Blue Satellite headphones review: The best audio around, but it comes at a price

Blue's Satellite over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones are hands-down the best-sounding headphones I've ever used. They have dedicated noise-canceling drivers, so music sounds simply perfect while cutting out the rest of the world and a built-in amp, so you can push the volume with the clarity you'd expect from the top name in audio equipment. They're also a little bit big, which makes for some discomfort on smaller heads. Sometimes, you have to compromise a little when it comes to getting the best quality.

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Like a vintage guitar amp for your head

Blue Satellite Headphones

Picture a vintage Fender or Vox amp and then image what a matching pair of headphones made in the 1950s would look like and you've got yourself the Satellites. They have soft vinyl ear cups in either black or brown, with a matching headband cushion. The brushed steel look of the headband and the gold accents give the overall design of midcentury craft, but it's powered by 21st Century technology.

The headband is adjustable. You can pull down on the ear cups to reveal some additional length of gold-accented band. This is great for longer/larger heads. The headband itself is also flexible so wider heads will get a good fit, too.

Each ear cup has the Blue logo on what looks like (but isn't) a small speaker grill. Surrounding the logo are different controls. The left controls include the amp and active noise-canceling (ANC) buttons, as well as the Bluetooth discovery button. The left ear cup also sports the power button and micro-USB port.

The right ear cup houses the audio volume and playback controls. The audio play/pause button doubles as a controller, so you can answer or reject a phone call. There's a small microphone at the base of the right ear cup. It's also where you'll find the 3.5mm headphone jack.

You can charge up the Satellite headphones with the included Micro-USB cable. If you're wired, you don't need to have a charge in the headphones.

The headphones feature a couple of LED indicator lights to notify you of the status. A pulsing light on the power button goes solid when the headphones are fully charged and blinks rapidly when your battery needs to re-up.

The logo on the left ear cup will light up to let you know when you've turned on the ANC or amp or when you're in Bluetooth setup mode.

Like you're listening to vinyl through a high-powered receiver

Blue Satellite Headphones

I've heard it said that noise-canceling headphones are worse in audio quality than non-noise-canceling headphones and I'd agreed with that until I met Satellite headphones. Enable ANC and turn on the amp and you'll see that the sound quality doesn't diminish in the least. The key, though, is in the built-in amp. Without it, you'll lose a little quality.

This means wireless, you're only going to get about eight hours of battery usage while in ANC and amp mode. Hopefully, your plane or train ride isn't a long one. If you're connected directly to your phone using the 3.5mm jack, you've got nothing to worry about. Both the ANC and amp work just fine directly.

As for sound quality, Blue is top-notch. Whether you're running the built-in amp or not, you're hearing crisp, clear sounds with a deep base, but not so deep that it cuts into the rock and roll. In other words, your music resonates, but you don't lose the mids that are so important to a good guitar sound. Satellites are built with a four-driver system with two 44mm dynamic drivers and two 30mm drivers for ANC.

Like a 21st Century boy

The Satellite series brings a lot of geeky stats with it, like a 280mW/32 Ohm passive impedance amplifier, 44mm dynamic drivers with 30mm dedicated ANC transducers, and 25dB attenuation.

Slightly less geeky, but important just the same is Bluetooth 4.1 support at a range of about 32 feet, with an 1100mAh Lithium-ion battery that runs for as much as 24 hours (of playing audio) on a single charge (8 hours if you're running ANC and the built-in amp).

Though the cans may look like vintage midcentury wears, they're stuffed with technology your parents (or grandparents) never had.

Like I'm a little kid, and not in the energetic and fun way

Blue Satellite Headphones

My singular complaint about Blue's Satellite headphones is, unfortunately, a big one. They're just too big to fit comfortably on my head. I've resized them down as small as they can possibly go, but the ear cups sit so low on my head that they press against my jaw. My ears are completely covered, but the bottom of the cans are more than a half-inch lower than they should be.

I've figured out a way to raise the headband up higher on my head by wrapping some material around it, creating a faux riser. This is not an ideal situation for someone spending about $400 on their headphones.

I don't have a particularly small head. It might be slightly smaller than average, but based on comparisons with my female friends, I'd say I'm just about average. Which leads me to believe that Blue wasn't thinking about women when they designed the Satellite, which makes me a little sad.

I've had to deal with too-large headphones for my entire music career. Every time I go into the studio, I'm handed a pair of headphones that are so big that I have to jury-rig some kind of size solution in order to use them. Blue Satellites give me the same experience.

I'd love to see Blue update the Satellites with about an inch more of downsizing so that the average woman can wear them without feeling like a child wearing her dad's jacket.

Note: Blue has updated the headband on the Satellite headphones so that it is not as tight as the model I'm reviewing, but as far as I know, the new headband does not adjust any smaller.

Should you get Satellite headphones? Yes, but...

Blue Satellite Headphones

The short answer is, "yes." I can't recommend Blue's Satellite over-ear noise-canceling headphones enough. They've got incredible sound quality, the best I've ever experienced, and look absolutely fantastic. You have control over whether you want to use the on-board amp and ANC so you can block out the world without compromising sound quality, or keep the music playing longer without draining your battery.

They're also not cheap at $400. So if you don't specifically have a need for noise-canceling, you might want to look for something a little less expensive. Blue's Lola over-ear headphones provide a fantastic hi-fi music experience and they're built specifically for digital music. They also only cost about $250.

Blue Satellite headphones are worth the price, but they cater to a specific type of audiophile music fan. If you prefer to listen to music on vinyl, you probably fit into this category and will definitely appreciate the quality of sound that Satellite offers.

Blue did some work to create a comfortable headphone, but not everyone is going to be happy with the results, especially if your head is not the same as the average man.

You can actually try Satellite headphones "risk free" directly from Blue. If you're not happy with them, you can return them within 30 days. This is a fantastic option that I'm really glad Satellite offers.

Blue Satellites come in black or white with brown and cost $400.

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Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).