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Computerized Investing > July 19, 2014
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$179.95

Hands-free headset with Bluetooth 4.0 technology offering longer battery life and range.

I have reviewed several Bluetooth headsets for this column over the years, including several from Plantronics, which I regard as being the best available given their features and price. With the opportunity to review one from industry darling Sennheiser, I was curious to see how their Presence Bluetooth headset stacked up against some of the others I have looked at. Sennheiser has 70 years of audio experience behind it and the Presence sports a variety of bells and whistles, including three digital microphones and voice-enhancement and noise-reduction algorithms, that the company claims offer a superior user experience. All of this, however, does come at a premium price.

Out of the Box

Compared to the Plantronics headsets I have reviewed previously, the Sennheiser Presence is much less obtrusive. It is basically an in-ear design with an optional ear hook. This ear hook is removable if you want to go without it, and you can adjust it to fit over either your right or left ear.

In addition to the headset, Sennheiser provides you with a micro-USB charging cable, three additional ear adapters to help you find an ideal fit and a Quick Guide to help you get started. The Presence also comes with a car charger, which I found to be an interesting choice over an AC adapter. It makes sense, however, since a lot of people use Bluetooth headsets while they are driving.

The Presence’s compact size means it is light relative to other headsets. At 13 grams, it is nearly 30% lighter than my category favorite, the Plantronics Legend. On the backside of the device is the micro-USB charging port as well as the LED indicator light. At this same end, but on the face of the Presence, are the volume up and down buttons as well as the multi-function button. At the middle and front of the device’s face are three digital microphones (more on these later).

As a fan of dedicated on/off switches on Bluetooth devices, I have mixed feelings about Sennheiser’s solution for powering the Presence on and off. The stainless steel portion of the device is actually the sliding on-off power “switch.” You pull it forward, thereby extending the microphone “boom” to turn the Presence on and then slide it back into the recessed position to turn the headset off. This presented a problem when I first started using the Presence, because I constantly had to keep grabbing it before it fell out of my ear. On multiple occasions I accidently slid the switch to the off position while on a call, which promptly ended the call.

Setup

Bluetooth pairing of the Sennheiser Presence with my iPhone 5 was straightforward. The first time you turn on the headset it automatically enters pairing mode. At this point, you simply make sure the Bluetooth radio on your smartphone or device is activated and select Presence from the list of available devices.

The Presence can pair with up to eight devices and can have as many as two active at a time.

The Presence does make use of the latest wireless technology, Bluetooth 4.0. This technology allows the headset to deliver better battery performance and a longer range. Depending on the device you are pairing it with, you can get a range of up to 25 meters or roughly 82 feet, a big step up from the 33-foot range of the older Bluetooth 3.0 technology.

Performance

The Presence arguably delivers the best sound quality of any of the Bluetooth headsets I have tried. Sennheiser employs a variety of technologies as well as the three digital microphones to improve voice clarity and reduce background noise. The SpeakFocus Technology allows the unit to detect and “zoom in” on your voice while also filtering out background noise. In addition, WindSafe Technology actively reduces wind noise in outdoor environments by choosing the best mix of the three microphones, and then it processes the sound to find the best way to balance and enhance your voice.

Sennheiser also has deployed ActiveGard technology, which monitors the audio output for sudden sounds that could potentially be dangerous to your ear and hearing.

While I think the Presence delivers the best sound quality of all the Bluetooth headsets I have used, this was rendered moot by the fact that I was not able to keep the headset in my ear. While the ear hook kept it from fully falling off, the earpiece would not stay in my ear canal no matter which ear adapter I used. I constantly had to press the headset into my ear, which is certainly not a “hands-free” experience.

Battery Life

Another advantage of Bluetooth 4.0 technology is improved battery performance. Sennheiser claims the Presence can deliver up to 10 hours of talk time and 14 days of standby time. Furthermore, charging a fully drained Presence takes less than 90 minutes.

Compared to some of the other Bluetooth headsets I have reviewed, including the Plantronics Legend, the Presence has nearly 45% more talk time and almost 30% more standby time.

Overall

This was arguably one of the most frustrating reviews I have undertaken for this column. On the one hand, there is no doubt that the Sennheiser Presence offers some of the best sound quality among all the Bluetooth headsets I have tried, if not the best. In addition, the Bluetooth 4.0 technology gives it longer talk and standby time as well as extended range.

On the other hand, though, all of these positives were negated because I could not get the earpiece to stay in my ear for more than 10 seconds at a time. I do not consider a device “hands-free” when I have to use my hand to keep the device pressed to my ear. This is not to say Sennheiser does not try to make things easy for the user; they provide four different ear adapters for different ear sizes and shapes. Sadly, none of them did the trick for me. While I have had varying levels of success in terms of fit with the other Bluetooth headsets I have tested in the past, the Presence was by far the worst.

While its sound quality is exceptional, the Presence’s usability is questionable. In addition, I feel that the $180 price tag is a bit steep, even with its superior sound quality. For these reasons, I would not recommend the Sennheiser Presence. I still believe the Plantronics Legend offers the best combination of fit, price and performance for a Bluetooth headset.

Pros

  • Very light
  • Excellent sound quality
  • ActiveGard technology protects user from acoustic shocks that could damage hearing
  • 82-foot range (depending on device)

Cons

  • Would not stay in ear
  • Expensive relative to other Bluetooth headsets

Sennheiser Presence Bluetooth Headset

$179.95

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


Discussion

Gregory Vaut from VT posted 3 months ago:

Does anyone know if this headset will work with Skype via a computer's built in bluetooth connection?


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