Table of Contents
What to Look For in a Bluetooth Headset
If you’re driving, shopping, exercising, working, or even hanging out around the house, a Bluetooth headset lets you answer the phone and control some of your phone’s features and functions hands-free. A Bluetooth headset also helps those working at a desk, as you don’t have to be tethered to your laptop by that dreadful cord when you’re sitting in a meeting.
When picking out a Bluetooth headset, there are several factors to consider. In addition to choosing a headset that looks and feels good while wearing it, you also want to ensure it fits your needs. Factors like battery life, compatibility, pairing, sound quality, noise cancellation, water resistance, and cost come into play.
Styles: Headband, Neckband, Or Earpiece
Headband-style headsets are often larger and heavier than the other Bluetooth headset styles. They’ll typically have an ear cuff that goes on the ear with a speaker for listening and a microphone that protrudes out for speaking. The headband portion goes around the top of the head and then rests against the opposite side. The headband style is often the preferred style for business professionals who work at a desk.
If a headband style isn’t comfortable for you but still you want the stability of a band, you may want to go with a neckband style, which wraps around the back of the neck. Some neckbands have short wires connecting to earbuds that go into the ears, and others are foldable for easier storage. Many runners and gym-goers prefer the neckband style.
If you want a smaller, less noticeable Bluetooth headset, use an earpiece or in-ear style headset. These headsets are tiny—often around two to three inches in size—and may wrap around one ear. Instead of having an ear cuff that rests on the outside of the ear, they usually have an ear cushion you gently place in your ear canal. This type of headset is more versatile, and the style is ideal for gym-goers, business professionals, and regular day-to-day users.
Battery life is perhaps the most critical factor to consider when choosing a Bluetooth headset, especially when you’re using your headset on the go. You must consider four main battery life numbers: mAH (milliampere-hours), charge time, talk time, and standby time.
When you look at mAh for a battery, it’s a formula that calculates battery storage capacity. It’s the product of the time a battery lasts times the discharge current. So, a 1,000mAh battery in a headset that draws 50 milliamps of power would last for 20 hours (1,000 divided by 50 milliamps equals 20 hours).
Charge time represents how long the headset takes to reach a full charge. Most Bluetooth headsets should take one to five hours to get a full charge. Talk time means how long you can use the Bluetooth headset in calls and meetings before a single battery charge runs out, and standby time represents how long the headset can sit off the charger without being used and still maintain a single battery charge. Sometimes, you’ll also see a metric for music time, representing how long you can listen to music on a single charge.
Talk time and standby time will vary widely by the manufacturer, the type and style of the headset, and the features it offers. The price of the unit doesn’t necessarily have an impact on its battery life.
Charging Stands, Charging Cases, And Backup Batteries
Some headsets have charging accessories that can help manage battery life. If you’re worried about running out of battery, you may want to look at a headset that comes with a charging stand, a charging case, or a backup battery.
Some headband-style headsets may include a charging station or stand to rest your headset when it’s not in use. You may also be able to purchase a compatible charging stand after the fact If you’re using your headset primarily at a desk, charging stands can be particularly helpful because they allow you to keep the device charging when you get off a call.
You may also see charging cases. The case can extend the battery life by adding additional on-the-go charges. You may get ten hours of talk time on a single charge, but the charging case lets you charge the device three more times without connecting to an electrical outlet.
A few headsets come with two batteries. This allows you to charge one battery while you use the other.
Compatibility And Connectivity
Before choosing a Bluetooth headset, you’ll want to ensure it connects seamlessly to all the devices you need. Take note of the Bluetooth version. Most headsets will be either Bluetooth version 4.1, 4,2, or 5.0. The product’s description will also sometimes indicate which devices it works with. However, most headsets will work with modern phones and Bluetooth-compatible laptops/PCs.
If you plan on using your headset on multiple devices, you’ll want to make sure the headset can connect to more than one device. The product should indicate that it connects to more than one device, or it may say it has a multi-pairing feature that allows you to use it with more than one device at a time.
How far is the wireless range? This number indicates how far you can travel from the device to which the headset is connected and still experience clear audio. If the range is up to 10 meters, you can go up to 10 meters away from your phone or laptop before you start to experience connection issues. Remember this is an “up to” number, and obstructions like walls, floors, and appliances may impact the range. If you plan on traveling to a different room than your device when using your headset, look for a headset with a more extended range.
With headphones, you’ll often see metrics that measure sound quality, like sensitivity (which measures sound efficiency), frequency response (which measures the speaker’s ability to produce low and high tones), and impedance (which measures resistance). You’re less likely to see these metrics with headsets because the focus is less on music playback and more on battery life, call quality, features, and overall performance.
There are two main types of noise-canceling in the context of Bluetooth headsets: Noise-cancelling in the headphone (speaker) and noise-canceling in the microphone. The first type of noise-canceling—in the speaker—helps block out background noise in the vicinity of the person wearing the headset, so they can better hear music or speech without disturbances from background noise. The second type—noise-canceling in the microphone—blocks out noise for the person on the other end of the call, so they can hear your speech over background sounds like planes flying by, people talking in the background, or a television.
Most Bluetooth headsets, even budget headsets, will have some noise-canceling technology in the microphone.
Active vs. Passive Noise-Canceling
If a headset has active noise cancellation, this means the headset uses sound waves to help counteract, or cancel out, background noises.
Passive noise cancellation means the headset uses hardware (extra padding, tighter seals, etc.) to reduce background noises.
If noise cancellation is an essential feature for you, and you need your conversations to be as clear and noise-free as possible, look carefully at the product’s noise-canceling technology. Look at how it cancels out noise, and not just whether or not it has noise-canceling.
Water resistance is less common on headband-style headsets, as the headband style is often used indoors by a business professional at a desk. However, water resistance is becoming a standard feature for neckband and earpiece-style Bluetooth headsets.
If the product is water resistant, it can usually tolerate rain, sweat, spills, and splashes. The product will list water resistance in the description if it has this feature. It should also indicate a water resistance rating (IPX5 or IPX8), the degree of water resistance a device features. An IPX5-rated headset can withstand water jets from any direction, for instance, while one with an IPX8 rating is protected from being immersed in water more than three meters in depth. Some devices will be rated with a pair of numbers, in which case the first number is particle protection, shielding it from dust and dirt, and the second is water resistance. In both cases, IP stands for Ingress Protection.
Some headsets may also be shockproof, which means the headset won’t easily break if you drop the device. If you plan on using your headset outdoors or during periods of heavy activity, this may be important for you.
Headband-style headsets may not have too many accessories outside a charging cable. Still, in-ear-style headsets often have accessories like extra ear cushions, ear hooks, charging cables, and carrying cases. Neckband-style headsets also typically have accessories like a charging cable, carrying case, and extra ear gels. Look for accessories that promote comfort and flexibility.
Different sizes of ear cushions can be important because there’s nothing worse than having a headset that doesn’t fit properly. If your headset is too big for your ear, it won’t feel comfortable and may fall out while running errands or working out. An ear hook can provide additional support and help the headset stay in place. It helps to have both a left and right ear hook, so you can choose which side feels better for you.