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Best New Bluetooth Headsets for Your Phone


A few years ago, Bluetooth headsets were rarely seen in public, and early adopters were accused of making both fashion and etiquette faux pas.

But the proliferating bans on driving while holding a phone, coupled with people's discovery of hands-free convenience, has rendered the devices standard-issue these days.

And headsets continue to improve in both sound quality and features. Most new devices utilize one or more noise-canceling technologies, such as dual microphones and voice optimization (which suppresses ambient noise for less distortion). Some headsets use a boom (which extends the microphone closer to the mouth), and better in-ear designs either eliminate the dorky ear loop altogether or relegate it to an optional add-on.

Some of these Bluetooth devices boast A2DP technology in order to wirelessly stream music from a phone. And designers are finally paying attention to fashion, not just functionality.

To help you find the best match for your ear, we've taken some of the newer Bluetooth headsets out for a test drive, using them on calls everywhere from noisy city streets to wireless-saturated offices and homes (where there's a lot of potential interference). We evaluated them on a scale of 1 (bad) to 5 (excellent) for sound quality, ease of use (especially for tasks like pairing and answering calls on the fly), comfort, and aesthetics (you know, so you don't look like a 'Bluetool' while you're wearing it). Take a look at our favorites.




BEST ALL-AROUND:

Plantronics Voyager Pro


The Voyager Pro is the Honda Accord of headsets. It's reliable, highly functional, affordable, and modest in appearance. The Voyager had the best sound quality of all the devices we reviewed, thanks to a combination of both hardware- and software-based noise-canceling features. Although somewhat bulky, it's also one of the most comfortable headsets we tested. The intuitively placed controls are easy to maneuver. And, at about 90 bucks, it's a great buy.

Price: $90

Sound Quality: 5/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Comfort: 4/5
Looks: 3.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5





BEST FOR FOR TALKING IN NOISY PLACES:

Motorola Endeavor HX1


One of our favorites, the Endeavor claims to be the first consumer headset to utilize "true" bone conduction technology (originally engineered for the military), which conducts sound through the bones of your skull to your inner ear. We were amazed at this noise-canceling functionality in loud environments (though it did make voices sound a bit robotic). In normal environments (with bone conduction mode off), the sound quality was impressively clear and crisp. Although the Endeavor sits deeper in the ear than do most headsets, we got used to it. Finally, the feel and placement of the buttons is great; the sliding power button and raised volume rocker switch are simple to locate even when you can't see them.

Price: $100

Sound Quality: 4/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Comfort: 4/5
Looks: 3.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5





BEST FOR MUSIC PHONES:

Motorokr S305

Supporting wireless music playback as well as phone calls, the Motorokr S305 uses a pair of cushioned, ear-muff style headphones that we found to be comfortable for extended listening. Calls came through clearly to us, but those on the other end said we sounded muffled and distant. Music sounded fine, though it doesn't match the clarity, fullness, and volume you'll get from a pair of decent wired headphones. The aesthetic is clean and simple, and all buttons are housed on the right earphone for easy access. While the Motorokr doesn't compare to the high-end members of our list in terms of voice quality and looks, it does offer a temptingly low price, so we're recommending it as a 'buy.'

Price: $40

Sound Quality: 3/5
Ease of Use: 3/5
Comfort: 4/5
Looks: 3/5
Overall: 3/5





BEST FOR COMFORT:

Sound ID 300

Designed by an ear doctor at Stanford, the Sound ID 300 is a joy to wear. The 'Real Comfort Ear Loop,' which molds to the inner ear, works through a combination of thoughtful design and various size options. Audio quality is excellent, and the headset boasts three 'Personalized Sound' modes that separate speech from background noise at varying levels. In a busy airport, for example, you might choose 'Strong Listening Mode.'

The slim and minimal design looks stylish, but it has a drawback; the extremely small buttons on the device were difficult to locate by touch. Also, the single-direction volume control is annoying. If you want to lower the volume, for example, you first have to cycle through the higher settings before returning to the low end of the scale. Overall, though, the ID 300 is a great headset.

Price: $100

Sound Quality: 4/5
Ease of Use: 3/5
Comfort: 4/5
Looks: 3.5/5
Overall: 4/5







BEST LOOKING:

Novero TheFirstOne

Until now, Novero has only designed audio products for auto companies. The aptly named TheFirstOne headset is the company's debut consumer product. The best-looking Bluetooth headset we've encountered -- lily-white, streamlined -- it's the model most likely to appear in an episode of 'Entourage.'

