Jabra HALO2 Review

Audio Gadget Reviews, Featured, ReviewsDevin Balentina

Introduction

In-Ear Monitors (IEM) (those tiny headphones that are inserted in the ear canal itself) oftentimes provide a phenomenal audio performance with a price to match. But when it comes to every day practicality, these type of headphones fall short and for me at least, limiting their use to ideal listening conditions at home, where I’m also likely to have a portable amp. For everyday use, they  aren’t up for the task and clearly there should be a more practical option. The follow-up  to the original HALO, the Jabra HALO2  is definitely packed with features and promises a practical wire-free solution. But how practical is it when it comes to everyday use and  how does it perform when it comes to music and making calls? These are the questions this review aims to answer. Read on and see if you should consider the HALO2.

Specifications

Connectivity

 

Wireless Technology: Bluetooth

Supports Bluetooth™ for wireless connectivity

Bluetooth version: 3.0

Supports Bluetooth™ version 3.0

AVRCP: Yes

You can control your music from this device when it’s streaming from another device, such as your mobile phone

Auto Pairing: Yes

With Auto Pairing, a device pairs automatically with Bluetooth™ devices supporting this feature

Music Streaming: Yes

Device can stream music from a source, such as a Smartphone, Bluetooth enabled laptop, tablet, or MP3 player

 

Speakers

 

Frequency Response: Hifi

Speakers with a hifi frequency sound produce a sound range well suited for realistic sound reproduction, e.g. Music

Digital Signal Processing: Yes

Digital Signal Processing (DSP) is a technology that digitally optimizes your voice and music and suppresses echoes

 

Microphone

 

Microphone Type: Dual Microphone (Noice Blackout™)

Microphones with Noise Blackout™ have an aggressive noise filter coupled with two microphones utilizing Digital Signal Processing (DSP) software to remove noise

Mute function: Yes

Mute gives you the option to mute/unmute the microphone directly on the device

Battery & Power

 

Talk Time: Up to 8 hours

Talk Time is the maximum time you can talk before a device runs out of power

Standby Time: Up to 255 hour(s)

Standby Time is the maximum time a device can remain powered on

Music streaming time: 8 hours

Music Streaming Time is the maximum time you can stream music before a device runs out of power

USB Charging: Yes

USB Charging enables a device to be charged via a USB cable

Battery Status Indicator: Indicator

A battery status indicator reveals the remaining battery time

Design

 

Wearing Style: Headband

A headband is a fully adjustable, over-the-head wearing style

Ear Cushion Type: Foam L

Large (L) foam ear cushions

The Jabra HALO2

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The Jabra HALO2 is the follow-up to the original HALO and  is a supra-aural stereo Bluetooth headset with the added ability of being able to be used wired with devices that lack Bluetooth connectivity. Notice how I called it a headset and not a headphone as the  HALO2 packs not one but two microphones and uses the pair for voice calls as well as noise reduction during these calls. Compared to the original Halo, it gains Bluetooth v3.0 and AM3D Virtual surround sound, but retains the same futuristic foldable design we’ve come to love from its predecessor.

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The HALO2 uses two specific sound enhancing technologies by AM3D designed to increase the perceived quality of the audio playback: Virtual Surround Sound 2.0 and Power Bass, both of which are always active and can’t be turned off. As an audio purist I enjoy listening to music the way  the director intended, without any of these sound enhancements, but I still  welcome both  Virtual Surround Sound 2.0 and Power Bass. However, both of these technologies should remain an option and  Jabra should consider adding a switch that can disable all of these enhancements and give the consumer the choice of how they’d like to listen to their music. These sound enhancing technologies are basically software based and are integrated in an embedded DSP, which in this case is the CSR Kalimba DSP, which also handles other tasks like Bluetooth and noise reduction during calls in combination with the two microphones.  

                                                                                                                                                                          

According to AM3D, the idea behind the virtual surround sound 2.0 found on the HALO2 is not only to create the illusion of surround sound, but it’s to also gives the impression of music being played just outside your head, instead of the usual in-head position:

 

Normal headphone playback is often perceived as playing inside the head. AM3D Virtual Surround Sound generates a virtual multi-channel surround sound signal from a 2.0 channel input. When this is

played back it produces a surround sound perception. A center enhancement function aids to move frontal sound images outside the head. This center enhancement facility can be disabled if memory or

instruction cycles are limited.

