Most Bluetooth headphones now include a microphone so that you can take calls on the move, and even when you're in the gym or out jogging. But, as you might expect, many of these headphones focus on audio quality for listening to music, rather than on the quality of their microphone and voice technologies. If you need to make a lot of calls when you're out and about during the day, then it's worth considering a conventional mono headset that's designed specifically for voice calls, or one of the more advanced sets of stereo headphones that also uses multiple microphones and noise-cancelling technology to improve the clarity of your voice calls.
After the initial bemused reaction to their odd, stalk-like design, Apple's AirPods have received generally favourable reviews. The audio quality for listening to music is very good (although hardly exceptional at this price), but it's the versatility of Apple's new W1 chip that really stands out.
The motion-sensor in the W1 can tell when you put the Airpods into your ears -- and can even tell if you're just using a single AirPod in one ear and automatically switch into mono mode like an ordinary Bluetooth headset. The beam-forming microphones do a good job of eliminating background noise when you're making a call, as well as allowing you to use Siri voice commands. But while the Bluetooth connectivity will work with non-Apple smartphones, features such as Siri do require an iPhone or iPad.
5h (24h with charging case)
Creative Labs is best known for its consumer audio and gaming gear, but its Aurvana Platinum headphones work well for both music and mobile calls, and a recent price cut here in the UK makes them pretty competitive too.
The chunky over-ear design is all the rage at the moment, so you can look cool on your morning commute (although the earpieces do leak a bit of sound, so you might not want to play them at top volume). The headphones include no less than four microphones that work together to block out background noise when you're listening to music or talking on your phone, as well as a digital ClearSpeech option that helps to enhance the clarity of your voice. The Aurvana Platinum also supports HD Voice technology to enhance voice calls -- although your smartphone and mobile network will also need to support HD Voice in order to make the most of this feature.
Jabra makes so many headsets for business users that we could fill this entire roundup with Jabra products alone, but the company claims that the Eclipse is the lightest headset it's ever produced. And with a weight of just 5.5g you can certainly wear it for long periods of time without it ever becoming uncomfortable.
The Jabra app can read out text messages for you, and can even geo-tag the last known location of the headset in case you lose it when you're travelling. The compact design means that the internal battery only lasts for three hours but, like Apple's AirPods, the Eclipse comes with a handy pocket-size charging case that lets you top up the battery for a total of 10 hours when you're on the move.
3h (10h with charging case)
Jabra's Steel is almost twice the weight of its Eclipse stablemate -- although at 10g it probably isn't going to cause anyone any problems when wearing it. That's because the Steel headset boasts a rugged design that's water-, dust- and shock-resistant, and is intended for use on building sites and other harsh outdoor environments.
This headset includes two different types of earpieces and two sizes of ear-hooks to keep it firmly in place, along with a pair of 'windsocks' to reduce wind noise on blustery days. The chunky buttons are designed so that you can use them even with gloves on, and there's a special voice button that can be used to activate Siri or Google Now voice commands for Apple and Android smartphones. It even boasts a five-year warranty to prove how tough it is.
We're looking forward to seeing LG's forthcoming Tone Free, which looks like it's aiming to compete with the versatility of Apple's AirPods. However, the Tone range got started with the unusual neckband design of the HBS headphones, which allow you to stow the earpieces away inside the neckband when you're not using them. The Harmon Kardon earpieces provide good audio quality for listening to music, and the neckband also houses a pair of noise-reducing microphones to enhance your voice calls, as well as a larger-than-average battery that lasts for up to 16 hours. There's also a Tone & Talk app that can read out text messages or record short voice memos via a button on the neckband -- although those features are currently only available with the Android version of the app.
Logitech makes a number of wired headsets for call centres, and for use with its video conferencing equipment, but the H800 is the only Bluetooth model in its current range.