The Apple-esque packaging contains more add-ons than we've ever seen from a Bluetooth kit, including a necklace for transporting the device (no joke). The headset is comfortable, though we would have preferred a more secure fit, or at least an optional ear loop. Sound is better than average, but the voice quality on both ends, even in low-noise situations, had a fair amount of static. It's not cheap, either, but looking good never is, right?

Price: $149

Sound Quality: 3/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Comfort: 3.5/5
Looks: 4.5/5
Overall: 4/5


BEST FOR HANDS-FREE:

BlueAnt Q1


A much-needed redesign of BlueAnt's previous V1, this model maintains the remarkably useful voice-prompt navigation, while also improving the control placement and overall appearance. We dig the sleek new lines and gun-metal paint job, and that glowing blue ant always looks cool.

Getting the earbud to fit snugly requires a bit of tinkering, and the dual microphones need to be properly aligned with your mouth for ideal performance. Once it's in position, however, the Q1 is quite comfortable and secure.

The sound quality is excellent in general, and the Q1 offers voice isolation technology to reduce distortion. It eliminated background buzz with minimal compromise in natural voice sound.

The voice command system is the highlight, allowing out-of-the-box voice recognition with very high accuracy, only struggling when there's lots of background chatter. You can control this headset truly hands-free (after clicking to voice recognition mode) by speaking commands such as 'Answer,' 'Check Battery,' or 'Call' (followed by a speed-dial number). Voice recognition wasn't always perfect, nor is every command available. But, overall, we found the system to be sufficiently accurate, and definitely useful.

Price: $120

Sound Quality: 4/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Comfort: 4/5
Looks: 4/5
Overall: 4/5






BEST FOR CARS:

Parrot MINIKIT Chic


The latest release from all-things-Bluetooth maker Parrot, the MINIKIT Chic is specifically for hands-free calls while driving. About the size of an iPhone, it clips to a car's sun visor like a garage-door opener and functions like a speakerphone. Using vibrating-panel technology instead of a traditional speaker, the MINIKIT Chic produces especially crisp sound. The people we called heard us clearly, and picked up only minimal background noise.

The best part about the Chic is the voice-activated dialing. Just push a button and say the name of any contact in your phone to start a call, even if your phone itself doesn't have voice-dialing capability. If you don't like the sissy floral print, go for the all-black MINIKIT Slim, which functions identically.

Price: $100

Sound Quality: 4/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Comfort: 4/5
Looks: 3/5
Overall: 4/5





BEST CALL QUALITY:

Aliph Jawbone Prime


The best Jawbone yet comes in a tasteful new black, patterned exterior -- a variation on the Jawbone 2's design. Aliph opted to hide the buttons (placing one on the very top, and another in a slight dip that's invisible to the eye), thus making the Prime a form-over-function debacle at first blush. We initially found ourselves blindly fumbling around to locate the buttons. But the headset functions themselves are intuitive and easy to use, once you get used to the control placement.

Aliph's superior sound quality is still present -- and then some, with improved noise cancellation performance over its predecessor. The Prime also has new earbuds, and a super-comfortable design that fits like a glove.

Price: $120

Sound Quality: 4.5/5
Ease of Use: 3/5
Comfort: 4.5/5
Looks: 4/5
Overall: 4/5



BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK:

Jabra BT8040


While you won't use it as a fashion accessory, Jabra's newest headset is a perfectly functional and affordable alternative to the higher-end Bluetooth models. The BT8040 uses a gel-tip earbud, which can take a moment to properly position in the ear. But, once in place, it feels great. This headset has multiple sound-enhancing technologies, all of which result in excellent audio quality on both ends of the call. The buttons are nicely placed, and maneuvering the controls was seamless. This Jabra also has many of the extra features of flashier headsets, most notably A2DP support, which allows for wireless music streaming (though only to one ear, so not in stereo).

Price: $50

Sound Quality: 4/5
Ease of Use: 4/5
Comfort: 4/5
Looks: 3/5
Overall: 4/5

Tags: bluetooth, bluetoothheadsets, cellphone, features, headset, mobileaccessories, top

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