There are few things as unpleasant in life as getting a headphone cable snagged on a doorknob. Or the corner of a table. Or the watch of a total stranger passing me on the sidewalk. Because the cable runs the length of my body, from the earbuds on my head to the phone in my pants pocket, it’s way too easy for it to get caught on just about anything, and it’s a truly jarring experience every time it happens.
For years, I’ve been on the lookout for a good pair of bluetooth headphones so I could finally do away with the tyranny of the cable. Unfortunately, bluetooth headphones still tend to be expensive, bulky, and with less-than-ideal battery life. I’d also be trading in the ubiquitous look of plain white earbuds for something that screams: “Look at me, I’m part cyborg!” So I waited…and waited…and have had literally hundreds of snags in the meantime.
It’s rumored that Apple may be ditching the headphone jack in the iPhone 7, which will launch a new era of mainstream wireless headphones with fewer compromises. But that doesn’t help me right now, even if it does come to fruition. (Also: Why isn’t there an Apple-rumor site called Fruition? That’s kind of a no brainer, isn’t it?)
And then I heard someone on a tech podcast mention the existence of small bluetooth transmitters with headphone jacks. I had totally forgotten that such things existed. I knew Sony made one a while ago, but I hadn’t seen them in stores in years. So off to Amazon I went, where I did, indeed, find a selection of bluetooth adapters made specifically to break the physical connection between your standard headphones (or earbuds) and your smartphone (or music player, computer, etc.).
The first thing that jumped out at me was that Sony still sold a couple such devices: The SBH20 and The SBH52. But both devices used the older Bluetooth 3.0 standard, making me think it’s been a while since Sony has paid much attention to them.
One of the best sellers on Amazon was a bluetooth adapter made by a “company” called JUMBL. (Are they are real company with real employees? Who knows. It could just be a label slapped onto generic devices that pour out of Chinese factories.)
The tech was right — it used the newer Bluetooth 4.0 standard. And the price was even better — $20. I’m normally quite wary of the off-brand reaches of Amazon, but for that price, there was little downside to trying it out. So I bought it.
The adapter arrived two days later. I immediately charged it to full using the included mini-USB cable.
Then I paired it with my iPhone. The process was simple and without any hiccups.
And then I left my house, ready to take on the world with my covert bluetooth connection.
First and foremost — using the adapter will render useless any physical buttons on the headphones themselves. Fortunately, the adapter has its own physical buttons for “skip ahead” “skip back” “volume up” and “volume down,” which doesn’t just replicate the functionality of most headphones’ built-in buttons, but actually improves them a bit. (The stock iPhone headphones, for example, use just two buttons for both skipping forward/back AND adjusting the volume up and down.)
If only the device had included a dedicated power button, though. The JUMBL adapter has one big button in the center that works as both a “play/pause” and “power on/off.” Tapping the button will toggle between play and pause. A long, multi-second press will either turn it on or off.
Technically, if you hold down that button for just a couple seconds — longer than needed to play/pause, but shorter than needed to turn on/off — the adapter will trigger Siri (or whatever virtual assistant your smartphone’s OS uses) — but it’s tricky to find the right timing.
So that’s trade-off #1, no longer being able to use the buttons on your headphones. Trade-off #2: You can’t use your headphones’ built-in microphone either (if you’ve got one). If you plan to talk on the phone while using the bluetooth adapter, you’ll need to use the microphone built into the adapter itself.
The good news: I did this several times and never had any complaints from the other user, though I’m guessing there must’ve been some audio quality deprecation. Just not enough to warrant mention.
I did have one literal snag the first time I wore it. I clipped the adapter to the bottom front edge of my shirt, making the headphone cable an easy target when I opened a cabinet door that brushed against my torso. Since shortening the cable a bit though (with a non-high-tech twisty tie), snags have almost entirely gone away. (Or at least, I haven’t had a single one in the last two weeks since using the adapter.)
When I get into my car, the car’s bluetooth immediately takes precedence over the adapter without any prompting, so the audio seamlessly moves to the auto’s speakers. So that’s nice. I still try to make an effort to turn off the adapter, though, to save battery life (when I remember to do so).
The device’s range has been decent, too. I can get about 20 feet away without the wireless signal degrading. (And I could probably get a little further if I wasn’t turning corners and going behind walls.)
The product’s Amazon page promises 10 hours of battery life. If you’re super vigilant about powering it down whenever you’re not actively listening to music or podcasts, you could maybe get close to that ten hours of playtime (at least, until the battery inevitably weakens). But even if you’re like me — a heavy podcast listener who frequently forgets to turn off the JUMBL when I’m driving — you should still get a couple days worth of use between charges, if not more.
As for audio quality, I did notice that volume took a bit of a hit when using the adapter. Amazon reviewers also reported that music didn’t sound as good, but results are going to vary on that, depending on how sensitive your ears are to the nuances of digital music reproduction.
The Pros — No more snags, and I don’t even need to keep the phone on me as I roam about the house or office. You get all the freedom you’d get with a pair of (more expensive) true Bluetooth headphones.
The Cons — The buttons and mic on your headphones will stop working. I was able to make the adjustment to instinctively feel for the same commands on the adapter itself, but this could be an annoying dealbreaker for some people.
The benefit of using this adapter over just buying a pair of bluetooth headphones — You can keep using your normal looking headphones/earbuds. And it’s cheaper. And if the device’s battery goes dead, you can just put it away and plug your headphones into your phone the old fashioned way. That makes for a nice back-up plan.
Overall: For $20, it was worth it to me. If all you want is to sever the physical connection between your headphones and your phone, this’ll do the job with manageable trade-offs. I wouldn’t pay any more than that, though. And I would prepare myself for the day when I go to use the adapter, and it just plain no longer works. That can happen with these off-brand devices, and there’s little recourse when it does.
Products mentioned in this review: