Watching someone stroll down the street talking to his or herself is not a novelty – especially outside our Portland office – but it’s always still bizarre to see nonetheless. Yet, we’ve come a long way from the days of the bulky, obtrusive headsets that once donned the ears of workaholics and the telecommuting business professional who are seemingly tethered to their mobile phones all hours of the day. Whether on the bus or driving on the freeway, there’s often a good reason to yak on the phone sans hands. Luckily, there are more less-conspicuous headsets to pair with your device than ever before.
Choosing the right Bluetooth headset is also no easy feat though. You need to think about a variety of factors, from where you intend to use the headset as well as the overall design, bundled features and price tag, before ever coming to a conclusion and breaking out the wallet. Here are our choices for the best Bluetooth headsets available so you can take hands-free calls wherever you might wander. None of them make quite the same statement as the black-and-white contraption used by the rail dispatcher in the banner image above, but something tells me you won’t mind.
LG Tone HBS700 ($70)
Just because a headset doesn’t offer stellar sound quality, doesn’t mean it’s not capable of offering other incentives that make it worthwhile. For LG’s flagship headset, the Tone, those incentives come in the form of comfort and terrific functional versatility. The headset, primarily constructed using a memory alloy and featuring an around-the-neck design, boasts two cylindrical pods that magnetically house the wired earbuds and provide two methods of wearing the headset. Raised audio controls, such as a volume rocker and play/pause button, sit on both sides of the pods for easy access, while more intuitive controls for adjusting the EQ allow users to increase the bass and vice versa with the touch of a button.
The sound quality and modest noise cancellation aren’t fantastic — there’s the occasional static hiss and the usual background humdrum in louder settings — but the headset excels given it’s pairing simplicity, impressive 10-hour battery life and its ability to wirelessly stream music via Bluetooth. Despite being bass-lax, music sounds far more crisp and clear than calls, offering nice quality without sacrificing various sound elements due to convenience’s sake. Plus, the device merely vibrates when receiving a call and features built-in multipoint support for connecting more than one device simultaneously. The Tone doesn’t tote the power of high-def cans, but it’s comfort and music playback will surely leave you starstruck.
Bose Series 2 ($150)
Quality and Bose often go hand-in-hand—not to mention price as well. The Series 2 headphones pick up where the Series 1 left off, bolstering the noise cancellation and offering phenomenal A2DP sound that’s more akin to designated, wired earpiece than a standalone Bluetooth headset. The Series 2 is relatively small, weighing in at less than a half pound, and features glossy black plastic and silver detailing that straddles the edges of the snug (yet comfortable) headpiece.
It’s equipped with a multifunction call button, volume controls and a sliding power switch on top, while two side LED lights indicate your Bluetooth connection and your battery strength — which realistically hovers around 4.5 hours in duration. Other features, notably the automatic noise adjustment function that senses and changes the volume level depending on your surroundings, add to the device’s minimalistic appeals and call-only aesthetics. It’s not the cheapest on our list, but it doesn’t falter when it comes to sound clarity or sheer simplicity.
Jabra Supreme ($100)
“Supreme” is a big word to just nonchalantly throw around when it comes a piece of tech. Luckily, Jabra’s leading product has a few key features that live up to the larger-than-life title. When the built-in, foldable Flip-Boom arm is not extended — a useful tool that turns the device on and off — the headset is one of the most compact and commute-ready on our list (though a bit unwieldy when extended). It’s also lightweight, weighing less than 0.04 pounds, and features three exterior buttons for answering calls, adjusting volume, and most notably, Voice Control. The latter button allows users to utilize their phone through various commands, such as “redial” or “call back,” giving it Siri-like functionality sans Apple.
However, the Supreme shines in other aspects as well. The coupled noise-cancellation abilities are top-notch, capable of drowning out the sound of 5 o’clock traffic and other ambient noises you may encounter in different scenarios on a day-to-day basis, all the while retaining lucid and clear conversations for up to six hours. The accompanying Android app can even further noise-cancellation capabilities by your specific environment, such as an office or car, and houses the instruction manual should you need assistance on the go. The faux leather ear pad is comfortable despite heavy use, but the ear loop might be too large for the everyday user. Still, the Supreme backs the moniker when it comes to voice guidance and thorough noise-cancellation at a moderate price.
Samsung HM1700 ($40)
Samsung’s brushed-metal headset may shed the price in favor a more affordable option, but that doesn’t make it any less capable. The sleek and stylish device delivers commendable sound quality via the built-in noise reduction and echo cancellation technology, but it does suffer from slightly more static when compared to other headsets on our roundup. The design is nearly weightless and surprisingly comfortable, featuring three interchangeable soft gel tips for a more customized fit, and the rechargeable battery can last up to eight hours on a single charge whether you’re chatting on the phone or streaming your music library via the A2DP support software.
A unique component to the device, though potentially unnecessary and possibly annoying, are the various female voice prompts that inform you when your battery is running low, you’ve successfully connected to a device or other various usage instructions Samsung has deemed appropriate to frequently acknowledge. Onboard controls and display aspects are fairly minimal, offering only a dedicated on/off switch and a LED battery-level indicator, but that’s part of its no-frills appeal and simple design. Like other headsets on our list, the HM1700 comes with built-in multipoint support for pairing up to two devices at once and is available in an assortment of colors including gray, red, blue and purple. It’s not top-notch, but it’s a bargain for the price.
Jawbone Era ($130)
There is a reason you’ll find the Jawbone Era at the top of best-of lists left and right — it’s the most innovative and impressive headset currently on the market. Aside from usual call functions and simple Bluetooth pairing, the device features a built-in accelerator, patented MotionX technology and a intuitive app support likely to only get better as the company builds more advanced software and releases its forthcoming API. Currently, firmly tapping on the headset will answer or end a call while shaking it lightly while initiate the pairing mode, but developer Aliph plans to implement more features down the line. The device is available in four striking designs including Shadowbox, Silver Lining, Smokescreen and Midnight, with each sporting a layered, architectural surface exterior and faceted body that is both modern and attractive.
The Era peddles some serious sound quality via its 10-mm wideband speaker and coupled noise-cancellation technology, exhibiting excellent sound quality whether streaming high-quality music, mono podcasts, or carrying a conversation up to 30 feet away from your phone. Apps like the Era-exclusive MyTalk allow you to further customize features like caller ID, language and voice options, while additional programming will render the device capable of sending emails and text messages using strictly voice commands. Raised buttons only include power slider switch and talk button (no standard volume rocker), but that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker considering the remarkable audio fidelity and feature set.