Monday, January 20, 2014

Plantronics Voyager Pro HD Review

Plantronics Voyager Pro HD Review

Buy this headset.  Clear, flawless calls; everyone can understand me and few know I am on a headset.

My previous headset was a cheap, $30 Plantronics Explorer 240.  It was horrible.  Nobody could understand what I was saying and it picked up every ambient noise from paper-shuffling to ants walking on the sidewalk.  In the car it was hopeless.

Lesson learned: Buy a more expensive headset and the Plantronics Voyager Pro HD has been a good -- with just a few problems. 

I recommend this model (Voyager Pro HD) over the newer Voyager Legend.  I believe the Pro HD has a better boom mike and it has a non-proprietary USB charging port.  Amazon reviews tend to agree the Voyager Pro HD has better sound quality.

In summary:
  • Clear, flawless voice calls.  Everyone understands me.
  • I can hear them
  • Noise cancellation is good; wind and road noise works well
  • Boom mike "feels" right - you need a boom mike
  • Comfortable on left or right ear
  • Looks bulky but is not noticeable while wearing 
  • Easy-to-use volume and call-answer controls
  • 6 hour talk time - for real
  • Standard Micro-USB charger; unlike newer Plantronic models which use proprietary plugs.
  • It can theoretically "detect" when you are wearing it and route the call.  This feature is flawed, but survivable.
  • Fit on the ear but is a bit too "loose"
  • Costs: $70
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Hurray for the Dorky Boom Mic:

The overall construction is solid, with quality-feeling materials.  It does not feel cheap or plastic-y.

The boom-mic is the original reason I bought this headset.  I know you think this is dorky but it looks futuristic -- like an airline pilot.  Besides, anyone who thinks they can wear a BlueTooth headset and not look a little weird, is only fooling themselves.  I digress.  With the mic, there is nothing to hide and the device's intent is obvious.  Like flip-phones of yesteryear, the boom-mic seems "right" and you won't subconsciously yell into it.

The mic is one of the main reasons this headset works so well. Technically, it houses two separate microphones.  One picks up your voice while the other listens for outside, ambient sounds.  It compares the two and uses this for background noise cancellation.  In practice, it works well, especially with white-noise. On a windy day, this mic performs far-better than a normal phone.

Most of the people on the other end of the conversation do not know I am wearing a headset.  This speaks volumes about this device.

Size and Fit:

Many have complained the headset is bulky and it admittedly looks formidable.  But, despite the size, the headset is light, balances well on the ear.  The back-side has been unnoticeable.

Eye-glass wearers have reported problems, but I wear glasses and have been reasonably happy.

2012.10 Update: With thick plastic-frame glasses, I have had minor but noticeable problems keeping the headset on if I am moving.  When standing still or seated I have not had an issue.  With my thinner, wire-framed glasses, I have not had a problem.

Twists and Turns:

The headset fits on the left or right ear.  It moves "weirdly" with the ear-piece swiveling 180-degrees about the vertical post, and the boom mic rotates up-and-over (see top banner graphic).  In practice, you will pick one ear and will never vary.  But unfolding is a mind-bending exercise and I laugh every-time I do this.  The design is marvelous and confounding, especially when the phone is ringing. But after unfolding the headset about a thousand times, I think I've gotten the hang of it.


Problems:  Loose Fit

The vertical post, illustrated above, is a flexible tube (almost floppy).  This means it slips on and off the ear easily, but it also means it applies no pressure against the ear, making the fit seem loose.

The rubber ear-piece does not fit in the ear-canal; it was designed to be on the outside and because of this, it always feels "loose" on the ear.  The center-post, being "floppy" does not help and you will have the distinct feeling it does not feel "snug."  This is probably the only thing really wrong with the headset.  This doesn't mean it will fall off, but it never "feels right."

The ear-piece is replaceable and comes with three separate sizes.  With the smallest, I can wedge it into the ear-canal, where it feels natural and comfortable.  While "in" the ear, the sound and volume are spectacular -- but this is not where it wants to be and it will "pop" out and rest softly against the ear, as designed.  I suppose this is the reason other reviewers have commented the headset volume is too weak.  I can understand the observation but would agree it sounds better when it is "in" the ear.  With hearing aids, you must wear this on the outside.

