Plantronics, purveyors of high-tech, rugged and reliable headsets to government agencies, air traffic control, law enforcement bodies, corporations and individual consumers across the planet, recently announced their newest business-class Bluetooth headset, the Voyager 520. Replacing the popular Voyager 510 headset, the 520 has an entirely new design, superior noise cancellation technology, excellent sound quality, 8 hours talk time and 180 hours standby, all in a lighter, smaller, more comfortable package. Does this sound too good to be true? Read our review to find out if the Voyager 520 goes the distance or if its features fall short.
Features and Design
The Plantronics Voyager 520 is a very well designed, lightweight and strong-performing Bluetooth headset engineered primarily for business professionals. Of course, individual users will appreciate the robust noise cancellation/reduction technology, the ease of use and the surprising level of comfort that the 520 offers.
The Voyager 520’s exterior is made of a sleek but durable plastic. Both the earbud and ear rest are soft and rubberized so as to be gentle on your ear. The 520 is well built and looks like it can withstand the rigors of heavy daily use. To test its durability, I intentionally dropped the Voyager 520 from my desk (several times), carried it in a briefcase, and even dropped it from ear height (roughly 6 feet) to simulate an accidental drop. The 520 didn’t have a scratch on it and continued to work perfectly. While I don’t recommend mistreating your own Bluetooth headset, it’s nice to know that this one stood up to exaggerated abuse.
One of the key features of modern Bluetooth headsets is noise reduction technology. Noise reduction or cancellation features are primarily used for blocking wind, road noise and even chatter from noisy restaurants and meeting locations. Plantronics has long been at the forefront of developing and offering this essential technology, and the Voyager 520 is a very good example of this technology in use. With road noise from 65mph highway travel and four open windows, I was able to call friends and family (and even my own voice mail box) to test the noise levels. The verdict is that the calls were clear and lucid and my voice wasn’t overpowered by external noises.
The Voyager 520 has a neat little articulating arm that holds the headset to your ear. It easily rotates from lefty to righty configurations. Personally, I use the 520 on my right ear everywhere except in my car. I want passing motorists to know that I’m using a headset, not talking to myself like a nut. Or if I am, in fact, talking to myself like a nut, the Voyager 520 gives me perfect cover.
When placing and receiving calls, the Voyager 520 is crystal clear at low and medium volume levels. Even though the higher volume levels hurt my ears (naturally), the 520 emitted no hissing or other distracting noise. (While technically a flaw in cheaper Bluetooth headsets, the high-volume-hiss acted as an accidental but useful warning that the volume was jacked up too high.)
The Voyager 520 can provide up to 8 hours of active talk time and upwards of 180 hours standby time. In my lengthy tests, I found that the 520 never lost battery strength even though I left it off the charger for 2 days and used it for countless calls each day. The 520’s battery life is pretty impressive.
Bluetooth 2.0 headsets are supposed to have about 10 meters (32 feet) of functional range. The Voyager 520 meets this spec and in some open locations, it does slightly better than 32 feet.
When Plantronics released the Pulsar 260 headset, I was hoping it would work well with Skype. Alas, it was buggy or totally resistant. With the Voyager 520, however, Plantronics has a solid Skype performer. I was able to connect the 520 to Skype in a matter of seconds and the call quality was as good as any other Bluetooth Skype headset I’d ever used. I was even able to use the Voyager to record audio directly into QuickTime (Mac) and other audio applications.
The Plantronics Voyager 520 in its docking station
Setup and Use
Setting up the Voyager 520 was pretty easy. Pairing the headset to my RAZR, RIZR and WING phones took about 20 seconds each. One of the reasons pairing is so quick and easy is Plantronics’ "QuickPair" technology which, on a firmware level, preps the 520 to pair with most Bluetooth enabled phones on the market.
The only trouble I had with getting the 520 set up was the charging base. For some reason Plantronics ships the charging unit unassembled. It was a pain in the rear to put the pieces together, but once it was set up, the charger looked nice and worked as well as any other mini desktop charger. If Plantronics had shot for perfection, they would have supplied consumers with a pre-built charging base and a separate (possibly USB) travel charging cord.
Back to the positive, I particularly like the one-button design of the Voyager 520. It gives a simplified, fumble-free way to control the headset. On/off, volume up/down, dial/end and pairing are all done on one control.
One of my primary complaints about Bluetooth headsets is the fact that they become quite uncomfortable after minutes or hours of use. Too many earbud and wrap-around headsets seem to fit poorly, making my ears sore. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of comfort I experienced while using the Voyager 520; the critical first hour of wearing the headset passed by without any soreness. Subsequent hours of wearing the headset proved pleasant. Its light weight body and non-invasive earbud felt good enough that I began to forget the 520 was on my ear. If you pick up the 520 for yourself, I certainly hope you have the same experience.
The Plantronics Voyager 520 is a great Bluetooth headset for all types of situations. It’s sleek and professional enough for business use, and it’s cool enough for home/college/wherever use. The battery life is exceptional, Bluetooth signal strength is fantastic, sound quality is clean and free of interference, and the overall package is very satisfying.
The $99 USD price tag is very fair for such a comfortable and high-quality Bluetooth headset. There are some cheaper alternatives on the market, but saving $10 or $20 on a budget headset could cost you more upset, frustration and discomfort in the long run.
I give the Voyager 520 two thumbs up. I recommend it, but would urge individual users, especially picky ones, to find a Voyager 520 in a store and try it on for size and comfort. Chances are you’ll be very happy.
• Very lightweight & comfortable
• Excellent wireless range
• Excellent sound quality
• Works well with VoIP programs on PC and Mac
• Unassembled charging base
• Different sized earpieces not a feature