Do You Still Need a Bluetooth Headset?
The era of the traditional Bluetooth headset is coming to a close. If you look at Amazon or any other major retailer, you see that the single-ear headsets of 10 years ago have largely evolved into stereo Bluetooth headphones, almost all of which include microphones for you to make calls with. While there are still mono headsets on sale, many of them are either low-quality, no-name products, or several years old.
That means many people will want to head over to our list of the best wireless headphones. Most have microphones and call control buttons, and we detail call quality in each review. But you don't want to wear headphones while driving, for instance, and that's not the only case where a traditional single-ear Bluetooth headset comes in handy.
Picking the right headset might seem simple, but it actually comes with a challenge that's unique to all headphones, and, well, anything that needs to be placed in your ear: It's tough (and not completely sanitary) to try products out before plunking down the cash for them. But a major component of a headset's success depends on how it fits and feels—and that varies widely from person to person, or even from ear to ear. Other important factors include sound quality, design, style, battery life, and extra features. We've come up with the main points you should consider when shopping for a Bluetooth headset:
Bluetooth Headsets vs. Bluetooth Headphones
Stereo headsets aren't just for listening to music. They also make calls, often quite well. So if you're thinking about a pair of wireless headphones to rock out to, you may not need a separate mono Bluetooth headset.
That said, stereo headsets are usually bigger and heavier than mono headsets, and while an over-the-ear pair of headphones may be great at listening to calls, the outbound noise cancellation abilities of their microphones may not be up to heavy street noise. The Plantronics Voyager Focus UC combines both stereo audio quality and outbound noise cancellation well.
How well you can be heard when you're in a speeding car with the windows down, or in the middle of a noisy conference room, can quickly separate the good performers from the bad. Headsets with two or three mics usually perform the best, as there's at least one mic dedicated to detecting ambient noise, which the headset can then cancel out using adaptive digital signal processing algorithms.
You definitely pay a premium for advanced noise cancellation, but strong options in this category include the BlueParrott B550-XT and the Sennheiser Presence UC ML. We test noise-cancelling performance in every one of our reviews.
A guiding principle with mono headsets: If you don't want to charge, go large. Bigger headsets mean more room for big batteries. The bulky BlueParrott B550-XT, for instance, lasts a full day.
The new trend of true wireless earbuds hasn't been very friendly to battery life. Almost all of the wire-free models we've tested, such as the Apple AirPods, clock in at three to four hours of usage.
This is a very personal choice. The best in-ear headsets have a range of fit styles—for instance, several different sizes of eartips, plus an option for an over-the-ear hook in case headsets always fall out of your ear. If you absolutely can't bear to put something in your ear, go for an over-the-ear stereo headphone pair like the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC.
Most Bluetooth headsets offer about 30 feet of good range before they start popping badly or devolving into digital artifacts. Larger headsets, with larger antennas, can have a bit more range; we got decent calls on the Voyager 5200 up to about 40 feet.
The sweet spot for a mono Bluetooth headset is $99 list, and you can often find those models discounted to $70 or $80 if you shop around. A good stereo headset generally runs between $100 to $200. You can still find a decent headset for under $50, and sometimes you can find a really good one at that price since headsets tend to stay available in retail channels for a long time after they're discontinued. Typically you'll have to buy something a little bit clunkier, with noise cancellation that isn't up to par with the leaders, but you can't deny the value of models like the Jabra Style, which offers solid quality and can often be found for around $50.