Review: Wi-Gear iMuffs bluetooth iPod headphones

I’ve been meaning to get into the Bluetooth headphone craze, so I jumped at the opportunity to check out these new offerings from Wi-Gear. So here’s the rundown: there are two pieces, a small Bluetooth dongle that fits into your iPod’s charge port, and the headphones themselves. As you might imagine, it lets you listen to your iPod wirelessly from anywhere within standard Bluetooth range. And they pretty much succeed at that.

The little dongle is simple, small, and light, though it does protrude quite a bit from the iPod’s little body. I was worried at first that I might snap it off, but it connects solidly and disengages only with effort. The headphones are “ergonomically designed”, and look like they’re made for someone with a head quite a bit larger than myself. I don’t have a small head, you understand, in fact I’ve been accused of the opposite, but the neckband is not adjustable and came nowhere near the back of my head or neck. Fortunately, the headphones are actually designed to sort of rest/clip on the tops of your ears, so the neckband is pretty much vestigial. I could feel people looking at me; I know they wanted to ask, but if they did I didn’t hear them.

As for the headphones themselves, well, they’re a mixed bag. I’ve been using Shure e2c in-ears for about a year now and I’ve gotten used to the crystal-clear but not-so-powerful sound. The iMuffs are standard foam earpad-style and with their light weight I was first afraid that WiGear had simply attached a Bluetooth unit to some airline headphones. They’re about the size of Oreos, not really heavy enough to jump off your ears unless you’re jogging pretty hard. The controls are responsive and easily navigable – you won’t turn them off by accident, and they work while your iPod is locked, which is great. You can also turn the iPod off from a distance, which is nice when you need to take a minute chat up a lady on the elliptical.

I tried listening to a variety of music in a number of situations to get a feel for the sound. My conclusions are this: bold sound, but clarity is lacking. At the gym, Ratatat, Daft Punk and Reigning Sound thundered above the piped-in soft rock and the guitar parts of “17 Years,” “Aerodynamic,” and “Get it!” were all clear and chunky. Stereo separation was good, but when there were more than 4 or 5 voices it began to get muddy. Broken Social Scene’s more straightforward “Cause = Time” for example was fine, but “Almost Crimes” with its many instruments and harmonies was a hopeless mess. Bass was surprisingly good, some distortion was present but that could have been bad EQing on my part. There was occasional digital noise, suggesting packet loss or something, but for the most part it wasn’t noticeable.

The signal was as you might expect from Bluetooth. I got full sound for the full 30ft and more, hanging my coat up and moving around the machines at the gym. When the signal was interrupted, it would reestablish itself after a maximum of two seconds or so. I did have a problem when walking around with the iPod in my pocket; the instructions say to keep it in the right-hand pocket so your body doesn’t provide interference, but that only improved it marginally. It didn’t occur all the time, but when it did there didn’t seem to be anything I could do.

Battery life is excellent. I actually tried to kill the battery by keeping the headphones on for the drive home, through shower time, snack time, and in the background while I wrote, but my iPod gave out first and the headphones lasted through further trips. Charging was fast and easy, using a standard mini-USB cable.

There is another feature set I didn’t get to use, mainly due to my not having an iPhone. The iMuffs have a mic in them and you can use them as a wireless headset in a pinch; it will pause the music and ring, and presumably you’ll answer. I’d say it probably works as advertised given that the rest of the features worked just fine. They should work for any Bluetooth-capable phone, but I still think using a headset is madness, so I didn’t test it out.

Being wireless without significant difficulty was a revelation. The iMuffs worked flawlessly right out of the gate, and while the headphones won’t satisfy an audiophile, they’re perfectly decent for most music and fine in the situations you’d tend to use them. Right now, however, I can’t justify the $180 price tag. If you want to listen to music at the gym or while moving around a lot, these are an excellent way to do that, but I’d consider these as mainly for early adopters at this price/performance point. I personally would buy them for about $50 less; the product works great, the value just isn’t there. But if you can spare the scrap right now, go for it.