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NuForce BT-860 Bluetooth headset: Wireless bliss

Apple fans who are looking for the perfect intersection of stylish design, great sound and wireless connectivity have a new Bluetooth headset to consider -- the NuForce BT-860 (US$79). I recently had the pleasure to try out this value-priced Bluetooth headset and found a lot to like.

Design

While Bluetooth connectivity has been embraced by a number of manufacturers for phone headsets, there still aren't a lot of wireless headsets designed for the purpose of listening to music. There are four primary Bluetooth profiles supported by the BT-860 -- A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), HFP (Hands-Free Profile), HSP (Handset Profile), and AVCRP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) -- that make the device so versatile.

A2DP supports stereo streaming of music from your Mac or iOS device to the BT-860 headset. This makes it perfect for listening to tunes streaming from your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. AVCRP gives the headset the ability to control any of those devices by pressing buttons on the side. HFP and HSP allow the BT-860 to control a mobile phone, supporting dialing, hanging up, and other common telephony actions.

The BT-860 is quite attractive. Made from a soft-touch matte black plastic material, the headset has a very sleek look. The active controls are built into one of the earpieces, with flat + and - buttons for controlling volume and another pair for jumping between tracks in a playlist. In the center of those four buttons is an MFB (multi-function button) that is used for a number of functions: turning the headset on and off; answering, ending, transferring, muting or rejecting a call; and playing or pausing music playback.

The headset is quite light -- 2.9 ounces -- and the lack of a connecting cable makes the BT-860 a joy to wear. I have a big head (7-7/8 hat size!) and wear glasses, both of which often make headsets a literal pain to use. The replaceable pads on the earpieces are soft on the ears, and the lightweight construction of the BT-860 is very comfortable.

Functionality

As with most Bluetooth devices, the BT-860 headset is easy to pair with either a Mac or iOS device. Holding down the MFB for about ten seconds puts the headset into a discoverable mode, after which time it appears in the list of nearby Bluetooth devices and can be paired.

With a Mac, the headset can be set up as either monaural or stereo headphones and also as a sound input device. I tried using the headset with Skype with mixed success; it did work, but had a lot of static. It also destroyed the ability to listen to music from iTunes until I re-paired the headset to the Mac.

The headset does a very good job with music. I played music with a wide dynamic and frequency range through the Bluetooth connection, and I was able to roam around the house out to about the 33-foot limit with music blasting into my ears.

With my iPhone, I enjoyed being able to use Voice Control through the headset to make and receive phone calls. If music was playing when a call came in, or if I pressed the MFB to make an outgoing call, the music faded out. However, the monaural sound quality of the calls wasn't outstanding, and call recipients noted that my voice sounded somewhat echoey, tinny, and that higher frequencies seemed cut off. The microphone on the headset is built into one of the earpieces, which seems to make it less sensitive than other headsets that are designed specifically for talking on the phone. Let's just say that the headset is usable for phone calls, but many people will be displeased with the sound quality.

The BT-860 comes with a standard USB to micro-USB cable and an AC adapter. The headset can be charged either by plugging the cable into the AC adapter or a powered USB port.

Battery life of the BT-860 is very good. The company specifies an eight-hour lifetime between charges while listening to music -- I was able to stretch that to about nine-and-a-half hours before the headset gave up the ghost. In standby mode, the battery can last for a full ten days.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a pair of good Bluetooth headphones for use while watching movies or listening to music from your Mac or iOS device, the BT-860 might just do the trick. People who like the ambient noise isolation provided by in-ear headphones might prefer something like the $129.95 MSRP Plantronics BackBeat 906 headphone, which also features dual microphones for better sound quality on phone calls. The Jabra HALO headset ($129.99 MSRP), which I have not tested, is also in the same price range as the BT-860 and even resembles the NuForce device.

The BT-860 is a new product, and considering the low suggested retail price at this point, I'd expect that the eventual price will be even lower. While the sound quality is lacking a bit for telephony, the product is solid for listening to music. For a relatively inexpensive set of comfortable Bluetooth headphones, I'd recommend the NuForce BT-860 without reservations.

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