Introducing the Jawbone Bluetooth Headset

Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth Headset

In just a few years time, the mobile industry has seen the number of cellular subscribers rise to more than 1.62 Billion worldwide and over 200 million across the United States alone.  From this number, it is estimated that more than 125 million Bluetooth enabled devices in the US are in use.  Because the Legit Reviews community is made up of on-the-go hardware enthusiasts –many using not only the latest in computers, but also the latest in mobile devices – we have been consistently trying to keep the readers up-to-date and expose them with insight and reviews on the latest Bluetooth headset devices and technology to hit the market.

We like to separate the headsets that we review under two distinct categories:  Headsets that have active noise cancellation and those that are passive.  One can determine how much you will be spending if you just answer the very basic question of, “Do I absolutely need a headset to work flawlessly in a very noisy environment?”  For many, the answer is no, and they can purchase one of the many passive noise-cancelling headsets on the market for under $50 and be content and happy.  For those of us who need a headset to block out noisy backgrounds while engaging in conversation on the phone, the choices get more exclusive and the prices get more expensive.  Typically, a good performing noise-cancelling headset will cost $100 or more. 

In the past, we have seen some noise-cancelling headsets that have performed beautifully in some very harsh environments.  Our favorite noise cancelling performers have been (not necessarily in order) the Qstik EVOQ, BlueAnt’s Z9, and Gennum’s nX6000.  These headsets not only set the standard for others with their superb noise cancellation, but are comfortable to wear for long periods of time

Jawbone Bluetooth Headset Box

Today we will take a close look at Aliph’s Jawbone Bluetooth Headset, a set that has been called one of the best overall headsets on the market.  This is Aliph’s second generation Jawbone that has been available for several months now.  Aliph has developed a new partnership with both Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless which makes the Jawbone easy to find at most stores and online for around $120.  It is ‘basic’ over-the-ear type headset that features a Voice Activity Sensor; multiple microphones for noise cancellation and voice enhancement; and a Aliph-designed noise shielding DSP.

Aliph has been a developer of advanced audio-and speech technologies products since it was founded in 1999.  The founders, who met as Stanford University undergrads, enlisted technical help from experts at Apple Computer, Palm, and Motorola. The intelligent devices for mobile phone and VoIP that Alph have produced thus far have been technically superior to most all mobile communication devices on the market today.

The Jawbone Bluetooth headset that we are looking at today is Aliph’s third release (after the Jawbone original and the Skype Jawbone).  The Jawbone contains a whole array of sensors to detect the user’s speech allowing the speaker drivers to adjust for background noise as well as isolating your voice from noise for superb noise canceling in any environment.  This entire process is done with proprietary DSP-based embedded software that analyzes sound at a rate of 380 times a second.

Inside Aliph's Jawbone Bluetooth Headset

Key Specifications:

Out of the Box and On Your Ear

Inside the Jawbone Box

This is a very slick-looking headset that at first glance doesn’t appear to have any buttons.  It, in fact, has two multifunction buttons on the body, the “Noise Shield” button, and the “Talk Button”.  To get the right fit for your ear, Aliph includes 4 total earloops (2 sizes for the left side and 2 for the right side) and 4 earbuds of various sizes and shapes.  Having this kind of variety helps ensure that a user can get the most comfortable fit even from a hard-to-fit ear.

Jawbone Headset with Earhook

On the underside of the Jawbone, you will find something that sets this headset apart from any design we have seen on the market, the Voice Activity Sensor.  This sensor gives direct feedback to the Jawbone’s DSP to determine when the user is talking and separates the users sound from ambient sound in the background.  In theory, you isolate the noise for the “prime” signal to be enhanced.  We shall see how good this sensor works in our performance tests shortly.

Jawbone's Voice Detection Sensor

A view of the bottom of the Jawbone headset

Performance & Real-World Testing

Jawbone Buttons

Initial charging wasn’t difficult at all.  The charging cable plugs directly into the back of the Jawbone for a snug fit.  Aliph equips the Jawbone with a USB cable that can be plugged directly into your PC to charge, or you plug it into the AC wall adapter provided.  The only thing missing here is a way to charge the Jawbone while driving, but this is a minor nitpick.  When you use the wall charger, charging a totally depleted Jawbone takes under 2 hours.  It is significantly longer when using the USB from a computer – about 5+ hours from our tests. 

Jawbone Charging Contacts

Pairing the Jawbone to our array of test mobile devices (Treo 650, Treo 750, Motorola RAZR V3, T-Mobile Wing) proved to be satisfyingly simple.  Our main (and most finicky) workhorse, the Treo 650 recognized the Jawbone with no problem and paired quickly with no fuss at all.

Range of use for the Jawbone from our test mobile devices was pretty good.  On average, we were able to walk about 20-25 feet away from the handset before experiencing any static or drop-outs.  The Jawbone gives a nice little audio tone to let the user know that they are approaching the range limit of the device.  This audible tone is not noticed by the caller’s party so it is a pretty useful indicator.

