sets such as the HiFiMan RE-400 and LG Quadbeat.

The mids of the SBH80 are not as prominent as the low end, but they are pleasantly warm and full-bodied. The treble is extremely smooth and inoffensive. The sound through the midrange and treble is quite natural, as with the MH1C. I did sometimes wish for better overall balance as the bass can be a hair intrusive at times, but clarity is not lacking. The enhanced low end should also be great for use outside, especially loud environments, as the bass of a headphone can easily end up losing authority in such situations.

The earphone also exhibits excellent high-volume performance, maintaining composure when played loud, and produces no distortion (assuming none is added by the Bluetooth section as in the case of a low-quality SBC stream, for example). The presentation is good as well, providing a surprisingly open sound despite the warm tone, partly due to the good treble reach.

Wrap-up

 

I can’t say that the SBH80 bests it wired counterpart in audio quality, but there’s a clear winner when it comes to usability. Using the MH1C as a sound benchmark for the past year has only made me more annoyed with the cord and limited remote functionality. The SBH80 does away with all that, replacing the cables with a small battery pod that sits behind the neck. Aside from the need to be charged, it is a huge improvement in user-friendliness.

To experience the SBH80 at its best, an aptX-compatible transmitter is recommended but even with a device like the Nexus 5, which lacks aptX support but also doesn’t have the best audio quality through the headphone jack, these earphones provide an experience comparable to going wired – with no tangling, no cable noise, no problems with remote compatibility, and probably superior long-term durability due to reduced risk of cable stress breakage.

More generally, I’m convinced that wireless is the future of portable audio – maybe not the high end, but certainly mid-range and entry-level. Being un-tethered from your device, being able to move freely around the room and perform physical activity without worrying about cords getting in the way, is easy to get used to and hard to give up. With the FAA allowing Bluetooth headsets on flights and more and more devices supporting decent-quality wireless audio, it’s simply a matter of time before we see more wireless gear designed with audio quality in mind.

As for the SBH80, all I can say is this – I have never had any trouble recommending the MH1C, and now don’t have to tack on the caveat of “if you can deal with its cable…”

 

The SBH80 product page can be found on Sony’s website here. Select specifications follow.

Features

  • Bluetooth 3.0
  • NFC
  • Multipoint connectivity
  • HD Voice
  • aptX® audio enhancement

Acoustic

  • Speaker type: 5.8 mm dynamic
  • Nominal Impedance: 15 Ohm
  • Frequency response: 10Hz … 20000Hz, (diffuse field oriented mid-high range).
  • Max SPL: 100dBA (EN 50332-1)
  • Total harmonic distortion: <0.5% (100Hz .. 10000Hz @ 100dBSPL)
  • Microphone: Dual MEMS

Weight: 15.8g

Battery

  • Standby time: (up to) 650 hours
  • Talk time: (up to) 9 hours
  • Stream time: 6 hours
  • Battery: 125 mAh

 

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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

75 Comments

  1. Cryosx on

    I’ve had these for a while now. Do you any suggestions for an upgrade?

    • Cryosx on

      Well, just bought the VModa Forza Metallo Wireless. Oddly enough they look very similar

  2. mauro on

    i used till yesterday sbh70 and ipod nano 7gen, but now ipod don’t find the sbh70, i reset the ipod too to try, and nothing change.
    someone haved this problem and solved it ?

    • ljokerl on

      You’ve probably already tried this, but deleting the SBH70 from the iPod’s bluetooth menu and then creating a whole new pairing between them is a good troubleshooting step.

  3. Marten on

    Thanks for your extensive reviews on IEM’s and wireless sets!

    My Shure SE215 is starting to develop some signs of breaking down, so I’m on the hunt for something new. My Nexus 6P is going to be my only source for music, and I’ve sort of settled on the RHA MA750, but am also intrigued by the SBH80, primarily because I can see the advantages over a wired set of IEM’s.

    How would you rate the sound quality and isolation of the SBH80 compared to the MA750 or my SE215?

    Thanks again!

    Marten

    • ljokerl on

      Does the 6P support aptX? Might be something to look into before pulling the trigger on an SBH80. It’s not a deal-breaker but it raises the ceiling a bit of the best audio quality you can get out of a Bluetooth set.

      Overall, the MA750 will give you the best sound quality, especially the balance and treble energy. The SBH80 and SE215 are comparable in my opinion, even though one is wireless – in fact, I’d pick the SBH80 if I had to choose between those two thanks to its more linear and extended treble.

