I’ve used a lot of different Bluetooth headsets over the years – some are good, some are not. For the most part, the size of the headset is getting smaller, while the audio quality is improving along with a host of other features like the ever popular, noise cancellation.
For me, there are 2 key things when I’m buying a Bluetooth headset, 1) the quality of the audio picked up by the headset, and 2) the quality of the audio I hear in my ear from the headset. Typically, the manufacturers focus on the audio quality being sent to the person you are talking with. They add all these great features (noise cancellation) to help clear up your voice in a noise area and make it sound like you’re sitting at your desk on a regular land line. In the pursuit of this, they tend to forget that I still need to be able to hear the other person clearly in my ear. The volume has to be loud enough that I can hear them in a crowded place, and it would be nice if the speaker was decent enough so that I could hear them clearly and without all those crackles and pops.
Enter SoundID. The 510 is the first headset I have used that has it’s own app that runs on your phone allowing you to customize the audio quality that you hear in your ear. It also has a host of other cool features, like a touch sensor that allows me to easily crank up or down the volume without having to fumble around headset feeling for those super small buttons.
Let’s start with a walk through of the iPhone app that allows you to configure the 510. The first thing to note is that this app is also available for Android and BlackBerry devices – sadly, there is no Windows Phone app at this point. Hopefully that will come in the not too distant future.
When you launch the EarPrint app, it will try and communicate with the headset, so make sure that it is turned on and already paired with your phone.
The Personal tab is where you can customize the audio settings of your headset. To adjust the settings, just tap and drag the ID logo around the screen until you get the configuration that you like the best. As you move it around the screen, the software is tweaking the bass and treble accordingly. This works for both music and phone calls.
On the Level tab, you’ll find a reading of the audio around the headset. This will display the current level of audio that the headset is picking up. Green is nice and low, Orange is an indication of normal to loud audio, and Red means that the current audio levels around the headset are considered high and it could result in hearing damage with prolonged exposure. It’s a handy tool to help you figure out what the best level of background noise is for your optimal listening environment. You can’t always control the environment, but at least this way you can better understand the conditions you’re currently in.
The Battery tab provides information about the battery and firmware details of the headset and EarPrint software. No more quessing about how much charge is left on the headset, the information is right there in the EarPrint app for you. Remember when you would never know how much ink is left in your printer cartridges? When they added an indication to the desktop printer drivers that showed this information, it really changed printing. You always knew what you had left. Now that same feeling is here for your headset. I hated not knowing what kind of charge was left on my headset. EarPrint fixes that for me.
The Tools tab offers some really nice additions. First off, is Rest across the top. Selecting this requires a confirmation step and will then reset the headset back to factory settings. It will even result in the WiFi settings getting erased from the headset. Next up, EarPrint gives you a quick In Call status indicator option. Enabling this feature will cause a little LED on the headset to flash green when you are on a call, in hopes that others will notice that you are in a call and not interrupt you. Next up is Noise Reduction. You have the ability to turn on and off Noise Reduction. So you can quickly test and see what provides the best possible audio for the person on the other end of the phone. Next up, there’s Pass Thru Mode – this will take the audio around you that the noise cancellation mic’s are picking up, and it will play it back in your ear. This way, you won’t suffer from one ear picking up all the audio around you,while the other doesn’t hear a sound until the phone rings.
The last option on the Tools tab, is to find your lost or misplaced headset. To do this, simply click the Find My Headset button. You will be presented with a typical “are you sure” warning as well as a notice that a loud audio noise will be played from the headset. I have yet to misplace the headset. Although, I’m sure it will happen eventually and this option makes it so much easier to handle if or when it does happen to you.
The headset may not be the smallest thing on the market, and I think that’s a good thing, as I find the super small headsets can be too small and easily lost, as well they seem to have a harder time with the noise cancellation features.
Looking at the headset, you will only see 2 physical buttons. Well, technically it’s 1 switch and 1 button. The switch is for on /off functionality and works so much better than other headsets where you have to press and hold a multi-function button for a certain amount of time in order to get the same functionality. The button on the face of the headset is the main button that you will use to interact with the unit. What you don’t notice is the touch pad that runs down the outside of the device. The button is your one-stop place to kick off voice commands and what have you. The touch pad allows you to quickly and easily adjust the volume of the ear piece. Placing your finger in the middle of the touch pad and sliding it to the the back of the device will turn down the volume and doing the reverse will turn up the volume. To mute, simply place your finger on the touch pad for approximately 2 seconds.
Another feature that you won’t see is the 3 noise cancelling microphones. These are located under the metal grill that runs down the side of the ear piece. One microphone is located at the rear of the device, another at the front, and a third is located about three quarters of the way towards the front. According to SoundID, this configuration helps to isolate speech and reduce wind and general background noise. During my tests, the noise cancellation worked very well. Most people could still tell that I was using some sort of hands free unit, however it did sound clear and I never had anyone complain about background noise.
When you look at the back of the unit you’ll find a MicroUSB port for charging the device. MicroUSB is used on most smartphones these days, so it makes charging this a dream since it will use the same cable as your phone. No more messy collection of cables in the car to charge all your gadgets.
The 510 I received came in a small box with Demo Unit stamped on the outside of it. So I can’t talk about the device is presented in the retail package or how easy/hard it might be to free from the packaging. Inside the box you’ll find a headset along with a small wall adapter with a USB port of charging with, a 6-inch MicroUSB cable, a holster for the headset, and a small box that contains 2 additional ear buds, a plastic over the ear loop, and a foam mesh to use on the end along with the over the ear loop. And the only other thing in the box is a little quick start guide giving you all the information you need to pair the unit with your phone, change the earloops, and of course, how to operate the unit. While the extra’s are nice, I mainly used the holster for protecting it from getting lost or damaged. I clipped it in the car so it’s always there are easy to access. The USB plug is nice and compact – I actually carry that in my bag for use with charging any of my USB devices.
I’ve been using the 510 for the last month or so, and it has yet to let me down. I’m getting a nice long life out of a charge and I continually play with the sound settings during calls. I have to admit that I’m finding it fun to tweak it for the best audio for every call. Sometimes the best is no different than the previous call. But it’s still fun to try out new settings.
The SoundID 510 can be purchased for $129.99 directly from the SoundID website. If you look around, you’ll can find it for less from one of the partners listed on their site. Best Buy Canada sells it for $99.95. Fry’s sells it for $109.95. And there’s the advantage that you could pick it up from one of those partners which means no shipping costs.
If you’re in the market for a new Bluetooth headset, and you’re looking for something with a little more than the regular run of the mill Bluetooth, the SoundID with the EarPrint app is a very cool combo and well worth investigating.