Ever since the first Bluetooth headset for mobile phones came out, people have been eager to see the day when Bluetooth audio made the transition to stereo sound. This would enable you to ditch that wire connected to your iPod -- or other portable music device -- and feel, well, a bit more liberated.
That finally happened last year, and now several new Bluetooth stereo headphones are trickling their way on to the market. The only problem is, most of them don't sound that good, which is why we were pretty excited to hear that Etymotic, which is known for its high-performance wired earbuds, was getting into the wireless game.
With a rather hefty price tag of £200, the company's ety8s can only be described as premium Bluetooth headphones. Etymotic says the ety8s are compatible with devices "supporting Bluetooth specification 1.1 and higher, as well as A2DP and AVRCP for profiles for stereo listening", and have a wireless range of about 9m. They come with a leather storage case and custom USB cable to juice up the headphones' internal rechargeable battery, which delivers about seven hours of power.
As you might have gathered from its picture, the ety8s offer one of the most distinct headphone designs ever created, and when you see them you realise there's a fine line between really cool and really ugly. For starters, what's unusual about the ety8s is they're indeed true earbud headphones. Until now, most Bluetooth stereo headphones offered some sort of over-the-ear design that often included an around-the-head 'street-style' neckband. Part of the reason behind that design choice is that Bluetooth headphones require a certain amount of power and a not-so-tiny battery to keep the wireless tunes flowing.
For better or worse, Etymotic has made earbud-style headphones that essentially have the battery graphed right onto each 'bud (Etymotic reps told us the external part of the earbud is in fact the exact shape and size of the battery). In short, this is currently just about the smallest possible design you could have for Bluetooth headphones. The only problem is it's just not all that attractive.
Modelling the headphones around the office, this reviewer got a few laughs from co-workers, who thought it looked as if he was wearing giant cufflinks on his ears. Some might find the look sexy in a sort of geek-chic way, but there's a higher probability you get some disparaging comments and you may feel self-conscious wearing them. Of course, if you're comfortable with your inner geek -- and want some extra attention -- you might be fine with the ety8s' design.