      Isolation is best on the SE215, and pretty good on the SBH80 and MA750 both.

      • Marten on

        I have decided to get the SBH80. I found a refurbished one at a significantly lower cost and I have a 14-day return period. I received it yesterday.

        First impressions (after 3 or 4 hours) are not entirely positive. I can hear some slight sibilance on falsetto vocals and even more on the cymbals. The bass frequencies can also be a bit intrusive in certain music. Acoustic music and softer melodies are absolutely fine and leave me pretty impressed, but I think that I prefer my SE215 for things like driving rock music.

        I think this has led me to rethink my buying strategy: I should probably be looking for a more neutral/flat sounding IEM for my tastes. I might give the MA750 a try soon or look towards the RE400 or something with similar balance.

        Thank you again for your advice!

        • ljokerl on

          I can see the bass since it’s a bassier earphone than the SE215, but I’ve never heard sibilance out of the SBH80 or MH1C. The MA750 is not going to be more neutral than the SE215 either – you’d probably need to at least go with something like a VSonic GR07 or Philips Fidelio S2 for that.

  4. Coldcat on

    Hello, thanks for the review. Bought my SBH80 the other day but i can’t get them to connect to my ipad mini as a second device. Any suggestions?

    • ljokerl on

      You mean you want to have the iPad and some other device connected to the SBH80 at the same time (via Multipoint)? I had trouble doing this the first time as well, until I got the manual out. Have only done it a few times since.

      • Coldcat on

        Yes via multipoint. I have read the manual and whatnot. So it is an issue ? How did you manage?

        • ljokerl on

          It wasn’t an issue with my devices so I can’t really be of any help here.

  5. Hellotom on

    Hi, Ijoker
    Deeply impressed on your views on earphones. I have an issue which I want to share with you. I am a music lover. My mobile htc one me dual sim has boomsound option which is a real high quality audio sound effect, I didn’t find in many other mobiles and I specially love htc for their well known sound quality. However the same htc earphone doesn’t produce similar effects when I use it with my sony vaio ultrabook (sony vaio pro 13) and the sound is bit smaller and relatively lower quality. Should I use sony sbh80 for only use in laptop to get a deep & clear sound similar to my htc earphone with mobile. Pl suggest…regards

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately I don’t know what the HTC earphones sound like so I can’t tell you if the SBH80 will provide a similar sound, but I think its bass is very well-measured and has good depth, and its sound is clear. It helps to use an aptX-enabled device with it though – otherwise there’s some additional variables that go into the sound quality.

  6. Henry on

    What a great review, stumbled onto it while researching bluetooth earbuds. Thank you for this. Just wondering if you’d tried Sony XBA BT75 bluetooth earbuds? I know they are discontinued but I was intrigued mainly because they incorporate balanced armature drivers. Thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      I tried them briefly at a show and wasn’t too impressed. They’re probably equivalent to an entry-level single BAs from other manufacturers – the ones typically found in the $40-50 range wired.

  7. Danish on

    Hey, just bought these. I think the product is pretty good. However, when ever i am getting a call using the earphones and happen to disconnect it, the earphone’s also disconnect from the phone. I am not sure what is wrong. I am using Nexus 5 right now.

    Any thoughts.

    • ljokerl on

      I use a Nexus 5 as well and I’ve never had that happen with any BT earphone. I guess that leaves a few possibilities
      1) defect with your SBH80 unit causing this problem
      2) defect or software bug with your Nexus 5 causing the problem
      3) some kind of setting on the phone or that specific pairing causing the issue
      4) one of your apps somehow modifying or interfering with the correct Bluetooth functionality

      Most of these you can troubleshoot by trying your SBH80 with a different phone and trying a different Bluetooth headset with your phone

      • Danish on

        Hi,

        Thank you for your reply, I am pretty much sorted now. Not to mention the earphones did prove the worth I spent on them. Only one question, thought sound quality being decent I am not able to get any bass in them. Could this be because I am using the smallest earbuds. Could you help ?

        • ljokerl on

          Yes, that means the seal between the eartips and your ears isn’t airtight. This can usually be fixed by making sure you’re using the right eartip size for your ears and are inserting the eartips fully into your ear canal. But in some cases (if your ears are between sizes for the included tips, for example) it may be beneficial to pick up some aftermarket tips.

