Jabra’s unique and pricey BT8030 Bluetooth stereo headphones--which double as wireless speakers for a Bluetooth-capable computer, music player, or cell phone--are more interesting as a concept than a practical device. They do take the place of multiple products, but we were disappointed that quality and comfort were sacrificed for versatility.
Space-Age Design (Circa 1960)
The BT8030 headphones are a bit clunky; They’ll look less like space gear if you have lots of hair to hide them. The matte-black plastic exterior has subtle silver trim and a very small LED on either side, and the inner part consists of very firm velour-covered padding that wasn’t particularly comfortable and picked up tons of lint. The headband is adjustable, but getting a secure fit was difficult, given the headphones’ considerable heft (10.9 ounces).
The right side sports Play/Pause and Track Skip buttons, and the left side has controls for Power, Call Send/End, and Volume, along with a mini USB port and a power jack for the included adapter. Unfortunately, the headphones don’t charge via USB, though you can connect them for use as wired speakers or headphones.
We had no trouble pairing the BT8030 with our Samsung P2 portable media player and our Motorola RAZR maxx Ve phone. The headphones support Bluetooth 2.0 with the AVRCP and A2DP profiles, so you can use them to control your music player, listen to music, and make calls. Press a pair of hidden buttons on the top part of the headband and the headphones unfold to become speakers. Range is typical for Bluetooth headsets, at about 30 feet.
Better Speaker Than Headphones
Using the BT8030 as headphones, we were appalled at the quality of acoustic jazz; cymbals and other high-frequency sounds in a 192-Kbps MP3 version of John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” were ragged and swirly. We’re used to the effects of Bluetooth’s recompression, but the sonic flaws were even more apparent than usual with the BT8030. Other types of music that rely more on the low end and midrange--like rock and hip-hop--were far easier to listen to.
In speaker mode the BT8030 was an improvement over our laptop’s built-in speakers, but then again, just about anything is. The Jabra provided a decent experience at close range, and we love that the volume automatically adjusts for headphone or speaker use. It performed reasonably well for phone calls in both modes, though the built-in mic doesn’t have a noise-cancellation feature.
Battery life was decent. In our testing the BT8030 lasted around 8 hours for music playback in speaker or headphone mode, had 32 hours of talk time, and 10 days of standby time, as advertised.
Jabra BT8030 Verdict
Overall, we’re not crazy about the BT8030 as headphones--the JBL Reference 610 offer better quality--but as portable wireless speakers for music and phone calls, they’re a decent option. The BT8030 headphones list for $249, pretty steep even in light of their versatility. But we found them online for around $150, making them a more attractive deal. Better-sounding wireless headsets and wireless speakers are on the market, but no other product combines the two. We just wish the Jabra BT8030 did a better job at both.
Ready to put hands-free talking to the next level? We put two noise-busting Bluetooth headsets through some real-world tests.