Out and about, in the view of the public, nobody wants to be that guy with the Bluetooth headset. (At least you shouldn't.) In private, however, you can do whatever you want. Bluetooth (yes, it's a verb now) to your heart's content. We don't care.
Then there's the office. In a shared office environment, headsets trump handsets for many of us, be it for traditional voice calls, or for Skype. But having to rip a set of cans off our head to answer a cell call is annoying. And that brings us to the Plantronics Blackwire series of Bluetooth headsets, which does double duty as a Bluetooth headset and a corded USB headset.
Piqued your interest? Read on for a few thoughts.
The Blackwire comes in four flavors. The 710 is a single-ear that retails for $129. The 720 is a double-ear stereo set for $149. Both versions also are available in a Microsoft Lync-compatable style. We reviewed the Blackwire 720.
The headset is of the basic on-the-ear variety, wherein the speakers lay flat against you. They're not noise-canceling or anything, but they press firmly enough to block out a bit of the background, and have enough horizontal play to be comfortable. There's a 4-inch boom mic sticking out from the right ear. Hope you like it on that side, because you can't switch it. But it does rotate from nearly vertical (to get it out of the way) to about 150 degrees.
The headset's cord also is on the right. It actually comes in two sections, with the first being 28 inches leading from the headset to the Bluetooth receiver/remote control. The remote is about the size of a large USB thumb drive and has buttons for answering calls on the PC or phone, a double-size mute button, and a small volume up/down rocker. Leading from the other end of the remote is a removable 52-inch cable with a full-size USB plug at the end. The idea is that you have it plugged into the computer for VOIP calls, then can pop out the longer cable if you take a call over Bluetooth and need to leave your desk for some privacy.
The remote's got a clip on the back, so you can attach it to your suspenders (what, you don't wear 'em?). We'd rather be able to attach it to the desk somehow, but the clip isn't really set up for that, and the 28-inch end of the cable -- from the headset to the remote -- isn't long enough to make that feasible. Your movement is too constrained.
So here's the deal: The Blackwire works with PCs or Macs right out of the box. Plug it in, set the proper input and output in your system or application settings, and you're good to go. The mic works, and the headphones work. The volume rocker works. The mute button works. The only thing lacking is the ability to answer and receive Skype calls via the corded remote. That's not the end of the world.
Install Plantronics' Spoke software though (downloadable from Plantronics), and you gain that missing Skype control, and you can see the headset's charge level (remember, it's a Bluetooth headset after all) in the notification area.
Where the rubber meets the ear is where the rubber meets the road. The two major areas of concern here: Voice quality, and music quality.
The former was excellent. Skype calls were crisp and clear, and those we called said we sounded fine, too. Plantroics is boasting its "PC wideband audio" along with noise-canceling microphones for that one, and they appear to work as advertised.
For music playback, the Blackwire is ... decent. Look, it's not going to live up to the likes of $300 and $400 sets. But considering Blackwire is a $150 package, the sound quality is fairly good, with just enough bass to keep things interesting. (As and added bonus, the headset has sensors that can tell when you take it off you head and pause the music playback for you. It's kinda fun, kinda creepy.)
The bottom line
To us, the Plantronics Blackwire is a bit of a niche product, aimed squarely at the office types out there. But it also fits that niche pretty well. Minor niggles about cord length (which in total is good) aside, the Blackwire 720 serves as a great VOIP headset, and it doubles as a decent set of music headphones. And don't forget that it'll answer your phone calls over Bluetooth as well, seemlessly putting VOIP on hold in the process.
All in all for $150, it's very much a compelling product. Find out more and see purchasing options at Plantronics.com.
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