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What We Looked For in Bluetooth Headset Reviews

Even a budget Bluetooth headset shouldn't fall short on sound quality or comfort. Bluetooth headset reviews by consumers and experts make very clear that no user wants to sound as though they're in a bathroom or tunnel, either to themselves or the party at the other end.

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Reviewers also snub earpieces that fall out or are too uncomfortable to wear for extended periods, but there was little consensus on the comfort of the models we researched.

Ease of use is also a priority, according to Bluetooth headset reviews. That means syncing a headset with a phone or other device should not be an all-day affair, and the battery should last long enough that the device doesn't need daily charging unless it's constantly in use.

We relied on a combination of reviews from experts and consumers to assess the performance of Bluetooth headsets. The expert reviewers used hands-on testing, while posts from shoppers provide a variety of perspectives and indicate how well a headset works in the real world. The two cohorts don't always agree.

Effective Noise Cancellation.

The chief downfall of cheap Bluetooth headsets is their mediocre ability to cancel out background noise, according to reviews. All the models on our list are noise-canceling Bluetooth headsets, but some perform better in this dimension than others. The Jabra Extreme2 (starting at $45) is particularly good at filtering out background noise, according to an expert from Top Ten Reviews, but doesn't appear on our list because it's hard to find at a cheap price. CNET also commends the Jawbone Era (starting at $100), a much more expensive headset, for delivering excellent noise cancellation, and says the Plantronics M55 (starting at $30) quells background noise indoors but struggles to block out wind and traffic noises when outside.

High-Quality Audio.

It's pretty simple to determine the audio quality of a headset: The sound is loud and clear on both ends of the call, without distortion or tinny or muffled sound. Voices seem natural, and background noise doesn't interfere with the headset user's voice.

For the most part, users who posted Bluetooth headset reviews are satisfied with the sound clarity of these devices, especially given their budget prices. An expert at Tech Hive writes of being particularly impressed with the audio quality on the Samsung HM3300 (starting at $30) for adequately meeting these standards. The outlier among the models discussed here is the Plantronics Marque 2 M165 (starting at $30). Expert reviews assert voice quality is thin and strained, especially for the headset wearer, although many users serve up more positive appraisals.

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Comfortable Fit.

Eartip comfort is middling with the Bluetooth headsets on our list, but everyone's ears are different so assessments of fit for any given model vary. The small, medium, and large soft gel eartips that accompany the Samsung HM3300 and HM1900 (starting at $20) increase the probability that one will be a match. And yet, we read Bluetooth headset reviews decrying the discomfort and lack of fit (especially for small ears) with the Samsung models; others extol the fit, with one user who normally refrains from ear-in devices reporting pleasant surprise at the gel tip's functionality. The Jabra Style (starting at $45) and Plantronics M55 also take some heat for ill-fitting earpieces (each comes with just one eartip), and in the case of the former, for an alternative ear hook, as well.

Battery Life.

For anyone who really likes communicating through a Bluetooth headset, long battery life is essential. The Plantronics M55 rings in with an unusually high manufacturer rating of 11 talk hours before needing a recharge, and it wins kudos in Bluetooth headset reviews for that feat. The Plantronics Marque 2 M165 beats the average with an official maximum seven hours of talk time whereas most headsets, including the Jabra Style and Jabra Extreme2, deliver a rated talk time of five to six hours.

Some, like the Samsung HM3300 and Samsung HM1900, underperform here, with rated talk times of four and four-and-a-half hours, respectively. Although we read a few muted grumbles about this limitation, users generally seem indifferent to the matter and assign greater weight to assets such as good audio, good price, and ease of use.

Painless Pairing.

Pairing is the process of establishing the wireless connection between a Bluetooth headset and a cell phone or some other electronic audio device. Generally speaking, when pairing a cell phone and a Bluetooth headset, the phone is the "host" and the headset is the "guest." To pair the devices, turn on the pairing option for both and then use the phone to identify the headset and confirm the connection.

If both devices use Bluetooth 2.1 or higher, pairing is usually automatic. All the headsets we looked at are Bluetooth 2.1 or newer. If you have an NFC-enabled headset (e.g., Samsung HM3300, Jabra Style) and smartphone, pair them with just a tap. We found no complaints in Bluetooth reviews by experts or consumers about pairing. This is one task that headsets seem to manage very well across the board.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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