Blue’s Satellite headphones raise the bar for wireless audio quality, but not comfort
Stellar sound, even if snug fit isn’t the most comfortable.
Making its name with building microphones for amateurs and professionals like, Blue made the headphone leap back in 2014. Their first model, Mo-Fi, features a built-in amp – this was soon followed by 3 others, including a planar magnetic set also featuring an onboard amp. However, all these options were wired, and the current trend is to go “courageous” and leave out the headphone jack. Catering to this craze, Blue used January’s CES to announce it’s wireless headphones, the Satellite. At $400, there’s an amp for top-quality audio, but it lacks one key selling point – comfort.
Blue have followed their retro-ish style with the Satellite too. There are gold & silver touches accompanying metal components, splashes of (not-too-loud) color, and backlit buttons. The cloth headband and leather earpads are proof of Blue’s knack for sophisticated design. All of this is a welcome change from the monochromatic & boring audio gear of recent.
The USB charging port is found on the bottom of the left earcup, and the 3.5mm jack is on the right earcup – just in case you run out of wireless juice. Button controls are on the outside of the earcups, arranged in two separate rings. On the right side are 2 buttons for volume control, as well as a play/pause. The play/pause can be used to accept or reject calls. The ring on the left earcup controls active noise cancellation (ANC), Bluetooth, and the amplifier.
The outer ring on the left earcup allows you to toggle all the aforementioned features. You’ll have to learn their location however, as there’s no tactile indication of which one you’re on. Either remember locations, or take headphones off & look. The right side doesn’t have similar problems, as the volume controls are situated at the top & bottom, as expected.
In the center of the control rings there’s a logo panel. Underneath, white LEDs light up according to noise cancelling or amplifier toggles. They’ll also blink for 5 seconds when turning these features off. The backlight mode keeps these lights active regardless.
When Mo-Fi first hit the scene, they sounded great, but were uncomfortable to wear due to their weight. The hinged design was tweaked by Blue, and the Sadie & Ella (other new 2017 models) are far more enjoyable to wear as a result. The Satellite takes a more traditional approach with a one-piece headband.
Unfortunately, this is a backwards step comfort-wise. From the get go, the headphones were pinching me in a very unpleasant way. Blue states that this tension loosens over time to fit more comfortably. Further addressing the issue, updated Satellite models have already-relaxed tension in their headbands. I noticed the pressure eased up after a couple weeks (an original unit), but nowhere near as comfy as newer Blue wired sets, or like the Bose QuietComfort 35 and Sony’s MDR-1000X. The super-tight fit aids the noise isolation & audio quality however – rather impressive.
This year’s Ella model features a built-in amp like Mo-Fi did, and Satellite continues the tradition of packing in the extra tech. The audio quality is really remarkable for wireless headphones, one of the best-sounding units I’ve experienced.
The sound depth of the Satellite is unmatched by my MDR-1000X or any others. High, mids, and bass are all well represented, with none overpowering. The built-in amp provides a fuller sound. There are separate drivers for the amp & noise cancellation, allowing finer audio details to be heard – I myself picked up instrumentation in Phantogram’s “Run Blood Run” I hadn’t heard before.
Nine Inch Nails’ Add Violence & Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN boom inside the Satellite, while artists like Sara Watkins also come across in impressive detail. Blue have never had issues with sound quality, and neither does the Satellite.
My immediate concern about Satellite was battery life. Blue state an 8-hour charge will all features on (ANC, Amp, and Bluetooth). I survived a full workday without charging, but turned them off for lunch & paused music during calls etc. Blue purport a 24-h charge if only using Bluetooth, but who’s shelling $400 and not using the high-end features?
Along with improving the relaxed headband, the newer versions also improve Bluetooth pairing, and come with an auto-off feature to save battery. These features weren’t pushed to older headsets, so I was unable to test them. However, Blue is allowing customers the opportunity to swap their old headsets for the updated model, even if you purchase the old set now.
With headphones, comfort is nearly as critical as sound to me. They need to be comfy when worn for typically over an hour. Satellite’s sound is amazing, but nowhere near as comfortable as Blue’s prior models. The planar magnetic Ella come in at $300, and really improved over the initial hinged design. In the end, your priorities win out, but I need my headphones to not be a burden.
Is comfort your primary consideration? Look at the MDR-1000X, now often offered for under $400. Audio quality your top concern? Satellite still deserves top consideration. What blue is offering for $400 is remarkable, even if not the most comfortable.