So here it is, my first Bluetooth headphone review on Headfonics and it comes in the shape of the Pendulumic Stance S1+ Bluetooth wireless headphone priced at a not unreasonable $199. I am a die in the wool wires guy to be honest for headphones so I guess I am the sceptic to be convinced that BT has come far enough to be competitive. Truth be told the last wireless tech headphone I had was the TDK WR700 and the last I reviewed was the Sennheiser RS220 in 2012. When I look back on things the TDK was poor and the Sennheiser was ‘HD600 good’ but at ‘2 x HD600’ price.
The gap has always been for me largely unfulfilled when it comes to wireless in any format. In most cases it has fallen a bit flat with the end product much like active noise cancellation. Lots of focus on the functionality, lots of wow at the design but always a second rate audio performance. Reviews always seem to be so contextual also on BT cans – this BT can is better than that BT can, or best BT can yet – clever stuff to deflect and create a hierarchy of quality in a bubble but never an end game statement to say they are better than a traditional wired can or can match them.
Technology doesn’t stand still though and given how ubiquitous Bluetooth is these days in hardware you would have to putting your head under a rock to ignore this as a potential market for headphone makers. Going “unwired” or “wireless” with a headphone is always the appealing dream (sorry DHC I understand this is not one of your favorite future visions). AptX has arrived and AD2P is out, BT is more evolved and the quality of the signal impressed me a bit more than it used to from the likes of the E5 which is also at $199. Maybe Pendulumic are onto something and timing is everything in this market, just ask Alex Rosson or Jerry Harvey.
What Do You Get?
I personally think you get an excellent package for $199 and right up there with the competition in terms of quality. The box is a bit like typical Creative SG styling in that it is awash with unique selling points up down left and right. You will be in no doubt what you are buying here and what you are getting for your money at least on paper. Inside the headphones come with a nice shallow zipped hard case (folds flat) with a spare pocket on the inside of the upper flap for storing your accessories and an added thin and long cardboard box containing those accessories by its side. The final piece in the jigsaw puzzle is the manual and believe me you should really read this manual before you try to use it because it’s not the most straight forward of headphones out there to just pick up and use but it is one of the easier BT phones once you get the hang of it.
The accessories in that long cardboard box include:
Quarter jack adaptor gold plated
USB A to micro USB for charging (headphone takes the micro USB end)
A 3.5mm straight to 3.5mm right angle headphone cable with inline remote and mic (for allowing you to bypass wireless if you wish)
An airline adapter (most airlines are bit nervy with wireless solutions inflight)
I could have titled this the functionality section however functionality and the headphone build and fit levels are really all rolled into one concept. It is not designed as a headphone with an add-on passive or BT function, everything is right in there at design level. It is not the sleekest of designs I have encountered at this price point but I have seen and handled a lot worse or less ergonomically friendly cans in my time. The S1+ is mainly made of sturdy but functional plastic on the cups and a dual metal strip headband with a faux leather comfort strap for easy size and pressure adjustment.
It is also a single entry design if you use the wired option so the wiring is carried through from left to right via the internal pleather type pressure band and truth be told its pretty discreet and in the same vein as say the Sennheiser HD25 -1 ii or the Aiaiai TMA-1. Size wise it’s on par with the Sennheiser Momentum so it is not the smallest of portable headphones and a little bit larger than the ATH ESW9, DT1350 range of supra-aural headphones but weight wise it’s fairly light and doesn’t feel too heavy on your head.
It is a large on ear design at heart but the pads are soft and comfortable and extend right across the ear. The clamp is relatively tight but flexible enough for most heads big and small and it does a good job along with the pressure strap of keeping it stable on your head when moving around. I heard mention that the clamp was a bit stiffer on the older Stance S1 non-plus version that preceded the Plus version. If that’s the case then give me the plus version clamping force anytime, it’s just about right and any tighter might produce discomfort and a whole lot of sweat after long listening periods.
Isolation is not the greatest sadly and I guess I have been spoilt in the last month or so with silicone customs but it just doesn’t seal quite as well as I would like despite the fact there doesn’t seem to be any gaps in pad to ear. There is a slight bit of movement due to the pads sitting on an inner platform that has a tiny bit of swivel just to give it more flexibility for a better fit. It could well be this floating platform that is preventing above average levels of isolation or simply the pads are too porous but the net result is this headphone is going to sound a lot better in quieter spots. Stand near an air con or in a busy outdoor area and you will find yourself reaching for a bit more volume to block it all out.