  8. Andrew on

    Hi, I’m looking at the sbh80 for use as ear protection on machinery. Bobcat, tractor, ride on mower etc. I’ve been using a sony wired ,noise cancelling set. Now looking to Bluetooth. (and water resistance ) What’s your thoughts . THNX

    • ljokerl on

      The SBH80 isn’t noise canceling and as far as I know it’s not water resistance-rated. Might not be the best choice. For that kind of application you probably want passive noise blockers with very high isolation – either over-ear (like the Rock-It Sounds R-Shield) or in-ear (like the Etymotic MK5) – or active noise cancelers (especially if there is a lot of low frequency noise). The SBH80 won’t keep up with highly-isolating in-ears or a good noise-cancelling set in terms of how much noise it blocks out.

      Not sure if there’s anything suitable out there that’s also wireless – of the 10 or so sets I’ve tried there are none I would trust as much as the above-mentioned solutions.

  9. Halil on

    Thank you very much for the review. I wonder, despite having different shapes if you can compare SBH70 and SBH80; sound quality and the passive and active noise cancelation? my phone is sony z3 so i am stuck between these two sony products. i walk a lot and i sweat alot; i heard/read these two have water resistant (sbh70 has even an IP rating).
    have a nice day.

    • ljokerl on

      Unfortunately I don’t have an SBH70 – only an SBH60 and an SBH80. However, the SBH70 has earpod-style housings so the noise isolation will be inferior to the in-ear SBH80. There is no active noise cancellation on either of these – just the NC microphones, which do not affect the amount of noise you hear.

      • Halil on

        Thank you again, you enlightened me. it is weird for me that manufacturers doesnt include all essential information on the web openly, for some reason i was thinking sbh70 has active NC.

  10. Gareth on

    Don’t know if this will get picked up on this older post but I have just received a pair of SBH80s which I have paired with my LG G2. No problem with music but I can’t pick up an incoming call using the button on the headset. Anyone had similar problems, know if this is unusual on an LG G2. Thanks

    • Gareth on

      Hi. Resolved. Works fine when using network but I was testing in doors where the phone had switched to Three In Touch. Obviously doesn’t work when an internet connection. Now very happy with the SBH80 although haven’t tested out battery life too much.

      • ljokerl on

        Good info, thanks for posting the solution! Glad you like the SBH80.

      • Delilah on

        Hello, I have received these headphones and they don’t seem to work with calls over TuGo…I had a look online and found your posting regarding not being able to use over wifi. I make all my calls over Tu Go on my iphone and ipad as the signal in my house is so bad…so my question is do these headphones not work over wifi? thanks!

        • ljokerl on

          These and other Bluetooth headphones do not connect over Wi-Fi. They connect over Bluetooth to your device (iPhone, iPad, whatever), and they don’t really care what your device is doing from there (i.e. whether you are placing calls over Wi-Fi or a cellular network). However, some apps are set up to disallow app audio to be sent over Bluetooth, whether for privacy/security or other reasons. If TuGo is one of those apps, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to use any Bluetooth headphones with it.

          If you are able to connect to your iPhone and play music and answer regular phone calls (network, not Wi-Fi) with the headphones, but are not receiving any audio from the TuGo app, there’s a good chance that’s what’s going on. The app’s support team would be able to confirm for sure whether or not Bluetooth headphones are supposed to work with it.

  11. Thomas J on

    So the sony sbh80 will work with my Samsung Galaxy S4 straight out of the box? I have a sony sbh20 now which ive been happy with except for how one cord is longer than the other and having to clip it on shirt etc ,almost lost it a few times but otherwise happy with sound quality watching videos and talking on the phone. This looks like a big step up assuming it works with the S4.

    • ljokerl on

      Yep. The S4 even supports aptX, which means you’ll get the best possible sound quality out of them.

    • Maik G. on

      Thomas, did you get the sbh80? I own the sbh20 too and I am very happy with the sound. How would you compare the sound of both, is there even a difference? I really like the bass of the sbh20, is it different from the sbh80? Or would you still recommend the sbh20 instead of the sbh80?
      Joker, do you know the sound difference of the whole sbh family? Many of the actual speakers, without the bluetooth system, look pretty much the same, are they even the same? For example the ones of sbh20 and sbh50 look the same, but the sbh80 ones look diffrent.
      Another question: would it be possible to go jogging with these, or would they “jump” to much on the neck while running? is the backpiece maybe so heavy it would pull out the plugs of my ears when jogging?
      I also owned a pair of sennheiser cx300 and was pretty happy with them. Many complain for their bass or clarity, but somehow i really liked their sound. And i like the sound of the sbh20 somehow even more (with just a verry little tick more sub bass it would be perfekt. But i think this would be hard without loosing mid-bass, wouldnt it?), maybe because the base “punches” a little bit more, feels more clear. I’m no expert in all of this, but read quite a lot of your descriptions and came to conclusion, that i may be more kind of a the “mid-basshead”, than a “sub-basshead”. I like a punching, but not too agressiv bass (just like my sbh20) does. And how you would you compare the sound to the cx300?
      I’m sorry for so many questions 😀

