My long long overdue review on the Nokia BH-905 Bluetooth headset.
The Nokia BH-905: Old College Try at Excellence
A brief intro
Wireless headsets have been in trend for many years now, but to some extent failed to grasp a pole position in the mainstream market. Blame the shabby quality of music, the complication in wireless pairing protocols, or even quote health reasons; everyone had their own grounds against Bluetooth headsets. But today, in a world where everything is just a click away, wired headsets have become nostalgia of the long gone days. And when it comes to the Nokia BH-905 above all, you don’t need a good eye for understated fashion. Long story told short, it is among the very few high-end Bluetooth headphones with absolutely fantastic sound quality rivalling that of dedicated wired headsets from Nokia itself and many other manufacturers alike. “A Symphony of Sound and Silence” catchphrase accompanies the product name, and I personally think it fits on the mark.
With a starting price of USD249 (I think!) or GBP165, the Nokia BH-905 doesn’t come cheap however. In reality, for a hundred bucks lesser, there are plenty of other equalling headsets in the market. In view of the fact, what would actually convince prospective buyers of this high-end Bluetooth headset, with the exception of its fantastic looks? As usual, I shall go over the pros and cons of this gadget, from my perspective of course. Enjoy reading!
- - Model: Nokia BH-905 Bluetooth Headset (form: over-the-ears)
- - Connectivity: Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, Headset Profile (HSP) 1.2, Hands-Free Profile (HFP) 1.1, A2DP 1.2, 2.5mm Nokia standard jack (with 3.5mm adapter) – Universal compatibility
- - Frequency Response: 15Hz to 20kHz
- - Advanced Wolfson Microelectronics myZone Ambient Noise Cancellation for up to 99% noise reduction
- - 10 microphones – 8 for noise cancelling, 2 for capturing speech in loud surroundings
- - Physical buttons: Multifunction key for power on/off, answer/end, voice dial, redial; volume +/-, play/pause, next track/previous track, and active noise cancelling on/off
- - Dimensions: 7.09 x 6.10 x 2.32 inch (Length x Width x Thickness), weight: 175 g
- - Battery: Li-ion Polymer Rechargeable Battery 600 mAh (2 hours charging time)
Power Management (my tests – maximum):
Talk Time: 19 Hours, 12.5 Hours with noise cancellation active (Bluetooth). Music Playback: ~20 Hours, 14 Hours with noise cancellation active (Bluetooth) and 33 hours (Wired). Standby time (Bluetooth): ~20 Hours. [Take note that this is a used device]
Other distinct features:
- - feed-forward active noise cancellation technology allows for pure sound without ambient noise
- - extensive compatibility with various music devices wirelessly or with wire (all adapters included in sales package)
I spent over two weeks with this Bluetooth headset, and so here goes my take:
12 Reasons to like the Nokia BH-905
- • Cord-free portable music. I think the introduction to my review suffices for this point. Wireless connectivity isn’t really about the trend alone, but more on its usability. I could toss and turn in bed without worrying about tangling cords, or I could be anywhere around the house moving heavy hardware without actually worrying about detaching ear buds. As mentioned above, Bluetooth headsets have been in commercial use for many years now, but none have managed to convince me, at least until I had my chance with the beautiful Nokia BH-905 last month. It’s bulky to be frank, but quite portable indeed. That doesn’t qualify it to go jogging with you of course; it’d probably fall off your head after some 20 metres. The BH-905 is all about portability within a good personal space; say your house, room, workplace, etc. And not just some second-rate portability or mobility on the lines; it is unconditionally beyond compare in actual fact. It is without a doubt, if not the best, one of the best Bluetooth headphones I’ve seen and used. There are simply no compromises when you ditch that 3.5 mm cable connectivity.
- • Easy and fast pairing with devices. Easy reset of memory too. The Headset remembers the last couple of devices you’ve paired it with. So, when switched on, it automatically connects to the last paired device. If that device is not detected, it will try to connect to the previous device before the last (penultimate choice). Intelligent, not? Good use of the Bluetooth 2.1 profile I would say, hats off to Nokia. A long press on the multi-function button would erase the memory and reset it to out-of-the-box state, which is good for testing out with various devices. I was initially using it with the Nokia E72, and when I switched to Nokia X6, the headset somewhat refused to pair, for unknown reasons. After a soft memory reset, everything went by the book. It’s not a very cumbersome process, actually.