Power Bass  also appears to be a software-based bass boosting algorithm, leaving the other frequencies untouched. This is similar to what can be achieved with an equalizer, but in this case it appears to be actively regulated by the dedicated Kalimba DSP:

Loudspeakers which reproduce sound in the mid and high-frequency ranges are generally poor at reproducing low-frequency content. Bass content is vital to movie effects and quality music to achieve a

perceived high sound quality. AM3D Bass Enhancement boosts the low frequency part of the signal and leaves the remaining part of the frequency range unchanged in terms of loudness and timbre.

This gives the possibility to create extreme bass enhancement.

The inclusion of the CSR Kalimba DSP also gives the HALO2 the rare ability (at least for a Bluetooth headset) of being firmware upgradeable. Currently version 5.20.0 is the latest release and is done by plugging the headset to the USB port and using a 2MB application to perform the firmware upgrade. We love this and see a lot of potential when it comes to adding features, changing the behavior of certain functions and most importantly increase performance.

The HALO2 is simply filled to the brim with features, rivaling much more expensive competitors like the Nokia BH-905/i and Sennheiser’s MM series when it comes to features, all which cost well north of $200. Not only can the HALO2 connect wirelessly to Bluetooth devices, but it can also use a supplied 3.5mm audio cable and magically turn into a wired headset. The folks at Jabra even went ahead and incorporated a very forward-looking touch volume control which also doubles as controls for next and previous track. Another cool feature in the HALO2’s arsenal is its ability to connect to two Bluetooth devices at the same time, allowing you to seamlessly answer a call on your phone and when done continue watching a movie on your notebook. Rounding of the list of features, the HALO2 can also neatly fold up into a very compact shape. It lacks any power button, but smartly turns off when folded and turns on when you unfold it, a very elegant and intuitive solution to buttons.

 

The HALO2 is currently being sold for around $75 making it simply one of the best deals  when it comes to an all-round feature-packed Bluetooth headset. Lacking however is any form of active ambient noise cancelation for music listening, a feature which can be found on the much more expensive competitors mentioned above. We can definitely forgive Jabra for not including this technology as doing  so would add bulk to the HALO2’s trademark slim design and would also surely increase the price. On the other hand you still get noise suppression when it comes to voice calls. The HALO2 is currently available in Black, but a White version should also be available soon.

Design

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The HALO2 breaks with the traditional headphone look, bringing a futuristic, stylish design that’s characterized by its minimalistic flat appearance. It looks like something you’d expect Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the future to wear as he steps out of his Delorean from a trip to the year 2025. This doesn’t mean the HALO2 can be considered anything remotely flashy, in fact it’s the exactly the opposite with its understated matte Black finish that’s almost  completely free from any protrusions or buttons. Perhaps its most defining design element are the extremely flat driver housings, giving the impression of one continuous headband. We like the design and consider it a breath of fresh air from an industry that seems to produce slight variations to two basic themes: the retro look, which for example Grado uses or the flat headband with large and clearly defined driver housings like you typically find on Sennheiser or Beats headphones.

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The outer part of the headband is made out of a matte black plastic that looks and feels great, does a great job of hiding fingers prints and is quite easy to clean. The band has two hinges that allows the headset to unfold to turn the headset on and fold to turn it off. However, just unfolding the headset won’t actually turn it on. In fact if you just unfold the headset, it will simply fall back into the folded position. An additional step is required to bring the headset to life,  requiring you to lock the hinges into place by pushing upwards. The idea is brilliant but needs some work in the execution, as the additional step makes it a bit cumbersome. Simply locking into place without needing to push upwards would have been ideal. To turn it off, Jabra recommends extending the headset at the hinges and then folding to turn it off. I found that you can simply bypass that first step and simply push the band inwards to fold.

