The 808 Audio Performer BT (MSRP $99) over-ear headphones wear both hats. They function as both wireless, Bluetooth over-ears for mobile music-lovers and wired, desk-tethered cans for stationary listeners who want CD-quality audio.
It's a lot to provide for a very reasonable price, so naturally, there are some drawbacks here. The materials are not as fine as in higher-end headphones, meaning they're not the most comfortable, wearable cans on the market. The sound quality is similar—it's good enough for most listeners, especially if you enjoy a good bass emphasis, but is missing some of the finer details and resonance you might find from more expensive options.
For the price, however, the Performer BTs offer up a good enough combo of features (via dual wired/wireless functionality) and sound that they're not a bad value by any means—for $99, it's hard to complain about them. If you're really invested in high-end sound and don't mind paying a little more for the freedom offered by dual Bluetooth/wired headphones, check out the Sony MDR-1ABTs instead.
The 808 Audio Performer BT over-ear headphones offer a sound that's easily good enough for most consumers, but may be a bit sub-par for very picky listeners. Time in the lab revealed a frequency response that gives the low-end good, even emphasis, but at the cost to some resonance in higher-end midrange and treble frequencies.
Unfortunately, the well-supported bass notes are also a bit distorted, and ambient noise tends to leak in and clutter those tones, too. Finally, some treble frequencies sound out louder in the left channel than the right, making these 808s unsuitable for professional tasks like sound mixing.
An esoteric design approach that's sure to turn a few heads.
You'd be hard-pressed to call the Performer BT over-ears "traditional." Their brushed, metallic band is highlighted by sections of black rubber that run along in rectangular segments. Each ear cup is emblazoned with a honeycombed "808" logo and decorated by an octagonal pattern of criss-crossing string. It's a unique, industrial sort of design that doesn't leave a ton of room for plushy padding or lavish materials.
The Performer BTs are lightweight and flexible, but the materials definitely feel cheaper than higher-end over-ear headphones. Each ear cup pivots by 45° to the front and back of the band, which is good news for DJs: By twisting one cup forward or backward, you can listen with one ear without sacrificing any of the band's grip strength. The cups extend a few inches from the band, as well, but I still found it difficult to get a good seal. If the band curved and gripped just a little harder, bass would definitely have more of a presence in the sound.
These cans include a standard three-foot detachable cable with an in-line, single-button mic/remote combo and a USB charger for the Bluetooth battery. The audio cable plugs into the left ear cup; you'll find the Bluetooth charging port and controls on the right, alongside a small power button/indicator. The back of the right ear cup disguises controls for playing/pausing wireless music and adjusting volume (relative to the source volume, of course).
It's easy to just plug these cans in and get listening. It takes a little more setup to take advantage of the wireless Bluetooth audio. Once the Performer BTs are charged up (a full charge takes about an hour), pressing the power button on the right ear cup boots up Bluetooth.
I connected to the Performer BTs using a Macbook Air and listened to Pandora. While the audio quality was obviously a little worse than during a wired connection (discussed in the next section), connecting to the 808s was easy. I was able to walk about 100 feet away, with a number of walls in between my laptop and the headphones, before the signal started to fade.
The volume buttons on the back of the right ear cup worked as they should have, but when I pressed the play/pause button, it opened up iTunes—meaning it interacts directly with the connected device's interface, and not with specific programs. That's a standard result, however, and won't be a problem on smartphones.
Our frequency response test measures how much emphasis a pair of headphones allocates to each frequency along the audible spectrum. We feed a steady test tone of 78 dB—pretty standard loudness—and measure via a Head-and-Torso Simulator at what decibel each frequency is played back.
The Performer BTs started out strong in the sub-bass (~20–60Hz), sounding back around 75-80 dB. Bass elements from 60Hz through 800Hz are boosted a bit, broaching 80 dB. The slight emphasis in bass makes for a good bass presence without excessive boosting, which is great for casual and serious listeners alike. Things get rockier in the midtones and treble range, however, as there's a notable drop in emphasis between 2kHz and 7kHz where a few high-pitched instruments and many overtone series live.
This means that these 808s provide most of the core elements of music—bass and midtone instruments, vocals, etc. sound just fine. They lack the shimmer and presence of certain sibilant necessities, however, dampening their overall sound quality.
Our isolation test measures how well a pair of headphones naturally blocks ambient noise—or in the case of active cancelers, actively blocks it. While many headphones naturally reduce the audibility of higher-pitched ambient noises, like ringing phones and crying babies, most of them struggle to dampen deeper bass sounds like engines and truck horns. That is the forté of active noise cancelers, after all.
