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Jabra Halo

September 26th, 2009
Jabra tries to strike a balance between audio quality and size.

Stereo Bluetooth headsets are often exercises in compromise: to be discreet they have to sacrifice sound quality, and to achieve sound quality they're often as large as the largest headphones. Jabra's Halo is different: they use flat-panel, over-ear drivers that should deliver more power without being ungainly. Combined with a stealth microphone and controls, it should in theory be the perfect mix. In our Halo review, we hope to discover if the set is a jack of all trades or a master of none. design and comfort

A first try of the Halo gives an immediate impression of absolute subtlety. Where many over-ear headphones are built to call attention to themselves, these hide as much as possible; the microphone is completely out of sight, and even the status lights are hidden on the inside of the band. Unless your hair is light-colored, it's entirely possible to wear this Jabra headset without looking like either an over-eager audiophile or the stereotypical Bluetooth headset power user.

Much of the control and connectivity is just as low-key and thankfully simple, though it's not without its problems. The cleverest aspect of the entire design is how you turn it on: you snap each earpiece into position to turn it on and collapse the design to turn it off. The in-use controls are where it becomes mixed. The lone physical button on the headset handles pairing, taking calls and playing music gracefully, but the touch buttons are at times too sensitive: it's too easy to accidentally change the volume when adjusting the fit, and it's similarly too easy to skip tracks when you meant to adjust volume.

Thankfully, there's at least no major issues wearing the Halo. The entire inside is lined with padded fabric and is easily worn for several hours. Fit might be an issue for some, though. Like most headphones, the Halo has an adjustable headband length but won't necessarily get as close to the ear canal as you'd like. We'd definitely recommend testing the headphones yourself before committing to them.

a note on pairing and compatibility

It's trivially easy to get the Halo set up with a given device; most of the work is on the other end, whether it's a computer, media player or phone, as you only have to hold the headset's call button down for five seconds and enter a simple passcode on the other side to make the link. We had no problems pairing with an iPhone 3GS and a PlayStation 3. You can pair with two different devices, and you can even take audio from two different sources at once -- though we don't see users taking advantage of that last feature too often.

Buyers should be aware that not every feature will work with every device. iPhone and iPod touch users in particular should know that while calls and stereo audio work as promised, Apple as of iPhone 3.1 doesn't support the AVRCP protocol used to actually control music. You can adjust the Halo's own volume, but you won't have the option of pausing music (unless it's for an incoming call) or skipping tracks from the headset like you can on many other handhelds. This isn't a major issue, but it reduces some of the appeal.

music and call quality

There's little escaping a central truth for the halo: its music quality is, simply speaking, poor. While there is a mild amount of noticeable bass, the overall tone is flat, thin and somehow removed from the user. That's also assuming there's a good fit. When you press the earpieces close, the quality improves slightly, but not enough to make it worthwhile.

Some of the stereo problems are also inherent to Bluetooth itself. Music has to be compressed to reliably stream over the wireless signal, and interference was at times an issue, too. Every few minutes, we'd periodically hear the audio cut out or stutter for a brief moment because of some unknown outside influence. There is a wired connector that eliminates these problems, but why buy a wireless set in the first place?

It's ironically in call quality, the secondary focus of the Halo, where the experience is the best. Those on the other end of calls couldn't notice a practical difference between the headset and the usual microphone, and calls came through clearly (though not spectacularly so) with a minimum of outside noise. That's a relief as some headsets have little to no noise cancellation or produce a robotic tone in one or both audio directions.

battery life

Officially, the headset lasts for eight hours regardless of whether it's calling or music. We found this realistic as it typically got close. That's not a long time for music listening, though it's typical for the category. Its call time is more reasonable, though power users who use a headset all day for work might consider it too short.

The only truly unfortunate quirk is in wired use. As Jabra's set uses its micro USB connection to put out wired sound, the headset needs at least a minimal charge to play music. That all but prevents owners from using the wired option as a backup for when the battery runs low and is yet another disincentive against using the physical connection.

wrapping up

We really wanted to like the Jabra Halo, and to some extent we still do. It's an elegant, easy-to-wear design that takes the guesswork out of setting up and using stereo Bluetooth audio.

But we just can't recommend it for music, and that's a problem when it's what's supposed to separate your offering from others. Call quality is good and may still make it worth consideration, but if that's your main interest, you should be considering a less expensive single-piece headset instead.

As such, the Halo should mostly be on your list for phone calls with music as an important but only secondary feature, rather than vice versa. For the $130 price or less, a headset like Aliph's Jawbone Prime or Plantronics' Voyager Pro would be smaller and more effective for voice alone.

- Good voice quality in both directions.

- Simple controls and subtle design.

- Comfortable.

- Easy pairing.

- Bad music quality; occasional interference.

- Expensive for what you get.

- Twitchy touch controls.

- Wired listening still needs a battery charge.