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Etymotic is an established name in high-performance wired earbuds and is known for its flanged ear tips and "true to the ear" sound. The company made its foray into the wireless market a couple years ago with the Ety8 stereo Bluetooth earbuds, but had yet to debut a monaural Bluetooth headset. In Macworld 2008, however, Etymotic finally debuted the EtyBlu, a premium Bluetooth headset designed to deliver high-quality sound and comfort. Originally marketed at iPhone users, the EtyBlu is compatible with any other Bluetooth device. Its price is a bit on the high end at $129 retail, but we think it's more than worth it.
From the outset, it looks as if Etymotic imitated the Apple Bluetooth headset with its slim black stick design. Measuring 1.8 inches long by 0.5 inch wide by 0.5 inch thick, the EtyBlu has a glossy piano black finish accented with a silver multifunction button on the front. Though it is flush against the surface, the button is still easy enough to find and press because of a slight texture difference. There's also an LED indicator light underneath the button. The volume rocker sits on the right spine while the charger/mic jack is on the bottom.
On the back of the headset is the in-ear style earbud that Etymotic is known for. The EtyBlu comes with two sets of triple-flanged silicone ear tips--two small and two regular--plus a foam insert alternative. The flanged ear tips are made to be worn deep in the ear, and it is important to get a good ear tip seal. The instructions state to carefully insert the ear tip while pulling up and out on the back of the ear while twisting the earpiece in place. For the foam insert, you roll down or compress it to get it in, and then you wait for the foam to expand and create a tight seal. We have to warn you that the ear tip is inserted so deep that it can feel slightly uncomfortable, and it may take time for you to get used to it. We did think it felt a little too deep for comfort, but slowly adjusted to it. You should also take the EtyBlu off when not in use though--it blocks out environmental noise almost too effectively.
Also on the back of the headset is a slot for an optional ear loop. Since the earpiece fits so deep in the ear, the ear loop is unnecessary, but you can still wear it for additional stability.
The thing that sets the EtyBlu apart from most other Bluetooth headsets is that it comes with an optional extended boom mic dubbed the Blumaxx Quick-Connect Mic. Just attach it to the bottom of the headset, and you will get up to 25 decibels more noise-cancellation when compared with only the internal mic. It even has a foam windshield cover for windier environments.
All of which brings us to the big question on sound performance. We tested the Etymotics EtyBlu with the RIM BlackBerry Pearl. The pairing process went smoothly, and we managed to make and answer calls without a problem. We had high expectations of sound quality, so we were a bit disappointed when call quality was mixed. We heard our listeners quite clearly with plenty of volume, but there was the occasional static blip in the background, even though we weren't near other Bluetooth devices. It wasn't a huge nuisance, but it still bothered us.
When we used the headset without the boom mic, listeners reported some ambient noise in the background, plus quite a bit of echo in our voice as well. After we attached the boom mic, though, the outgoing sound quality improved dramatically. There was almost no echo, and the background noise was almost completely gone. We also tested the foam windshield cover while in a windy environment outside, and listeners said that it did help to limit wind noise. However, boom mic or no boom mic, listeners found the overall volume a little lacking. Even when we maxed out our volume levels, listeners thought we sounded a bit on the soft side. This isn't a huge problem while in the car or in the office, but we found we had to raise our voices a lot more in a noisy environment like a crowded shopping mall.
The EtyBlu has fairly standard headset features such as the ability to answer, end, and reject calls, last number redial, voice command support, call waiting support, three-way calling support, and the ability to transfer a call to the handset and vice versa. It comes with a USB charging cable plus a small carrying pouch. The Etymotics EtyBlu has a rated battery life of 7 hours talk time and 4.2 days standby time.