Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
Wireless, on-ear headphones with enhanced Dolby Digital Plus sound.
Jabra is perhaps better known for Bluetooth headsets for hands-free calling and wireless speakers, and I have reviewed several of their products in this column over the years. When I was at CES in January, I learned that the company was planning to enter into the stereo headphone arena. In late March, the company released its line of stereo headphones, including the REVO Wireless headphones. Shortly thereafter, the company gave me a pair to review. This is only the second pair of Bluetooth on-ear headphones I’ve reviewed, the first was the MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32 in March 2012. The REVOs deliver excellent wireless sound, albeit with a considerable price premium. Sadly, however, I can’t wear them for very long.
The first thing you notice about the REVO is the weight. Tipping the scales at eight ounces, they are over twice the weight of the MEElectronics AF32, which weighed 3.8 ounces. This is because they are built to be “life proof,” as Jabra puts it. These are some rugged headphones to be sure, with an aluminum frame, steel hinges and shatter-proof headband. Jabra designed the REVO with comfort in mind too, with an air-cushioned headband and memory-foam ear cups. Compared to the Air-Fi AF32s, the REVOs have an understated look: a simple black finish with dark-red accents and light-gray underbody.
I was a little put off by the carrying case: a lightweight bag. The REVOs have hinges on the headband that allow you to fold them up for easy carrying. However, when paying $250 for a pair of headphones, I would expect a little nicer, more secure means of transporting them. In contrast, the V-MODA Crossfades I reviewed last fall had a nice hard case for the $230 headphones.
The REVOs also come with a micro-USB charging cable (but not AC adapter), a 3.5mm cloth-covered cord with integrated remote for wired connectivity and a user’s guide.
At the bottom of the left ear cup is the 3.5mm headphone jack for wired connections. There is also a small red dot on the side of the ear cup that indicates the multi-function button.
The side of the right ear cup has the unique “Turntable Touch Control,” which you use to control the volume. There is a multi-function button on the right ear cup, too. At the bottom of the right ear cup is the On/Off/Pairing switch, a nice feature to make sure the headphones are really off when you aren’t using them, as well as the battery indicator light and Bluetooth light.
Assuming you are using the REVOs wirelessly, the first thing you need to do is pair it with your Bluetooth device. To put the headphones in pairing mode, you hold the On/Off/Pairing switch in the pairing position for three seconds. Pairing mode is announced over the headphones and the Bluetooth light will flash blue. On your Bluetooth-enabled device (with Bluetooth turned on), you then select Jabra REVO from the list of available devices and pairing will complete. To help you pair your headphones to your Bluetooth device, the REVOs also give voice-guided pairing instructions. The REVOs also support Near Field Communications/Perimeter Pairing functionality. After you have paired the headphones with a device, it will automatically pair with the device again, as long as the headphones are on and Bluetooth is enabled on the device.
The REVO headphones have a unique “button” configuration that takes a little getting used to, but once you get the handle on them, they are very easy to use. When listening to music, you can pause or resume audio by tapping either of the multi-function buttons. To skip music tracks forward or backward, you double-tap the front or back of the Turntable Touch Controls on the side of the right ear cup. You adjust the speaker volume by swiping your finger clockwise or counter-clockwise on the Turntable Touch Controls on the side of the right ear cup.
If you want to listen to a device that doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity, or if you are flying and cannot connect wirelessly, having the 3.5mm jack is a nice feature. Using bright orange as the color is an interesting choice, but the cloth-covered cord is solid and tangle-resistant. The plug is L-shaped, which tends to be more durable. With that said, it prevented me from being able to plug it into my iPhone 5 with my attached battery case. The in-line remote allows you to pause and skip tracks forward or backward. With it you can also answer, reject and end calls, and it houses the microphone.
For $250, you would expect very good sound quality, and the REVO Wireless headphones don’t disappoint. However, when compared to the considerably less expensive MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32s, I wouldn’t want to have to live on the margin.
The hi-fi speakers deliver “beefy” sound at the low end without being harsh or overpowering, and offer sufficiently bright high-end tones. The free optional Jabra Sound App for iOS and Android gives you the full Dolby Digital Plus experience. You can use the visual equalizer to adjust the sound to your tastes or choose from several predefined settings. The app automatically identifies the music files on your iOS or Android device and allows you to create and browse custom playlists.
The memory foam ear cups also allow the headphones to conform to your ears, creating a good seal that blocks out a fair amount of ambient background noise. This was a considerable improvement over the MEElectronics AF32s, which seemed to amplify any background noise.
To answer or end calls when using the REVOs wirelessly, tap either of the multi-function buttons. To reject a call, you press and hold a multi-function button for one second. If you wish to redial the last number called, you double-tap the multi-function button.
Call sound quality was acceptable, albeit a bit tinny. Having both ears covered by the headphones makes it much easier to hear calls. The people on the other end of the call could hear me clearly, and the dual microphones with noise “blackout” via Digital Sound Processingdid a good job of filtering out background noise.
The REVOs support multiple call handling as well, meaning the headset can accept and handle multiple calls simultaneously. If you are on a call and another call comes in, you can press the multi-function button for two seconds to put the current call on hold and answer the incoming call. You then press the multi-function button again for two seconds to switch between the held call and the active call. Double-tapping the multi-function button will reject the incoming call when you are already on a call.
One feature that would have been nice to have is the ability to mute/unmute calls.
According to Jabra, the REVO Wireless headset offers 240 hours of standby time and up to 12 hours of talk time and audio playback. This outlasts the Air-Fi AF32s, which give about 100 hours of standby time, 10 hours of talk time and over 12 hours of audio payback. A full charge takes between two and four hours.
When you first turn on the REVOs, the battery status light indicates the battery level: green indicates medium/high; red means low; and flashing red means critically low. In addition, a charge alert plays over the headphones when the battery gets low. You can also tap the multi-function button on either the right or left ear cup when you aren’t on a call to see the battery status.
One reason why I am not a fan of on-ear headphones is because I have usually found them to be uncomfortable. While I was pleasantly surprised with how comfortable the MEELectronics Ai-Fi AF32s were, it appears they were the exception. On paper, it appears that the REVOs would be a joy to wear: air-cushioned headband with memory foam ear cups. The ear cups conformed nicely to my ears, but the headphones started to pinch the top of my head after prolonged use. I think it has to do with the weight. No matter what the cause, these are not headphones I would suggest if you plan to wear them for an extended period of time.
When it comes to sound quality, the REVO wireless headphones are very good for both audio and phone calls, albeit they are only marginally better than the MEElectronics Ai-Fi AF32. However, the REVOs do a better job of noise isolation. The Jabra Sound App is a nice addition with the visual equalizer. I was also impressed with the battery life.
Being a bit nit-picky, I would have preferred a nicer carrying case given how much the REVOs cost. But my biggest complaint is how they feel, especially after prolonged wearing. If I am spending $250 on a pair of headphones, I don’t want to have to take them off after an hour because they are giving me a headache.
Ultimately, from a practical standpoint, I can’t see recommending the REVOs over the MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32. I would give the REVOs an advantage when it comes to sound quality, but it’s negligible at best given the price difference: the AF32s cost 60% less than the REVOs.
$249.99 (currently $249.99 from Amazon.com)