- • Personal “home theatre” experience. Being able to move about to all comers while listening to your favourite music is an incomparable experience, particularly at your own comfy personal space. Wired or not, the BH-905 is an almost-unmatched device for audio listening. Excellent audio quality coupled with noise cancelling (explained in furtherance below); music comes through in the form of untouched high quality stereo, with no unnecessary processing done on the headset. Everything is as raw as your device can output. The best phone to accompany this headset would unquestionably be the Nokia N900, which unfortunately was not with me during the test. I did however test with the Nokia N97, which was nevertheless noticeably better than the average pack, and the headset did perform really well. Even with the iPhone 3GS, it was extremely good, despite having no wireless controls working on the jesus phone. Sound quality is explained separately below, simply because it needs a distinct appraisal.
- • Balanced highs and lows (with the exception of bass). Generally, the BH-905 has excellent sound quality, as abovementioned, loud but not noisy, thanks to the noise cancelling (discussed below). Even discrete sounds are generally very clear and good; I could hear the fine chirping of birds and ambient environmental sounds from movies. There is widespread bass with nice smooth sound overall; but having said that, the bass is unfortunately not so ‘strong’ on the BH-905, something quite disappointing for a ‘flagship’ headset. It is very widespread, meaning the bass comes through from all angles into the ears and not from some tiny noticeable tunnel, but it’s just not punchy. Nonetheless, it still feels much better than many other headsets of this price range. Treble is also quite good, although vocals can sometimes be overshadowed by the not-so-strong bass, as luck would have it. And for really loud listeners, fret not; the BH-905 has all the ability to get loud enough and make you deaf.
- Watching movies, on the other hand, is truly exceptional with the BH-905. I tested it with The Incredibles, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Avatar, and a few other high-profile TV series (mostly with Dolby Surround or DTS) on my notebook and desktop; and all through, it felt just like a small room-sized personal cinema hall (the audio part of course!).
- • Good noise cancelling. I was sceptical about the performance of BH-905 in regard to noise cancelling (Nokia can get over-excited in advertisements sometimes), but after testing it, the BH-905 really bought me. I had several Philips headsets with noise-cancelling in the past, so I would know the eminence of noise-cancelling done proper and otherwise. The multi-microphone active noise cancelling melted the world away, with only music surrounding the ears. In fact, I would personally recommend using the BH-905 just to eliminate out environmental noises. It doesn’t exactly block out 100% of external noises (which is of course what you’d want against nagging mothers and girlfriends), but it comes close. I tested it on a high-speed railway travelling at 132km/h. The noise inside the coach was at 88 dB (with no one talking), and the noise inside the cupping earpads was at 52 dB, at most. The noise cancelling system, just like any other, pushes out the external noises and allows you to listen to music/audio without any issue, additionally without having the eardrum pressure that some other similar headsets give.
- • Comfortable design. The BH-905 has adjustable circumference and cup angles, at your will. You can also be adjusting the cups in between songs without losing sound quality, which is a good thing for people who are constantly on the move. The ear pads, additionally, are soft and not too pressuring on the ears. The adjustable circumference also allows for the headset to easily rest around the neck or other places when not in use.
- • Diverse array of audio connections. The sales package (all within the pouch) includes the standard 2.5mm Nokia AV cable, the standard 3.5mm cable, an airplane audio jack, and a 6.3mm home stereo jack; apart from the primary Bluetooth connectivity. With all of these, you could use the BH-905 with any device possible. The cables are adequately long for any personal use, and for far distances (<10 metres), you still have the Bluetooth. It’s good that Nokia was very thoughtful of the sales package; in contrast to many other manufacturers who rarely include this many options.
- • Easy maintenance. The ear pads are rotatable so that they lie flat, which makes this headset a bit more compact and portable for storage. It’s not entirely compact like the WH-505, but is still small enough to fit in a small bag without the pouch. The brushed metal caps on the ear cups are also quite scratch-proof. Considering the fact that this is a used unit, there were hardly any visible scratches.
- • Good call audio quality (also depends on the phone). I tested the BH-905 with the Nokia E72, N97 and Apple iPhone 3GS (wired only), and notwithstanding the quality on wired connection, the Bluetooth sound quality for calls was considerably good. It’s not exactly exceptional, but it is definitely far better than many other Bluetooth headsets in the market that I’ve seen. On the other end, the person could absolutely hear my voice clearly as well, even when I was in a noisy train. Sometimes, either of the caller or listener’s voice sounded a bit harsh and some other times, it would just break infrequently, which are both known issues for Bluetooth. The noise cancelling is just right during calls; not excessive and not subtle. On a side note (off the hook), the Nokia E72 is certainly not a phone that’s long-term-Bluetooth-connectivity friendly; getting too hot after some hours of usage, leading to frequent crashes/restarts. I’m guessing a hardware design flaw, because the same fortunately did not happen with the older Nokia 6120 Classic (also tested with the BH-905 for several hours).
