For months now, the Aliph Jawbone has been the Bluetooth headset to beat, particularly in the noise-canceling category. And it still is: the Prime, Aliph’s newest Jawbone earpiece model, offers the same elegant design along with improved noise-canceling and wind-reduction technologies. Some shoppers might balk at its $129 price tag, and instead opt for one of its worthy $99 competitors. But at the end of the day, the Jawbone still offers the fewest compromises in style, comfort, and voice quality.
Save for a few subtle changes, the Prime looks identical to the last-generation Jawbone. Both weigh 0.4 ounces, are made from tough medical-grade plastic, and have a slim rectangular face with an arching underbelly (so the sensors can rest against your jaw). The Prime, however, has a subtle dented ovular design, whereas the previous generation had a more angular diamond façade. From a distance, the difference is hardly noticeable.
Like previous Jawbones, all of the buttons are invisible. A button in the center of the face turns on the headset and puts it in pairing mode; volume controls are on the top end of the headset. In this version, however, is a subtle groove on the façade of the headset, which takes the guesswork out of finding the main button.
In past versions, you couldn’t see the LED light indicators because your thumb would be covering them while you pressed the main button; now the LED light is placed just below the finger groove, which makes it easier to tell if the headset is on and in pairing mode.
This time around, Aliph is experimenting with colors. In addition to the basics (black, platinum, and brown) it comes in four bolder colors: Frankly Scarlet (red), Drop me a Lime (neon green), Yello (you guessed it), and Lilac You Mean It (purple)—did you catch the talking puns?
Comfort and Fit
The Prime comes with three sets of silicone ear buds, which feel soft inside the ear. The eartips have a lip-like shape and a small rubber loop that helps keep it in your ear. The headset is designed so that you don’t need to attach an outer earloop, although it comes with two (one leather, but they’re the same size). Although the headset was sturdy enough to wear without a loop while sitting down (say, while driving) some people might want the earloop while walking briskly.
Noise Cancellation and Wind Reduction
Like previous Jawbones, the Prime has NoiseAssassin noise-canceling technology. This includes the Voice Activity Sensor (VAS), which detects speech when it senses your jaw moving, and activates DSP algorithms to cancel background noise. The updated NoiseAssassin 2.0 extends the highest decibel range by 6 to 9 dB (the dB level varies depending on how noisy your surroundings are). This Jawbone also has Acoustic Voice Activity Detection (AVAD), which automatically cancels background noise when it senses that the headset has lost contact with the jaw.
The Prime is also different from its predecessors in that it has a digital wind-reduction solution, which promises to mitigate winds moving at up to 10 miles per hour. Whereas the previous generation only used mechanical means of wind reduction (by positioning the microphones) the Prime uses algorithms as well to cancel wind noise. That’s a different approach from the Plantronics Voyager Pro, which primarily relies on mechanical methods, including a curved stainless steel wind shield and cloth layer, and adds in algorithms only when the wind noise manages to get past that physical layer.
We connected the Prime to our AT&T HTC Fuze and our T-Mobile G1 easily. The noise-canceling performance was comparable to the Voyager Pro’s. We placed several calls from a busy Manhattan intersection; in some instances, our caller could barely hear any background noise with either headset. In a few test calls, however, our caller could hear more traffic noises with the Jawbone than with the Pro. The volume on our end was also lower with the Jawbone.
In another test, we placed a call while standing next to a speaker blaring the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Our caller had no doubt that this was the song we were listening to, but also had no problem making out what we were saying. Conversely, when we did the same test with the Pro, the background music sounded more subdued, but our voice quality was also less even.
The Motorola Motopure H15, another $129 noise-canceling headset, also delivers clear voice quality, but because of its loose fit, we prefer the sturdier Prime.
Range and Battery Life
The Aliph Jawbone Prime has a rated range of 33 feet. Calls still sounded clear at that distance and for a few feet beyond (calls with the Pro were clear for about 50 feet, despite the fact that it, too, has a claimed 33-foot range). The Prime is the first Jawbone with multipoint technology, which means it can pair with two devices at once, and eight devices in total. That’s good news for users who carry both personal and business phones. While this is a first for Aliph, other companies have been offering multipoint for ages; the Voyager Pro is just the latest Plantronics headset that can pair with multiple devices simultaneously.
The Prime’s rated talk time is 4.5 hours. That’s at the shorter end of the battery life spectrum for Bluetooth headsets, and is certainly briefer than the Voyager Pro’s claimed 6 hours of talk time. That said, we were able to charge the headset for just a few minutes, place a dozen calls, and the headset was still kicking. In other words, even at a low battery level, we were able to squeeze a good deal of productivity out of it. We’ll update this review once battery life tests are complete.
With its classic, stylish design and better-than-ever noise cancellation and wind reduction, the Prime replaces its predecessors as the best premium Bluetooth headset on the market. However, since Aliph’s Jawbone line broke onto the scene two years ago, other companies have made headway in noise cancellation: both the Plantronics Voyager Pro and Jabra BT530 offer clear voice quality (and promise longer battery life) for a lower price of $99. For a no-compromise blend of style, comfort, and voice clarity, however, the Jawbone is still king.