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The headband goes directly into the driver casing instead of flowing on top of it, however the casing continues the same matte black finish, where its surrounded by a metallic accent. This creates the illusion of one fully integrated design. The touch controls  and a single button are found on the right driver housing. The touch sensitive area is indicated by a thin white strip with a plus at the top and a minus at the bottom, where you slide your fingers upwards or downwards to increase or lower the volume. Double tapping on the plus sign will change to the next track, while a double tap on the minus will take you to the previous track.  The touch controls simply add to the the clean minimalistic design of the HALO2 and surprisingly are easy to find and use, despite the fact that you’re basically dealing with a flat surface that you’re unable to see while wearing the headset. The white strip might give you the impression that a very thin area is touch-enabled, when in fact it’s the entire area to the right of multi-function button. Overall, these controls work really well and are far from my initial thought of them being gimmicky. The only small improvement that can be added to these controls are small bumps to indicate where the plus/minus are located.

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The multi-functional button does duty as the answer/end and play/pause button. Continuing the modern minimalistic look, it curves inwards, nicely integrating with the rest of casing. The headband itself is quite flexible and as a result should widen and comfortably fit most users, however due to hinges it can’t get too wide. In combination with its adjustable length and light weight, the HALO2 is extremely comfortable

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The inner part of the headset is lined with a velour-like type of material which feels quite comfortable, allows for  prolonged usage and does feel hot on summer days. Hidden away are a Bluetooth and battery status indicator. They do their job just fine, but I just wish the battery indicator was just a little bit more informative.

Performance & Daily Use

Firmware Upgrade

The Jabra HALO2 is similar to most headsets when it comes to Bluetooth and pairing: the first time you unfold it, it automatically goes into pairing mode, while later pairing is done by long-pressing the only button available, which couldn’t be any easier. As expected, pairing it to our  Samsung Galaxy Note with the latest ICS 4.0.4 update and a Sony VAIO Z was pretty straightforward.  Worth noting is the fact that the HALO2 is smart enough to automatically search for and connect to the two last devices it was paired with. After unfolding it automatically connected to both devices, without me ever having to go into settings or press any connect button, which is something I can’t say about most Bluetooth devices I tried. Many devices seem to have a problem auto connecting to a single device and only a handful are able to do this with two devices. The HALO2 falls under this rare breed of device that can actually handles multiple simultaneous auto connections.  This is one area where the HALO2 simply shines, clearly showing the processing abilities of the CSR Kalimba DSP. When playing a song on my smartphones while switching over to a  Youtube video on my notebook, it would automatically cut the volume on the smartphone side  and play the audio from my notebook. When all audio events on the notebook side are done, it seamlessly goes back to the audio transmitted by the smartphone and it’s smart and quick enough to swiftly switch among the two sources.  

One area where the HALO2 does need some improvement is wireless range. If you always have your smartphone in your pocket or in the same room  it should perform brilliantly. Luckily most potential HALO2 owners will probably use it connected to their phone or laptop with all devices in close proximity and should never experience any problems. But if you’re like me and you like to leave your phone on your  desk and move around the house, the HALO2 will have some difficulty keeping a steady connection with stuttering in the audio as a result. This is even the case when I go to an adjacent room with just a single wall between the two rooms, a task most mid- and high-end wireless headphones/headsets are able to perform without any problems.  Moving any farther will cause it to completely disconnect, until moving back closer to the source device(s) where it at least it smart enough to reconnect to all devices. The Bluetooth connectivity is a handled by the highly programmable DSP and hopefully this is something that Jabra can fix with a simple firmware upgrade.

Initially I wasn’t very impressed with the HALO2’s musical performance, but after giving it a five day break in period, the sound  improved dramatically. It even improved to the point where I’d consider the sound very good for an everyday all-round headset. This is especially true when you consider the price, making the HALO2 easily is one of the best deals out there. It’s one of those devices that doesn’t excel in any audio frequency and isn’t one of the best-sounding wireless headphones either, but that’s not the point of the HALO2. It performs overall good enough to please most users out there and in combination with a strong feature set and good price, makes it a compelling package. Audiophiles might be turned away by the audio enhancements and should consider an entry level IEM instead, doing so however will be a step back when it comes to practicality. The HALO2 handles mids and highs admirably well, in some cases lacking some mid bass. Despite the presence of Power Bass, it does sometimes leave you wanting more bass. The bass is certainly there, but just not with the authority and depth to make the sound dynamic and layered. The music is not presented in the typical stereo in-head position with a clearly defined left and right channel. Instead, there’s a clear surround sound feel to the music with phantom rear left and right channels. The effect can be best described as the traditional left and right stereo channels  with less defined rear right and left channels. In some cases music can be perceived coming from the front, but this is even less defined with no right-left separation.  In addition to this quasi surround effect, the music is also perceived to be coming from just outside your head, as if there were tiny speakers floating around your head.  The typical in-head stereo position envelopes you with sound, while this technique clearly adds a feeling of spatiality and what I can only be describe as the reverbs of a small room. Basically it sounds like a singer is singing in a small room, with matching reverbs.

