Bell'O Digital exceeded our expectations with their over-ear headphones known as the BDH821. Today we're taking a close look at one of their in-ear-earphone or in-ear-monitors (IEM for short) offerings, the BDH653's.
Audio quality experienced from these earphones has been interesting. They can be greatly manipulated using the output devices built in EQ settings; well to be more specific, in our scenario, the iPhone 5's. We test many headphones, earbuds and earphones and find the degree of manipulation the EQ has on them to differ greatly, but these change character dramatically with the simplest adjustment of the treble or bass. Bell'O boldly claim on the box that the BDH653 earphones sport precision bass, but we'd have to disagree. The bass is top heavy and cries out to be tamed. Once an EQ was found that delivered balance we'd find that every so often we'd have to change it again to reflect the current playing genre better. What this really means is that these aren't a very well balanced pair of earphones, the lower frequencies are over produced straight out of the box but can be fiddled with to create a good and pleasant output. But that fiddling is clunky and definitely not user friendly.
Vocal reproduction is an area where the Bell'O Digital BDH653 earphones glimmer. Bright and mid-high in frequency vocals come through with clarity and definition, they're pushed ahead of instruments. These earphones play particularly well with acoustic songs, Jack Johnson's 'My Little Girl' and Hayley Sales 'More Than You Know' sound tremendous. But this positive point means that there is a tendency for the over pronouncing of 'S' sounds and once noticed this can become distracting. This is actually an element of the audio character that we couldn't extinguish or even mellow.
The sound stage is at times a crash course of instruments and this can quite frequently lead to the mischievous low-mid frequencies over-tipping the balance, knocking everything off track. The sound stage is generally small, not at all airy, and audio feels like it's travelling into the head and not around it. The distinction between different instruments is at times blended together to produce a messy and erratic experience too. Volume can be loud but this, in addition, scales up the messy audio. And even adjusting the EQ accordingly doesn't always jump over this issue. Priced at $39.99 we can point to many options that offer greater audio performance at around the same price, such as the Brainwavz R1 Earphones, the Brainwavz M5 Earphones and the RHA MA-450i Earphones.
Noise isolation is brilliant, which surprised us when taking into account how small these earphones are. Medium to loud exterior noises are zeroed out when audio is playing. Noise pollution on the other hand wasn't quite as good, in quiet areas others will hear your audio when volume is cranked over the half way point.
These earphones share a popular shape within the industry that we refer to as the bullet. Constructed from metal, these definitely look quite sleek with their roundness and our black chrome on copper version have a glossy finish which look particularly up-market, although unfortunately they do collect fingerprints, and they scratch easily too. However, Bell'O have supplied a carry pouch within the box, so they can be safely stored away when commuting and such. Four other colours are available, with matte black on chrome, champagne on chrome, dark chrome on matte black and white on chrome to choose from. This shape also houses the earphones to protrude out away from the ear canal and this makes them appear compact. We found the fit to be comfortable and three sets of interchangeable silicone tips in small, medium and large sizes are included within the box. Once the appropriate size is found, the earphones rest snugly in the ears. We used the earphones for two three-hour stretches and didn't experience any notable discomfort. But we did notice that even with the largest silicone tips attached they slipped out of the ears with movement, so these aren't ideal for running. The left earphone has a mild slit on top so we knew which earphone goes into the left ear, this was helpful and time saving.
The strain relief and fabric reinforced flat and tagliatelle pasta looking cable has 99% oxygen copper free wiring which is supposed to help signal transfer. It's very long - measuring around 125cm - and at the end of the cable is a 24K gold plated auxiliary connector. The cable hosts two remotes - yes two? We've never seen or heard of this before and we know why, it's ill thought out. The left earphone cable has a one button remote attached which works with a vast array of mobile devices. It allows the pausing, playing and skipping of tracks when playing music. It additionally activates Siri on the iPhone and can answer calls. The microphone is located within this remote, which makes sense as this remote is closer to the mouth and will therefore pick up audio better. The quality of the microphone is clear and loud, it also does a good job at not overly picking up the wind when used outdoors.
The second remote is placed where each earphone's separate cable meets; this is solely a volume slider. It doesn't actually adjust the devices' output volume, it adjusts the volume just in the earphones, which is very unusual. So it's best to have the volume on the device turned up quite high and adjust the volume accordingly, so you don't have to go back and fourth from your device. Having two remotes was confusing as we have been familiar using remotes which offer the same functionality all built into one housing. An all-in-one remote is by far the better route for headphone or earphone manufacturers to take. It's a lot easier for the user.
This serving from Bell'O Digital brings a solid build to the table, but just OK audio quality and dodgy controls deflate them when compared to the similarly priced Brainwavz and RHA offerings we mentioned earlier.