Sound quality from the headsets driver is the first (and only) disappointments we come across when using the Jawbone.  While the speaker quality was fine for normal conversations, it struggled to deliver enough power when the conversation took place in a loud or noisy environment.  Even with the variety of earbuds sizes and fits that Aliph provided, we really had a tough time hearing conversations when the background noise got too loud. 

Aliph's Jawbone

Aliph designed the Jawbone to have active volume control – where the volume adjusts automatically depending on the user’s environment.  This is a great piece of technology, and a feature that we have seen in other headsets like the Qstik EVOQ and Gennum nX6000.  Unfortunately, the volume of the Jawbone could never be high enough for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I could indeed have conversations with most of my calls in my car or in the office, but I would constantly be struggling to hear my party and just wanted some more decibels from the speaker.  Jawbone gives users the ability to adjust the volume manually, but this still didn’t help.  I ended up suffering from the dreaded “cup-the-ear” syndrome. Not cool.

Luckily, the problems that plagued the sound levels of the Jawbone don’t affect the superb noise-canceling performance of the headset.  This is where the Aliph designers and engineers really shine and how this headset easily sets itself apart from most others on the market.  During our “freeway test” where we roll the windows down in our vehicle and see if we can still have a conversation with our party, the Jawbone effectively canceled out the noise from the wind during our call and the person on the other end even commented on how loud and crisp our voice came through.  Of course we couldn’t really hear that complement with the low volume of the speaker driver, but we would be hard-pressed to give a better example of noise suppression in a Bluetooth headset.

Side of the Aliph Jawbone

Never once did any of my callers complain about not being able to hear me through low volume or static – even in harsh environments like wind or standing on a city street.  The multi-microphone design was extremely effective. Was it the very best that we have encountered?  We can’t really say that, but along with the Gennum nX6000 and Qstik EVOQ, the Jawbone is right up there.

After using the Jawbone over the course of a few weeks, we have to say that the comfort level of the headset is quite good.  Because Aliph gives the customer so many different fitting options, I can write with confidence that the majority of users will find this headset quite comfortable to wear for long durations at a time.  The headset, at just over 16 grams, is a little on the hefty side relative to other Bluetooth sets on the market, but this is due to all the extra electronics (microphones, DSP, Voice Activity Sensor, etc).  Even with the smallest of ears, this set can be used for hours at a time.  If you are looking for a headset to use while being active however, I would be a bit cautious in choosing the Jawbone.  While the fit is great and the headsets sits on your ear comfortably, if you start doing jumping jacks or spinning around quickly, the headset could fly off your ear. The clip that holds the Jawbone to your ear isn’t that strong. Sorry you gymnasts out there.

Aliph's Jawbone Weighs In

Wrap-Up

Looking good with the Jawbone

Aliph’s Jawbone has really delivered a headset in the Jawbone, that features a with one of the best noise-cancelling features on the market today.  It is a distinct looking headset that is unique in an industry where design counts for a lot – no one will mistake it with a Radio Shack brand (not that there is anything wrong with Radio Shack products of course). In our experience, the charge on the battery lasted for more than the advertised 6 hours.  After using it pretty extensively during a typical day, we never got a low battery warning and the Jawbone still had energy left to spare.  For those of you looking for another piece of “Bluetooth jewelry”, the headset is comfortable enough to wear for long periods of times – it might even replace your normal bling.  Maybe not.

This headset really shines when operated in noisy environments as the on-board DSP, multiple microphones and the unique Voice Activity Sensor sheds the unwanted sounds and isolates and enhances the user’s voice.  Unfortunately, as great as this headset’s noise suppression and voice enhancement are, the headset really stumbles when you are actually trying to hear your party in these noisy environments.  

Aliph equips the Jawbone with an active volume adjustment where the volume of the headset gets louder when the user’s environment gets noisy.  This didn’t seem to help the Jawbone’s chronic inability to put out decent decibels.  Even using the manual volume adjustment was futile. 

Aliph JawboneAliph Jawbone

 

Of course, if you normally use your mobile telephone and Bluetooth headset in a fairly quiet environment or can isolate yourself away from noise, then these flaws are minor shortcomings.  But then again, if you are not interested in a headset that works in noisy environments, then you shouldn’t even be considering paying over $100 for a wireless headset.

Let’s remember, not everyone will need an active noise cancelling headset system to work with their mobile phones.  Many of us will choose to save their money on the headset and spring for more minutes or multimedia on their wireless plan.  There are many who will need an active noise canceling headset and the Jawbone is one of the best on the market today.  With the partnership that Aliph has created with AT&T, Verizon, and now Apple to carry this headset in their stores, you should see a lot more of these headsets on people’s ears in the upcoming months.

Is this headset the “Best Ever?”  Not in my opinion.  It certainly is one of the best on the market, but if you are potential buyer, understand that there is no perfect headset out there and you really have to do your homework in determining what is best for you.

Aliph's Jawbone

 

Legit Bottom Line:

At a list price of $120, Aliph’s second generation Jawbone Bluetooth wireless headset is one of the best noise canceling and voice enhancement headsets on the market today. The Jawbone is overall a very good headst, but because of the disappointing sound quality and volume generated from the headset, we can’t call it the best Bluetooth ever.