Page 3 – Subjective Audio Analysis, Usage
As with all the audio products we review here at APH Networks, it takes quite a bit of experience and training of the ears before we can begin making a fair judgment. Even for the best of audiophiles, it can be hard to produce an exact and accurate evaluation of a product, without a thoroughly familiar product to use as simultaneous reference. While I will not claim to be the reviewer of all reviewers for headphones, I can say quite a few other computer review sites have editors lacking in training for reviewing anything audio related. Give them anything and all you will get is some vague description of “decent bass, average midrange, awesome treble, clean sound, 10/10”. Do not get me wrong though; there are knowledgeable audio reviewers out there on respected online media outlets, but they are far and few.
As the reviewer of the Adesso Xtream H2, I will put this headset through a series of subjective tests, to try to come up with the most objective rating as possible (As ironic as it sounds). The tests were conducted over Bluetooth 4.0 on my HTC One X+ running Android 4.1.1 Jelly Bean, with all audio enhancements disabled, as well as Bluetooth 3.0 on my Google Nexus 7 (2012) running Android 4.4.2 KitKat. Since this is a digital transmission, the source does not affect sound quality, and so their results have been combined together. I have also briefly tested it on an Apple iPhone 5. Due to the nature of the Xtream H2, Bluetooth 3.0 is the only way to connect to it.
After over 50 hours of break-in time (Well above the typically required period), we put the Adesso Xtream H2 to the test. All tracks are FLAC, or LAME encoded MP3s at 192 kbps or higher.
It is kind of difficult to know where to begin, because I am quite mixed for the whole device. Before I begin though, I should remind you readers that Bluetooth for a headset of this size is actually quite a bit more difficult to engineer, as there not only needs to be room for the 35mm audio drivers, but also for the wireless components, some sort of power source (In this case an internal battery), as well as a digital to analog converter. Putting it all together without sacrificing size or weight and keep the price low means other places must be compromised. But without further ado, let us start with the big three as I have done so before: Bass, midrange, and treble. In terms of frequency distribution, the Xtream H2 would be much like a peak, maxing out near the top of the midrange, and drops off on both extreme ends of the spectrum. The bass was extremely light if almost not present at times. Hearing the bass guitar as well as the bass drum was not difficult, but it was lacking the “oomph” that I like. The actual quality of what is there for the low end is passable, as it is mildly damp, and fills in for what is present. In comparison to the Gigabyte Fly reviewed by Jonathan Kwan in 2013, there is definitely more bass, but this does not say very much.
Moving up to the midrange, and we actually get some surprising findings. I really did not expect much, but voices are clear and crisp for the most part. There is a bit of muffling in the lower midrange, but overall it is satisfactory. This behavior is also seen when using the Adesso Xtream H2 for calling, as people are heard with clarity. The lower midrange is actually quite good as well, with guitar strumming sounding clean, and comes through quite well. The higher midrange is slightly dry and even raspy at times, but it is definitely the best part of the headset. The higher range midrange is more prominent than the lower range, and follows the frequency distribution as described above. Of course the headset still feels quite out of balance with the middle being so accentuated.
To the peaks we go, and the trebles are mediocre. High hat cymbal clashes are mostly audible, and high end instruments like flutes and violins come through quite clearly. Percussion instruments like xylophones and triangles are also very audible and sound only slightly artificial. Sounds are sharp, distinct, and clear, but once again quite dry like the higher midrange portions. Of course, they are recessed in comparison to the midrange, and can sometimes be drowned out. I am not as annoyed as this, as I believe sound should be more like a pyramid, with the bass or lower end producing more volume, whereas the higher ends are lighter and should not overpower the midrange portions.
Moving to cohesiveness, the headset does sound quite together. The Adesso Xtream H2 does not feel as if I am listening to multiple headsets. Transition between the bass and midrange is smooth, but there is a drop off between the midrange and the treble. Frequency separation is okay, as there are clear differences in the three frequency ranges, but there are times, because of the overpowering midrange, the two extremes are not as pronounced as they should be. As for soundstaging, this is probably one of the biggest issues with the Xtream H2. It feels quite linear at times, like it is missing its Z-axis in a three-dimensional world. In every song, it is like the orchestra became a single row, or the band became a conga-line of instruments. There is no depth or direction in the music I listen to, and frankly it is the Achilles' heel of the headset. Of course the other issues, like the overall balancing problems, play a part, but this is subpar. Because of this though, it really makes the entire headset feel lacking.
