The Best Bluetooth Headset
The most natural voice reproduction and the most effective noise cancellation make the Plantronics Voyager Legend the best Bluetooth headset.
On a typical midday afternoon, I sat on the blustery and cacophonous corner of West 34th Street and Eighth Avenue in midtown Manhattan to torture test the five top-performing in-ear Bluetooth headsets. These included the Bose Series 2, the Jabra Motion, the Jawbone Era, the Motorola Sliver II and the Plantronics Voyager Legend.
After multiple noisy and windy conversations on each at 34th and Eighth, a clear winner emerged: the Plantronics Voyager Legend. And it wasn't close.
The best Bluetooth headset
Plantronics' Legend offered the most natural voice reproduction at both ends of the conversation and provided the most effective noise canceling for muting both nearby conversations and wind noise.
Even though the Legend is not the most compact of the five top Bluetooth headsets we tested — it's actually the second most ponderous, after the Jabra Motion — its more generous physicality also made it one of most securely fitting and easiest to control, and it provided the second best battery performance.
Finally, not only is the Plantronics the best of the Bluetooth bunch, it's also $30 less expensive than its nearest competitor.
What other pros have to say
We're not alone in our aural, ergonomic and economic assessment of the Legend. In his "excellent" review at at CNET, Bruce Bennett notes the Legend's aural circuitry provided "excellent call quality whether I was chatting from bustling New York streets, within crowded restaurants, or inside my raucous CNET offices. People on the other end couldn't tell I was chatting from a mobile connection either." Bennett concluded that the Legend's "superb call audio quality and comfortable fit make it an excellent buy."
While Jamie Lendino at PC Magazine disagreed with our wind-reducing conclusions (he choose Jawbone's Era as the best wind-resister), he also noted the Legend "sounds excellent and is comfortable to wear" and is "one of the best on the market today."
P.K. Costa at the San Francisco Examiner extolled the Legend "whether you're a traveler, telecommuter, soccer mom, journalist, world-renowned chef or top dog of your own whatever — this hands-free device is worth its salt — and will become legendary."
In our own view, though, it's all about the sound.
Before we get to the Legend's aural qualities, let me clarify that none of these single-ear headsets is the best Bluetooth conversation solution. If you want to use Bluetooth to conduct your conversations and you want to be sure you can hear clearly with plenty of volume and be heard clearly with plenty of volume, your best choice is the LG Tone+ HBS730 stereo earphones, which we have previously extolled.
But it's easy to understand how folks who simply want to chat wouldn't want to wear LG's comparatively ergonomically-challenged necklace.
So how does the Legend measure up to its single-ear ilk? In our own cityscape and other everyday testing with a smartphone as well as a Panasonic Bluetooth-enabled landline phone during home office conversations and interviews, voices sounded smoother and more natural at both ends of the conversation with the Legend. It suffered little of the digital noise (subtle artifacts that make a voice sound tinny, artificial and digitized) evident on the other Bluetooth headsets reviewed here, especially the cheaper models.
Unlike PC Magazine's Lendino, we found the Legend didn't reduce but eliminated low-level wind. None of the units, however, could cut through heavy gusts.
Our second-place choice for sound quality was the Jabra Motion. But the amplification that improves the Jabra's sound also boosted the volume of conversations and other background noise within three feet.
The Legend may be larger than most of the other Bluetooth headsets in this roundup, but its girth is all in the service of enhanced functionality. Rather than simply slipping into the ear as the Bose and Motorola headsets do, the Legend's rear module must be guided over and behind your ear. Even though the Legend's rear module pretty much disappears from view as you're facing people, the three-inch-long boom mic cuts unattractively across your check. While having the mic closer to your mouth than its competitors contributes to its sound quality, you'll look a little geeky.
The Legend's added weight doesn't detract. The Legend weighs 18 grams, nearly twice as much as the Jawbone's 10.2 grams (the lightest of our test group) but not much heavier than the Jabra's 17.5 grams, the Motorola's 14 grams or the Bose's 12 grams. Even though it's heavier, the Legend never felt heavy, even after a few hours of wear.
Once donned, the Legend's behind-the-ear design provides the surest fit of any headset we've played with, both in this shoot-out as well as other reviews. Its weight gave me the confidence that the Legend would stay put regardless of how violently I shook my head.
The Legend's relative larger presence also makes it easier to control. Other headset makers are forced to confusingly condense controls on their compact devices, making volume and switchhook switches difficult to find by feel and therefore to operate.
Instead of flat volume toggles, the Legend's miniature up-and-down joystick on the top rear of the ear module is simple to locate and manipulate. The switchhook key (what you tap to initiate, answer and end calls) is located conveniently on top of the boom swivel. There's also a separate, easy-to-locate mute key, not available on most other headsets, located on the rear of the boom. This mute key also pauses streaming audio playback.
As with all Bluetooth headsets, the Legend is easy to adjust for either left or right ear use.
Battery life and extras
The Legend, along with the Jabra Motion and the Jawbone Era, adds some nice functionality boosts. First among these is a motion sensor – these headsets know when they're picked up and placed on your ear, automatically switching on. I found that Legend and Era both reacted more consistently than the ungainly Jabra, which I could never get to fit snugly or comfortably.
If your Bluetooth chatting needs are more home office-centric and require multiple simultaneous connections, the Legend and the Jabra Motion also come in UC (Unified Communication) versions. Both include a separate USB dongle that allows direct, dual headset use while connected to a PC as well as a smartphone.
The Legend logs the second-longest overall battery life of the five headsets we played with — 7 hours of talk time and 11 days of standby, versus 4.5 hours of talk and 4.2 days of standby for the Bose, 5 hours of talk and 12 days of standby for the Motorola, 5.5 hours and 10 days of standby for the Jawbone, and 7 hours of talk and 15 days of standby for the larger Jabra.
But the Legend lacks a standard micro-USB charging jack. Instead, the Legend comes with a special magnetic USB charging attachment. For travel, this means you have to remember to pack the special Plantronics cable along with the standard micro-USB cable for your smartphone, tablet or other gadgets.
For $6.95 (on plantronics.com), you can buy a second charging cable to keep in your travel kit, giving you one less item to pack.
With the charging cable problem resolved, the Plantronics Voyager Legend leads the single-ear Bluetooth class.