Blue Microphones Satellite wireless headphones review: Active noise cancellation you can celebrate

Spread the love

Blue Microphones has finally convinced me that active noise cancellation needn’t be a crime against nature. Call me old-fashioned, but the concept of battling noise by introducing noise—albeit of an opposite frequency, so that the two sound waves theoretically cancel each other out—has long been anathema to me. If the driver is producing noise at that frequency, after all, how effective can it be at also producing music at that frequency?

Blue’s solution seems so obvious that you have to wonder why they’re the first to implement the idea: They put two drivers in each ear cup. There’s a 44mm set for reproducing music, and an independent 30mm set dedicated to active noise cancellation. Four omidirectional microphones monitor your listening environment and pick up the ambient noise that’s to be cancelled. I didn’t have an opportunity to use the Satellite in an airline cabin, but its active noise cancellation wiped out all trace of most background noise all around my home, including the whoosh of the too-loud fan on the aging homebrew desktop PC I used to play games on. I also auditioned the phones in a car driving at freeway speed (as a passenger, of course).

The Satellite don’t have the strut-like construction that render Blue’s Ella, Lola, and Sadie headphones so unique—and so difficult to travel with. But the Satellite’s circumaural ear cups are similarly ear shaped and they formed an agreeably tight seal around my ears. I once thought the passive noise cancellation that a good seal provides was all I’d ever want; now I don’t know if I can go back.

Blue satellite dual drivers Michael Brown/TechHive

Blue’s solution to the active noise cancellation conundrum is to use separate drivers for music and ANC.

The Satellite is fabricated from a combination of aluminum and plastic, and it’s difficult to tell where one material ends and the other begins. The foam padding on the inside of the headband is covered with a woven fabric, and the ear cups have thick foam covered with a faux leather than feels remarkably like the real thing. These cans are on the heavy side at 13.4 ounces, but they feel much lighter than that when you’re wearing them.

The left cup has three buttons in a ring: One toggles the onboard 280mW analog amplifier on and off, one does the same for active noise cancellation, and the third is for Bluetooth pairing. Unlike Blue’s wired self-amplified headphones, the amp Satellite’s amp is either on or off—there is no ON+ for boosting bass response. That feature apparently punished the battery too much, so Blue nixed it.

The power switch and the micro-USB charging port are also on the left side. An LED lights up briefly when these functions are turned on, and it flashes when they’re turned off, but audio cues would be a welcome addition. Unless you’re standing in front of mirror, it can be difficult to tell what state the headphones are in. Taking them on and off to see what the LED is telling you gets old quick, although you’ll have to do that anyway until you develop muscle memory in your fingertips to know which buttons are which.

Blue Microphones Satellite controls Michael Brown/TechHive

Controls for turning the onboard amplifier and active noise cancellation on and off are on the left-hand ear cup.

A similar trio of buttons are on the right ear cup. One is for increasing the volume, one for lowering it, and the third button is for play/pause. A quick double-tap of this button will advance your music player to the next track, while tapping it three times in succession will take you to the previous track. This button can also be used with phone calls: Press it once to answer a call and hold it down for three seconds to end or reject a call.

Blue says the Satellite’s 1100mAh Lithium-ion battery should last eight hours using Bluetooth, its amplifier, and its active noise cancellation, or 24 hours using just Bluetooth. When the battery is completely dead, or any time you don’t want to use the features that depend on power, you can plug the nice, long (a full three meters) 3.5mm cable into the right ear cup and use the Satellite as conventional passive headphones (they present 32 ohms of impedance, so most portable devices should have no trouble driving them).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *