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Computerized Investing > March 3, 2012

MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32 Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headphone With Built-in Microphone

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

If you read this column with regularity, you know that I am a fan of headphones; I have reviewed several models over the last few years. All of the headphones reviewed here had a couple of things in common: you plugged them into your device to listen and they were in-ear (versus the more traditional earmuff or over-the-ear type). These days, however, wireless—more specifically, Bluetooth—is in. I have reviewed Bluetooth headsets for cell phones, keyboards for mobile devices, and portable speaker systems. Over the last couple of weeks I have been trying out a new Bluetooth device—the Air-Fi AF32 Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headphones with Built-in Microphone from MEElectronics. These are the first over-the-ear headphones I have used in several years, and my first-ever set of wireless stereo headphones. Thus far, I have been pleased with my experience.

Out of the Box

The first thing you notice about the AF32s is their bold styling. Others will undoubtedly notice that too—the first day I wore them home on the bus, two strangers asked me about them. The body of the headphones is made out of high-gloss black plastic, and the accents are bright red. The color scheme may be a turnoff to some, and I must admit I wasn’t too keen on it at first. However, after using the headphones for a bit, function won out.

My first impression of the AF32s was that they were cheaply made. The shiny plastic doesn’t instill a feeling of solid construction and they are surprisingly light. However, as I found out, looks can be deceiving.

Unlike most of the other headphones I have used recently, the AF32s have not three but five control buttons, all positioned on the right side of the headset in three rows (one button on the top and two on the next rows). The top button is multifunction (power, play, stop, call, end). The middle row has buttons for next and previous, and the last row has the volume up and down buttons.

The headphones come with a charging cable, audio cable for wired use, and storage pouch (the headphones fold up for carrying).

Getting Started

The first thing I did after opening the AF32s was to plug them in to charge. As I mentioned, they come with a USB charging cable that you plug into your PC or a USB adapter. The end you plug into the headphones, however, is a standard audio plug that goes into the wired headphone jack at the bottom right of the headset. I imagine MEElectronics did this so they wouldn’t have to put a mini-USB port on the headphones. However, they are forcing users to rely on a non-standard plug for charging. So if you do buy these headphones, be sure not to lose the charging cable, or you are out of luck!

Once the headphones were charged, it was time to pair them with my iPod touch. According to MEElectronics, the AF32s are compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android phones, Android tablets, Windows phones, Macs, Bluetooth dongles, and other Bluetooth-enabled devices. Pairing was very easy: You hold the multifunction button down until you see blue and red flashing lights, which indicates that the headset is in pairing mode. Then you select AF32 from your device, and you are paired.

Sound Quality

I must admit that I wasn’t expecting much from the AF32s. While wireless is convenient, I haven’t run across many Bluetooth gadgets offering truly amazing sound quality. Within moments, I knew the AF32s were different. The sound is quite amazing. There is none of the crackling or popping sometimes associated with Bluetooth audio. The headphones deliver clear, crisp sound through the low, medium and high ranges, as well as noticeable, albeit not overpowering, bass.

The caveat with all of this, though, is that the superb sound quality only occurs when you are in a relatively quiet area. I love noise-cancelling or noise-isolating headphones because I enjoy being in my cone of silence while riding on the bus to and from work or while working out at the gym. I have gotten so used to not hearing the outside world while listening to my headphones that I was startled by how much you do hear when wearing the AF32s. I mentioned this to Joe Daileda, vice president of sales and marketing for MEElectronics, who pointed out that this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing with all the news about the dramatic increase in injuries by headphone wearers. From a safety standpoint, I will buy this. But, to me, the AF32s seem to amplify background noise, which forces you to turn up the volume to drown it out.

Calling

The MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32 headphones allow you to place and receive calls from your iPhone, Android or Blackberry or other Bluetooth-enabled phone. There is a built-in microphone at the bottom of the right ear that you can also use for voice commands (assuming your phone supports this functionality).

I was equally impressed with the call quality. When talking on the phone, there was some minor hissing and popping, but it was not as bad as most dedicated Bluetooth hands-free devices I have tried. Having both ears covered actually improved call quality. Callers said they could hear me very clearly, with only slight static.

Battery Life

According to MEElectronics, the AF32s offer 100 hours of standby time, over 10 hours of talk time and over 12 hours of music playing time; all impressive numbers. A full charge takes around four hours.

Fit

One of the reasons I stopped using over-the-ear headphones was because I usually found them uncomfortable and bulky. These are two words I would not use when describing the AF32s. As I said before, they are light, so they don’t weigh on you over extended periods of use. The headband and the earphones themselves are sufficiently padded as well, making them very comfortable. My only real complaint is that, while the headband is adjustable, it doesn’t provide an overly snug fit. These probably aren’t the headphones you would wear while jogging or at the gym.

Bottom Line

While I don’t have anything to compare the AF32s to, I feel comfortable in saying that I doubt there are many Bluetooth headphones that combine the features, sound quality, battery life and value. At $80, the AF32s offer tremendous value; especially considering that many of the wired headsets I have reviewed here cost more than that. While I was a bit put off by their lack of sound isolation, the AF32s are not intended to offer this feature. If you are looking for Bluetooth headphones, I definitely suggest trying the MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32 Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headphones.

Pros

  • Wireless
  • Superb sound quality
  • Long battery life
  • Hands-free calling

Cons

  • Does not block out background noise
  • Non-standard charging cable
  • No battery level indicator

MEElectronics Air-Fi AF32 Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headphone With Built-in Microphone

www.meelec.com/product_p/hp-af32-rb-mee.htm

$79.99 (currently $78.49 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


Discussion

T J Schaefer from CA posted over 2 years ago:

A word of caution to anyone thinking of using these headphones to listen to audio from their computer: the software that comes with your Windows 7 system may not support this device. I recently bought a stereo Bluetooth headset (from a different manufacturer), and struggled for over a week until I finally found an appropriate driver to download for it. (My computer is a Dell Inspiron laptop with built-in Bluetooth.) The manufacturer's website and customer service provided no help at all -- their position was that the headset should work right-off, or forget it.

Another thing to consider is the range, which is typically about 30 feet for a Bluetooth device. For listening to audio from your computer, a standard wireless headset (with a transmitter that plugs into your computer's audio jack) will have much greater range and may be a better choice.


Wayne from IL posted over 2 years ago:

T, thank you for your comments. I have used these headphones on a Dell XPS 420 desktop and Dell Studio laptop without any problems, both of which were running Windows 7 Ultimate. Both supported the headphones without any additional drivers. Also, these headphones do not require an additional transmitter that plugs into your computer. Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, editor, Computerized Investing.


R from TX posted over 2 years ago:

Bought and like very much. Use with Imac computer primarily and works great.


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