      maybe you should also try the sbh20. I really like their sound, they are comfortable and really cheap. I just wonder, if the sbh80 really would be an upgrade and worth the money.

      • ljokerl on

        I only have two – the SBH80 and SBH60. They don’t really share a family sound signature – the SBH80 is warm and smooth, with deep and impactful bass. The SBH60 is more neutral, and somewhat rolled off at either end. I don’t know how the SBH20/SBH50 compare but the SBH80 is the only one that’s based on the highly acclaimed MH1C and is the flagship of the series. I probably wouldn’t want to jog in them, though – there’s nothing holding the battery pod in place except gravity. A Bluetooth headset where all of the heavy bits are in the earpieces and some kind of in-ear retention system (e.g. Jaybird Bluebuds) would be a better design for jogging.

  12. Rob Maxwell on

    so I got the SBH80’s for Christmas, let them break in for a week….and they sound great! I really like most of all, the total balance of these IEM’s. I’m going to get a Sony hi rez NWZ-a17 soon, and will be looking to pair them with a headphone/iem with very good resolution, but in particular, I want to find phones that have a similar tonal balance as the SVH80’s, just wired and more detailed, especially in the bass. Any thoughts on something with similar tonal balance under, say, $300? Thanks

    • ljokerl on

      The tonal balance of the SBH80 is somewhat unique in that there’s quite a bit of bass (which gives up a little bass quality/resolution) but also decent clarity and smooth treble – oftentimes bass-heavy headphones either have enhanced treble, leading to some harshness, or go in the opposite direction and sound either dull or muddy (or both).

      Anyway, under $300 I think the best options for sound similar to the smooth, warm SBH80 are the Sony MDR-7550, which has less bass quantity but makes up for it with very good resolution and detail, or the Yamaha EPH-100, which maintains the heavy bass impact but just does a better job with bass depth and overall quality.

      • Rob Maxwell on

        thanks for the suggestions. I’ll look into them. any thoughts on similar sound signature with on-ears or over-ear phones?

        • ljokerl on

          I haven’t tried many of the newer cans out there. I’d say Sennheiser Momentum (over-ear) is definitely worth a look, though. I quite like it.

  13. Rob Maxwell on

    How’s the review on the bluetooth comparison coming along? I wanna ask my wife for BT IEM’s for Christmas. Any frontrunners?

    • ljokerl on

      Deep at work on that but it’s mostly larger headphones and only a couple of IEMs.

      Only two wireless IEMs I actually like are the SBH80 and the Plantronics BackBeat GO2. I like the form factor of the BackBeat better in theory but in practice the SBH80 is the better headphone – better sound, better battery life, more comfortable in the ear, and even better microphone. The only thing the Plantronics has going for it is slightly better range and the lack of the neck pod.

  14. Geoff on

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Finally a reviewer that discusses phone call quality on stereo headsets.

    I’m old and I have crappy hearing, so I use a stereo Bluetooth headset connected to my LG G2. I’ve been using the LG Tone headsets and recently upgraded to the LG Tone Ultra. It came with a defective microphone. In talking about this with my associates, I discovered that the sound quality of my voice on their end was not great — Except for a few who have HD Voice on their phone service to match up with the HD Voice on my end.

    I’ve been looking high and low for a stereo Bluetooth headset that I thought would be an upgrade in the phone call department from the LG Tone, but it’s been frustrating because no one ever bothers to seriously review phone call quality on the stereo units.

    I have enough sense to know that a boom microphone – to get the mic closer to my mouth – would make a big difference, but the only models I’ve been able to find are the over the head styles which simply aren’t practical to wear out and about on the street, to a business meeting, or whatever. I was about ready to cross my fingers and order an around-the-neck on-the-ears model on the theory that getting the microphone up higher and a little bit closer to my mouth would help.