Problem: On-Ear Sensor

The headset has a sensor that detects when you are wearing it.  While on your ear, new incoming calls are routed automatically to the headset.  If not on your ear, the call routes to the phone, even if Bluetooth is on.  If the headset is removed mid-call, it immediately disconnects and jumps to the phone.  But if I am moving and the headset jiggles, it sometimes "thinks" it has left my head and disconnects.

The on-ear-sensor can get confused at other times -- especially if the headset is in your pocket.  And when this happens, it cannot reliably tell when it should pick up the call.  Plantronics has Re-calibration Instructions here.  But I found calibration is a short-term fix and invariably it needs recalibration again and again and I no longer bother.  In my mind, the ear-sensor is unreliable.  But this is not a show-stopper.
Consider going to Plantronics site and downloading the BIOS update.  With this, you can disable the ear-sensor, which solves these types of problems.  Now, if Bluetooth is on, and the headset is on, the call routes to the headset, no questions asked. This is how I operate the headset now.  Granted, it is not as convenient, but with a few clicks on the phone, I am back in business and I know it is going to work.   

In practice, it is easier to control manually.  When not using the headset, I turn off the phone's Bluetooth and turn it on when needed.  Both the phone and the headset will engage during an in-progress call.  I can quickly switch to the headset without the other party noticing.

Optional but-needed Accessory: the Carry-Case

When buying the headset, I recommend buying the optional carrying case ($8), especially if you travel for a living.  This headset is valuable enough to protect.

Because this uses a standard micro-USB charger, throw an old cell-phone charger in your suitcase and leave the original at home but be aware the charger that came with the headset has a  lower amperage and charges slower (which can be a plus;  this is easier on the rechargeable battery).  With this said, I have used both and car-chargers.  It is nice having a standard micro-USB port, which  should be a requirement for all headsets and phones.

Day-to-Day Use

I have used this headset for more than a year and most of the time, the people at the other end do not know I am on a headset.  This is a testament to this headset's quality and the sound-quality is the primary concern. 

I have successfully paired with my cell phone, Android tablet and laptop and use it for calls, Skype, and with Google voice recognition.  The headset can pair with multiple devices and can work with two devices simultaneously.  For example, often the phone and the tablet are competing for the same channel and both seem to work properly. While active on the phone, I can turn on the tablet's Bluetooth and the headset immediately switches (you will hear "connected to device 2").  When I turn off the tablet's bluetooth, it automatically flips back to the phone ("connected to device 1").

The range is about 10 meters (30 feet) and works across several rooms in the house.  Distance has been surprisingly good.  When you walk in and out of range, a voice says "device disconnected / connected".  Each time you power it on, a voice tells you the battery status, such as "talk time 6 hours" or "talk time less than 2 hours."

Of all the headsets I have tried, this has been the best and I would buy it again.

Updated 2014.01
It was dropped on a concrete floor, with no obvious damage, but it quit working for a few days while I diagnosed the problem.  See the related article below for instructions on how to force a re-pairing.  After these steps, the headset is working again.

However, during this time I researched a replacement and seriously pondered a newer model, the Voyager Legend.  After reading many reviews, it appears the Voyager Pro HD is probably still the better device (better mic, better USB charging).  I would have stayed with the Pro HD model.

Pairing the Headset

For reference, this is how to pair the headset to your phone or laptop:

1. On the headset, from a powered-off state, press and hold the power button for approximately 10 seconds until the LED flashes red and blue.

2.  Turn on your (phone's) Bluetooth feature.  For most devices, Settings, Connections, Bluetooth.

3.  From the (phone's) Bluetooth menu, you should see "PLT_VoyagerPro".  Select it to begin pairing.

4.  If prompted for a Passkey/PIN, type "0000"

5.  On some phones, you may be prompted with a sub-menu, or there may be an options menu, where you can enable Bluetooth for Phone Audio or Media (music) Audio.  Check the appropriate options; usually both.

If you are having problems pairing, see this article:
Keyliner: Bluetooth Headset does not respond to Voice calls

2014.01.27 Edited for clarity and some embarrassing sentence construction and transitions; added better Re-Pairing instructions and numerous other article improvements.  Originally published 2012.08.15.

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