The other issue I have with the Adesso Xtream H2 is sound isolation. I tested these headsets both at home, and on the go such as in a classroom, in various public sitting areas, and on the bus, and the results were similar everywhere. No matter what, I always find myself turning up the volume quite a bit more than the rest of my headsets, because all the background noise gets through. Of course, the bus is probably the worst, where the low rumbling engine cuts through the headset all the time. I have definitely used on-ear headsets that are much better than these, and I would say the main causes of this are the foam pieces on each side. These pieces are not made to isolate noise and thus do a horrendous job at it. Luckily, increasing the volume is easy, as the volume keys are directly on the headset itself, but I should not have to listen to music at full volume in order to actually hear everything come through. This is also crucial for receiving phone calls, as you might not be able to hear the person on the other side of the phone due to background noise.
Overall, if this was written for any other headset, you would probably say this headset does not have a lot going for it. However, if you remember, this is a Bluetooth headset for only $39, and therefore Adesso has an acceptable headset on their hands. Of course you should not be expecting Shure or Sennheiser quality headphones from this; it would be like expecting 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds from a Nissan Micra. But rather this headset provides some decent sound reproduction, without regarding the lack of any staging abilities. I would definitely hope for some better sound isolation, as well as better soundstaging overall, to produce a more natural sound. On the other hand I am quite surprised at what Adesso have made in the Xtream H2, especially considering the compromises they have to make with the restraints they have.
Using the Adesso Xtream H2 daily proved to be pretty easy for the most part. The H2 support the following Bluetooth profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, and HFP. Of course, these are expected, as each of these profiles are just to allow for wireless music streaming (A2DP), wireless playback control (AVRCP), calling capabilities (HSP) and hands free audio (HFP). Setting up the device is quick for all devices, whether Android or iOS. Because of the number of buttons they have, I wonder why they had to cram all the functions of power, pairing, voice dialing, and play/pause into a single button. They could have easily made the Previous/Next buttons into buttons for pairing or power, just so pairing the device would not accidently power off the headset, or vice versa.
On the other hand, the number of functions it executes is quite impressive. I barely had to remove my phone from my pocket at all during my morning commutes. The few times I switched back to my old pair of wired earbuds, I often found myself looking for the previous or next buttons before realizing I had to pull out my phone again. Is this a first world problem? Probably, but Adesso should be happy for the much appreciated additions they have implemented. Of course, these are not new ideas, and are available on other wired and wireless audio products, but it is good to see Adesso including them. Using the microphone produced clear and clean results, as the omnidirectional mic picked up my voice quite well. The Adesso Xtream H2s also held up quite well when put to the test for battery life and range. I was able to use the headset for approximately ten days before needing to recharge the device. When pushing the range of the device, I was able to go a bit further than the specified range quite successfully.
In terms of the rest of the implementation, there are a few more things I should point out. When increasing and decreasing the volume, there is obviously a limit to how much you can increase or decrease. Once you hit the limit, the music will momentarily stop playing, and a loud beep will come on to tell you that the minimum or maximum volume has been reached. For the first few times, this beep would always shock me, as it was just too loud and too unwarranted. Another quip is the lack of battery update support for Android devices. When you pair the Adesso Xtream H2 with and iOS device, a battery symbol in the corner of the device, whether an iPhone or an iPad, will appear to indicate the battery level of your H2. On the other hand, this does not show up on either of my Android devices. This issue could also be due to Android limitations, and therefore I will not dock the Xtream H2 for this, but it should be noted. Finally, there are times the headset will randomly disconnect for a few seconds and reconnect without notice. Unfortunately with my devices, when the Bluetooth device disconnects, the music continues to play through the external speaker, which could be embarrassing especially if you are listening to something by Rebecca Black or One Direction. Luckily, I have never been caught listening to them. This problem is understandable for wireless audio headsets, but should be addressed. Finally, there is quite a noticeable lag between the transmission and receiving of audio, as I noticed while watching videos and playing a rhythm game on Android called Cytus (Imagine “Dance Dance Revolution” for your fingers). Words often came out of people’s mouths a few seconds after they had said it, and Cytus was unplayable since the taps were not lining up with the music I was hearing. Unfortunately, this affects all Bluetooth audio devices, so it is not really Adesso's problem. This is just something to keep in mind.
1. Introduction, Packaging, Specifications
2. Physical Look - Hardware
3. Subjective Audio Analysis, Usage