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In 2001, a company named Arctic Cooling was founded with the primary goal of developing quiet, efficient cooling solutions for modern computer systems and enthusiasts. Recently, however, Arctic Cooling has become merely Arctic, and in that process manufactures not just cooling products (including computer cases), but a large range of products, including: mice, keyboards, audio equipment, batteries, and even remote controlled vehicles (known as "Land Riders"). Today, we are going to see if Arctic's latest venture, the Arctic Sound P311 Bluetooth Headset, lives up to Arctic's philosophy - self described as the "principles of innovation" mixed with "high levels of quality and workmanship".
Wearing style: Supra-aural, neckband
Ear cup style: Closed acoustic
Bluetooth version: V2.1 + EDR Class 2
Profiles support: A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HFP 1.5
RF frequency range: 2.402 - 2.480 GHz, 2.4G ISM band
Radio performance: Receive sensitivity of -90 dBm, TX power max 4dBm
Frequency response: 18 Hz - 22 KHz
Signal to noise ratio: 95 dB
Total harmonic distortion: 0.1 %
5 Button design: Multifunction key, VOL+, VOL-, FWD, REV
LED indicator status: Blue, red
Battery: Rechargeable 400mAh Li-Polymer battery
Charging port: Mini 5-pin USB
Charging adapter output: DC 5V & 200mA
Nominal charging time: Max 4 hours
Talk time: Up to 20 hours
Standby time: Up to 400 hours
Dimensions: 54 mm (diameter) x 23 mm (H)
Designed for sports - Far lower noise level at activities like jogging compared to earphones
High fidelity drivers - ensures uncompromised sound details and dynamics
Built-in sound processor - ensures superb quality. Signal distortion from the sound card and other components in a computer do not affect it.
Advanced Clear Voice Capture (CVC) Technology - enhances voice quality when making calls
Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) - supports uni-directional 2-channel stereo audio stream in CD quality
Long battery life - Up to 20 hours of music playback time
Arctic Cooling's Product Page
Price: $42.46 @ Arctic Cooling
Keeping everything consistent with Arctic's new product line, the packaging features a prominent transparent window that displays the item itself and sleek, silver styling. At first glance, it might seem as if the packaging design could lead to unwarranted damage of the product during handling, but there are two layers of plastic actually covering the headset; the front, thick window, and the internal plastic mold. I'm actually glad that Arctic went this route, because it allows users to physically see the product without relying on doctored, professional pictures from a product photography studio; which helps foster consumer trust in the new Arctic brand.
The design itself, while somewhat busy due to all of the information and pictures provided, still manages to look impressive. Arctic perfectly positioned every one of the components that show through the window (especially the case). And, the back features incredible product shots showing the unit in various scenarios. It's also good to see Arctic including features for six languages and a gigantic list of technical specifications often, manufacturers leave technical specifications out.
Inside the Packaging:
After pulling the plastic unit out of the external packaging (which, due to the sharp edge, is tricky), the back of the headset unit can be found; it is covered by a small piece of plastic, the manual, and a carrying case rests in the middle. The carrying case is very sturdy and consists of a solid ballistic nylon exterior. Unfortunately, there isn't much padding inside of the carrying case. Also, in order to use the case, you have to awkwardly fold the headset by pushing each of the speaker units inward and folding one of the pylons towards the headband. Yet, even with that caveat and the lack of padding (which is mitigated by the snug fit), I'm still very impressed to see Arctic include a functional case that will help protect the headset unit during transportation. It's also nice that Arctic lined the inside of the zipper to prevent cosmetic damage from occurring.
Like the packaging, the manual is amazingly thorough and even includes step-by-step visuals for configuring the headset using Symbian, Android, and iOS. I tested the device using my Android based G1 and the Nokia XtremeMusic. While the manual does not include instructions for blackberry or "dumbphones" (like the XtremeMusic), the easy installation process involves merely activating the bluetooth on your phone, searching for a device, and holding down the "play" button (it has a picture of a phone) on the headset until the two devices find each other. Note that the password is "0000," if you are prompted. If you are interested in reading through Arctic's fantastic manual, you can view the inside and the outside. Note, that Arctic includes a very respectable 2-year warranty.
