Gear We Love: Revo Wireless offers Bluetooth-headphone convenience without the compromise
At a Glance
There’s a lot of gear out there for your Apple devices, but how do you know which are worth your time and what’s not worth your money? In our Gear We Love column, Macworld’s editors tell you about the products we’re personally using—and loving.
I’m a headphone geek, which means that I care a lot about sound quality. And that means that as much as I love the convenience of wireless peripherals, I’ve long steered clear of Bluetooth headphones—they just didn’t sound very good.
But I’m not above liking a great headphone that’s fun to listen to, even if it’s not perfectly accurate. And Bluetooth audio has improved enough over the past few years that you can actually find some very good Bluetooth headphones. Which is why one of my favorite headphones of late is Jabra’s $200 Revo Wireless. The Revo Wireless is a comfortable, well-built, stylish, and great-sounding headphone that just so happens to connect using Bluetooth (or, when Bluetooth isn’t an option, a standard audio cable—more on that in a bit).
Available in white, black (actually more of a dark brown), or white/grey, the Revo Wireless uses an on-ear design, which means that its soft, memory-foam earpads sit on your ears instead of enclosing them. The headband is well padded and doesn’t squeeze your head like a vise the way some on-ear headphones do, and the entire package weighs only eight ounces, making for a comfortable fit—I frequently wear the Revo Wireless for two or three hours at a time. The fit is secure enough to take to the gym, though the Revo probably won’t stay on your head during aggressive running.
However, each earpiece sits on a metal rail that can extend only about an inch, and those two inches of adjustability aren’t enough to accommodate big heads. If you’ve got a large noggin, you’ll have a hard time extending the headband enough for the earpieces to comfortably reach both ears. Smaller head? You’re set.
The rest of the Revo Wireless is made of plastic, but it looks nicer, and feels sturdier, than what you’d expect thanks to those metal rails, which are rugged and sport a nifty design that curves gracefully from the headband to surround the earpieces. Slide the headband to its smallest position, and the earpieces fold up into the headband, much like the popular Beats headphones. The folded package isn’t pocketable, but it’s easy to toss into a bag for travel. Unfortunately, unlike with Beats and a good number of other headphones in this price range, Jabra doesn’t include a rigid carrying case—only a flimsy pouch. I do like, however, that Jabra has silk-screened Right and Left in large letters on the inside of each earpiece, making it easy to figure out which side is which.
As with most Bluetooth headphones these days, pairing is a simple process. The Revo Wireless uses a physical on/off switch—a welcome feature, as you never have to worry about the headphones accidentally turning on in your bag—and when you want to pair the headphones with your computer, smartphone, or tablet, you just slide the switch a step past the On position to enable pairing mode. You hear spoken instructions that explain how to pair; once pairing is successful, you hear a confirmation: “Connected.” (The Revo Wireless can also pair using NFC, but I didn’t test this feature.)
The headphone can pair with two devices simultaneously. When you turn on the headphones, you even hear a spoken confirmation of the number of active connections: “Two devices connected.” However, as with all Bluetooth headphones I’ve tested, this doesn’t mean you can listen to audio from two devices simultaneously. In fact, if those devices are both on and in range, they may fight for the Revo’s attention: When I’m listening to music on my iPad, that audio drops out whenever I receive a notification on my iPhone; or if I type something on the iPhone, the iPad’s audio goes silent for a couple seconds so that the phone’s keyboard “clicks” can play over the headphones. The solution is simple—I disable Bluetooth on my iPhone while listening to audio on the iPad—but I’ll be a happy person when Bluetooth lets multiple devices stream audio to a single set of speakers or headphones.
Another nice feature is that the Revo Wireless can also be used as a set of standard wired headphones. Jabra includes a nice, braided-fabric-cover cable that plugs into a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) jack on the bottom of the left earpiece. This configuration is handy if, for example, you can’t use Bluetooth on a plane, or if the Revo Wireless’s rechargeable battery runs out of juice. (The headphone’s earpiece-based controls and microphone, covered below, don’t work when connected via cable; the headphone cable, however, includes a single-button inline remote/microphone module.)
Speaking of charge, Jabra says the headphone should give you up to 12 hours of use on a full charge, or up to 240 standby hours. I didn’t rigorously test this battery claim, but it seems about right. I can use the headphone for an hour or two a day for over a week (and sometimes even two) before I need to charge. You can charge using any powered USB port; Jabra includes a USB-to-Micro-USB cable with the same braided-fabric covering as the headphone cable. (You also use this USB connection to update the Revo’s firmware, if necessary.)
The center of the Revo Wireless’s right-hand earpiece hosts a standard Bluetooth control button: When listening to media, you tap it to toggle play/pause. For phone calls, you tap the button to answer or end a call, tap-hold to reject an incoming call, or double-tap to redial the last number. The phone’s microphone is pretty good as Bluetooth headphones go—unlike with some competing models, I wasn’t tempted to turn off the headphones whenever I received a call on my phone.
Surrounding that control button is a touch-sensitive disc that Jabra calls the “Turnable Touch Control,” even though it doesn’t actually turn. To increase volume level, you simply swipe your finger in a clockwise direction on this disc; swipe in the other direction to lower the volume. For this function, the controller works great. On the other hand, to skip to the next or previous track, you double-tap the area of the disc closest to your face or closest to the back of your head, respectively. I found this aspect of the Turnable Touch Control to be somewhat frustrating: When the Revo Wireless is on your head, it’s not always easy to figure out the exact spot on the disc to tap. It would be a lot easier if the disc included a tactile nib in each location to give your finger something to find.
The left-hand earpiece also includes a center button, but that one is reserved for use with the company’s Jabra Sound App, which is free with the Revo Wireless or available for purchase for use with any headphones. This app provides Dolby sound-processing features for audio listening, though it requires you to listen to your locally-stored (iTunes) music through the Jabra Sound app—it doesn’t support iTunes Match or streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, for example—so I don’t find it to be very useful. I also don’t think the app’s audio processing necessarily makes music sound better—sometimes it does, but many times it doesn’t.
All the nice design aspects of the Revo Wireless wouldn’t matter much if the headphone didn’t sound good, and on that front, it’s a pleasant surprise compared to many of the Bluetooth headphones I’ve tested. As with V-moda’s XS, there’s a noticeable bass emphasis, but it’s not overbearing, and unlike with most bass-bumped headphones, the treble and midrange frequencies aren’t overpowered by the lows. (Sound quality is slightly better in wired mode, if you’re curious.) The earpads also isolate pretty well for an on-ear design.
Overall, while hard-core audiophiles will balk at the Revo Wireless’s lack of flat frequency response, it’s a fun headphone, especially when you’re in the mood for bouncing to the beat. I’ve been using and liking the Revo Wireless for over a year—we’ve included it in the past two editions of our headphone recommendations—but over the past few months I’ve noticed that when I’m listening casually, rather than geeking out with my higher-end headphone gear, I’m grabbing the Revo Wireless more than any other headphone. The combination of comfort, wireless convenience, and good audio quality makes it very appealing.
But the other reason I was prompted to write about the Revo Wireless now is that it’s been available at heavily discounted prices recently. You can frequently find it on Amazon.com for as little as $140, and over the past week, it was temporarily available for $125 from Staples.com and even $90 from Woot.com, which is an absolute steal. Maybe this means that Jabra is clearing out inventory for a new model, but even if that’s the case I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a set. If you’re in the market for some great Bluetooth headphones, I’d keep an eye out for more sales.