Review posted April 2008 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor
In the fast growing Bluetooth headset industry, new mono Bluetooth headsets are popping up seemingly every week while stereo Bluetooth headsets are still relatively rare. It’s even harder to find good quality stereo Bluetooth headsets that work well with the majority of mobile phones on the market. But with more and more phones adding support for the A2DP and AVRCP Bluetooth profiles, folks are turning their attention to stereo headsets. We’ve always enjoy the sound quality of the Plantronics Pulsar 590A with most phones, and the Motorola S9 specially on Motorola phones, but the recently released Samsung SBH500 stereo Bluetooth headset beats both competitors with outstanding sound quality and a great price. In fact, the Samsung is the best sounding Bluetooth stereo headset we’ve heard so far.
Look-wise, the Samsung SBH500 is unassuming but has clean look and easy-to-use controls. The “behind the ear” wearing style is cool, however if you have long thick hair or wear glasses, it’s a bit of hassle to put on. The headset has good build quality and its noise canceling ear covers use incredibly soft leather. Samsung did a good job at combining noise reduction with smaller a headset body. Since the SBH500 weights only 2.6 ounces (74g), it’s comfortable to wear it throughout a day or even after falling asleep on airplanes. Samsung offers the SBH500 in three colors: black, metallic blue and metallic red.
Unlike the Motorola S9 Bluetooth stereo headphones, the Samsung SBH500 has large and easy-to-use controls (t helps that the Samsung is larger). All the call control and music controls live on the right earmuff and only the charging port and on/off switch live on the left. The center call button can answer a call, dial the last number (in Hands-Free Profile) and activate voice dialing and voice command if your phone has that feature. During a call, you can press and hold the call button to put a call on hold and switch between callers. For music, the Samsung has play/pause button (press and hold to stop) and previous/next track buttons (press and hold to rewind/fast forward). The volume rocker controls both voice calls and music playback. An LED light encircles the call button and provides indications for pairing, incoming call, battery status and more. There is a small mic boom that extends from the right earmuff.
We tested both voice call controls and music playback controls via AVRCP, and all controls worked well.
Pairing and Features
The Samsung SBH500 has Bluetooth v2.0 and can pair with mobile phones and Bluetooth enabled music players. In fact, it can form partnerships with a phone and a music player at the same time. It’s very easy to pair the Samsung, and we tested it with various phones, music players and desktop computers and it paired with all smoothly. To pair the Samsung, press the call button down while turning the headset. The LED will flash blue, red and purple twice, then turn blue; use your phone or music player to find and pair with the Samsung SBH500 using the default code “0000”. Please note, when you pair the Samsung with a phone and a music player, some call features such as voice command might not be supported.
As a mobile hands free solution, the Samsung SBH has the basics covered. You can answer a call, reject a call (press and hold the call button when a call comes in), use call waiting and switch between two calls. If your phone has voice dialing and voice command features, press and hold the call button in standby mode to launch voice command. What if a call comes in while you’re listening to music? When a call comes in while music is playing, the Samsung SBH500 sounds an audio alert and the LED flashes. You can pick up the call by pressing the Talk button, and the music will stop and the call will come through the headset. When the call is finished, press the Talk button to hang up then press the player/pause button to play music (some phones might even automatically resume playback music after a call).
Audio Quality and Range
We’ve tested quite a few stereo Bluetooth headsets, and found that few had excellent in-call voice quality. The Samsung SBH500 didn’t wow us in the in-call voice department but does take the quality up a notch compared to other headsets such as the Plantronics Pulsar 590A. We tested the Samsung SBH500 with several phones including the BlackJack II, the BlackBerry 8120 and the Motorola Z9. Both incoming and outgoing voice was clear enough for smooth conversation but the outgoing voice wasn’t terribly loud. The DSP worked quite well on all phones and the range between the headset and phones was impressive.
What about sound quality in music playback? This is where the Samsung SBH500 really shines! The sound quality is the best we’ve heard on a Bluetooth stereo headset thus far. The audio is clear and full; the stereo has great channel separation. Smaller Bluetooth stereo headphones don’t usually offer big sound, but the Samsung SBH500 has lusciously booming bass and the audio has very nice dynamic range. Both phones and computers (an iMac and several PC notebooks) performed exceptionally well in audio quality when using the Samsung. The range again was excellent with phones (25-30 feet) but slightly shorter with computers (about 20 feet).
The Samsung SBH500 has a built-in rechargeable battery and you can charge it with the included world travel charger. You will find the charging port on the left earmuff under a small sliding cover. The headset takes about 3 hours to charge fully and the LED will turn from red to blue when it’s charged. The claimed talk time is 12 hours and the claimed music playback time is 11 hours; both seemed on target in our tests. The Samsung SBH500’s standby time is also excellent: it can easily beat the claimed 205 hours of standby.
It’s hard to find faults on the Samsung SBH500, and at $79.99 list, it’s easy to recommend this headset to anyone who wishes to listen to stereo music wirelessly on their phone or computer. The top-notch music audio quality, very good Bluetooth range and the lightweight and easy-to-use controls are a great combination for mobile music fans who need a stereo Bluetooth headset in their gear bag.
Pro: Great music playback quality and above standard in-call voice quality. Good build quality and comfortable to wear. Easy to use and it paired easily with phones and computers in our test. Excellent range and long lasting battery life. Very good price.
Con: If you are not a behind the ear-style headset fan, this might not be the one for you.
Package contains: The Samsung SBH500, travel charger and printed User Manual.