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Bluetooth Headset Review
How to Choose a Bluetooth Headset
The top performers in our review are the Plantronics Voyager Edge, the Gold Award winner; the Plantronics Voyager Legend, the Silver Award winner; and the Jabra Stealth, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a Bluetooth headset to meet your hands-free needs, along with information on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
Why Use a Bluetooth Headset?
With so many apps, messages, alerts and notifications, it's easy to forget that the smartphones we use each day are telephones, too. When you do receive a call, you typically have to fish your phone out of your pocket or bag and hold it to your ear for the entirety of the conversation, which hinders your ability to multitask. Bluetooth headsets are the perfect accessory for talking on the phone hands-free.
Normally when you take a call in the car, you are forced to drive one handed. Although using a Bluetooth headset while driving still comes with some risks, it is safer than holding a cell phone since you can keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. In fact, 14 states prohibit drivers from using cell phones while driving, and 46 states ban texting and driving.
Sure, you can always use your built-in speakerphone instead, but oftentimes this makes it hard for the other party to hear you, especially if there's background noise. Bluetooth headsets allow you to multitask more efficiently without sacrificing sound quality and one of your hands.
Some people may opt to use a pair of earbuds or headphones instead to take a call, but not all earbuds have a built-in microphone. Not only that, Apple removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and other companies are rumored to follow suit, so a Bluetooth headset may be a wise investment. The worst part about wired headphones and earbuds is the cords get tangled up in knots or caught on doorknobs, ripping them from your ears. It's unexpected, sometimes painful and something most of us have experienced.
Bluetooth Headsets: What We Tested, What We Found
We spent 50 hours testing Bluetooth headsets, and to find the best, we scrutinized their call performance, hands-free capabilities, comfort and battery life. We wore the headsets outside while walking to work, in the car, at the store and in the office.
Comfort & Fit
Bluetooth headsets are for folks who talk on the phone a lot, so you want one that’s comfortable – if the headset is irritating or falls out often, you probably won’t wear it. We made sure the headsets on our lineup fit most people and come with various tips for different ear canal sizes. To test stability, we performed a number of vigorous movements while wearing the headset; we shook and nodded our heads, lightly jogged, and jaunted up and down stairs.
We evaluated the Bluetooth headsets’ audio performance by pairing each one to an Apple iPhone SE. As with any call, there are two parts – your voice and the caller's. To test the quality of each device's speaker, we had the caller recite portions from John F. Kennedy's inaugural address while the reviewer wearing the headset took down what they heard. We then compared how well the listener transcribed what was said on the call with the original. It's important that the headset's speaker effectively transmits what is being said without any static. There were typically one to five transcription errors with the devices we tested, though nothing was lost in translation with the best headsets.
To test the quality of each headset’s microphone, we called a Google Voice number and recorded conversations in three different environments: outside on a windy day, in our office and in a car. The best Bluetooth headsets filter out background noise. We also wore the headsets on a half- mile walk where we passed a school that typically has lots of kids screaming and playing outside.
Most manufacturers claim their Bluetooth headsets can be used for between six and 10 hours before they need to be recharged. To put these metrics to the test, we played a 10-hour Learn to Speak French track through the headsets and recorded when each one’s battery died. We converted the MP3 track to mono, since Bluetooth headsets don't play stereo sound. Some headsets come with a charging case so you can charge the battery quickly on the go.
Bluetooth headsets can reach volumes between 40 and 70 dB. To measure the max volumes of the devices in our review, we placed a decibel meter 1 meter from each headset, set our iPhone SE’s volume at 100 percent and then played the same portion of a song through each one. It's important to note that with every increase of 3 dB, the volume doubles.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Bluetooth Headset
You should look for a headset that has controls for answering and ending phone calls as well as adjusting volume. Devices that are compatible with voice commands and work with Siri or Google Assistant rank higher in our review than those that do not. When you use a headset that’s compatible with Siri or Google Assistant, you can quickly dictate text messages, check the weather and get traffic reports without whipping out your smartphone from your pocket or bag.
Typically, manufacturers include a one-year warranty with their Bluetooth headsets. It's important for companies to have easily accessible customer support in case you have problems with your device. Several manufacturers have FAQs pages and downloadable manuals that help you troubleshoot issues, such as pairing, on your own.
Bluetooth Headsets: Our Verdict & Recommendations
After performing several tests analyzing audio performance and battery life, we determined the Plantronics Voyager Edge is the best Bluetooth headset. The headset is effective at blocking out external noise, and we found it to be comfortable, lightweight and stable. It includes several tips of different sizes, so it should fit most ears.
The Plantronics Voyager Legend, our former best pick, is still a fine choice. Its behind-the-ear design makes it exceptionally stable, but it isn't as comfortable to wear as our Gold Award winner. Plantronics advertises these headsets as having around seven hours of battery life, and we were able to get even more than that with both. The average battery life for all headsets we tested was around six and a half hours.
If you would rather use a Bluetooth headset that doesn't have an around-the-ear wearing style, consider a headset from Jabra. Its Stealth and Steel headsets have excellent sound quality and stay secure in your ear. The Steel is also water-resistant and has a five-year warranty.