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I’ve long been a user of Bluetooth headsets for purposes of using my cellphone while driving or when making long calls – it’s hard to beat the comfort and convenience – so it was not a big step to try use one “full time” when seeing if my HTC X7500 could work as my phone. I chose the Jabra BT8010 for this purpose because of the onboard display and vibrate function; while the X7500 as a phone experiment didn’t work out, I became interested in the music playing ability of the Jabra headphones as they seemed to offer a better sonic experience than the standard wired earphones.

While the BT8010 is a nice headset, it’s not that comfortable in extended use as a stereo music headset. Additionally, though I generally don’t pay a lot of attention to the way something makes me look, I reckon even the Borg would be sniggering at times to see this dual headset setup. Hunting around for a comfortable and easy to use stereo Bluetooth headset led me to the Sony Ericsson HBH-DS980, which I duly purchased. Oh, for the chance to test things before actually having to buy – but that’s another story.

sony-ericsson-hbh-ds980

The headset is of a different design from the traditional single piece Bluetooth headset in that it had a kind of dongle (as you can see) with the earphones attached to it. It’s thus not as wire-free as other headsets but it is still pretty convenient to wear and weighs only 27 grams – even for the weakest among us, we should cope! The dongle is easy to tuck away if you want to be even more discreet.

Pairing has generally been a pretty easy process in the various devices I use, though the Nokia N78 doesn’t seem to like connecting as much when I have used the DS980 with another device in the interim and I have occasionally had to delete and restore the connection. It’s never been a problem with any of the Windows Mobile devices I have tried. The unit has an OLED display which shows battery time, phonebook access and track information, though the last has only come up for me when pairing with Sony Ericsson phones. It’s even possible (as I have done) to pair with one device for listening to music and to another for making and receiving calls, but it’s much more convenient to use one device for these purposes.

From a listening point of view, you’ll need a device with A2DP capability to stream your music across (so that excludes all you iPhone users); the unit has digital signal processing built in to improve the sound that comes across, but I still found significant differences in the quality of music beamed from different devices. The sound from the N78, for example, was definitely superior to that from the HTC Touch Diamond, which cut out bass frequencies rather noticeably and was just not as rich.

It took me a little while to get used to the sonic experience offered by the headset but I’ve grown to like it very much. Bass response is quite dependent on the fit that you get with the earphones – a good seal is needed – but it’s never going to overwhelm and can still get a bit lost in noisy environments. That said, I’ve managed to lose the different sized seals that come with it, so it might be possible to improve on my experience. The mid range is excellent, though, and the level of clarity and detail that you get in the music is very satisfying. Though the headset probably leans towards a clear and accurate experience rather than a rich and warm one, I do like being able to pick out nuances in the instruments that I have not heard before. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to real high end earphones so take my assessments with a pinch of salt, but I think the audio experience is definitely superior to the stock earphones that I’ve had bundled with all my devices. Though the latter often offer an easier route to more bass emphasis, they just sound muddy and indistinct by comparison and I always end up going back to the DS980 unit.

The unit works well for telephonic purposes and I’ve never had people complain about not being able to hear me, nor have I had any trouble in making out their conversation. They are as comfortable and convenient as any other headset and the ease of using voice dialing is an added bonus (oops, sorry again iPhone users).
If I do have one gripe, it’s the battery life but that may just be my unit. Others claim five or six hours of use, but I tend to find mine needing juice after about four. This is something of a hassle as it uses a proprietary charger (what do you have against USB charging, Sony?) and one isn’t always close to a power outlet – especially while driving! It’s the one thing I would really like to see improved.

Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with the unit: I’d give it a Steve’s Satisfaction Score of 8/10.

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