- • Rich profiles. The BH-905 has all the common profile features of a high end wired-headset, such as answering, ending, and rejecting calls, last-number redial, voice dial support (where available), call mute, and the capability to switch calls between headset and phone. In short, nothing is compromised in the name of wireless connectivity. Well, the BH-905 is big and has plentiful of real-estate space, so logically all these functions should come by default; and true to form, Nokia did include all.
- • 10 metre Bluetooth range, like any other standard Class 2 Bluetooth device. The BH-905 is, as mentioned earlier, very good for mobility around your personal space, e.g. working around the house (and not involving frequent head movements).
- • Good Battery life. The BH-905 comes with a 600 mAh Li-Pol battery, which is similar to the one in Nokia 6120 in capacity. This makes the headset heavier, undeniably, but it is all for good. Coupled with a good battery management, the headset lasts over 1 ½ days on wired connectivity with ANC turned on (refer to the power management results above). It only died on me once throughout the test period, which was obviously after a full-day of usage with about 80% battery preceding.
12 Reasons not to like the Nokia BH-905
- • Built quality of ear pads and headset casing (pouch). As you would have noticed, I’m only talking about the ear pads in regard to the headset and not the whole unit per se. This might sound insensitive against a high-end device, but it’s what I opine personally; the quality per price ratio for the BH-905 is not very satisfactory. The headset doesn’t have many issues in its entirety; the metal backbone is rigid and the ear pad caps and buttons are equally strong, except for the ear pads themselves. The material used on the ear pads (assuming it to be PVC or leather) was already tearing, and in turn of time, I could foresee it ending up even worse.
- The casing (pouch) was not very good either. It’s made by some premium Turkish manufacturer, and similar to many other leather products, the exterior is easily hurt (scratched). On the inside, to make things worse, there is a layer of velvety fabric glued to the inner wall (yes, glued!), and in my test unit, it was already starting to peel off.
- • Bulky on the head. I’m a fan of over-the-ear headsets, and I’ve tested several good ones from Sennheiser and Shure, two premium manufacturers from different corners of the world. The BH-905 came really close in terms of audio quality, but lacked behind in terms of design, at least in the weight department. At a whopping 175 g and 180 mm x 155 mm x 59 mm in physical size, it’s definitely not for fast-paced mobility, all the more for daily use in urban areas. No jogging or any sort of strenuous movements; because it’s prone to slipping off in such scenarios. It’s similar to tying up an N900 on your head and walking around, with the heaviness kicking in a few minutes thereafter.
- • Bass not punchy. This was quite disappointing for a high-end premium headset, especially when the lower-end BH-505 could deliver bass better. To cut a long story short, sometimes the bass is too spread-out like in a big room, whilst some other times it ends up being very subtle. This has been discussed above in great detail, so it’s pointless harping on it again. Midrange bass is generally acceptable, but sometimes not as much as necessary, so if you’re a fan of Electronica or House music, the BH-905 may not satisfy you. Nonetheless, it is still the best that I’ve heard from a Bluetooth headset.
- • Noise cancelling takes time for activation (a second or two). This is not really a big complaint for me, but it might be a concern for people who are fussy about delays. Off the hook, you can hear the ANC kicking in, which appears to be a cool effect.
- • Memory crash. This happened twice during the test period, and I’m not sure if it’s unique to this particular unit. The BH-905 basically refused to start up, requiring a hard reset. The first time it occurred, I sought help from Nokia support forums, since I was not carrying the User Manual along; and the problem was solved thereafter within 20 seconds of trying. Well, imagine this happening to a non-professional lay user; he’d probably be calling Nokia Care within the next hour.
- • Appearance. This is in regard to the design of BH-905. The stems are slightly curved outwards, by which the headset appears to look somewhat goofy when worn. I understand Nokia intended the headset to have a comfy and safe fit, but it just doesn’t look right on the head. I looked at my reflection, and the silhouette of my head with the BH-905 on looked ridiculous, because of the way the headset is affixed. For this reason alone, I stopped wearing it in public places.
- • Small ear pads. They might appear big for you in pictures, but in real they’re a bit too small for some ears as I’ve observed, even for my own. The ear pads don’t work as well as full-sized ear cups when it comes to blocking out external environmental sounds, which is of course why we have the ANC at the first place. But that’s not really the issue. The undersized ear pads would prompt some listeners to press them down to their ears to get the fullest quality, and due to that, there could be chances of ear fatigue, especially after a long use. I personally found the ear cups to be rather small and requiring constant adjustments while listening, to get to the perfect glory point. Not only they fail to block out the environmental noises as abovementioned, but they could also fail to channel the entire audio range coming out of the drums into your ears. Strangely, this smallness doesn’t really resonate with the hefty weight of the BH-905.