It's a versatile device, with a stereo headset that you can use in the office or on the move for either music or voice calls. The headset includes a small USB radio transmitter that provides 12m (40ft) range for softphone calls on your office PC, or you can switch to ordinary Bluetooth when you're out and about with your smartphone. The noise-cancelling microphone folds out of the way when you're not using it, so you can use the H800 as a straightforward set of headphones when you're listening to music; the earpieces fold flat as well, making it easy to slip the headset into a bag or briefcase when you're travelling.
The Plantronics Voyager headset, with its distinctive behind-the-ear design, has long been one of the most popular Bluetooth headsets for business users, and the current Voyager 5200 model is a good choice for both indoor and outdoor use.
Four noise-cancelling microphones provide excellent quality for voice calls, either in a busy office or when you're out and about, and there's a moisture-resistant coating and 'windsmart' feature that allow the headset to handle calls even in bad weather. The headset provides basic voice controls -- you can tell it to 'answer' or 'ignore' incoming calls -- and there's a button that can be used to activate Siri, Google or Cortana voice commands on a wide range of smartphones.
The standard version of the headset focuses on Bluetooth for smartphone use, but there's also a 'UC' model that supports Unified Communications for corporate telephony systems.
£99.99 ($119), Bluetooth only
£106.98 ($175), Bluetooth/UC
The Focus UC is the odd-man-out in Plantronics' Voyager range, as it's a proper stereo headset that you can use for listening to music, rather than a simple mono headset for taking calls. It's not exactly hi-fi quality, but the audio is perfectly fine for listening to some music when you're travelling, and the size of the headset means there's room for a decent battery that can last for up to 12 hours. The headset also includes three microphones, which provide noise-cancellation for both music and voice calls, and the earpieces fold flat so that you can quickly slip them into a bag or briefcase when you're on the road.
Back in the office, the Voyager Focus provides a separate USB adapter for softphones running on a PC, which provides a range of up to 30m (98ft) and, as the name suggests, it supports Unified Communications (UC) for office telephony systems too.
Sennheiser has a long history of making studio-quality headphones and microphones, so it's well placed to combine those technologies in its range of Bluetooth headsets.
Admittedly, this little rectangular slab of plastic isn't the most elegant headset we've come across, but the Presence packs in a lot of features that make it suitable for use both on the road and in the office. Three microphones provide good noise-cancellation for voice calls, along with a 'windsafe' option for outdoor use on blustery days. The standard version of the Presence is primarily designed for straightforward Bluetooth connectivity, but there are also 'UC' and 'MS' models that support Unified Communications and Skype For Business (a.k.a. Microsoft Lync) for corporate telephony systems. And, as the Presence has been around for a while now, you can find the various models online for as little as £95-£110.
£110 ($150), Bluetooth/UC
In contrast to the traditional single-ear design of the Sennheiser Presence, the MB 660 UC looks like a high-end set of stereo headphones -- with high-end price to match. And with both Bluetooth and support for the high-quality AptX codec, the headset can certainly pass muster when you want to lean back and listen to some music.
When you get back to business, the MB 660 UC includes three noise-cancelling microphones for voice calls, along with a 'windsafe' option that can handle a spot of rough weather when you're outdoors. However, the MB 660 UC is primarily designed for use in an office environment, with features such as 'own-voice detection', which allows it to recognise and focus on your individual voice in a busy office or call centre. As the name implies, the headset supports Unified Communications (UC) for corporate telephony systems, but there's also an 'MS' model that's certified for Skype for Business (a.k.a. Microsoft Lync).
It looks like a compact -- and rather expensive -- little Bluetooth earpiece, but the Xperia Ear is actually Sony's attempt to get in on the 'personal assistant' act, with voice technology that aims to compete with heavyweights such as Apple's Siri and the Amazon Echo.
Like Apple's AirPods, the Xperia Ear includes an accelerometer that allows it to turn itself on or off when you put it in your ear or remove it, and it can even recognize when you nod your head in response to one of its voice messages. The key feature, though, is Sony Voice Control, which lets you use voice commands to send messages, ask for travel directions, or check your schedule, as you would do with Siri or the Echo. Battery life for the little earpiece is only around four hours, but the charging case can top that up to 16h when you're travelling.
4h (16h with charging case)