Review: Plantronics Discovery 975 Dual-Mic Noise Canceling Bluetooth Earpiece
Over the past several years, Plantronics has released some of the most noteworthy monaural Bluetooth earpieces we've tested, particularly on price: its Voyager series traditionally offered less fashionable designs than its high-end Discovery models, but superior pricing, a trend that has continued to the present day. Now, the company has come up with a new flagship model called the Discovery 975 ($130), featuring the company's most appealing design yet, new audio technology, and a distinctive combination carrying and charging case borrowed from its earlier Discovery 925; apart from one serious, non-trivial issue, this is a truly interesting new Bluetooth option for iPhone users.
The single most impressive feature of Discovery 975 is its styling, which is unquestionably both cool and professional. Stuck in your ear is a rounded diamond-shaped box with a silicone ear tip on one side, and a curved, wand-like microphone on the other, pointing in the direction of your mouth. Most of the body is a gunmetal-colored metallic plastic, with a small bit of leather topping the box next to your ear. Two small buttons—the standard multifunction power and call button, and a three-stage volume button for low, medium, and max—are found on the box end of the wand and the top of the earpiece, respectively, with a micro-USB connector facing downwards for charging purposes. A little white, pink, and red slit-shaped light appears on the unit’s wand edge, near the box, to indicate power and incoming calls.
Actually using 975 is straightforward, though initially a little confusing in fit. Rather than using a stabilizing earloop, Plantronics relies on three different sizes of unusually shaped rubber ear tips to grip your ear canals, and in our experience, they work, but they feel a little unusual, and need to be in the right position—hook-shaped stabilizer diagonally down, tiny nub up—in order to feel secure. Pairing with an iPhone is almost effortless, as 975 has both Bluetooth 2.1 and an iPhone OS 3.0-ready digitless pairing feature, while its buttons are completely simple, if limited; the volume merely cycles in ascending order through the aforementioned three levels, and there aren’t any voice or other prompts to trigger besides “Mute On” and “Mute Off” during a call.
This was the rare case, however, when we actually had hoped to find more functionality in the earpiece than was there. We began our standard series of calling tests, including indoor and outdoor calls with and without sources of possible audio interference in the background—a bulldozer, some music, and so on. We had expected that Discovery 975 was going to really impress us with its sound quality, as Plantronics has upgraded to a dual-microphone array for supposed background noise cancellation and a three-layer “WindSmart” technology to avoid wind noise, placing microphones within slits in the wand.
Callers didn’t complain about wind—a strong positive for those who like to walk while they talk—but whatever Discovery 975’s AudioIQ2 noise-cancellation technology is, it’s seriously in need of improvement. Indoors or outdoors, callers told us that it wasn’t blocking out any of the interference sounds we were near; moreover, they said it was easier to hear us on Apple’s included iPhone headset than with 975 when we were near a noise source. We flipped Aliph’s Jawbone on for comparison, and were told that the difference was profound: there, the noise was gone; with Discovery 975, it was as plain as day. Static in the signal was also more noticeable than we expected, though the headset did perform properly from its promised 33-foot wireless range.
So from a sonic perspective, what Discovery 975 does and doesn’t do for various types of users is important to note. All users should expect that they will sound audible to their callers under quiet ambient calling conditions, with a decidedly treble-shifted sound to their voice that offers increased intelligibility, but also sounds “a little harsh,” and less natural, as one caller put it. Those who are concerned with walking around in normal environments should expect little wind noise, but significant interference from other types of noise. There’s also a small processing lag at the beginning of conversations where your voice will sound a little worse to your caller before becoming better.
These issues are offset by some fairly significant positives that contribute to making Discovery 975 a good tool for certain professional users. Rather than limiting itself to its standard 5 hours of talk time, which is about the norm—give or take—for such tiny earpieces, Plantronics actually uses a two-battery array to provide a total of 15 hours of talk time—1/3 in the earpiece, 2/3 in the battery-laden leather carrying case, which can be kept together for use as needed. The case has a spring-loaded release latch to pop the earpiece out when you’re not charging it, and a hook strap to attach it to a bag, plus an indicator that shows the power levels of both the earpiece and battery. A wall charger is included to let you power up the 975, its case, or both at the same time. We seriously liked this case and the extra juice it provides; it’s the primary reason 975 rated as highly as it did given its price.
Overall, Discovery 975 is an interesting Bluetooth option for iPhone users: it combines impressive styling, smart extended battery life, and super-simple controls with sonic performance that is less than entirely satisfying, particularly when used in noisy environments. We consider it to be one of the nicest-looking monaural headsets we’ve tested, however, users who frequently find themselves in noisy environments should consider Aliph’s Jawbone options instead; Plantronics has done a good job with wind noise resistance, but needs a better active noise-canceling technology to really justify prices like this going forward.