One of the most useful gadget for me is a pair of headsets. Whether commuting to and from work or traveling overseas, my headset let’s me listen to music or watch a video.

But when you commute or travel it doesn’t take very long to realize that wires are a nuisance because tangles are part of the penalty of good sound. The thinner the cable the greater the tangles and the frustrations that come with it.

Then there is the noise when traveling on subway trains, buses, trams, ferry boats and cars. Let’s not forget that people create just as much noise – on trains, in elevators, in the office, etc.

My first answer to this was the BOSE Quietcomfort headset. Very nice noise reduction feature, comfortable over the ear headset. Despite the rather thin cable, it was reasonably compact for travel. Only things I didn’t like were the cable and the synthetic leatherette covered earmuffs which crumble over time. Replacements were darn expensive when you consider what these are made of.

Then I opted for a Plantronics Backbeat wireless headset because I realized quickly that I wanted to wear a headset for when I am in the gym or at the sports grounds. The freedom of no wires came with a sacrifice: the design of the in-ear headset was such that noise was barely reduced. At subways and buses I often have to cup an ear to hear the music. In-ears are marketed with noise isolation features but for my purpose and daily situations this feature is all but useless.

I spent the better half of a year searching for s suitable wireless headset with active noise canceling. Had a look at models from Beats by Dre, Sony, Panasonic, Sennheiser, BOSE, and B&O to name a few.

Then I saw a pair of Parrot headsets.

The metal frame was wrapped in synthetic leather, the ear muffs covered my ears entirely, it came with wireless (BlueTooth) and active noise-canceling feature. I had a choice of colors (tired of black and afraid of white). The stainless steel frame gave the impression it would last long enough. Did I mention that it had a removable battery pack and, perhaps the coolest feature of all is touch sensitive controls for play, pause, stop, skip forward, and skip backwards. It detects incoming calls and pauses music to allow for the call to take place.

It uses a standard micro USB port for charging, takes about 2-3 hours to fully charge. When charging a light above the power switch blinks a slow pale red color. When fully charged it turns white.The Parrot headset comes with a cable to connect the headset to the audio output of any device for when Bluetooth is not allowed, like inside an airplane.Some oddities in the design. The power button is on the right ear piece. It is facing the back so when the headset is worn you use your thumb to power it on and off.

There is also a sensor on the right ear piece which detects when the headset is removed and pauses the music. When worn it resumes the music automatically.Perhaps the biggest deviation in the design of the Parrot headset is its dependence on software. This is likely the first in a generation of headphones that depend on software for its operation.

The Parrot Pik 2.0 software let’s you customize the noise canceling feature from zero to maximum, change the equalizer setting to one of 6 preset settings or to your specific liking, and also controls the surround sound effect. It also comes with 5 presets based on the preferences of 5 artists: Clara Moto, Rone, Andrew Watt, La Roux and The Magnificent.

My 2 biggest gripes about the Parrot is battery and short arms. The manufacturer rates battery life at 6 hours but in my experience it’s more around 4 hours of continuous play. I suspect it also has to do with the volume, equalizer settings and whether you have it on maximum noise cancellation.

The arms are short making this very tight fit for people like me with big round heads.

As I said this is likely the first generation of headsets to software to enhance the listening experience. I have no complaints there. The headset that I bought is second generation already and I have seen ads for the third generation.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. Just be warned. It can be expensive unless you are used to buying brands like Sennheiser, Shure, etc.

 

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I’ve collected a number of headsets over the years even back in the days when Infra Red and RF were the only game in town. Wired headsets offered reasonably good sound quality and usually had one big drawback – the cable. Whether it’s made of rubber or cotton or nylon, the cable tangles, takes time to stow away neatly or is a mess when trying to untangle for usage. Then there is the jack at the other end of the headset.

Over the years I’ve replaced my wired headsets because the cable on the jack end is broken. The worst offender for my money is Ultimate Ears. I can’t believe ey charge you Hk$200 (~US$25) to replace faulty cable even if the ear pieces are still in warranty. I was told several times that cables are not covered in the one year warranty. Consumer protection advocates please hear my plea.

Wireless headsets have their own problems. The earliest models were bulky or unreliable. Bluetooth was meant to correct the range, connectivity and fidelity problems but it’s not been my experience so far – at least not with stereo headsets designed to both listen to music and pick up the call when the phone rings. Sure the Plantronics headsets I’ve had the fortune of using were great for calls especially the Plantronics Discovery 975 with a carry case that also acts as a charger. But my experience with the Altec Lansing Backbeat 906 and the Jabra BT3030 hasnt been as rewarding. Then my wedding anniversary came and my wife got me the Sennheiser MM 450. This is not my first Sennheiser but I hope it would be my last. The MM 450 are over of the ear design and can be folded for neat tucking away for storing in it’s own zipped pouch. This is the first headset I’ve seen that is designed to be used either with or without wires, with or without noise cancellation. My Bose Quietcomfort 3 doesn’t work without switching on the noise cancellation which necessitates the need to have a standby battery nearby in case you run out of juice.

The entire headset construction feels very solid without feeling heavy (106g). The swivel joints on the cups allow for folding when you need to stow away the headset for traveling. The controls are all on the right cup so you don’t need to remember which controls are on which side of the headset. The MM 450 is a Bluetooth headset with a built-in mic so you can use it to listen to your favorite music and be able to answer incoming or outgoing calls as when the need arise. But there will be occasions, like when on airplane, that you aren’t allowed to use the wireless option. On these occasions the MM 450 is equipped with a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable jack. The MM 450 offers reasonable sound isolation. I am inside TimeSquare shopping mall in Hong Kong listening to a Bette Midler album as I typed this blog review. I can hear a faint hint of noise within the mall but surprisingly I barely notice kids laughing and running near where I sit. Much of this is thanks to Sennheiser’s NoiseGard technology which sufficiently mutes my surrounding.

One additional feature of NoiseGard is the “talk through” feature which allows you to momentarily suspend noise cancellation, activate the mic so you can listen to everything around you, and suspend the music. This is great when you need to talk or listen to someone for a few short period before returning to listening to your favorite music. What I also found interesting is you can use NoiseGard even when you are not using the Bluetooth feature of the headset (I.e., using the cable to listen to music). “Talk Through” still works as long as you have battery.

Using the MM 450 with the supplied cable turns it into a standard headset meaning you lose the ability to make calls with the headset. NoiseGard and Talk Through still works though as long as you got battery. In the event that you eventually lose battery, the MM 450 becomes a normal wired headset. So whether you got juice or not this headset will work. Of course it’s best to keep an extra battery around. Speaking of battery, the MM 450 has a removable or user replaceable battery.

Three buttons control the MM 450. The center of the right ear cup has a blue light blinking every three seconds. Press it for a couple of seconds to turn on and off. Press it for 5 seconds if you want it to go into discover model. A nice welcome for me is that one it’s been paired with my phone or my iPad I don’t need to go into discover mode again in the future. The Jabra BT3030 requires you to set it to discover mode each time you power it up if you want to use it to make and receive calls. The center button is the power call answer/end and is surrounded by volume control and track skip buttons. All are very responsive, again very welcome change from experience with Jabra and Altec Lansing. At the bottom of the right cup are two additional buttons: one to activate NoiseGard; the other for Bluetooth.

Battery life depends on what feature you are using: Bluetooth only is 10 hours; Bluetooth with NoiseGard is 8 hours; and NoiseGard only is 20 hours. Just remember when you run out of battery, you can still use the MM 450 like an ordinary headset. How is that for versatility?

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