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Appeared on: Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth Stereo Headphones


1. Introduction

The more technologically advanced our BlackBerry devices get, the more we can begin to replace other gadgets and eliminate the need for multiple devices.  Now, I’m not yet ready to ditch my iPod – but I am getting closer.  Now that I have a 4GB Memory Card (and soon an even larger one) I can take quite a bit of music with me on the road.  My BlackBerry also has a feature built in that my iPod does not – A2DP – or Stereo Bluetooth.  What is so cool about this? With the right headset, I can stream Stereo Bluetooth music – that’s right – no wires and great sound.

Enter the Plantronics Pulsar 590 A Bluetooth Stereo Headphones.  These guys have a built in Microphone (which extends when needed) so it functions as a Bluetooth headset for phone calls, but it also supports Bluetooth Stereo. This is the future, I am convinced of that – should it be in your “present?” Read on for my thoughts.

About Plantronics

In 1961 a pilot from Santa Cruz, California had an idea and eight years later that same idea would carry the historic first words from the moon: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." The idea was a lightweight communications headset.

Originally designed for use by airline pilots as an alternative to the bulky headphones of the day, the lightweight design soon caught the eye of NASA. Beginning with the final two Mercury flights, Plantronics headsets were used exclusively by the crews of the Gemini and Apollo programs, including all the lunar missions, as well as on the ground by mission controllers.

Other mission-critical customers soon took note. In the mid '60s, the Federal Aviation Agency selected Plantronics as the sole supplier of headsets for air traffic controllers, a privilege Plantronics still holds today. And in a critical milestone for the company, Plantronics was soon selected to supply headsets to the operators of the Bell Telephone company.

Today, headsets have become mainstream, and Plantronics provides a wide range of products from mission-critical and business-critical applications to personal communications and entertainment. In the office, Plantronics is leading a wireless revolution with products that deliver unprecedented freedom and mobility to take your conversations further. From outer space to office space, Plantronics headsets set the standard.


Here is the “Official Company Line” on the 590A

The Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth stereo headset has been bundled with a universal Bluetooth audio adapter, to provide immediate wireless compatibility for any device with a headphone jack, such as laptops, home stereos, MP3 players, including Apple iPods, and multimedia devices, such as Sony PSP.

Smartphones without A2DP support (Treo 650, 700) require the use of the bundled audio adapter.

Devices that support A2DP Bluetooth profile will not need the adapter.
The Pulsar 590A is a Bluetooth stereo headset that lets you listen wirelessly to music with excellent sound quality, and switch seamlessly to take mobile phone calls with the single press of a button.

Bundled with a universal Bluetooth audio adapter, the Pulsar 590A provides immediate wireless compatibility for any device with a headphone jack, such as laptops, home stereos, MP3 players, including Apple iPods, and multimedia devices, such as Sony PSP.

Smartphones without A2DP support (Treo 650, 700) requires the use of the bundled audio adapter.

Devices that support A2DP Bluetooth profile does not need to use the adapter.

Great Sound, No Wires

The Pulsar 590A uses multipoint technology to function as both a stereo headset for high fidelity listening, as well as a communications headset for use with mobile phones and other voice-enabled devices. The headset includes a telescopic voice tube with an omni-directional microphone for clear voice communications.

Its extended range capabilities provide users with great mobile freedom and enables them to listen to music or have conversations up to 33 feet away from their laptop, music device or cell phone. The Pulsar 590A provides up to 12 hours of talk time and 10 hours of listen time, so users stay in touch and in tune all the time.

Comfort and Choice

The Pulsar 590A has a familiar headband wearing style with pivoting ear cushions that provide all-day wearing comfort. The portable, lightweight headset features a foldable design for compact charging and travel storage and ships with a full range of accessories, including a desktop charging stand, AC charger, USB charging cable, in-flight cable and travel case. The in-flight cable allows the headset to be used with the Bluetooth radio disabled, a requirement for most airline travel.

Bluetooth mobile phones with built-in MP3 must support the Bluetooth Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) for stereo listening.

2. Using the device, impressions

Design

The Plantronics 590A is an “over the ear” Stereo Headphone design.  There is a Microphone (which really is a glass tube) built in to the right side earphone.  These headphones are a medium size with very soft and comfortable pads which go over the ear. The headband portion is adjustable and made of a sturdy plastic.  The earphones themselves have a “brushed aluminum” look to them.
On the right hand Headphone there are volume up and volume down buttons, a connect, redial, disconnect button and buttons for advancing music (which do not work with all programs.)
The Headphones support the “Handsfree, Headset and Stereo Audio” profiles in your BlackBerry Bluetooth profile settings.  The 590A also ships with a separate Bluetooth adapter for non-Bluetooth devices – like an iPod. This is a small, round adapter that automatically pairs with the headphones when connected.
There are a couple of noteworthy things about the Plantronics design:

The 590A sits in a base charger.  You fold the earphones inwards and insert what is usually the tops of them into the base – it looks like they are almost “floating” on the base. There is a cable attached for charging the Bluetooth Stereo Adapter as well.

