Philips’s $130 SHB9100/28 Bluetooth Stereo Headset offers some compelling features. First, though the SHB9100 is a lightweight, on-ear headphone, the ear pads are a bit larger than usual—large enough to cover most ears. These comfortable, soft cushions also offer good passive noise isolation, blocking out some of the sound around you if you’re in the street. They don’t block as much noise as most in-ear headphones, but neither do they isolate you from your surroundings. While not true noise-canceling headphones, I found their noise isolation was sufficient to use while watching a movie on my iPad during a recent plane trip.
Philips calls the earpads “FloatingCushions” because of a second cushion, behind the main earpad, that allows the main earpad to pivot slightly against your ears in order to better fit the particular angles of your ears and head. The design does improve fit, and though the earpad material can make your ears warm after a while, it’s easy to forget the earpads’ presence. The grip is fairly tight, though as with most larger headphones, you won’t want to wear the SHB9100 while running.
Once you’ve “broken in” the SHB9100 with a few hours of listening, the audio quality is quite good. While the bass performance isn’t anywhere near that of a good set of wired, full-sized headphone, I didn’t feel that I was missing much when listening to the SHB9100 (compared to my expectations for a portable headphone). Audio is clear and balanced, with good midrange and treble performance, along with very good stereo imaging. The highest frequencies can be a bit fuzzy—I noticed this particularly with the brass sections in an early Chicago Transit Authority song—but most music I tested the SHB9100 with didn’t exhibit this issue.
All of the SHB9100’s controls are on the right earpiece. You press and hold the face of the earpiece to turn the SHB9100 on or off; a volume slider on the back edge of the earpiece also lets you skip forward and back (when paired with devices that support AVRCP) by pressing the slider button once or twice toward the earpiece.
The SHB9100 is powered by a rechargeable battery that you charge using a common USB-to-Mini-USB cable (included). Philips claims that the battery should last for nine hours of use. I didn’t specifically test this claim, but using the SHB9100 for about 2 hours a day, I got through several days without the battery waning. The SHB9100 also includes a standard headphone cable, so you can use the SHB9100 as a standard headphone if the batteries run out—a nice touch.
My only real complaint about the SHB9100 is that when using it for making phone calls, the audio quality was disappointing. While I could hear callers just fine, they told me they had trouble hearing me, even when I held my hand up to the side of my face to try and channel my voice toward the microphone in the right earpiece.
Getting comfort and good sound isn’t easy with Bluetooth headphones, but Philips’s SHB9100 offers a nice balance between the two. I could wear the SHB9100 for extended periods without noticing their presence, though my ears did get a bit warm. The inclusion of a wired option is handy for those times you forget to charge. If you want good sound and a comfortable fit for wireless listening, the SHB9100 is a great choice, though if you depend on your Bluetooth headset for making phone calls, I recommend looking elsewhere.