The 808s performed average here, meaning they naturally quiet down upper midrange and treble noises by as much as 35 dB, cutting down high-pitched sounds to about 25% of their original volume. Perhaps due to their looser seal, however, the 808s don't do a thing to quiet bass and midrange noises.
A good enough sound for most listeners, but not what we'd call high-end.
Whether you're listening wirelessly over Bluetooth or plugged into desktop speakers, you want the best sound. Obviously, the Performer BTs don't compete with more expensive, wired over-ear headphones in some regards. The sound profile is good enough for most listeners, but there are some flaws here that purists will definitely want to know about before courting these cans.
First of all, testing revealed a frequency response that gives a mostly even, flat emphasis to sub-bass, with light bass boosting that tapers off a bit in midrange and upper-midrange frequencies. This means music resonates with a decent low-end presence and the "meat" of most songs, such as vocals, guitar, and drum hits sound as they should. Bass will sound best if you can get a good seal, but that varies from person to person.
Emphasis drops off sharply in the highest midrange and treble frequencies, however, where a few instruments such as piccolo and cymbals live. While this reduces the occasionally harshness of those instruments, it also leaves a bit to be desired in terms of overtones and overall harmonic resonance. The full-bodied sound you aim for when you pay a few hundred dollars for headphones simply isn't present here.
In terms of functional performance, the Performer BTs fare a little better, though there are elements here, too, that consumers should be wary of. On the plus side, these headphones remain mostly distortion free even at very high volumes, but with the caveat that distortion is essentially always present in small amounts in bass and sub-bass elements. Most listeners won't be overly bothered by this, but keep in mind it becomes a bigger issue when listening wirelessly over Bluetooth and may bother the golden-eared crowd.
There's also a small issue with volume balance between the left and right channels. Higher pitches, such as from cymbals or overblown wind instruments, tend to sound out a little bit louder in the left channel than the right channel. The discrepancy here is small—again, most listeners won't notice this during music—but it might become apparent if you listen to a lot of talk shows or podcasts.
Finally, the somewhat loose seal of the Performer BTs mean they don't block out ambient noise as well as they could. People around you won't be able to hear your music (unless it's excessively loud), but you will still hear bassy, thumping sounds around you like footsteps, engines, and bus horns.
Our impulse response test is similar to our frequency response test—we feed a frequency sweep through the headphones and measure the results. Instead of measuring the emphasis on each frequency, however, we measure how long those frequencies take to decay. Most headphones perform nominally here, with sounds not lasting long enough after sounding to create ringing or echoing.
The 808s performed to expectation. Some bass elements (between 50 and 100Hz) and a small sliver of treble frequencies (around 5kHz) ring for about 10ms, but nothing exceeds the 15ms threshold of perceptibility.
They fill a particular niche, but the individual parts could be better.
The 808 Audio Performer BTs check off a lot of the right boxes. They offer up a unique appearance, a compact (travel-friendly) frame, and dual wired/wireless functionality for just $99. That's much less than you'd normally pay for over-ear headphones with the same functionality, setting them up as a unique option in the market.
Where you're saving money, however, you're also sacrificing a bit by way of audio quality and durability. Testing revealed that the Performer BTs simply lack the full, resonant sound of more expensive, traditional over-ears. Further, the lightweight metal band lacks the contour to properly clutch around the ears, leading to some unwanted ambient interference.
If you can live with less-than-perfect audio and are dead-set on cans that dual-wield wireless mobility and wired reliability, you should check these out—but try to find them on sale. If you're willing to pay a little more for that high-end sound, you're probably going to have to jump into an entirely different price bracket or opt to remain permanently wired.
We measure relative volume between the left and right channels of each set of headphones to determine of music or sounds play back louder or softer in one channel than another. While excessive tracking errors are rare, they do happen, and can occasionally be very distracting, especially if you're listening to non-musical audio with less stereo atmosphere.
The 808s performed decently here—volume doesn't sway more than a few decibels to the light or right channel through most of the bass and midrange. Unfortunately, treble frequencies around 4kHz play about 5 dB louder in the left channel than the right, and quickly swing back in the other direction thereafter. This won't be terribly noticeable during music, but may be distracting during something like a podcast.
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD), often just called distortion, is often present in speaker production as a byproduct of musical mechanical energy during a speaker's movement. The result can be clipped harmonics or fuzzy, unclear bass elements.
The 808s suffer from a fair amount of distortion in the bass range, which is a shame, since bass emphasis is probably their strongest suit. We measured upwards of 20% THD in the sub-bass and lower bass range, though this tapers off quickly below the 3% threshold of perceptibility around 60 Hz through the remainder of the range. This means the most audible elements of music have no audible distortion, which is a solid result.
Meet the tester
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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