For many people, Bluetooth headsets aren’t an option, they’re mandatory—especially for talking on the phone while driving if your car doesn’t already have hands-free Bluetooth built in. So we test Bluetooth headsets with care. Here’s a look at our testing process, both in PC Labs and out in real-world conditions.
This is, of course, the most important aspect of a Bluetooth headset. We place several different calls, both to live people and to answering machines, so we can hear how conversations sound on each end. We check indoor and outdoor volume levels, and how intelligible voices are in different situations.
We try to connect headsets to several models of cell phones. We’ll typically run tests on multiple devices connected to the same wireless carrier, and then test with another set of devices connected to a different wireless carrier. We check to see if the headset pairs automatically, and how easy it is to pair and re-pair with multiple devices.
Most Bluetooth headsets have a range of about 15 feet for clear calls and 30 feet for calls with static, but some improve on this. We walk 60 paces in a straight line away from the phone, talking all the while into an answering machine, so we can hear how much speech quality decays as distance increases.
Does the headset offer more than one fit option? We check to see how comfortable it is in our ears, using the various earpieces provided.
We hook up the headset to a phone dialed in to a test number that plays an infinite-loop recording of a book being read aloud. (The phone is plugged in so its battery won’t run down.) We place the headset and phone about a foot apart. We attach a microphone to the headset and plug that into a PC running Audacity recording software, which includes a timeline. Then we let it go until the headset runs out of juice.
Stereo Bluetooth headsets have come a long way, and many people use them for media playback as well as calls, just like a pair of wireless headphones. We play high-quality, 320-kilobit-per-second or lossless music from both a computer and a mobile phone to hear how it sounds. We also check how the headset handles transitions between songs, and what happens when you receive a call during a song.
We check for features such as redial or voice dialing via a long press of the headset button. We also test any extra control features the phone may have, such as built-in voice commands.
Headset manufacturers make a big deal about noise cancellation, so we pay particular attention to how transmissions sound from noisy areas. We’ll try the headset in at least one of these situations: on a noisy city street, in a windy area, or in a car being driven with the window down.
We make a point of comparing the headset’s reception quality based on two key test positions of the phone: in our hand in front of us and also inside a back pocket. Putting your body between your phone and your headset sometimes degrades the signal.