Technology

BusinessWeek


O.K., I'll admit I have something of an obsession with gadgets that have multiple functions. As I carry around more devices, it's nice to find the occasional gizmo that helps eliminate some of the clutter. But it's rare to find one that can do many things well enough to make it worthwhile to trade in stand-alone products.

Plantronics' (PLT) Bluetooth Pulsar 590 wireless headphone is a notable exception. It truly stands out as a jack-of-all-trades. Not only does it let you do away with a tangle of cords as you listen to an MP3 player or iPod but it doubles as a hands-free headset for cell phones equipped with Bluetooth technology.

Get a phone call while jamming to The Killers on your iPod nano, and all you do is press a button and extend a nifty telescoping voice tube. Or if you want to listen to music on your sleek new Nokia 8801 cell phone, plug in the accompanying universal adapter, and you're good to go.

OUT AND ABOUT. Using that same adapter, you can also crank up the volume on the TV to silence a cranky spouse or drown out the terrible screams coming from the kids' room as they play Doom 3 on the PC.

Be warned: You may not end up on best-dressed lists if you sport the headphones out and about. Worn over the top of the head, the silver and black device is bulky, and the voice tube adds an otherworldly effect that comes across as more nerdy than cool.

But don't let looks fool you. The Plantronics device delivers some of the best sound I've heard conveyed through headphones. In every area where it counts -- bass and treble in particular -- I was dumbfounded by the quality, even more so because the headphones have no noise cancellation or reduction features that distinguish products like Bose Quiet Comfort 2 and Shure's e4c.

The Pulsar headphone promises a range of up to 35 feet from the transmitter, but I found that sound started cutting out closer to the traditional 30 feet. Battery life, however, lived up to the promise of about 12 hours talk time and 10 hours "listen" time. I particularly liked the on-off switch on both the headphones and transmitter that lets you maintain battery life between uses.

FAST FORWARD. Also included for the $199 price tag are a nifty silver desktop charging stand, an AC charger that lets you plug both the adapter and headphones in together, and a USB 2.0 charger for connecting to a PC or laptop. A carrying case and an in-flight cable for connecting to airplane jacks without the Bluetooth function round out the accessories list.

The Pulsar 590 features a relatively new technology called Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, or A2DP. If you have other devices that include A2DP technology, you don't need the universal adapter and can shave $50 off. Few such devices are available now, but Plantronics predicts more widespread adoption over the next few years. That's why it included controls for playing, fast-forwarding, and rewinding music, though they're currently of little use.

One of the few devices that boasts A2DP is the above-mentioned Nokia 8801 -- a handset, incidentally, that gives the stylish Motorola Razr a run for its money.

There's no reason to wait for others to come to market, though. I've found the Pulsar 590 to be an essential everyday gadget and couldn't imagine living without it.


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