Review: Jabra Halo Fusion
Bluetooth earphones are never cheap, so finding a pair below $100 is a little unusual. Jabra thinks it can nail that price point, though, and has done so in the Halo Fusion. Worth it or worthless?
Features and performance
Jabra is certainly no stranger to both audio and wireless, and for the past few years has been building products that straddle both categories, but inexpensive is not an area Jabra always sits.
We’ve seen quite a few from the Danish brand, and it certainly has a hand crafting concepts for those keen to get fit, but few drop below the $150 mark.
In fact, wireless technology tends to stay north of this price point, and that’s hardly surprising: while Bluetooth may have been around for some time, it’s only been in the past decade or so that headphone manufacturers have been embracing it, gradually cutting the cords and making stereo sound something that can be taken on the go without the wire.
That’s what makes Jabra’s Halo Fusion so compelling, because in this package we’re seeing wireless technology from a company that has nailed portable audio in a very low price point. At $99, this is a pair of earphones that definitely competes on price.
Are they any good?
Let’s start with design, and it’s here that we’ll admit we’re more than a little surprised with the Halo Fusion, and that’s because these earphones feel a little clumsy.
It’s not that we have any problems with the wrap around design, though truth be told the wiry take on this doesn’t feel as simple as we would like.
Normally, wrap around headphones consist of two earpieces joined by a length of cable, with wireless earphones sticking the controls either on one of the earphones (if not both) or on the length of cable itself, often protected by some thicker plastic or rubber.
Here on the Halo Fusion, however, you have that long bit of plastic with two ear pieces connecting to each side from extra super thin cables that seem a little too fragile for their own good.
These thin strings of cable — and that’s what they are, by the way — attach to the wraparound band of the Fusion by way of small semi-adjustable clips that let you tighten how much the cables stay attached to the band.
That gives you a degree of cable organisation, and an extra clip on the cable can let you link the two cables together almost like a necklace, but it is by no means as impressive a connection as Jabra’s Rox headset offered, which relied on a similar concept but used magnets to achieve it.
Rather, this form of cable organisation results in a similar concept that feels clumsy by comparison.
At least the controls are pretty easy, with a pause and playback button the left paddle, while a volume controller sits on the right side.
It’s not the most elegant solution, that’s for sure, but the audio quality is surely what matters, so let’s get stuck into that.
Tested with the GadgetGuy 2016 Sound Test, it’s pretty clear as to why this headset is so inexpensive the moment you start listening to music, and that’s because it’s not that the earphones are “inexpensive” but merely “cheap”.
Starting with the more poppy electronica of Imogen Heap and Demi Lovato, you get the sensation that the Halo Fusion could be good if only Jabra had put some real effort in.
How do we say this nicely: there’s no bass. None.
In fact, the only time you begin to hear the bass is when songs push it quite aggressively and you turn the volume up to match.
When you do this, however, the music is pushed a little too aggressively and the sound comes out muddled and smushed together, like it’s all being forced through the smallest driver and speaker you’ve never wanted to have jammed in your ear.
With only an instrument or two, the sound isn’t terrible, but it’s not great. With more tracks, however, and it all comes to a head, often sounding forced and flat, and this isn’t helped by the total absence of a bottom end.
Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” sounded like broken and bereft of life, while the R&B benchmark of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” had nothing in the bottom end, despite the multi-tracking of Jackson’s shouting and whispering being clear.
It’s a rather surreal experience, as if someone is singing in your by whispering. Despite how surreal it is, Jabra’s Halo Fusion isn’t one you’d want to have on a regular basis unless your music totally lacked bass.
We’re not sure what music does this, and it about the only music we played that kind of sounded like it could tolerate these headphones was pop, with the vocal heavy “Brave” by Sara Bareilles tolerable, though again not fantastic especially when the chorus kicked in.
Rock wasn’t much better, and while jazz eases up a bit due to the lack of engineering, the lack of bass continues here, and with no bottom end to anchor the music down, you get the sensation of listening to audio inside of a box. Neither Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” nor Christian McBride’s “Afirika” felt collected, though Brubeck’s test track at least sounded better out of the two.
That said, both felt a little flat, with the audio possessing the same sort of collapsed feeling as some of the popular music we heard before.
This lack of a bottom end is a serious problem, because it makes the stereo sound the Halo Fusion sound just that shallow. You can listen to it, sure, but it’s definitely hard to enjoy, and while some might complain about headphones that are too bassy, Jabra’s Halo Fusion are so un-bassy, they’re hard to take seriously.
When it comes to buying a pair of earphones, the removal of the cord is one of those features manufacturers tend to charge an arm and a leg for, or at the very least some sort of limb you probably want.
That’s the thing about wireless technology: it’s a premium feature that tends to incur a greater cost, and few people are all that surprised when they’re expected to pay at least $150 to $300 for the privilege.
After all, cables can be a pain, and when you’re able to go wireless, you feel liberated because nothing tethers you to a phone or media player again. It’s hard to go back once you try it, except in situations where the audio quality is better on wired headphones.
Unfortunately, Jabra’s Halo Fusion is only good because it’s wireless, and is pretty mediocre or not great for everything else. They won’t win you over in design, and the sound quality is so low-grade that you have to wonder why anyone would intentionally go out of their way to switch from the earphones that came with their phone and pay more to upgrade to the Fusion.
They’re just not that good, and aren’t totally dissimilar from the mediocre earbuds you already have, except to say that they’re wireless. That’s it, and that’s basically all Jabra is bringing to the table with the Halo Fusion.
But they’re cheap, and for some people, that will make all the difference. Not to us, though; we’d just tell you to buy something that costs a little more, because the quality will actually sit closer to what you’re paying, not just because the cord is being cut.