How we tested
We put each headset through an ease of use test, a user trial and a technical test.
- Ease of use was assessed for various common tasks, such as taking and making calls, rejecting calls and redialling numbers.
- In the user trial, 10 people rated each headset for overall comfort after an hour of continuous use.
- The technical tests were carried out by the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL). Each headset was tested to determine how well it transmitted and conducted audio signals in the frequencies that human hearing encompasses. NAL also tested the operating battery life for each model (see Battery life).
We paired a computer with a USB adapter to each headset, then played an audio CD to test how far we could walk before the signal reception dropped out. Any crackling, skipping or silences represent a loss of signal, which we noted. Most models had some crackling at 10 metres, but were still usable at that distance.
We also checked the range of transmission by recording from the headset microphone to the computer. All of the recordings contained crackles at 10 metres, showing a loss of signal strength.
Throughout testing, we kept the headset within the line of sight of our computer. In normal usage, objects or people in the way will potentially reduce signal strength further, lowering the distance you can move away from your phone before you will lose the signal.
After testing the headsets at three volume settings — low, mid and high — we had a good idea of the kind of sound they will produce during normal telephone conversations.
The highest scoring headsets were the Sony Ericsson HBH-PV705, Plantronics Voyager 340 and Jabra BT125, all of which scored more than 95%.
It’s not enough to be able to hear the person on the other end of your phone call; you also want them to hear you clearly.
- The Plantronics Voyager 510 had the most sensitive microphone — its boom is quite long and is therefore close to the mouth, which may assist in picking up more sound. It was significantly louder than the other units. The three Sony models also performed to a high standard.
- Several units produced a click when they started broadcasting from the microphone. This was most noticeable for the Plantronics Explorer 340. The Sony Ericsson HBH-PV700 produced a beep.
- The two Motorola headsets produced a noticeable buzz during testing, but this may be because they were paired with a computer. We can’t be sure the noise would be audible over the phone system.
Comfort and ease of use
Bluetooth headsets should fit snugly against your ear, but ears come in a variety of shapes and sizes, which can make wearing a Bluetooth headset an unpleasant experience for some. The most frequently mentioned aspect of discomfort in the trial was headsets that didn’t sit comfortably. None of the headsets suited everybody. Even if a headset is easy to fit and feels initially comfortable, it can take a while to get used to wearing it.
Three trialists found that removing the headsets after wearing them for an hour was painful. And, on hot days, a headset can get sweaty and slippery. Other factors that trialists commented on were:
- Fiddly fingers: Two headsets lacked instructions on how to fit the headset over your ear or in your ear, so that trialists sometimes found it hard to work out how to attach the headset. The Jabra BT125 headset came with instructions on CD, which is fine as long as you have a computer handy.
- Heavy weight: Additional weight can make the headset uncomfortable to use and cause pressure on sensitive parts of your ear. Choose a lighter model, all other factors being equal.
- Attachment wobblies: Trialists found that a secure fit meant less distraction and annoyance. Poorly-fitting headsets may wobble, fall off or jab into your cheek. Trialists didn’t consider the Motorola H350, Nokia BH-202 and Sony Ericsson HBH-PV700 to have a secure fit. The BlueAnt T8 micro, Jabra BT125 and Motorola H350 fell off during testing for at least one trialist.
- Glasses: If you have glasses, attaching and wearing Bluetooth headsets compounds the problem of correct fit. Some of the headsets — particularly the Nokia BH-200 and BlueAnt T8 micro — were less easy to attach and less comfortable for those who wear specs on a regular basis.
Bluetooth headsets run off small, rechargeable batteries. Good battery life is vital — who wants to run out of power mid-conversation?
Battery life was highly variable for some of the models we tested. We repeated tests and discarded any results that differed by more than 10%.
The Plantronics Voyager 510, Plantronics Explorer 340, Nokia BH-202 and both Motorola units showed major inconsistencies - in some cases battery life varied by up to five hours between subsequent tests. Despite carrying out additional tests, we aren’t sure of the cause of these differences and so we didn’t include these results in the overall score.