Jacks Of All Trades

New Bluetooth headphones seamlessly shift from music player to cell phone to TV

Remember how weird it looked the first time you saw people walking down the street alone, apparently talking to themselves? We now know they weren't crazy but were wearing nearly invisible Bluetooth cell-phone headsets. Today, you might also see people bopping or singing to music you don't hear from music players you don't see. If so, they're probably using multipoint, or multi-use, Bluetooth headsets that connect wirelessly to their music player as well as their phone.

Such gadgets work in one of two ways. One headset can be connected to two devices -- say, your cell and office phone, or cell phone and iPod. If you're listening to a music player, the headset mutes the music when a call comes into your Bluetooth-equipped phone. When tied to a cell and office phone, it switches between the two, allowing you to answer either at the press of a button. The second type of Bluetooth headset slips over both ears, offering stereo playback from your music player, cell phone, or home receiver, though typically only one at a time. They're great for watching TV while your spouse is sleeping or taking to the gym or on trips.

I tried out devices from Creative, Gennum, Jabra, Logitech (LOGI ), Plantronics, Shure, and TENTechnology. Many are adopting a new Bluetooth technology called A2DP. That pairs the headset with music players, cell phones, and other gadgets, allowing you to keep them in your pocket and fast forward, rewind, or make calls by pressing buttons on the headphones.

What's the best multitalented headphone? With Plantronic's $120 Pulsar 590A, you can get a call while jamming to the Dixie Chicks on your iPod nano; all you do is press a button and extend a nifty telescoping microphone. To listen to music on your sleek Nokia (NOK ) 8801 cell phone, just connect via Bluetooth stereo. Creative's $110 SL3100 headphones reproduced music so well that it blew me away. But the over-the-ear fit felt uncomfortable after about 30 minutes. The SL3100 also doesn't take cell-phone calls.

Logitech's Wireless Headphones for MP3 players, at $130, and a sister version for iPods get the nod, though mainly as a choice for music. They sounded good, fit comfortably, and you could put a lot of distance between you and your music before the sound started breaking up. Other headsets I tested sounded staticky at 20 feet. Two problems: There's no on-off switch, and the Bluetooth adapter that comes with it was bulky.

Jabra's BT620s suffered in the rankings because it didn't come with a Bluetooth adapter. The company says it will start selling separate adapters this summer, so there's not much reason to spring for the BT620s until then. One of the more expensive devices, TENTechnology's $240 Bluetooth stereo receiver, lets you connect your own headphones for use with iPods and cell phones. As people want to do more with less baggage in their pockets, expect to see more mumbling and multitasking on the streets.

By Cliff Edwards

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