The Testbench

A Tale of Two Bluetooth Headsets

I’d never before used a Bluetooth headset, either for listening to music or as a hands-free companion to my HTC Thunderbolt Android-powered smart phone. Therefore, I jumped eagerly when given the opportunity to try a couple of them. Here are my impressions of both units.

First out of the box was the Subjekt Pulse PLS-9400 stereo headset, a futuristic-looking item with a full headband. With their blacked-out, squared-off style and matte-silver trim, they do look a little like they belong on Star Trek or in some other sci-fi setting. The headband is adjustable for clamping onto a variety of head sizes. The build is solid and they seem as if they’d stand up to some abuse. They’re specified for 10 hours of batterySubjekt Pulse
 life for music playback, 11 hours of talk time, and up to 250 hours of standby time. My experience was that the active battery life was somewhat less than specified. Charging is via a barrel connector on the right side.

Setting them up for use with my phone was easy enough, as is any Bluetooth standard-compliant device. Once I paired the headset and phone, I started with some music streamed from Play Music, Google’s rebranded service for cloud storage of digital audio libraries. I tried the phones with a variety of genres from pop to jazz, rock to classical.

In short, the phones are not exactly audiophile quality. One doesn’t expect that when you’re streaming MP3s from the cloud and then passing them through the Bluetooth codec, but I’d have expected a little more than I got. The sound is muddy and all mid-range. The high end is muffled and the bass just absent. Because they’re over-the-ear phones, ambient sound is not well blocked, making them a little less than ideal for commuting.

OK, so they’re not so great for music. The Pulse headphones did work well enough as a hands-free option for mobile telephony. Incoming calls were clear and I got decent reports on my own audio from the other end.

The user interface is five buttons mounted on the right-side shell. It worked fine for no-look control of volume, track skipping, and other functions. You get audio acknowledgement of control manipulation by means of various combinations of tones. I was forced to resort to the manual for interpretation of these tones, and found the manual to be generally helpful, if poorly translated from Chinese.

The foam cushions are very prone to falling off, requiring frequent reinstallation. One or both often come off when I pull the headphones out of my commuting backpack. Lastly, the phones are OK for short-term use but become uncomfortable to wear for extended periods. The headband is a bit tight and attempts to relax it by gently bending it outwards availed little relief.

Lastly, I’ve had the Subjekt Pulse headphones since early December. I note that they are not to be found on Subjekt’s site at this time and show as “out of stock” with a few online resellers. If they can be found, they generally retail for around $70.

A more gratifying experience comes with Plantronics’ BackBeat GO stereo Bluetooth headphones. These earbud-style phones are paired by a 22-inch flat, tangle-free cable. They’re designed to be worn either with the cord behind the neck or dangling in front. That cord carries an inline control module that also includes the microphone for calls.

Audio from the BackBeat GO phones still isn’t audiophile level, but it is way ahead of the Subjekt Pulse model. I put them through the same paces as the Subjekt phones, streaming music from Google’s servers. Thankfully, there is no longer a muddy veil on the sound. The high end is much improved. Bass is better as well, although BackBeat_GO_B_print_rgb_020612
it is still a bit lacking due to the small size of the 6-mm neodymium drivers. Application of a little equalization from my phone’s DSPManager app helps there. Overall, the listening experience is pleasant.

The phones come with the obligatory three sets of tips, enabling most people to get a proper fit and seal. Plantronics also thoughtfully supplies stabilizers that help hold the tips in one’s ears. With attaining of a good fit, there’s good attenuation of ambient sound. The phones also deliver digital noise reduction for better call quality and built-in echo cancelation.

In terms of comfort, the phones are decent. They’re extremely light weight at 13 grams. The only complaint I have is that when worn behind the neck, the rubberized flat cord has a tendency to grab clothing a bit and pull partially or completely out of one ear or the other. I’ve taken to wearing them with the cord in front and that seems to alleviate this issue.

The inline control unit is extremely simple and once I got used to it, which didn’t take long, it’s easy to use. Receiving calls is flawless, although I’ve had some callers tell me that they were not hearing me as well as they’d like to. Plantronics specifies battery life at up to 4.5 hours of talk/listening time and standby time of up to 10 days. My experience is that the specs are about right. The right earbud has a rubber cover that conceals a mini USB connector for charging. The BackBeat GO phones retail for about $100 and are widely available.

So there you have it, a quick review of a pair of Bluetooth headphones. I’m decidedly a convert to this technology for my commute or other casual, non-critical listening.

TAGS: Wireless
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