    Then, I ran across the Sony SBH80. I thought it a little bit pricey on a gamble that the dual microphones would make a difference, so I looked for a review and found yours.

    Please correct me if I’m incorrect, but based on your review it appears that the SBH80 probably has the best phone call quality of any stereo Bluetooth model currently available.

    I’m in Dallas, Texas and there’s a Sony dealer that will have the SBH80 in stock later this week, so I’m going to hop over there and buy one. It’s within a few dollars of the LG Tone HBS-800 Ultra, but based on your review, I’m betting the phone call quality is significantly better.

    Thanks again for going where no else bothers to go and evaluate the phone call quality of the stereo models.

    Geoff

    • ljokerl on

      This is a good question. I think Bluetooth headsets lend themselves naturally to evaluation of the mic quality because whereas with wired earphones the mic is seen as more of an add-on/bonus feature, Bluetooth headsets got their start with mono, where voice quality was the primary focus, and that expectation is still there. Plus, it’s harder to disconnect a Bluetooth headset or reroute audio away from it when a call comes it than it is to unplug a pair of wired earbuds with a crap mic.

      Anyway, out of the dozen or so Bluetooth headsets I’ve tried so far only two have impressed me with their mic quality – the Sony SBH80 and the Plantronics BackBeat GO2. The Sony unit is, as you noted, quite clever in using one microphone on each side. On the most basic level, this means that whichever way you turn your head, you are never speaking “away” from the mic.

      While in my own testing both the Sony and the Plantronics exhibited very clear mic transmission, the SBH80 is the one that consistently drew compliments in real-life applications (i.e. people on the other end of the call not realizing I am using a headset at all, which is the biggest compliment a Bluetooth headset can receive, or at least saying that I sound better than usual).

      So yes, if I was getting a stereo headset with a voice quality as one of the primary goals, so far the SBH80 is it without a doubt.

      • Geoff on

        Well, I found it on Amazon and will have it delivered tomorrow (Tuesday). I’ll let you know what I think.

        As for the dual microphones, I’m surprised this unit doesn’t have active noise suppression since having the two microphones should, theoretically, make noise suppression more effective than with one microphone. It does seem to me that they must doing something other than leaving both microphones wide-open, since that would be a noise magnet.

        Do check out the LG Tones. I actually prefer the HBS730 Tone Plus, which is readily available on Amazon for less than $50 or the HBS750 Tone Pro for a few dollars more over the more expensive Ultra or Infinum. They’re the most popular on the market – as the numerous knock-offs attest.

      • Geoff on

        Got the headset today and have been using it all afternoon.

        Those with whom I have spoken by telephone report that the sound on their end is good. So, my primary reason for purchasing them has been achieved.

        On my end, at least for phone calls, the sound is equivalent to the LG Tone’s.

        On the little bit of music I’ve played, they’re very good – probably better than the Tone’s, but I haven’t done any comparison yet.

        One thing I’m not sure about: I seem to be having a problem getting the SBH80’s to stay around my neck and not slip off and fall on the floor behind me. The thing is, I wear my headset around my neck most of the time so that I can answer phone calls. Usually, I pop one earpiece in, answer, and then pop the other one in if it’s an extended conversation or noisy. The Tone’s really do stay put because the weight is in the front, not in the back.

        I do wish these had magnets to hold the earbuds like the Tone’s or the Motorola SF500 earbuds.

        We’ll see how it goes.

        • ljokerl on

          I hope to be able to dedicate more time to exploring wireless headphones in the near future – I have a brief comparison of about 10 other sets in the pipeline right now. That said, my priority is still on maintaining the most comprehensive overview of the wired earphone market, found here: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone-list/

          Magnets would have been nice – recently tried a set that uses them (http://theheadphonelist.com/jam-transit-buds-wireless-earphones-review/) and that simple feature made a very big difference in overall usability. I personally haven’t had a problem keeping them in place but I wonder if there might be some low-tech lanyard-type solution to fixing them on the neck better.

          • Geoff on

            Well, I’m listening to some of my favorite musical passages on the now. I’ll have to compare them to my wired headphones, which I’ve had since about 1980:
            http://www.head-fi.org/t/157389/stanton-dynaphase-sixty-headphones
            Stanton Dynaphase 60.

            The SBH80’s are indeed a little boomy on the bass, but that’s probably because I normally listen on my ancient stereo hi-fi which, the componensts of which were selected for neutral and uncolored sound. (If you start out that way, you can use equalizers, compressor/expanders, and other sound processors to make it sound like anything you want.)

