There are two basic types of Bluetooth headsets to consider when looking to purchase a hands-free device mono and stereo. For both types of headsets, the primary functions are essentially the same hands-free communication through a Bluetooth connection to your phone and streaming audio like music, audio books, podcasts and more. The type of headset you choose depends on the primary function you value more.
If your career requires you to spend a great deal of time on the phone with clients, employees and partners, then you'll want to choose the best mono Bluetooth headset because clear communication is prioritized with these headsets. A mono headset is a single earpiece that you wear on either side of your head. These models typically feature a boom microphone that reaches onto your cheek to better capture your voice and block out background noises.
However, perhaps you don't spend a lot of time on the phone but you need your hands free to multitask when you are on a call. Perhaps you live in a state that's made it illegal to use your cell phone while you're driving without using a hands-free device. Perhaps you just want to listen to music during an afternoon run without worrying about missing calls. Perhaps you just want to listen to music without having to deal with tangled cords. If listening to high quality music is more important than the time spent on a phone call, then a stereo Bluetooth headset is the right decision for this simple reason two ears are better than one.
Stereo versus mono
Humans have two ears for much the same reason we have two eyes depth perception. Just place a hand over your eye and you'll quickly understand the value of visual depth perception. Hearing is similar. Your brain processes the audio captured by both ears to create auditory dimensions in your environment. The popular pool game Marco Polo exemplifies this concept. You say "Marco" and others in the pool say "Polo." Because both your ears process the sound, you can judge the distance and general location of the sound with your eyes closed.
In music, stereo sound is created by using two audio channels left and right. This mimics our natural ability to hear our surroundings. An expert mixer applies volume levels and left-to-right channel ratios to every track of a song to create depth in the music that will make you feel like you're standing on stage. A mono track lacks this depth. You can't hear the detail of the music as clearly without stereo sound. This applies to phone conversations as well because you use both ears, you'll have an easier time understanding the person on the other end.
So why aren't all Bluetooth headsets stereo?
As an audiophile who spends most of my day listening to music through very expensive high-definition earphones, I would certainly choose stereo over mono every day of the week, especially for phone calls where audio transmissions can be notoriously awful. However, monaural headsets are popular among careers that require a lot of phone time because the opposite ear is still open to the environment. Typically, these headsets are worn for much of the day, even when you're not on a call.
Having an ear open to your environment is essential in order to interact with employees, clients, customers and other people face-to-face. Stereo Bluetooth headsets use earbuds that fit into the ear canal to block out most of the noise around you, making it difficult for others to get your attention and limiting your ability to interact with your surroundings.
Limitations of stereo Bluetooth headsets
Because hands-free communication isn't the priority with stereo Bluetooth headsets, the noise cancellation systems aren't as sophisticated as monaural headsets. This means that while you can hear your caller better on a stereo headset, your caller may not be able to hear you better. Most monaural headsets feature multiple microphones with complicated internal equalizers to filter out background noises. Stereo headsets usually only use one microphone located on either one of the earpieces or on the short cord below the earpiece. Whatever background noises surround you are likely to be heard by your caller.
Companies like Jabra, Plantronics and Jaybird make the best stereo Bluetooth headsets. These headsets are sporty and durable. They are ideal for exercise because the wireless connection to your phone allows you to run, bike, hike or hit the gym without worrying that you might miss an important call. Often, when exercising, it's easy to miss calls while listening to music because you can't hear the ring or you don't feel your phone vibrate. You'll never miss a call with a stereo Bluetooth headset because the music pauses when you receive a call.
In addition, because the only cord you have to worry about is the short one that goes from earpiece to earpiece, you don't have to deal with cords bouncing around and being tangled up. Stereo headsets are great for exercising because they come with sophisticated ear stabilizers or over-ear wearing styles that give you a secure fit that won't fall off during vigorous workouts.