by Christopher Willhoite
Portable cassette and CD players have become antiques. Even the dedicated Mp3 player has succumbed, albeit partially. Yet tech inevitably changes, shrinks, and sometimes multiple devices merge into a cohesive whole. Smartphones and tablets have replaced many devices, alleviating the ‘take it or leave it’ dilemma. And among these innate features is music.
So, thinking in those terms, I searched for headphones that would work in concert with my smartphone. I caught up with a pair of Runaways.
To be fair, earbuds are generally packaged with feature/smartphones, thus you might want to save your cash and use those instead. But if you’re a detractor of earbuds, headphones are vital to a personal and considerate listening experience.
Runaways come in various colors, and I favored the “vinyl black and vintage red” option. All models are adjustable and foldable.
The first real detail I noticed was their lightweight feel. They certainly sit comfortably atop my head and press my ears gently. The cushy padding on the speakers and headband also helps. Still, the pair is prone to slippage; bobbing your head is relatively safe, but head-banging or leaning over too far is inadvisable. Otherwise, Runaways stay put reasonably well, maybe jiggling a bit when jogging. They’re also sturdier than they seem; minor bumps and falls were benign in my usage. Alas, after nearly a year of repeated use, the hinges have loosened. At least all the padding has remained intact.
Pairing my Runaways with my Androids was an easy process (Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 Active); the manual was concise, the process quick and painless. And they should pair with just about any relatively modern Bluetooth host. MEElectronics states Runaways can also pair with Blackberry, Windows, and Apple products. I did experience the occasional hiccup when syncing, though I’m unsure which is at fault: the Runaways, my smartphone, outside interference…yet resyncing is a cinch and the second time is usually the charm.
The musical fidelity via Bluetooth is fairly crisp. I listen to an eclectic variety (Classical, Bluegrass, Jazz, Metal, Electronica, etc.), and I’ve been satisfied throughout. My music files are mostly in MP3 & WMA formats, their bitrates both high and low. Audiophiles might disagree with my opinion of the fidelity, but Runaways are for the average listener. Thankfully, though, the headphones are more than just casual. They can be converted into a wired device via a 3.5mm audio cable included in the box. The analog link offers higher fidelity but with other advantages:
+battery conservation (both for the headphones and host devices),
+connection with non-Bluetooth hosts (rendering dongles pointless if even possible on the hosts),
+choice of length (via third-party cable),
+easy, one-part replacement if the cable is damaged (I’ve thrown away entire headphones because their cables inevitably wore out).
That versatility and longevity elevated my opinion of Runaways. Among my prospects, they alone offered such a luxury. Yet music (or video audio for that matter) is only part of their capabilities: They also serve as a Bluetooth headset.
Located within its right phone is a discreet mic. The call-quality is clear for both caller and receiver. The headset aspect for the Runaways seems wireless-only. It can relay calls when wired, but my smartphone is no longer hands-free as I must rely upon its mic. Theoretically, however, an audio cable with mic should work, though I’ve yet to try. If successful, it would enhance the Runaways capabilities, and add to its wired advantages.
Accepting a call is easy, but placing them can be tricky. A multifunction key handles power, play/pause, and calls (accept/disconnect). When you hear an incoming call, just press the key and you’re promptly connected. Redialing the last call you placed is simple, too, just double-press the key. To truly place hands-free calls, however, you need activate voice dialing. Here’s the trickiness: pressing and holding the key until it emits a beep activates voice dialing, but it must be released immediately or the headset shuts down. Attempting to activate voice dialing can easily become a long-press, which is how On/Off is achieved.
Acclimating is doable, but I’m perplexed by MEElectronics’ decision. All keys on the Runaways are rockers (e.g. the Volume key has a dedicated – end and a dedicated + end). So far, so good. Power and call functions were also assigned a rocker. And that would’ve been fine, too, if each ends were dedicated, yet they both behave the same way. The complexity for placing calls could’ve been simplified if its rocker were actually utilized; the labels at each end suggest that’s the direction MEElectronics intended. Even then the best setup would’ve included a separate button for power. At least when voice dialing is initiated, my commands are promptly relayed to my smartphone.
Outside noises are adequately muffled. Yet because the pressure placed on the ears is slight, I do experience some interference. While the immersion factor is iffy, I never felt compelled to turn the volume up too high. Still, this was a trade-off for physical comfort; perhaps a safety feature as well, keeping the user alert. But if I were chasing actual immersion, I would’ve instead caught up with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Conversely, interior sounds from the Runaways are self-contained when worn, so those around you should be unbothered.
Whether as a headset or as headphones, I found the Bluetooth range amazing. So much so, I sometimes forget about my smartphone, leaving it behind. Three rooms and about fourteen or fifteen normal steps later, the signal finally becomes choppy (results will of course vary). Aside from that, the quality remains consistent. And I’ve utilized this range. While my smartphone is charging, tethered to a wall, I’m free to wander off a ways, enjoying my music while equipped to answer calls.
Alas, my ringtones for callers are replaced on the headset’s side with its own generic ringtone. Odd, considering Runaways do faithfully relay my smartphone’s low-battery alert and text/email ringtones. Even odder for Runaways to emphasize those communiqués when headsets are incapable of responding to them. Yet as a headset—by definition capable of answering calls—Runaways are unable to relay contact-specific ringtones for callers. To discover who’s calling me, I’m either reduced to answering blindly; or reduced to being within earshot of my smartphone. A trifling concern, perhaps, but if that relay system were reversed, Runaways would’ve been more informative.
Runaways also feature their own low-battery alert. I can stay charged for several days with moderate use, but the alert is jarring and overly persistent. The beeping after a period of inactivity while turned on is comparatively pleasant.
Overall: I use my Runaways frequently, and after a year, they’ve endured rather nicely. But aside from their build-quality, aesthetics, price, and twofold nature (headphones/headset), it was their wired/wireless duality that really sold me.
My major disputes with the Runaways (their multifunction key and their inability to relay contact-specific ringtones) are manageable. I think if there were any objective deal-breakers, those would be them. Still, my Runaways comfortably serve my needs. They also fold up somewhat neatly, and the included drawstring pouch is useful and a quality bonus.
Which do you prefer: headphones or earbuds? Why?
Would you catch a pair of Runaways?