Blue Microphones Satellite review: Worthwhile wireless headphones with a few quirks

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good
  • $399.00

Pros

  • Solid construction
  • Exceptional sound quality
  • Sturdy carrying case
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • Lack of audio alerts for enabling/disabling features
  • A bit on the heavy side

A few years ago, Blue Microphones broke away from its lineup of high-quality microphones and introduced its first high-end pair of headphones.

With a built-in amplifier, the Mo-Fi headphones provided better quality audio without requiring an external amp.

Fast forward three years and Blue is back at it with a pair of completely wireless headphones with a built-in amp, and active noise cancellation.

At $399, Blue's Satellite headphones are a high-end product for those seeking an unmatched wireless experience. And with Satellite, Blue delivers on most of that - although there are a few quirks that can be quite annoying.

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Specifications

Audio drivers: Custom 44mm dynamic drivers
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 4.1 with Enhanced Data Rate & aptX
Bluetooth range: Up to 10 meters
Supported profiles: A2DP + AVRCP + HSP + HFP
Active noise cancellation: Dedicated ANC drivers and four microphones.
Battery specification: 1,100mAh
Battery life: up to 24 hours with Bluetooth only or 8 hours with Bluetooth, ANC, and amp

I purposely omitted the nerdier audio specifications for the Satellite headphones. I suspect the majority of users (like me) won't have a clue what impact a total harmonic distortion of less than 0.5-percent has on the headphone's performance. However, if you are an audiophile clamoring for the nitty gritty details, you can find them on Blue's website.

Fit and finish

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The Satellite headphones are bigger than most wireless headphones. When you take into account everything Blue had to fit into the unit itself, it's somewhat surprising how small the overall device is. Tucked inside Satellite are an amp, ANC, audio drivers, Bluetooth components and the battery.

The right ear cup is home to volume up, down, and a pause/play button that can be pressed multiple times to skip between tracks. On the bottom of the ear cup is a 3.5mm jack for a wired connection.

The left ear cup is where you'll find the microUSB charging port, a power button, and buttons to control the AMP, ANC, and Bluetooth.

Behind the Blue logo on the left cup is a light that lights up and blinks to communicate when a feature is being turned on or off.

The ear cups rotate so that the headphones can lay flat in the included carrying case. Blue states the headband is designed to be tight when you begin using the headphones. Over time, according to the company, the amount of tension on the headband will loosen up and become more comfortable.

My experience with wearing the Satellite headphones matched up to that, with the first few days of use being far too tight and somewhat uncomfortable to wear. After a few days of putting them on and taking them off, the amount of pressure placed on my head has lowered as the tension of the headband was loosened.

Overall build quality feels worthy of the $399 price tag. There's nothing cheap-feeling about the headphones.

In the box

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Inside the box, you'll find a protective carrying case, with a smaller carrying bag. Tucked inside the carrying bag is a microUSB charging cable and a 3 meter, 3.5mm audio cable for listening when Bluetooth isn't an option (when the battery dies, for example).

The case itself is big and will take some planning around when traveling, but it's sturdy enough to assure your headphones are protected from accidental bumps when not in use.

A quirky experience

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The Satellite's spec sheet claims a battery life of 24 hours with ANC, and the amp turned off, or 8 hours with both of those features turned on.

My experience is that 8 hours is slightly higher than my real world use. I never tested the 24-hour claim, as I don't see the point in paying for headphones with ANC and an amp and not using them.

Pressing the "AMP" or "ANC" button on the left ear cup will turn the particular feature on or off. However, doing so lacks any audio alert or tone when you are wearing the headphones.

Often I had to press the button more than once to try and figure out if I was turning the amp on or off. The same experience is present when using ANC.

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

I wasn't sure what kind of impact either feature would have on the sound quality, especially when one is enabled and the other is disabled, so it was difficult at times to determine what was on and what was not.

Ultimately what I would end up doing is remove the headphones, press the button and wait for the light behind the Blue logo to either blink fives times indicating I had disabled a feature or light up for five seconds to indicate the feature is now enabled.

Nearly every pair of wireless headphones I've used over the past year or so has had a form of an alert - be it a tone or a voice - to indicate the status of various features. The lack of this same type of feature seems like an obvious miss on Blue's part.

Another frustration point is the absence of any audio warning that the battery is getting low. Instead, when the battery dies the headphones just turn off. No warning, no indication, the music just stops, and you are left wondering what the heck just happened.

Instead of an audio alert, the power button will begin blinking when there are roughly 10 minutes of battery juice left. Unless you train your colleagues or family members to let you know when the light is flashing, the chances of knowing when the battery is about to die are fairly low.

To be fair, it's not like Blue entirely skipped audio alerts for features; each time you turn on Satellite, an audio alert is played to indicate if the headphones have connected to a Bluetooth device. But they stopped there.

Headphones for audiophiles who want to cut the cord

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Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Blue's Satellite headphones are the best wireless headphones I've ever used. The sound is clear and crisp, making it easy to pick up background notes and vocals I wouldn't normally hear.

I did grow frustrated at times with the user experience portion of the product. On two occasions the music just stopped due to a dead battery with no warning. And having to remove the headphones to ensure the features I want to use are turned on was another annoyance.

The lack of audio alerts isn't a deal breaker for the Satellite headphones, it's just unfortunate. At nearly $400, there should be little to fault with these headphones.

That said, if you're someone who wants stellar sound quality without the wires, you need to check out Blue's Satellite headphones.

They are available starting May 9 for $399 directly from Blue, on Amazon, Newegg, Fry's, Dell, Best Buy, and Microcenter stores.

Topics: Reviews, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Smartphones

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