Motorola’s new Surround wireless headphones aren’t a new idea—Bluetooth earbuds of very similar design have been around for a while—but that doesn’t mean that they’re not a snazzy little convenience that lots of people are going to like.
Motorola basically invented this category of Bluetooth sport headphones with products like the S9, and everyone from LG to Samsung to Sol Republic have rushed to copy them. They’re popular, too—earlier this summer, LG announced that it had sold 10 million of its Tone headsets.
The Surround’s main design merit is its relative simplicity: The buds are just like what you’re used to if you use in-ear headphones, while the Bluetooth electronics, battery, and controls are in the little plastic arc that you wear like a future collar.
Aesthetically, this idea is preposterously tacky, and I admit that when I first saw products like these cross my desk a few years ago, I never thought it would catch on. I was wrong. I see them all over the Subway now.
Despite the goofiness of this design it’s amazingly practical, and Motorola has done a nice job maximizing it here. The whole package is light weight and comfortable. When the buds aren’t in my ears, I almost completely forget I’m wearing electronics on my body. I’m only reminded when someone is staring at the weird gadget dangling from my neck. It just looks like it’s from a mediocre version of our future.
The Surround does have one touch that’s particularly nice compared to its peers: The recessed play/pause and call buttons at the two points of the collar. On other, similar headsets, like the Sol Republic Shadow, these buttons have been a little hard to track down. These feel just right.
The headphones are waterproof up to one meter for 30 minutes. Theoretically that means you could swim with them, though I haven’t actually taken a splash with these myself (since we got them this morning).
The call sound quality wasn’t amazing in a quick test at the office, but music sounds good for a tiny set of buds. If I was going to nitpick I would say that music sounds a little muddled, but honestly the overall sound is punchy enough that most people who crave this kind of product will be satisfied. And for $70, these headphones are a reasonable deal.
I should quickly mention the $60 Moto Pulse on-ear Bluetooth headset, which was released alongside the Moto Surround but lacks the good design of its partner. The Pulse is annoying to wear and doesn’t stay on your ears where you put them. They’re always swimming around your head. A nice secure fit isn’t just important for comfort—it’s critical for sound quality. Within about 10 minutes I threw these across my desk in annoyance.
In sum, here are two relatively cheap wireless headsets—one of which seems very practical and intelligently designed. The other? Not so much.
Photos by Michael Hession