Gennum nXZEN Plus Bluetooth Headset

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INTRODUCTION

    I’m sure we’ve all gotten those phone calls
where the caller is in a noisy environment and is yelling into their
phone to overcome the rock concert or building demolition in the background–or
maybe it’s just road noise from their car. In any case, the end result
for me is often some unintelligible combination of distorted clipped
words, very high volume, and a general sense of confusion wondering
what the phone call was about. Gennum’s nXZEN Plus bluetooth headset promises
to put and end to this by using "…the world’s most powerful DSP
to boost acoustic performance, reduce background noise, and isolate
your voice for superior hands-free mobile communications." I’ve
had some relatively under-whelming experiences with other noise canceling
products, and was eager to test out the claim.


WHAT’S HOT

    The nXZEN Plus is the latest offering from Ontario
based Gennum Corporation and improves upon its older sibling, the ZEN
Bluetooth headset. The nXZEN Plus has a sleeker and smaller design, and addresses
some comfort issues with the earlier headset.

    The key feature of
the nXZEN Plus Bluetooth headset is that it uses two separate microphones
to sample different parts of your current environment, and then uses
its Digital Signal Processor (DSP) to isolate your voice from the surrounding
noise. Gennum claims that their DSP is almost 4 times as powerful as
their nearest competitor (120 MIPS vs. 32 MIPS). However, you should
keep in mind that not all MIPS are created equal, and we need to be
sure we’re comparing apples to apples. In either case, how well the
signal sounds is ultimately the key benchmark.

    The model 5500 nXZEN Plus differs from the model 5000 nXZEN Plus because it includes the capability
to listen to stereo music audio via the included cable and headphone.

SETUP

    What’s in the box? Gennum includes a wall
charger, a USB charging cable, 4 different ear tips (3 sizes), two differently
sized ear hooks, a stereo audio cable, a users manual, a quick reference
guide and an installation CD.

    Setting up the nXZEN Plus
is quick and painless. Charging the headset to a full charge took two
hours. This is a relatively short charge time considering its 7 hours
of talk time, and 100 hours of standby time. The nXZEN Plus easily paired
with my Audiovox PPC-6601 and then I was off and running.

    Gennum provides 3
different sizes of ear buds to ensure a comfortable and secure fit in
your ear canal. Choosing the right size ear bud not only increases your
comfort, but also makes a better audio seal, which in turn blocks out
more ambient noise. There are also 2 different sized ear hooks. Both
ear hooks can be used for either your right or left ear, however it
was difficult removing or switching the hooks. If you so choose, you
can use the nXZEN Plus without any ear hook at all, using just the ear bud
to secure the headset. This was comfortable and worked just fine, but
I preferred having the added security of the ear hook. One nice feature
is that you can swap the "Volume up" button with the "Volume
down" button so they are consistent no matter which ear your wear
the headset on.

(all images link to higher resolution)

    The nXZEN Plus also
comes with a installation CD for an equalizer program. This program
installs on your PC, and communicates with the headset via Bluetooth.
Obviously your machine must have native Bluetooth or a Bluetooth adaptor
to use this software. It enables you to set the audio characteristics
of the headset speaker via a 6 band equalizer for phone calls, and an
8 band equalizer for music audio.

    The audio balance
is fine for me out of the box, but it is nice to be able to tweak the
audio characteristics to taste, and adjusting the microphone gain (i.e.
microphone sensitivity) could be very useful in some situations. The
EQ software also includes three presets for automobile, industrial,
and office environments, which optimizes the audio for each environment.

PRODUCT FEATURES

    The nXZEN Plus’s major selling point is its noise
cancellation, and I’m happy to say that the nXZEN Plus really lives up to
Gennum’s claims. I have an older noisy car, and while I’m using the
headset, people can’t even tell I am in my car, much less driving down
the interstate. By firmly inserting the ear bud into your ear, it is
also much easier to hear the other side of the conversation. Combine
this with ample volume, and the nXZEN Plus really shines in noisy environments.
Gennum provides a page
with a A / B audio samples of a comparisons of the nXZEN Plus with an unnamed
competitor. This also serves as a good example of what the noise cancellation
sounds like on the other end.

    General clarity while
in quiet environments is good, although both parties can tell that you’re
using a headset. I suffered from an occasional bit of static while using
my phone, but I believe that was a function of my phone because a second
test on another phone didn’t have the same problem.

