Bluetooth headphones are unusual in the fact that you’re paying for wireless convenience rather than definition, especially when you’ve knowingly spent over $80-$100 for something that’s doesn’t sound quite as good compared to traditional earcups. However, Icon Q wants to break that barrier with the Boundless H1, a modest party-crasher among the pricier brands with many of the same niceties.
I’ve had the H1 since leaving CES for my red-eye flight out of Vegas. It was mostly by chance that the Icon Q booth caught my attention as people were clearing the convention hall in droves, and even I was one of the last ones out of the building; but not before the PR suits invited to take a H1 home, along with their intentions of bringing premium lifestyle products to more sensible buyers.
We’ve lost count of how many companies have tried their hand at low-priced, high-quality goods with wildly varying results. In this case the H1 are relatively (surprisingly if we’re honest) well sorted and balanced to my ear: outside noise is promptly drowned down for music, it can last wirelessly for 10 hours, bass that has presence but hardly exaggerated, and treble that doesn’t totally compromise the separation necessary for vocals; all of which is possible thanks to 40mm drivers and frequency response of 60Hz-20,000Hz. What still can’t be helped and shared between other Bluetooth audio devices is the harshness and distortion at higher volumes, if your musical tastes include Dubstep or lively instrumental tracks.
But I’m willing to let some of the anomalies slide because the H1 gets the essential audio traits down for everyday listening, and we certainly can’t complain about that or the connectivity either. Since these are Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (with A2DP 1.2, AVRCP 1.0, HFP 1.5, HSP 1.0 profile support) and will work with any smartphone or tablet, but you also get NFC (Near Field Communications) for Android devices in particular — in its own right, it works instantly and is a unique addition that other wireless headphone lack for more money. There’s also a micro-USB port for charging and a built-in microphone that handles calls without too much outside impedance.
The overall minimalism design is also acceptable with its lightweight stainless steel headband and only the most necessary bits, pieces, and modestly padded earpads holding it together. The layout is also logical with clear labels and placed buttons that have a tactile click when pushed, including the indented play/pause button which is also the power when held down for three seconds. Although I think the H1 looks better in white or gray with its distinct red “Q” logo, rather than our plain all-black tester.
For all that’s positive the aesthetic package is far from perfect, and much has to do with build quality, or more appropriately the material finish on the H1. My biggest problem is the inner adjustable band which is made of a hard thin metal, so hard and thin that the edges are unusually sharp. I’m not kidding when I say that I sliced one of my fingers when quick fitting them to liking, like most people usually want to do, and I remember vividly because it had to be one of the more excruciating paper-like cuts I’ve experienced. Why didn’t they just use thicker metal so the edges could be rounded off, or just fit a plastic band instead?
That painful moment effectively knocked the Icon Q Boundless H1 Headphonesdown a few notches for me, and warrants some caution. But if you’re willing to overlook the obvious build quality shortcuts then the H1 are competent wireless headphones for the money, without too many fidelity compromises stacked upon existing Bluetooth limitations. Just remember to handle them with kid gloves beforehand.