ISO Bluetooth Stereo Headphones: Small, Light and High Quality

| Quick Look Review

The ISO in-ear, active noise canceling Bluetooth stereo headphones from Antec Mobile Products weigh 24 grams, including the control unit. It includes a lapel clip, internal Lithium-ion battery and charging cable. While the sound is crisp, the noise cancellation is less than spectacular.

The reasons to have a pair of headphones like this are many. You may wish to move about without having your phone or audio device always with you. Or, you may be wearing multiple layers of clothes, say, when skiing, and your iPhone needs to be safely zipped in a pocket. A cord just wouldn't do.  Or you may just prefer the freedom from using a cord.

The ISO consists of a small control unit, about 2.5-inches (65 mm long) and 22-inches (56 cm) long cords to the earphones. The microphones are on the outside top of the earphones. Included are three sets of different sized rubber adapters for different sized ears, a charger cable (microUSB to USB), and a small multi-page, multi-lingual instruction pamphlet -- of which four pages are English.

It's available in black with red highlights or white with red highlights. The name "ISO" is derived from the word isolation.

Operation

The unit comes partially charged, but it's not a bad idea to plug it into a USB port to make sure it's fully charged. The operating time is claimed to be 8 hours of music playback, but my representative didn't have a specific number on how long it take to charge completely. It's a small unit, so it won't take very long. When the red light turns to blue, it's charged. The Bluetooth standby time is 200 hours.

The main controls on one side are: last song, next song, pairing, noise cancellation on/off. On the opposite side are the volume controls.

If you receive an incoming call on your iPhone, just press the big on/off button.

What I Liked

I liked the overall quality of the parts, the fit and finish, and the layout of the controls. I liked the packaging, the markings on the ear pieces, and the length of the cords. I liked the sound when the ear pieces were inserted properly. It was as good as Apple's EarPods, but you can't push the earpiece in too far. If you do, the earphone can't breathe, and the sound will become muddy.

What I Didn't Like

While the device is small and lightweight, 24.5 grams total, I found the text markings on the device to be too small and very hard to read in any light. I think there's room for larger markings in a brighter color, say, red on white for that unit's theme. The same complaint applies to the small pamphlet's text.

The markings are smaller than the date on a U.S. Penny.

Noise Cancellation

I had some problems here. I am a long-time user of Bose NC headphones, and when those broke, I bought a pair of i-Mego Walker Junior NC headphones that Nancy Gravley at TMO recommended. With both those headphones, that fit over the ear, ambient whooshing sounds such as an air cleaner or fan virtually disappear. Speech is greatly muffled.

However, with the ISO, I found that when the earpiece is loose enough to allow the drivers to breathe, the noise cancellation seemed to be modest at the low frequency, design range of 300 Hz. On the other hand, if I pushed the earpieces in harder, to create a seal, the noise cancellation was much better. But then the music was muddied.

My recommendation is that if you expect to be on a long flight with noisy talkers and the whoosh of jet sounds at altitude, an over-the-ear NC headphone woud be preferable. On the other hand, if you're looking for the convenience of Bluetooth and great sound, there will be only modest improvements in the noise cancellation with this device.

Packaging

The box is generous and doesn't try to cut corners. There are some extra accessories included with this product, and there's plenty of room made for them in the package.

The package I received didn't explicitly mention the stereo capability, but my representative said that was a labeling oversight. I verified stereo capability.

Sample Specifications

  • Bluetooth version 3.0 + EDR.
  • Range: 10 meters ( 33 ft)
  • Noise reduction: 15 to 30 dB at 300 Hz
  • Battery: Li-Ion, 3.7V
  • Standby: 200 hours
  • Operating time/music playback: 8 hours

Final Thoughts

I experienced only minor problems. The markings are too small in my opinion. Also, in this Quick Look review, it was hard for me as a user to strike a good balance between letting the drivers breathe and invoking a good seal for noise cancellation. I'm not sure what to make of that at this point, and some additional testing is called for. For now, I believe the iSO is well-crafted product and Bluetooth stereo sound is its forte, not broad spectrum noise cancellation.

Product: ISO

Company: Antec Mobile Products

List Price: US$99.99 (About $50 at Amazon)

Pros:

Small, lightweight, logically placed and designed controls, included charger cable, small, medium and large ear cushions, good packaging, 1 year warranty.

Cons:

Small print on device and in manual. Difficult to optimize sound quality and noise cancellation simultaneously.

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