Bluetooth Headset Reviews
Plantronics Pulsar 260 Stereo Bluetooth Headset
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Plantronics is no stranger to Bluetooth headsets, but the Pulsar 260 is one of just a few stereo headsets to sport the Plantronics name. Recently, more and more people have been looking for a device that combined the two most commonly carried electronic devices- a cell phone and an MP3 player. Virtually every cell phone on the market today has a media player of some sort, but playing back music usually involves the tiny built-in speaker or an included (if you're lucky) wired headset- both of which are terrible ways to enjoy a few songs. Plantronics' new Pulsar 260 allows you to listen to the tracks on your A2DP-enabled phone wirelessly, and even control tracks and volume from an integrated pendant. The Plantronics Pulsar 260 is available for an MSRP of $109.95, and as with all Bluetooth audio gear, the street price is considerably less.
The Pulsar 260 consists of a pendant-style Bluetooth receiver and an earbud-style headset. One of the first things you notice when you open the Pulsar 260’s box is an abundance of wires. Despite the fact that the Pulsar 260 is a wireless headset, it can be awkward to wear in comparison to other all-in-one Bluetooth headsets like the Plantronics Pulsar 590A or the Motorola S9.
The pendant, about the size of a stick of gum, features an iPod Shuffle-esque button arrangement, with the play, pause, track control, and volume functions arranged in a circle on the device’s face. The pendant’s single LED indicator provides, through a series of flashes, information about the device’s charging status when connected to the AC charger, and battery life status when disconnected. The pendant is fairly lightweight and doesn’t pull on your clothing, but also feels surprisingly fragile and cheap, especially when considering its high price. The buttons squeaked and clicked sharply when pressed, and the clip felt like it was liable to snap if pushed too hard. Also, the plastic silver accents that adorn the Pulsar 260’s surface reminded us of the flimsy headsets bundled with most cell phones.
The top of the Bluetooth pendant sports a 2.5mm headphone jack to which the headset is connected. Plantronics does offer quite a bit of flexibility in choosing your headset configuration. The standard headphone jack size means you can use any telephone headset with a 2.5mm jack, and Plantronics includes a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter that lets you use the Pulsar 260’s headset with any audio device.
The headset is indistinguishable for a standard pair of earphones, except for a silver in-line microphone and control button attachment. Although Plantronics included a small plastic clip near the microphone attachment to help with cord management, it doesn’t help much considering the cord is an unwieldy 36” long. The Pulsar 260 comes with three sizes of silicone earphone fittings to ensure a proper fit for ears of all sizes.
Setting up the Pulsar 260’s is an annoying and awkward process: you must first pair the Bluetooth pendant to your phone, attach it to an article of clothing or use the included lanyard, connect the stereo headphones, and put the headphones on. The pairing process varied immensely from one phone to another, but if your phone supports A2DP natively, you shouldn’t experience any issues. Remember, though, that not every Bluetooth phone is A2DP-compliant.
One of the Pulsar 260’s most interesting additional features is its ability to connect to your home stereo’s line-in port, so you can wirelessly stream music from your phone to your stereo- provided you stay within range. It’s nice to see Plantronics include this feature, which essentially replaces the included headset with your stereo speakers, in a media-oriented headset.
We were relieved to find that, unlike most wireless headphones, the Pulsar 260 didn’t emit some type of electronic noise when the audio signal was absent. In fact, we experienced very little interference when listening to music or taking a call, assuming we were in the device’s (relatively long) range. Despite the fact that there was no static or interference, we still found the Pulsar 260’s audio quality to be lacking. Audio quality is always less of an issue when speaking on the phone, but the Pulsar 260, which is designed to be a multimedia headset, could definitely use a boost when it comes to listening to music. Thanks to the included 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter, were able to test the Pulsar 260 with a pair of high-end earphones- the Shure E4c’s. However, we were disappointed to find that the poor sound quality was originating in the Bluetooth dongle, not the included earphones. That said, we didn’t exactly expect perfect sound quality from a headset that costs as much as many mono, phone-only Bluetooth headsets.
Voice quality was a different story. Much like the Cardo S-640, the Pulsar 260 benefits from a microphone mounted much nearer to the speaker’s mouth than a traditional Bluetooth headset. Voice quality was excellent on both ends, and we experienced very little static or wind interference in general. Here’s what we observed when using the Pulsar 260 with a few different phones:
When working with Apple iPhone
We tested the Pulsar 260 with iSkin’s Cerulean Tx A2DP adapter. There are a few iPod and iPhone specific A2DP adapters on the market, and you will probably get varied results with different brands. Pairing was especially tricky, since the Cerulean TX doesn’t let you input the required pairing code. We found that by pairing the Pulsar 260 with the iPhone, then connecting the A2DP adapter, audio was automatically routed through the adapter. Again, make sure your A2DP adapter supports the iPhone- and be ready for a complicated pairing procedure- before you make your purchase. Sound quality was acceptable, and all the Pulsar 260’s media functions worked properly.
When working with T-Mobile MDA (HTC Wizard)
T-Mobile includes an A2DP upgrade in version 2.26 of the ROM, so we were only able to use the Pulsar 260 once we had updated. The upgrade procedure was well worth it, as the Pulsar 260 paired as easily as any Bluetooth headset we have tried. Media and phone controls worked well, but the track control functions lagged for about two seconds before the track actually changed. Voice quality was indistinguishable from the rest of the phones we tested.
When working with Motorola RIZR
The Pulsar 260 works just fine with the Motorola RIZR, but you have to take into consideration that the RIZR’s media player is about as basic as it gets. The RIZR does sport a memory card slot, though, so you technically could use this phone as a decent media player. The music control functions worked similarly to the other phones we tested, but sound quality was surprisingly good. Unfortunately, playing music on your RIZR and streaming it through A2DP is going to drain your battery faster than having a phone conversation.
The Pulsar 260’s battery life is impressive. We got 6.5 hours of talk time, and similar longevity when listening to music. The rated charging time is three hours, but we were able to charge the device in under half that time.
It’s difficult to recommend the Pulsar 260 to the average phone user. Its faults don’t lie in the device itself, but rather in its intended use. With its long cords and complicated pairing procedures, using the Pulsar 260 on a daily basis is a hassle. It’s an avoidable annoyance too- since the device’s range is limited to a few feet, you’d be better off using a wired headset for most applications. The Pulsar 260’s only real advantage is having music controls mounted in an accessible location, but it does not offset the time it takes to set it up.
Works as advertised
Ability to stream music from phone to stereo
Great voice quality
Difficult to set up
Mediocre audio quality
-Rechargeable stereo Bluetooth pendant
-Stereo corded headset
-3 sizes of sound-isolating eartips
-Profiles supported: Hands-Free, Headset, A2DP, AVRCP, and GAVDP profiles
-Claimed listen time: 7 hours
-Claimed talk time: 9 hours
-Claimed standby time:
-Headset weight: 25 grams
-Battery: Lithium-ion Polymer
-AC adapter: 100-240v