The Arctic Sound P311 Bluetooth Headset Itself:
The headset is constructed out of a durable, but lightweight plastic polymer that allows the headset to wear comfortably. And, as previously mentioned, each speaker's pylon can be folded inward to rest within the provided case. The headband on this particular "headset" is actually meant to be worn around the neck, with the top of each ear cup (where the headband meets with the speakers) resting over the top of the ear. Each ear cup is supra-aural; they sit over the ear, but not around it. This also means that they don't do as good of a job at blocking out external noise. Fortunately, however, when the headset is carefully positioned, the seal still manages to block out most noise. Also, the plush, fake leather ear pads are incredibly comfortable. And, unlike with the foam padding that comes with most supra-aural headphones, the fake leather doesn't absorb sweat from using the headset during physical activity - it's easy to clean, making it ideal. Unfortunately, I will mention that sometimes the hard plastic above the ear cup can press rather uncomfortably against the ear. If you have a large head or ears, this might pose a problem.
The right ear cup contains all of the important, requisite functions for using the headset. A small mini-usb port, enclosed via a rubber flap, can be connected to a computer via the included mini-usb cable to charge the internal 400mAh battery. The outside of the ear cup has five buttons that can increase / decrease volume, go to the next or previous song, and the middle can either be long pressed to power on / off, used to play / pause, and can answer / end a phone call. These buttons are definitely tactile and not mushy. I have to say, however, that I would like each pair of buttons (volume and playback) across from one another instead of next each other; this would help mitigate the initial learning curve. There is also a small LED that turns red or blue depending on the connectivity / pairing status. Finally, the microphone's opening can be found past the mini-usb port facing towards the inside of the face.
Even though the left cup does not contain any functional buttons, Arctic kept the design consistent. They also included a silk-screened logo, but I am concerned, judging by the paint, that it may fade quickly.
In previous sections most of the aspects of ergonomics have been successfully covered, but I will mention that while in use the P311 headset is surprisingly comfortable and secure, making it great for physical activity. In terms of the battery, it takes roughly two and a half hours to charge from empty and while paired and playing music through foobar lasted just over 21 hours - very impressive!
As previously mentioned, pairing is incredibly easy and the controls on the headset work exceptionally well. When a call comes through, the ringtone plays (if listening to music, the music fades out), and you press the main button once (during a conversation this ends a call) to accept the call or hold the button for two seconds to refuse the call. And, you can even switch calls between the phone and headset or redial the last number called.
In terms of sound quality, I would first like to discuss the microphone. The audio captured by the headset is amazingly clear, besting even an expensive Platronics Discovery bluetooth ear piece. Until you get close to the 30 foot distance limit, there is absolutely no static of any kind. The microphone even manages to cut down on background noise and wind - something almost unheard of. Unfortunately, there is a major downside with the microphone. The audio, while incredibly clear, isn't loud enough for my tastes. Regardless of headset or volume settings with the other caller, the P311's microphone simply wasn't as loud as with other bluetooth headsets or earpieces. It's not a huge negative, as the microphone levels are still audible, but Arctic would be wise to look into the problem.
Moving past the microphone, the audio quality, while in a call or listening to music is impressive. If you're within bluetooth range, the only time you might be able to notice you're using a bluetooth headset is when electronic static occurs during menu or playback navigation. More technically, the mid-range is pleasantly flat sounding, but doesn't create a "full" soundstage. The bass, while not "thump-ingly" strong, is one of the highlights of this headset and is powerful without overwhelming the sound. And, the treble (highs), while not incredibly separated, is definitely not tinny nor is it hiss-filled, creating a pleasant sound for a bluetooth headset.
I have yet to hear another inexpensive bluetooth audio device that has managed to produce the sound quality that the Arctic Sound P311 Bluetooth Headset can. It has incredible battery life and a light weight design that makes it ideal for physical activities. I will, however, caution that, even though the microphone audio quality is impressive, if you're concerned about your calls being too quiet (contacting people in loud areas) or you have a larger head, you may want to try this headset on before you definitely purchase it. Otherwise, with everything you need included, from an impressive manual, USB cable, and even a carrying case, this headset, at an absolute bargain price, is almost impossible to beat.
Great audio quality for an inexpensive bluetooth headset
Amazing battery life
Arctic put together a fantastic retail package
The band is sometimes uncomfortable
Not the best audio isolation
Low microphone audio levels
Thanks go to Arctic for the opportunity to take a look at the P311!