Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth stereo headphones
Unwired for sound?
Review Since the dawn of time three questions have preoccupied mankind. Is there a God? Are we alone in the Universe? And, how do I wear headphones without getting tangled up in the cord?
OK, so that last one has only been around since the late-1970s when people first started to limp around with a Japanese-built electronic brick in their pockets. The Sony Walkman revolutionised the way we listen to music and, since its advent, portable music devices have become smaller, slicker and, from a technological standpoint, are now light years away from those twin-spool monsters of yesteryear...
But headphones are still basically two small speakers strapped to your head. Sure, you can buy the small ones that go so far into your ear that you need a neurosurgeon to remove them, or you can stick to the big ones - the 'cans' - favourite of wannabe DJs and sk8ter boys everywhere.
Most deliver sound so good you-re likely to think Fatboy Slim has moved into your cranium and some cost more than your average MP3 player. But they all have one thing in common: the dreaded cord.
Plantronics' 590A headphones are different. Utilising the ubiquitous Bluetooth protocol you can now be truly wireless for sound. No more snagging on your jacket collar or garrotting yourself when you turn to reach something from your bag - intriguing prospects, both.
The full kit comprises the headphones, an in-flight extension lead, a rather natty charging cradle and the optional Bluetooth universal adaptor. The adaptor has a 3.5mm jack plug allowing you to plug it into just about any audio device you can think of. With Bluetooth you can connect to most mobile phones and you are introduced to the 590As' alter-ego, a handsfree headset.
Pairing was easy, both between the adaptor and the headset, and between the 'phones and my Nokia phone. Within minutes I was wireless and wonderfully immersed in sound.
Although far from being uncomfortable, you certainly know you-re wearing the headset and I found that I had to place it in a slightly awkward position in order to get the best sound. Maybe I have deformed ears, but I-m not sure how long I would like to wear the 590As.
With my trusty in-ear phones I can listen all day - with these I probably wouldn't want to. There was also quite a lot of noise leakage - you may not be too popular on the train with these babies on your noggin. Assuming they haven't been ripped from your skull by a passing hoody-clad ruffian of course - the rather fetching blue flashing light on the headset could well attract the wrong kind of attention...
The sound (once I'd adopted said position) was actually pretty good. I don't know why but I kind of expected a slightly tinny or muffled sound - memories of my first Bluetooth headset coming back to haunt me, probably - so the rich and clear sound was a nice surprise.
That said, when listening to MP3s stored on my phone, there was a noticeable drop in quality. But with my iPod, my television, my home stereo and my laptop, the sound was more than acceptable. While plugged into the TV, however, there was a noticeable delay on the sound, giving everything that badly-dubbed Hong Kong martial arts movie effect. Not the end of the world but irritating none the less.
Plantronics has opted for a telescopic boom to alleviate the need to speak out of the corner of your mouth. The "telescoping voice tube", the manual helpfully points out, "should be extended for clearer calls. This may require two hands..."
Not exactly handsfree then, is it? A small grumble you might think, but a significant one in my mind.
Battery life was pretty good (I got a good tens hours of listening out of a single charge) and recharging was made more of an event than a chore with the stylish desktop charging cradle - a nice way to display your headphones too.
At last, musical freedom from wires. Although for use with a phone there are more elegant handsfree solutions, the 590As work well with almost all sound sources, and they even double-up as a handsfree unit. The docking station is natty, too.