Pairing/Ease of Use

The Plantronics 590A is very easy to setup and use (with one  minor exception that is specifically BlackBerry related.) If you want to use this device with your iPod or MP3 player, just charge the unit and then connect the Bluetooth Stereo Adapter to your iPod or other device. Turn on both units and hold the connect button on the adapter and the two devices will “talk to each other” and automatically pair.  It is that easy.

For use with your BlackBerry, just follow the “Pairing” instructions and then search for the device on your BlackBerry and input the passcode.  The first time you connect, you will see the three little green checkmarks on your BlackBerry telling you that this is a Hands free unit, headset and Stereo Audio Device. After the first connection – the headset worked beautifully.  My problem was with future connections. Because I have “automatic connection” enabled, as soon as I turned on the Plantronics 590A, the Blackberry saw it and connected – but only in Headset mode.  I needed to “disconnect” and then “reconnect” from the BlackBerry and then the Bluetooth Stereo mode was enabled. I still have not figured out why this is.

I used the FlipSide MP3 player and started playing my music – wirelessly and in Stereo.  This is quite cool to not have wires coming between me and my music. I could move a good 15 or 20 feet away from my BlackBerry and not lose the connection.  When a phone call came in, the music just stopped and I pushed the connect button and I was talking to my caller.  When I hung up – the music just started up right where I left off – very cool.

Sound Quality

Sound quality on the 590A has to be looked at on two levels – as a Headset and as a Stereo Headphone.

As a Headset:
Calls were very clear on the Plantronics 590 A. There was no static and the volume was loud and clear. It was very nice to hear callers in both ears – this is a little unusual at first, but it makes it very easy to focus on the phone call when the sound is “everywhere.”  From the caller’s side – the calls were clear.  A couple of callers did ask if I was on a headset (which usually does not happen when I use my Jawbone) but no one said they could not hear me.

As Stereo Headphones:
Sound Quality is a very subjective thing.  One person’s “Audio Nirvana” is another person’s “Audio Nightmare.” That being said, there are some generalizations that can be made here. The  most important point to remember is that Bluetooth Stereo is still an emerging technology – it is not quite ready for prime time – just yet.


At the same time that I received these headphones I also received the new High-end Headphones from Klipsch – at $300 a pop they are amazing and they are Audiophile quality – so it wasn’t really fair to compare them to the Bluetooth ones from Plantronics.

The sound quality is just OK.  We all know that the bundled earphones on an iPod are just fair – and I would say that the musical sound qualities of the Plantronics 590 A are almost on part with the Apple bundled earphones. But, remember – these are wireless.

Bass was OK – not overwhelming and a little muddy.  The midrange (Vocals and instrumentals) were clear – just not particularly “sharp.” The high frequencies were lacking on these headphones – but passable.
These are not designed to be “audiophile” quality headphones – if you are looking for the “best sound” possible for $130.00 these are not for you. Compared to other Bluetooth Stereo Headphones – the sound quality was actually quite good.


Bang for the Buck

The Plantronics 590A list for $249.95.  At that price, I would have a hard time recommending them – mostly because of the sound quality issues.  However, they are now selling for $129.95  at various web resellers,  and for that price – you get an awful lot.  The build quality is great, the included Bluetooth adapter is easy to use and you also get a very nice case with USB adapters, in flight cable and other nice touches.

Conclusions

As I said earlier, Bluetooth Stereo is still an emerging technology. I am convinced that it will get better in time.  While not the finest sounding Stereo Headphones, much of the limitation in sound quality is due to the technology of Bluetooth Stereo – not, specifically, these headphones.  These are well made, well designed and off lots of functionality.  Call quality was good, they were easy to use and it is very cool to lay out on the hammock on a nice day and leave your BlackBerry in the house while you listen to your favorite tunes.
 

Final Grade: B+

Pros: Nice to have Bluetooth Stereo and a Headset in one device
Cons: somewhat uncomfortable, glass tube for microphone is unusual

The Plantronics Pulsar 590A Bluetooth Stereo Headphones are available for $129.95 to $249.00 at various web resellers.



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