- • Volume buttons not distinctive when worn. All the buttons on the BH-905 are easily accessible when worn, except for the most important two; the ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ Volume buttons. Long story told short, the buttons are not distinctive when worn and as such, quite tricky in terms of accessibility. Worst, I’ve even pressed the wrong button inadvertently, e.g. pressing ‘Down’ to increase the volume. It could partially be the location (at the rear-side of the right ear pad when worn), and could partially be that they’re flushed with the body, making it not-so-easy on fingers.
- • Audio quality can get a little fuzzy. I’ve thoroughly praised both the audio and call quality on the BH-905, but that doesn’t mean it is without problems. At times, the audio quality (for both call and music) can get a little fuzzy and even break intermittently. This is actually common to many Bluetooth headsets in the market, and, it’s sad to see that Nokia didn’t manage to solve it either.
- • Bluetooth indicator light can be too bright in dark environments. This doesn’t look big, but trust me, the BH-905 left me embarrassed in one scenario. Back to the story, the Bluetooth indicator light, which flashes blue when in use, can be quite bright in dark environments. If you’re in a small and dark room, each flash could possibly light up the whole room for a split second. It is alright if you’re alone, but if you aren’t, this could probably be a problem. For example, I was using the headset on an express bus journey for a few hours (at night), and it not only lit the whole area around me (below head level) every time it flashed, it also lit my co-passenger’s side, when I received a few stares consequently. In the end, I resorted to using the wired connectivity instead.
- • Doesn’t support Mic-in via cable. This means if you’re running out of battery due to extended Bluetooth usage, you have no other options but to use your phone directly. But then again, it’s not really a big deal if you’re not a frequent hands-free user.
- • Noise cancellation of loud noises. Noise cancelling on the BH-905 is done very well, needless to say. There was one small problem at times however, especially with loud noises, which got converted into a weird low-level high pitch hiss, like some sort of humming. It’s not easily noticeable at first, fortunately; but once you do, it does get annoying.
Minor issues aside, the Nokia BH-905 Bluetooth headset is without a doubt one of the best in its class. Considering its quality and capability, as well as its position, the price tag however isn’t so beautiful after all, in which I concur with the opinions of many other reviewers alike. Well, maybe it is just Nokia’s way of pricing; beyond affordability, just like some of its high end phones. And I’m not questioning that, it’s just a personal rant.
Having said that, there aren’t really any major issue with the Nokia BH-905. It comes close to being perfect, at least in terms of sound quality. Marketing this product however, could be quite easy for Nokia. It has everything an audiophile needs; the right specifications, the right sound quality, the active noise cancelling, a variety of connectivity options, and on top of all, over-the-ear ear pads. The headset works with every possible device, from phones to hi-fi sets and cars to airplane multimedia consoles. In that premise, the BH-905 is a very desirable accessory; it’s practically useful for all scenarios.
If truth be told, it is quite difficult to get nitpicky with the BH-905, for it is an accessory with respectable features and functions; just lagging behind in some minor departments. And it’s not a phone either, for us to go through externally and internally, part by part. There’s no pot of gold to highlight, and if anyone insists, that’s probably the active noise cancelling and nothing more. Everything else (apart from audio quality) is pretty much standard, comparable to other better-than-average headsets from Nokia.
Taking into account all that’s given above, would I buy the BH-905 if I had RM700 (USD 220)? From my experience, which was considerably good with the headset, I think I actually would, without much reservation. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’ll probably last with me for many years. The BH-905 is only for the serious Audiophiles who are looking for a high-end headset to wear at home (note: at home). If I were to rate the BH-905, I’d give it an unyielding 8.5/10. It’s a very solid performer, and definitely better than the Bose QuietComfort 3 or the Sennheiser HD 238s headphones for about $100 less. At the end of the day, it’s a shame that I had to send it back…
Thanks to WOMWorld/Nokia for the test unit.
Full gallery of pictures is available on Flickr.
2 Responses to “Nokia BH-905 Bluetooth Headset: Full Review”
July 12th, 2010 at 12:23 am
the noise reduction is too good, too good that it actually hurts. when nothing is playing, it is like listening to a vacuum.
September 27th, 2010 at 9:59 pm
I remember in sixth grade choir and we did any disney medley of songs but it was the most fun I’d in choir. Arabian Night time, Be Our Guest, Hug the Girl, Under the Sea include the ones that come to memory from that. They need to bring some of the movies out of this damn Disney vault.
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