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Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets: Aliph Jawbone Prime

While some technologies may be over-hyped, the introduction of noise-reduction technology in Bluetooth headsets is the real deal. These headsets can work amazingly well with mobile phones, especially in noisy environments like on city streets or even when standing near noisy machinery.

These headsets use digital signal processing to extract your voice from the surrounding noise, without distorting the voice unnaturally. Newer products add dual microphones and physical windscreens, especially to deal with wind noise. They can enhance the incoming voice as well, automatically adjusting the volume to compensate for outside noise.

Since its introduction at the end of 2006, the Aliph Jawbone has been the exemplar for noise-reduction headsets (see previous post). Its unique design bulges out with a small nub that rests against the cheek to sense your voice when speaking. The original Jawbone was a bit bulky, and required using an earloop hung around the ear to keep it pressed against the face.

The "New" Jawbone, introduced in mid-2008, cut the headset size in half, but still had the problem of swinging away from the face (see previous post). Aliph then introduced a New Fit earbud design with an air-filled base plus an integrated loop to catch in the folds of your outer ear, allowing the Jawbone to be worn comfortably without an earloop, if desired, without requiring jamming it in the ear canal to hold tight (see previous post).

The new Jawbone Prime is the latest generation in the line, with even better noise elimination, especially in reducing the effect of wind noise (see demo videos). Aliph claims an order of magnitude improvement in the noisiest environments, up to 6 to 9dB improvement. The idea is to combine the best signal from the two microphones (high frequencies) and the voice sensor (low frequencies).

Interestingly, however, the Prime no longer requires that the voice sensor touch the face -- Aliph claims the processing is as good as or better than other noise cancelling headsets even without the sensor, and that the sensor then provides an additional turbo-burst of clarity.

The basic design of the Jawbone Prime is close to the "New" Jawbone, still curved to follow the face, with a bulge for the voice sensor. It also continues another Jawbone design trademark -- the absence of visible controls. The buttons are hidden under the surface of the back face and side of the unit, which does require some training time to get used to (with up to triple-tap commands). The Prime has added a slight tactile crease to help your fingers locate the buttons.

The Prime continues the Jawbone's position as a top noise-reduction headset. The voice quality was very good, after totally eliminating background noise like fans and running water. And it held up well whether or not the sensor was touching the face. (The Jawbone has an option to turn the noise-reduction feature on and off, so you can hear the background environment for comparison.) The outgoing voice can get choppy as the surrounding noise ramps up. The incoming voice was strong, but a bit muffled against the background noise.

One issue for travelers is that the Jawbone uses a custom connector for the charger, instead of the standard micro-USB connector used by other products, so you'll need to bring along the special Jawbone charging cable.

The Jawbone Prime is priced at $129, or around $100 street price. It's available in classic matte black, satin brown, or platinum, or in a new line of EARCANDY colors with vivid hues -- red, yellow, green, purple.

As a side note, expect to see more use of color for personal style and self-expression in consumer products. Aliph says that this reflects fashion trends "in which bright colors are made approachable and wearable, resonating with women and younger users who care about products that fit into their lifestyle." The colors provide "great skin-tone complements and contrast," so the result "reinforces the basic notion that anything that the consumer wears makes a statement, and it should be designed as such..."

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Aliph Jawbone Prime headset on Amazon.com

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