            My hifi is a high-end stereo system with top of the line Yamaha receiver, 4 Ortofon 445 speakers (2 on each channel), a Rega glass platter belt-drive turntable with Ortofon moving coil phono cartridge and ortofon preamp. All of this equipment is circa 1980, except for the cartridge and the receiver – which is a RXA3040.

            The Ortofon speakers have two 8″ woofers in each of the four cabinets. Because there are 2 8″ woofers instead of a single 10″ or 12″ woofers, they give the cleanest and deepest bass of anything you’ve heard – and no boom or mud.

            Anyway, I’ve been listening through my LG G2 Aptx phone to Der Rosenkavalier, Mahler’s First, Dave Brubeck, and more current stuff – but all acoustic at the moment. I like a lot of the current music, but I claim you can’t really tell anything when you’re listening to electrified instruments with electronic processing because there’s nothing to compare it to.

            I’ll be interested to see how they fare when I listen to them with a top-notch LP on the system described above. (Yes, LP’s actually do sound better than DVD’s!) — but, first I have to figure out how to go directly from the receiver to Bluetooth headphones. (My receiver has a Bluetooth receiver so that I can stream to it from a Bluetooth music device, but not the other way around.)

          • ljokerl on

            I know the SBH80 holds its own against all other wireless earphones I’ve tried and most non-wireless ones as well. There are some benefits to using them with a Sony Xperia phone, such as pre-set DSP configurations, but they should reach full potential with the LG G2 as well. Sounds like you’re not hating the performance so far!

          • Geoff on

            I’m almost certain to return the SBH80. I really see no practical way to tether it because the main module needs to be against the neck so that when a call comes in and you do not have the earbuds in, you will know you are receiving a call. Unfortunately, the vibration is so gentle that it does not extend to the side pieces. (If I could put a Velcro dot on my neck to hold it in place, I’d do it!)

            Ad a client’s office, while sitting in a char, the headset fell off onto the floor twice. Later, at a restaurant, as I was leaving, the waiter chased me into the parking lot to return the headset which had fallen into the booth, so that I didn’t hear or notice it falling off.

            I can’t imagine riding my bicycle with it because I’m sure I would lose it. I can’t leave the earbuds in my ears while riding because the sound isolation is so good, that I’m sure I wouldn’t hear the traffic around me.

            All in all, I have to decide if I will try the Backbeat or just go back to the LG Tone Pro.

            Looking at the Backbeat Go 2, I suspect it may not stay in place any better than the Sony. Remember, I want something I can “wear” without the earbuds in my ears when I’m not talking on the phone.

            I may try the Motorola SF500’s or just give up and go back to the LG Tone’s – Unless you have a further suggestion!

          • Geoff on

            PS Actually, I may try the Motorola SF500’s which look like the Sony, but with magnets on the ends of the stalks to hold the earpieces and a more sculpted configuration, which to all accounts, holds the headset in place around the neck very well.

          • ljokerl on

            No, no chance you will be able to keep the BackBeat GO2 in place around the neck.

            I’ve tried the Motorola Buds briefly but wasn’t impressed enough with the sound to get them in for an in-depth look. Different priorities 🙂

  15. Rob Maxwell on

    I agree with your call that wireless and BT IEM’s and headphones will be a big growth field, especially with the increase of developing technologies. I’ve read some wireless speakers (Dynaudio Xeo4 ) now work with 24 bit. Hopefully, this will spill over to headphones.

    I’d like to have a set of these Sony’s if they had a little less bass. a HiFiman re-400 BT with a touch of warmth? sweet! Phiaton ps210btnc looks interesting but odd form for wearing. Since this is an up and coming field, will you be reviewing more of these wireless and BT units as they come out? Hope so, as many of us respect your judgement. I especially like your comparisons with other units as a reference. I’ve had the RHA ma750 briefly, and your comparison with the Sony sbh80 helps me to decide the Sony’s have a bit more bass than what I am looking for. I’ll keep reading until you come across something that sounds right for me.

    • ljokerl on

      You can always reduce the bass of the SBH80 with a software EQ if so inclined, but of course if I can find a Bluetooth in-ear with the sound quality of the RE-400 I’ll be quite happy.

      As I said below, I would love to do more wireless sets and when I have a couple more under my belt I’ll start a comparative table for them.

