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Tech review: The best bluetooth headset

Tech review: The best bluetooth headset
Some of the 12 headsets we tested. (Wirecutter)

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology.

Not everyone needs a Bluetooth headset. But if you're hopping on and off the phone throughout the day, or if you frequently—not that we recommend this—talk on the phone while driving, the $90 Plantronics Voyager Edge is the best Bluetooth headset for most people. After spending 20 hours on research and testing for this update, including real-world testing of 12 products, we've determined that the Voyager Edge is a top-notch headset with the right balance of stellar sound quality, long battery life, impressive Bluetooth range and comfortable fit.

Who is this for?

A good mono (one-ear) Bluetooth headset is a great accessory if you speak on the phone frequently and want the convenience of having your hands free. It's also an important item if you need to be sure that your voice sounds clear to the person on the other end, without too much wind or other background noise—a Bluetooth headset will make your voice sound much clearer, and be easier to understand, than using the speakerphone feature of your smartphone for hands-free calls.

How we tested

To test comfort, we recruited six non-techie friends and gave each a box of the 12 headsets with each model's included accessories. We asked each person to rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, the comfort of each headset. Then we ran battery tests, streaming stereo audio from an iPhone to each headset, recording how long we could do so before the headset's battery gave out. An evaluation of the incoming audio quality cut our list of competitors in half.

To test for outgoing audio quality, we pitted those six top picks against one another. We called a designated voicemail number using each headset, leaving the same message with each. We then used the audio files of those voicemails to conduct a blind test of audio quality, with five Wirecutter editors and writers rating the sound of each.

Our pick

The Plantronics Voyager Edge

The Plantronics Voyager Edge is our top pick for a number of convincing reasons. For starters, a panel of Wirecutter staffers overwhelmingly preferred its loud-and-clear call quality over that of the competition. Call quality is the most important aspect of any Bluetooth headset, and the Voyager Edge excels here. Incoming-call audio quality is very good, and in our tests of outgoing audio quality, listeners preferred the quality of audio from the Voyager Edge over audio from the competition almost every time.

The Voyager Edge also offers longer battery life than many other Bluetooth headsets; a comfortable fit that works for many different ear shapes and sizes; simple pairing; good Bluetooth range; and easy-to-use controls. It's a solid pick, all around.

Runner-up

A step down in some ways, the Sennheiser Presence Basic still sounds pretty good, and it has the longest battery life.

A good alternative to the Voyager Edge is the $150 Sennheiser Presence Basic. You do get some benefits for the higher price, including longer battery life, but the Presence Basic doesn't surpass the Voyager Edge in every regard—or as an overall package.

In our first round of audio testing, the Presence Basic essentially tied the Voyager Edge when talking in a quiet office; in the second round, however, the the Plantronics model was a bit better. Our panel generally liked the sound of this model, particularly in our quiet-office test, but it didn't do as well as the Edge in noisy environments.

Budget pick

The Plantronics Explorer 500 didn't wow us overall, but it costs quite a bit less than our top pick and sounds the best in a moving car.

Plantronics' newest headset is the Explorer 500 ($60), and it's a good choice for people who don't want to spend a ton. It was actually the top performer in one of our audio tests (outgoing audio when talking in a car), though it doesn't best the Voyager Edge's audio quality overall.

In closing

The Voyager Edge in action

The Voyager Edge is the best-sounding Bluetooth headset we've yet found, and it's equally strong when it comes to battery life and comfort. It's the best pick for most people.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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