When you hit the words "Bluetooth Headset", you generally tend to think of small hearing-aid style devices as worn by fearfully fashionable city types who'll probably walk in front of a bus one day while they're broadcasting mobile call details to all and sundry. Plantronics' so-called "Ultimate" Bluetooth Headset takes a different tack, with a full stereo headset that looks more like something that's fallen out of a Walkman box, circa 1984 -- until you realise that the whole shebang is entirely wireless.
Upon opening the box for the Pulsar 590A, you'll be struck by how much is in the box aside from the headset itself. There's a slim CD-case style carrier, for a start. Within it you'll find both an AC and USB adaptor that plugs into the charging stand for the headset, as well as an audio extension cord and a pairing device for standard audio ports.
The headset itself is huge by Bluetooth headset standards, but of about average size for a decent set of stereo headphones. Testing on a trial candidate with an admittedly large head, we found them mostly comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. The external side of the right earpiece holds all of the headset's controls for volume, call reception and switching between pairing with a compatible Bluetooth mobile phone and the pairing device itself. The basic idea of the headset is that you have an audio source -- market figures would suggest an iPod, but it'll work with any standard 3.5mm audio plug socket -- and a mobile phone within reach, paired to both. While you're not on the phone, you listen to music, switching out when needed.
Special mention must be made of the recharging stand for the headphones, which can connect up to mains power or via any standard USB port. The recharging platform also forms a nice storage stand for the headphones, although we'd worry about leaving a AU$299 pair of headphones on constant display.
Connectivity for the 590A headset is managed one of two ways. If you've got a bluetooth capable audio device such as a mobile phone, you can pair the headset up with a simple click on the right earpiece and then follow the details on your bluetooth device. Pairing with the supplied audio adapter -- which itself plugs into any standard audio jack -- isn't much more complicated. If you've ever paired up a wireless keyboard and mouse you'll find it very familiar indeed -- you simply set both devices searching simultaneously, and wait until they both flash blue to indicate a connection. The wireless adapter continues to flash blue as long as the connection is maintained.
As a bluetooth phone headset, it works simply and well. It is worth noting, however, that there's absolutely nothing unobtrusive about this particular headset and you will stand out wearing them. Whether or not passers-by will wonder if you're singing along to a rather odd song or taking a call is also up for debate.
One thing that surprised us quite a bit with the Pulsar 590A was the reach of the transmitter; we're well used to wireless audio devices losing signal even up close, let alone from a distance away. We were confidently able to move around 10m away from the transmitter in a household location and still hear crystal clear audio through some walls; predictably, further distances saw large dropouts of audio.
The Pulsar 590A would make a good fit for individuals with hearing difficulties who need extra volume for activities like listening to TV. There is one minor catch with using the headset to listen to audio, and that occurs when you're in a darkened environment, such as watching a movie late at night. The headsets flash to indicate that the connection is still live, and in a dark room this can be extremely annoying. On a much more minor scale, like most large bodied headphones, the individual earphones can become a touch warm over time.
Plantronics rates the Pulsar 590A headset as good for 10 hours listening time, up to 12 hours talk time and 130 hours standby time. We gave the headphones an initial charge -- which takes around 2 hours -- at the start of a fortnight's testing, and never had to recharge them again during our heavy testing phase, which would tend to bear out these figures.
If these are Plantronics' "Ultimate" Bluetooth headset, does that mean the company's going to go out of business? Leaving such imponderables aside, the Pulsar 590A Ultimate Stereo Bluetooth Headset comes recommended to those hardcore music junkies who also want or need a bluetooth headset for taking calls.