  16. Rob on

    I agree with your call that wireless and Bluetooth will be a growth area for personal audio, especially with newer technologies.
    I almost pulled the plug and got these Sony’s but decided they probably have more bass than I’m looking for, partially based on your comparison to the rha ms750 in this thread. The Phiaton 210btnc sound like they have the slightly warm bass and rolled back treble I like but have an odd form factor. Hopefully you will be reviewing more wireless iem’s since many of us really respect your judgement.

    • ljokerl on

      Yes, if there is one market I really want to start exploring, it’s wireless headphones (especially wireless in-ears). I have one more review planned this month (but it’s for a lower-end one that doesn’t sound as good as the SBH80) as well as a mini-roundup of 6-7 different Bluetooth headphones next month.

  17. Mark on

    Just ordered these for €35 for the gym, I know they probably wont be as good as my SE215s, but the pure convenience is worth it.

    • ljokerl on

      If you have a decently-performing BT source, you might just be surprised by the sound 😉

  18. Huynh Duc Long on

    I personally think they sound great but I’m not really picky about sound like some people. I think it is an excellent product. I’ll buy it.

  19. Armin87 on

    Hi
    Tnx for Great Review,Can you Recommend a great Bluetooth hands-free that fully compatible with Samsung GS5?
    Jabra Rox Wireless Vs Sony SBH80,Which Ones do you prefer?

    • ljokerl on

      Bluetooth profiles are standardized so any modern Bluetooth set will work with a GS5. Any additional features one BT headphone might have over another would be the result of extra hardware functionality or a manufacturer-supplied app of some sort.

      Anyway, I’ve only tried the Jabra Rox at a show briefly and didn’t find it interesting enough to do a full review. It sounded okay, but not great. Not really enough experience with it to say conclusively that the SBH80 is better, but I do still enjoy mine a lot.

  20. JG on

    Hey,

    Thanks so much for the post.

    After spending a weekend researching the BlueBuds and Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 I discovered this set and am _this_ close to pulling the trigger.

    I know you’ve already done it in some of the comments, but can you allay my fears about the lack of apt-x? I have an iPhone 5 so won’t be supported (unless they announce support in iOS 8 tomorrow, not sure if that’s viable or even possible?). I’ve seen some reviews stating there’s ‘no bass’ without support, but I’m not a basshead whatsoever and I don’t know if these people were just looking for some Beatsesque over the top bass.

    I’m more drawn to these over the others based on the fact that I’ve not read any complaints whatsoever about the fit, which seems temperamental on the others. Also I’m sure the build quality is great here, whilst I’ve read a lot about having to return pairs of the BlueBuds.

    Finally, would you recommend these for stretching and lifting in the gym? I’ve heard that whilst the neck thing looks big you pretty much forget it’s there?

    Many thanks!

    • ljokerl on

      That’s pretty much bull – switching between aptX and SBC devices does not significantly affect bass quantity, and even if it did the SBH80 has enough bass to provide a nice safety net. My Nexus 5 doesn’t support aptX either and I haven’t once thought the bass was lacking.

      You can test this yourself – first just grab a 320 kbps mp3 (approximately equivalent to aptX encoding) or even a FLAC or other lossless copy of a song that you’re familiar with and has bass and whatever else you’re worried about. Make a copy of it encoded in 192kbps (for example using MediaMonkey or Audacity). Now you can listen to the two files back to back. This is not an exact match for the SQ difference we’re talking about here, but it’s close enough.

      And yes, I find the pod on the neck quite comfortable. Even when it slips off my neck (like when I’m leaning over backwards, for whatever reason) the earpieces stay in place and it takes a fraction of a second to move the pod back into place. I suppose this could be a little worse if your neck is slippery with sweat but I doubt it’ll be a big problem.

      • JG on

        Great, many thanks! I have gone ahead and ordered.

  21. Ronald on

    Does it work well with ipod nano and iphone 5s? How’s the sound quality? Thanks

    • ljokerl on

      Works fine with my iPod Touch – as long as your Nano has Bluetooth you shouldn’t have any problems. Same with the iPhone. Apple products don’t support aptX so you’ll be limited to hi-bitrate SBC for audio, but unless you normally only listen to lossless, that’s hardly a limitation. It still sounds really good for a wireless set.