Worth mentioning is the fact in some rare instances, the music seems to stutter for no reason, perhaps indicating that the DSP simply can keep up with task handling the sound enhancements and Bluetooth connectivity. Hopefully this is something that can be improved through a firmware upgrade.

Clearly showcasing Jabra’s know-how when it comes to headsets, the HALO2 simply shines when it comes to voice calls and Skype calls. Voices come true loud and clear and very life-like, while the callers on the other end where able to hear us clearly, even in noisy environments. If voice calls are a priority, the HALO2 simply excels in this area.

While the battery lasts really long, we do wish charging times were more around the 1 hour mark. With a 2 hour charging time, it takes a bit too long for our taste.

Lastly, I consider it a practical everyday headset: comfortable, no cables, light weight, no wires and doubles as a wireless headset. Unlike IEM you don’t have to worry about cable and constantly having to create a perfect seal. In this case it’s just a matter of wearing it around your neck or just folding it up and throw it a bag.

Conclusion  

The Jabra HALO2 is a solid a supra-aural stereo Bluetooth headset with the added ability of being able to be used wired with devices that lack Bluetooth connectivity. It’s CSR Kalimba DSP gives it sound enhancing technologies which can’t be turned off. For this reason  Jabra should consider adding a switch that can disable all of these enhancements and give the consumer the choice of how they’d like to listen to their music. It’s also this very same DSP that gives the HALO2 the rare ability  being firmware upgradeable, giving it a lot of potential when it comes to adding features, changing the behavior of certain functions and most importantly increase performance. It’s simply filled to the brim with features, rivaling much more expensive competitors and is currently being sold for around $75 making it simply one of the best deals  when it comes to an all-round feature-packed Bluetooth headset. Lacking however is any form of active ambient noise cancelation for music listening.

It simply excels when it comes to voice calls and Skype, while it’s effortlessly able to switch between two source devices. Better yet, it’s one of those rare devices that can handle auto-connecting to two devices without any problems. When it comes to music it’s one of those devices that doesn’t excel in any audio frequency and isn’t one of the best-sounding wireless headphones either, but that’s not the point of the HALO2. It performs overall good enough to please most users out there and in combination with a strong feature set and good price, makes it a compelling package. Audiophiles might be turned away by the audio enhancements and should consider an entry level IEM instead. But when it comes to practicality, IEM simply can’t compete with the HALO2.

On the hand, charging is on the slow side and the wireless range isn’t the best. The velour-like materials is comfortable, but will require frequent cleaning. Even with these cons, the HALO2 is a solid solid package that’s hard to beat at the current price. It’s also highly recommend for a practical everyday headset: comfortable, no cables, light weight, no wires and doubles as a wireless headset. The Jabra HALO2 gets 9 out of 10.

Pros

One of the best deals when it comes to wireless stereo Bluetooth headsets

Comfortable to wear

Futuristic and stylish design

Foldable

Light weight

Can be used wired and wireless

Firmware upgradable

Touch controls work really well

Great for calls.

Cons

AM3D’s sound enhancements can’t be turned

Charging takes a bit long

Short wireless range    

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3 thoughts on “Jabra HALO2 Review

  • By hixo -

    Been using this headset for a week now… but so far i am not happy about this headset…

    I put my phone, wave 3, on top of a container, move at least 2 meters from it and soung stutter already.. put the phone in my drawer, sound stutter.. i was lying in my bed, put the phone below my waistline, and it stutter again..

    i have a cheap bluetooth headset (6 times cheaper) , but i dont experience this kind of problems…

    one last thing, i covered my phone with both my hands, and again… stutter…