Buttons, Knobs & Lights
Pretty much every type of functionality and button in the Stance S1+ is housed on the cups and thankfully it is done in a way that makes it a whole lot easier than say the AKG K495’s NC controls. You do not have to take this headphone off after a first few goes to figure out how to control it. Pendulumic saw fit to give you a little analog style dial/knob much like the AK100’s analog pot on the rear of the right cup that controls most of your ‘on the go’ playback features such as play and pause as well as volume (working much like an analog attenuator). It is really that cleverly simply and Lord knows why no one thought about that before but it does address quite a lot of my frustrations with wireless or function rich cans that I have tested beforehand.
Left Cup – Power
The left cup is all about power. On the side of the left cup you have the power slider which clicks into 3 places – Off, lithium battery power or AAA battery power. The top plate of the cup is actually detachable and opens up a slot to allow you to fit in two AAA batteries. To the left side of this battery bay and underneath another plate which this time is not removable as far as I can see is the built in lithium battery rated at up to 18 hours from a standard charge. The concept here is that the AAA batteries will give you a further 12 hours of continuous play on top of the 18 hours provided by the built in lithium battery.
Better than that it is also a continuous delivery of power meaning you don’t conk out in mid flow and have to go hunting for batteries or recharge right away, you can simply just switch over to one or the other battery source you have not been using and you are good to go for a few more hours. In total Pendulumic rate both power sources as giving you a combined 30 hours of playback time which is pretty impressive. The Lithium Battery is the bigger of the two rated at 18 hours with the AAA being rated at 12 hours though this may vary depending on the type of battery you use. My money is on Eneloop rechargeable from Panasonic – one of the best in the market today. Eneloop batteries can be recharged up to 2100 times, and they will retain their charged capacity for a very long time indeed. Even after five years, they retain up to 70% of their charge.
Right Cup – Connectivity
The right cup is all about hooking up and listening to music from the source of your choice. On the side of the cup you have a three click switch much like the power switch on the left cup. This time though it allows you to flick between wireless, wired using an internal power amp inside the cup for amplification, or just a straight through wired passive setup much like any other regular headphone amp. To the bottom of the cup you have a 3.5mm cable jack for going wired and a microphone for receiving calls and I guess if no lag exists a bit of online gaming chat. To the side just above the switch is that knob I was praising earlier. It’s not the sleekest of knobs but its functionality and positioning behind the ear is perfect. From here you can answer or close calls with a single press or pause and play audio and two clicks gives you a little bit of fast forward action.
Note you can also call on the same functionality of the knob from the inline remote and mic buttons on the accompanying cable should you choose to go old school wired and it works in much the same way as other standard inline cables.
Pendulumic have made the often frustrating task of pairing device to device via BT a rather simple affair, even for me! Simply turn them on to wireless mode, turn on your source BT to discover and it should find the Stance S1+ right away with an audio profile to match and then click pair. No codes required and no need to select options. Simply press play on your source and it will work. Turn off that source and then turn it on again and both will pair up right where they left off.
The rated wireless distance is at 50ft but I dare say that is without obstruction which is the main issue of all wireless headphones. If you are out and about its unlikely this will be an issue since your source will be about a few feet or cms away in your pocket but for moving around an office or a home the chances are you are going to have a few obstacles to prevent what we call “clear line of sight” which is where the 50ft rating comes from. In this instance with two 6 inch partition walls separated at 2 meters apart I was able to achieve around 5-6 meters distance before I lost the signal with the AK120 MK1 BT signal. This is not too bad actually and on par with most modern BT connections. There may be some play in the distance depending on how good your source BT is though and when switching from the AK10 to my Blackberry Passport I was able to add a third wall and 2 more meters to the distance giving me an optimal 3 walls and around 8 meters which is top notch.
As with any wireless signal you are at the mercy of competing signals and blockages. Walls are obvious challenges but other less visible ones are other competing BT signals, wireless remotes, microwaves and even your own phones general BT competency and range. Basically anything in your house or outdoors that operates in a 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz band could stutter that performance though these days it’s becoming less of an issue as BT FHSS technology becomes far more robust than even a few years ago.
The Stance S1+ also supports the latest aptX technology covering quite a lot of good BT sources in the last year or so using the BT 4.0 protocol. AptX is the new kid in town for audio quality via BT. It’s still compressed audio as is all audio transmitted via BT but the modality of compression in which aptX spits out tinier high quality data chunks in theory should provide a better quality sound reproduction. This may or may not be true because in the end it’s like a DAC with a high end chip – it’s really all about the implementation. AptX sounds great but if the driver sucks then all is lost right?
Interestingly, and this maybe a big of a downer for some, Apple does not support aptX natively. Apple products supporting Mac OS X operating system support Apt-X. iOS devices do not support Apt-X natively and require the use of Apt-X transmitters.