Since the introduction of its first Bluetooth headset, Aliph has set a new standard where background noise reduction and cancellation are concerned. The California-based start up introduced its Jawbone headset in December of 2006 and almost instantly, long-standing giants in the Bluetooth headset business found themselves playing a game of catch-up. It has been about two-and-a-half years since then and in the world of consumer electronics that’s about seven lifetimes. Aliph has released two more Jawbone headsets with last month’s Jawbone PRIME launch being its latest feat, and the competition continues to rain new models all over the marketplace. Now that noise cancellation has taken center stage as the main differentiating factor in separating the men from the boys, is Aliph still the undisputed champ or has the competition caught up? Hit the jump as we pit Jawbone’s latest against one of the hottest headsets of recent history, the Jabra BT530.
Kicking things off with our general impressions of the Jawbone PRIME, it’s awesome. The size and weight are ideal and the look of the handset has finally been toned down to our liking — it’s actually pretty elegant now where headsets are concerned, as opposed to odd and ostentatious as was the first Jawbone. The sleek look of the handset is not without sacrifice however, as Aliph was only able to fit two buttons in the design: an on/off/send/end button hidden beneath the pattern on the side of the headset and a NoiseAssassin/volume button on the back. You read that right; one button for volume control. It’s not the worst thing in the world but it does take a bit of getting used to. Rather than having the ability to raise and lower the speaker volume, repeated presses of the sole volume button cycle the audio incrementally from lowest to highest and then back to lowest.
Beyond the less-than-ideal button configuration, our only remaining complaints are depicted in the two images above. First, the rubber compound Aliph chose for its PRIME earbuds. A) It can be a bit uncomfortable after wearing the headset without the optional ear loop for a long period of time. B) It attracts and holds onto dust like no other earbud we’ve ever used. Second, Aliph still insists on a proprietary power connector. It’s great for maintaining fluid lines on the headset but terrible when you lose your charger.
Jabra’s BT530 is without question one of our favorite Bluetooth headsets of all time. It’s small, light, well-designed and has a great look to it. The BT530 is also remarkably comfortable to wear and seemingly lasts forever on a single charge. All of the buttons are well placed and we love the presence of a small sliding power switch on the bottom of the device that is quick and easy compared to holding a button down for X seconds to turn the headset on and off. Lastly, while it might not be quite as pretty, the BT530 uses the standard microUSB port we all know and love to take a charge.
NoiseAssassin 2.0 vs. Noise Blackout
Noise Blackout is Jabra’s catchy name for a great little dual mic system designed to eliminate background noise. Anne Rasmussen, VP of Mobile at GN Netcom — the company behind Noise Blackout — says of the technology, “Our Noise Blackout technology is a completely new and proprietary technology that not only allows crystal clear sound but eliminates the ‘tinny’ sound that many noise cancellation headsets are plagued with.” The system basically uses a unique directional technology to differentiate and eliminate sounds coming from around the headset while allowing sounds from in front of the headset (the user’s mouth) to pass through.
NoiseAssassin 2.0 on the other hand, attacks background noise from a completely different angle. Using a small white Voice Activity Sensor (VAS) that touches the wearer’s face coupled with two electret mics, the Jawbone PRIME combines audio from various sources to assemble the single stream of speech it delivers. The VAS also allows the headset to accurately distinguish between background noise and speech to provide extremely effective noise cancellation. The system worked quite well in Aliph’s first two Jawbone headsets and this latest iteration seems to work even better.
During our tests, the Jawbone PRIME was the clear winner where noise cancellation performance is concerned. It was able to completely eliminate low to moderate background noise and dampen louder background noises to the point where they did not interrupt conversations at all. Where the PRIME shines even brighter however, is in the wind. Jabra’s BT530 performed very well in low and moderate noise situations, but it seems the wind is the BT530’s weakness as it does little or even nothing to dispel wind noise while on the street or in a car with the AC on.
As much emphasis is put on noise cancellation these days however, we found that the PRIME’s terrific performance in that department didn’t necessarily translate to a better overall user experience. Where the BT530 really set itself apart from the PRIME in fact, was audio quality. On the recipient’s end, we got no complaints about either headset where audio quality is concerned. Both headsets managed to deliver great speech, though the PRIME was better at filtering out everything else as we mentioned. On our end however, we found the audio on the PRIME to be very tinny despite the company’s claim to the contrary. Yes, compared to older Jawbone models and even other noise canceling headsets, the quality is much improved on the PRIME. Compared to the BT530 however, it’s no contest. Jabra’s headset delivers terrific, well rounded sound to the wearer and the PRIME is no match. Audio on the BT530 is deep and crisp as opposed to thin and tinny, and it’s a real pleasure to use.
So which would we recommend? Both, actually. For users who commute or are constantly in situations with high levels of background noise, the Jawbone PRIME is the clear choice — provided the $115-$130 price tag doesn’t scare you away. For users who want good noise cancellation but are more concerned with great sound and affordability, the $45-$70 Jabra BT530 can’t be beat.