    Gennum provides many
different comfort configurations with different ear buds, ear hooks,
or no ear hook at all. At 59mm by 28mm and a mere 17 grams (.54oz) I
literally forgot I was wearing it. I had no problems with comfort despite
wearing it for several hours at a time, although I found it took a little
practice to be able to put the headset on quickly, especially with one
hand.

    The nXZEN Plus is controlled
by 4 buttons. A side button turns the device on and off, and answers
calls. There are volume up and volume down buttons on the back of the
headset, and a unique pinch button towards the front of the headset.
You can see the volume buttons in the second of these images. Also note
the charging socket, which performs double duty as an audio link when
used as a stereo headset.

    

    The buttons were easy
to get to, but I initially had a number of accidental key presses while
I was trying to snug the headset into my ear. Each button has multiple
functions depending on the context of the device, and how long you hold
the button. Feedback is provided by the number of beeps or flashes on
the LED. I must admit it was all a little counter intuitive for me.
For instance, the pinch button transfers calls from the headset to your
phone and back if you press and hold for 1 beep. It mutes and un-mutes
phone calls if you press it briefly, and it can also be used to answer
incoming phone calls (briefly) or hang up (press and hold for 3 beeps).
It serves as a call waiting toggle (press and hold for one beep). It
also puts the phone in pairing mode (4 beeps), activates voice dial
(1 beep), and last number redial (2 beeps). Fortunately the nXZEN Plus comes
with a wallet sized quick reference card, which I constantly referred
to for the first week or so.

    The nXZEN Plus can pair
with up to three devices, but obviously can only be used with one device
at a time. Switching between paired devices is as easy as turning them
all off, then turning on only the device you want to use along with
the headset.

    The nXZEN Plus includes
a wired audio cable with an ear bud and 1/8th inch stereo jack. This
wire has another small plug that fits the small socket in the back of
the headset. You won’t win any fashion contests with this setup, but
if you needed stereo sound in a pinch, this would do. The quality of
the audio was marginal, and the headset easily distorted at higher volume
levels. The sound matching between the ear bud and the headset wasn’t
ideal, and it felt like the audio was panned towards one channel as
a result. I don’t know any reason why you wouldn’t just carry a pair
of dedicated ear bud style headphones instead of the audio cable, as
they’re essentially the same size.




HELP SUPPORT

    The nXZEN Plus comes with a comprehensive user
manual and a much needed quick reference guide. The manual was clear
and complete, and served my needs well. The included equalizer software
came with a pdf manual on the cd-rom, although the program was so intuitive
I never needed to open the manual.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

    The headset requires
a phone that supports Bluetooth. The included equalizer software
requires Microsoft Windows 98 or better, and the computer must have
either native Bluetooth or a Bluetooth adaptor.

BUGS AND WISHES

   
My
biggest issue with the nXZEN Plus was that the stereo audio seemed to
be included only so this device could compete with other stereo Bluetooth
headsets. I felt like the audio speakers were mismatched between the
ear bud speaker and the headset speaker, and the headset speaker easily
distorted. I can’t imagine why you would use this instead of a pair
of dedicated ear bud headphones.

   
I also wish that I had less static in my headset, but I believe that
this was a phone compatibility issue with my Audiovox PPC-6601. For
the most part the connection was just fine, but if I put my phone in
my pocket, or even carried it on the other side of my body I had increased
static.

   
Finally,
I felt that the user interface was cumbersome with pressing and holding
buttons for different durations, in different contexts. I realize that
this is partly a result of packing a lot of features into a small headset,
and I’m not sure how to get around it. It’s also important to note that
this isn’t unique to the nXZEN Plus and that most Bluetooth headsets suffer
from the same issue.

PURCHASING

   
The
retail price of the nXZEN Plus (Model 5500) is $149, although as of
press time, we found street prices as low as $130 from your typical
comparison shopping sites. Additional information and pictures can be
found on the nXZEN Plus
Product Page
.

PROS


  • Fantastic noise cancellation

  • Small, stylish and comfortable
    design

  • Audio equalizer adjustments
    from your PC

CONS


  • Stereo headphone awkward with
    questionable sound quality


  • Confusing buttons / user interface


  • Pricey

Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

What
do these ratings mean
?

OVERALL IMPRESSION

    Gennum Corporation has produced a solid
bluetooth headset with exceptional noise canceling capabilities. Its
small and comfortable form factor makes wearing it a pleasure, and its
full feature set ensures that you’re not missing out on needed functionality.
A high price tag and questionable stereo capability are the only blemishes
in this otherwise remarkable headset.


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