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Hey folks, its been a good few months since my last post. Been caught up with real life, work etc. I’ve also been a bit slow on the gear acquisition front, have been happily settling in and enjoying a few choice bits of tech and personal audio gear. Hopefully I’ll regale you with some long-term gear reviews, once I can take the time out to do these lovely gadgets some justice.

In the meantime, here’s a review of a neat little gadget I’ve been using for the past few weeks.

(Image from Sony Global website)

I’ve recently been handed a nifty little device to try out – the Sony SBH50, a stereo bluetooth headset. It isn’t so much a headset in a vein of a stick-it-in-your-ear earpiece like the Jabra STYLE or CLASSIC, as it is a bluetooth dongle with a headphone output and microphone for speech.

At its most basic, the SBH50 allows you to stream audio wirelessly from your phone, or music player, via Bluetooth. When tethered to a mobile phone, the SBH50 also allows you to answer phone calls have handsfree phone conversations. Notably, the SBH50 can connect to two devices simultaneously – and does it rather well, once the difficult process of pairing two devices is done.

Setup

I tested this device with an LG Nexus 4, an LG F5 and a Huawei G330 together with my Aurisonics AS-2 custom IEM, streaming audio from the stock Android music player, as well as my Deezer app. No EQ was harmed in the testing of this device.

Music Audio Quality

If you’re reading this review, chances are you’re a music lover looking for a bluetooth headset that doesn’t suck tone. The good news is that the SBH50 sounds pretty good, close to taking direct audio from headphone out. I detected a very slightly diminished bass, but midrange remained firm and treble was nice and sparkly. For those in the know, the Aurisonics AS-2 – while being easy to drive – is very source-sensitive. I wouldn’t call it “accurate” (what does that mean, anyway), but it definitely reproduces what it receives from the source. As far as I can tell, based on what I hear through the AS-2, the SBH50’s sound quality is no worse off than listening from the headphone out – and it has a fair bit more output to boot, too.

I’d say that the SBH50 is a good alternative if you are using a phone or audio player case with a small headphone opening, and a large headphone plug that’s too large to fit the case. Also great for when you want to take long handsfree calls and not look like a complete tool box (sorry Jabra / Jawbone users).

Stock Earphone Quality

As I’ve already got a whole bunch of IEMs that I’m very happy with, I didn’t have any need to use the stock earphones that came with the SBH. A cursory listen yielded warm, but bass-shy tones that would be OK for casual listening. Nothing much to write home about here.

Phone Call Audio Quality

What’s a bluetooth headset if it doesn’t do phone calls well? The SBH50 performed admirably on this count, picking up calls quickly, relaying crisp clear audio to both parties. Microphone pickup seems good, and I rarely had to repeat myself. That said, I would usually shift the device a little further up my shirt, or on my collar, so that probably aids voice pickup as well.

Bluetooth Pairing

Bluetooth pairing used to be the bane of my existence. Just getting two devices to detect each other was tough enough, then I had to enter unique passcodes – sometimes to both devices. Thankfully, Bluetooth pairing has become simpler over the years, and is reduced to simply activating Bluetooth on your source device, detecting your preferred device, and connecting to it. The SBH50 is the exception to this rule. To use the SBH50, you have to download the relevant drivers – in the form of mobile apps. You do have to read the manual for that – but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to pair the devices. I do wish the SBH50 could be more fuss-free in the pairing department, and that wish is amplified when I pair two devices at the same time.

Don’t ask me why I need to connect the SBH50 to two devices at the same time, but there were occasions (very, very specific occasions) where I had to connect the SBH50 to two devices simultaneously. And let me tell you, pairing this gadget with two devices at the same time is no easy task. It took a great deal of fumbling around with the SBH50’s odd UI, the SBH50 phone app, turning bluetooth connections on and off, restarting the SBH50, etc. I eventually managed to pair two devices simultaneously – but don’t ask me how I did it.

Basically, setting up the SBH50 to connect to two devices simultaneously is something I don’t ever want to do again for a long, long time.

Some Pet Peeves

As mentioned earlier, the UI is not the most intuitive. Sony, very mysteriously, decided to put a Huge-As Button on the front face that doesn’t seem to do anything besides answer and hang up calls. Menu functions are accessed via a tiny button on the long edge of the device. Functions are denoted by icons which can be rather unintuitive at times. Since the device is already capable of displaying text, Sony should have used a text-based menu instead for greater clarity.

The SBH50 is also capable of displaying notifications, so you don’t have to dig up your phone to see what’s just happened. Sounds neat in theory, especially if you don’t carry your mobile phone in your pocket. However, notifications don’t display nicely on the screen, and the SBH50 only supports very basic notification (Email, SMS, Calendar notifications). It doesn’t do WhatsApp at all, and Facebook notifications show up as alphanumeric gibberish. I’d say the notification function is pretty much useless to me.

Notifications sounds don’t play correctly either – music fades out but the notification sound plays very, very softly. Can be a bit annoying, but not a deal breaker.

The Bottom Line

Bugbears about bluetooth pairing and notifications aside, the SBH50 is very capable at its core function – relaying two-way audio wirelessly through Bluetooth, and relaying it well. And that is pretty much worth the price of entry alone. If only it had a more usable menu, and notification compatibility, as well as a simpler Bluetooth pairing process. I’d happily use this as my main Bluetooth headset for a long time.

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