When it comes to a Bluetooth headset, users want it all: fabulous call quality, a comfortable fit, an intuitive button arrangement, and a stylish look–not to mention a great price. Unfortunately, that’s a tough order to fill. We looked at ten headsets across a range of prices and designs, and we found that you can get many of those things, but only if you’re willing to pay top dollar for your Bluetooth headset. And even if you cough up $100 or more, you may find that your chosen model has some drawbacks, depending on your fit preferences and usage habits.
Two big trends were evident in the Bluetooth headsets tested. First, in an effort to provide a versatile and customizable fit, many manufacturers offer designs that include multiple, swappable earbuds and over-the-ear pieces. Second, a lot of headsets now have noise-cancellation technology that can mitigate or even nearly eliminate bothersome background noise.
Our Best Buy, the new $130 Aliph Jawbone, delivered superb audio: Voices sounded crisp generally, and the headset did remarkably well at reducing background noise. Plus, the Jawbone package includes multiple earpiece components, which ups your chances of finding a good fit. For example, I have small ears, and I wear glasses regularly enough for earhooks to be problematic. But after mixing and matching the Jawbone’s earbud and earhook options, I found an acceptable fit.
Our second-ranked pick, the $150 Plantronics Discovery 925, felt really comfortable and snug on this fussy headset wearer. The Discovery uses no hook; I simply inserted the headset in my ear, with one hand. And the Discovery naturally didn’t interfere with my eye glasses. Conversations sounded clear, but in noisy environments the Discovery did not mitigate background noise as well as the Jawbone did.
Some of our other choices in the Top 10 underscored our finding that you can’t have it all in a single headset. For example, you can use or remove the earhook on the $100 Jabra BT530; either way, the fit felt secure. But in my tests the call quality was unreliable, with superclear calls one minute but voice distortion and annoying echoes the next. Getting a feel for the BT530’s function buttons took a couple of tries, too. Meanwhile, the hook-based, $130 Motorola Motopure H15, despite some voice breakups during calls, impressed me with its elimination of background noise.
We couldn’t lab-test the devices’ battery life for this review, but company-advertised talk times for these headsets range from 4 hours or less (for the $120 Nokia BH-804) up to 9 hours (for the $60 LG Electronics HBM-760).
Now, cell phones and headsets that support the latest Bluetooth specification, version 2.1, are slowly beginning to appear. The new spec is designed to bring users simplified pairing, along with advances in security. As long as both your phone and headset support Bluetooth 2.1, you won’t need to punch in a PIN during the pairing process, for starters. Among the headsets we tested in this batch, the $130 BlueAnt V1, the Motorola Motopure H15, and the $100 Motorola H780 support this new spec.
Make sure that the headset you want to buy will support the cell phone you own; some Bluetooth headsets do not work with all Bluetooth-enabled phones. If you own an Apple iPhone 3G, for instance, you’ll find that it is not compatible with all Bluetooth-enabled headsets.
For more information about selecting the right headset for you, read our Bluetooth headset buying guide.
Bluetooth Headsets: Read Our Reviews
- Aliph Jawbone
- Plantronics Discovery 925
- Jabra BT530
- Motorola Motopure H15
- Nokia BH-804
- Motorola H780
- BlueAnt V1
- LG Electronics HBM-760
- Samsung WEP700
- Plantronics Voyager 835