  22. Anuj Aggarwal on

    Hi,

    I have been reading your reviews and articles since years now. I love your reviews however I was unable to find a clear review on Vsonic VC02. I need your help in deciding between Vsonic VC02 or Vsonic VSD1s or Steel Series In ear Flux or SBH80.
    I need a wireless earphone since it will help me a lot. However I do not want to compromise on quality too. I think of buying a vsonic pair and putting them together with something as Sony MW600 connector. If you can compare SBH80’s sound quality vs the VSONIC’s and provide me a difference and recommendation to buy between the 3 wired earphones I ll be buying one.

    Again, I feel the work you have been doing is unique and is kind of a pinnacle in its own genre. I believe you should keep reviewing more budget earphones as well. If possible provide sellers to sell through your website too. Thanks a lot.

    • ljokerl on

      The VC02 review can be found here: http://theheadphonelist.com/headphone_review/vsonic-vc02/

      These all have quite different sound signatures so you really need to decide on what you want first – the flat, slightly bright sound of the VC02, the enhanced bass and bright treble of the VSD1S, the smoother and more balanced but slightly less clear Flux, or the bass-heavy, warm, impeccably smooth SBH80. If you are undecided, the SBH80 is as good as any to start with. It doesn’t really lose out to the rest of these in overall sound quality if you’re okay with its warmer tonal balance, but obviously you do pay a premium for the Bluetooth component.

      And thanks, glad you’ve enjoyed the reviews! We don’t have any plans to allow manufacturers to sell via our site at this time, but we do welcome exclusive discounts for our readers, which end up in the deals and coupon codes section here: http://theheadphonelist.com/deals-coupon-codes/

  23. tmppx7 on

    Can you use the microphone with skypecalls on PC?

    • ljokerl on

      Yes, just need to set the Bluetooth headset mic as the default audio input device in Skype settings.

  24. MarcvH on

    Hello joker,

    Thanks for the review! Could you compare the SBH80 sound quality with the RHA MA750i?
    My Beyerdynamic MMX100’s are broken in two pieces a few days ago.
    I was convinced to buy the RHA’s but wireless is an interesting option for me.

    • ljokerl on

      Sure, they are not that different in terms of sound signature. The SBH80 is similarly bassy but flatter through the mids and highs. Its bass is slightly looser, though, and its top end is smoother but lacking a bit in treble energy in comparison.

      The MA750 is more v-shaped and its added treble presence makes it s sound a little clearer. It’s also got a wider soundstage, though the SBH80 is no slouch.

  25. getclikinagas on

    Very insightful. Both, this review and your piece on “Wireless fidelity”
    They seem to be covering all the pitfalls we’ve come to associate with wireless audio.

    Glad to see the Smailagic magic make a return.
    But I’m a little baffled. The MH1C is already a bassy IEM, especially the sub-bass. I’ve had to vent-mod my set to tighten the bass. And you say the SBH80 “have a touch more low end presence, especially in the subbass region, relative to the midrange.”? That must deliver some basshead level rumble.

    “little smoother through the treble.” Hmm… I do find the MH1C very smooth through the treble.

    A warmer MH1C…. There’s definitely some sorcery at play if there isn’t any bass bleed or muddiness 😀

    Multipoint, HD voice, NFC do make it tempting. I hope to see this catch on.

    PS: No word on the pricing?

    • ljokerl on

      Thanks! These pieces are a bit of a detour from our regularly-scheduled programming but they were fun to write.

      The MH1C has never been my recommendation for listeners who are put off by enhanced bass. The bass quantity difference between the MH1C and SBH80 is small and mostly in the subbass rather than midbass region. Bassheads will be pleased, of course :). The overall sound is clear and bleed is minimal considering the bass quantity. It’s no VC02, of course, but the MH1C has never been bloated for such a warm earphone, and that’s true here as well.

      I haven’t received any official pricing but looking at UK prices it seems like it should be around $100. Considering the MSRP of the MH1C is $79.99, that’s not so bad.

      • Derek on

        Can you recommend a good BT transmitter with aptx? I have a PC running Windows 7. Thanks for all the the work you put in to give us, consumers, a wealth of knowledge pertaining to the ever growing number of iems

        Thanks,
        Derek

        • ljokerl on

          I’ve been using the Azio BTD-V400 for the past year or so and it’s worked perfectly on Win7. It has a CSR chipset with native aptX support and comes with the CSR Harmony Bluetooth software (on CD) which seems to replace the native windows Bluetooth driver (a good thing IMO). There seems to be a newer version now called the BTD-V401: http://amzn.to/1t8492p but hopefully it’s just as good.

          • Derek on

            Pefect! Thanks

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