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Review: BlueAnt Z9 Bluetooth Headset

It seems as if nearly every other week a new Bluetooth headset is let loose upon the market, some low-end and some high-end with the latest gizmos embedded in the tiniest shell. The BlueAnt Z9 Bluetooth Headset ($99.95) falls into this latter category, although the price-set it more mid-range in comparison to what is undoubtedly its rival: the Jawbone (Read Jawbone review here).

So how does it hold up? Let's find out, Read on for the full review.

Specifications:

  • BT 2.0
  • 11 grams
  • 5.5hrs Talk Time, 200 hrs Standby
  • Dual Microphone for pure speech
  • Voice Isolation Technology
  • Switchable Voice Isolation - STANDARD and MAX Frequency Correction
  • Pairing with up to 3 devices
  • On-The-Fly Switching between devices
  • Auto-Connection and Reconnection
  • Firmware Upgradeable via USB
  • Innovative Tie Clip
  • 2 year Replacement Warranty

On a whole, not too shabby! The device is quite small and elegant-looking, with a polished black finish -- dork factor here is considerably low. In comparison to the Plantronics 640, it is noticeably shorter in length but also boxier and wider. Weighing in at just 11 grams it is also quite light but not the lightest, which is always important when wearing for extended duration. Speaking of, the Z9 has a removable translucent ear hook that helps stabilize the headset while in use and a built-in "tie clip" for clipping it your shirt, which is certainly a unique and welcomed detail.

Of course, the biggest features here are the dual microphones and noise-cancellation ("Voice Isolation") technology. I'm always impressed by how much "stuff" they can jam into these tiny devices and the Z9 doesn't fail here. Yet, surprisingly, they keep the buttons down to a minimal with just three. I say surprising because they list 20 functions in the guide! Most of these functions are performed with the main button, here called the MFB (Multi-function button) and/or a combo with the volume + and volume - buttons. And like all standard BT headsets the Z9 has blue/red blinking LED indicators for various states of the device, a feature that can also be (thankfully) completely disabled if blue blinking lights aren't your thing. [Editor's note: HOO-FREAKING-RAY! I hate das blinkenlights!]

What's in the Box

The Z9 comes in a tiny box with the headset literally on a pedestal, visible through the clear window-making you feel your unleashing a truly wondrous headset. Inside you get:

  • The manual
  • a Quick Start Guide for your wallet
  • a micro-USB plug for your computer
  • a wall charger
  • 2 replacement translucent ear hooks.

One could lament the lack of a case but since the Z9 can be clipped to your shirt, tie, or pocket this is really not a problem. The Quick Start Guide is particularly handy and is technically all you need to get it up and running, which I did with in moments, and it is certainly nice as a cheat-sheet for a couple of days as you familiarize yourself to the all the Z9's functions. Since the Z9 can charge over USB, the inclusion of the USB plug is certainly appreciated as is the standalone wall charger, however it uses a propriety adapter (pictured below) instead of a mini-USB.

Here I should point out that the Z9 is one of those new fangled BT headsets that includes updatable firmware. When paired to your device, the Z9 appears with its version number (V1.0 or V2.0) next to it for easy verification. One of the first things I did was navigate to BlueAnt's website and check to see if there was an update, sure enough there was, as I was running V1.0 and 2.0 had been released. They don't list a change-log as to what has been fixed but I went with the update anyways, just in case. The process of updating did involve many steps on the computer, playing around with drivers, Windows Device Manager and loading various installers. Having said that, the directions provided by BlueAnt were very clear, easy to follow and even provided some work-arounds if problems occurred trying to get the Z9 into "update mode". The whole process took about 15 minutes with the actual firmware flashing taking only about 1 minute. Even though somewhat cumbersome, updatable BT firmware is a very cool feature, ensuring that if there are problems with the device, you stand a good chance of actually having it fixed by BlueAnt, as opposed to your phone's manufacturer!

Pairing and Range

As mentioned earlier, pairing the Z9 was simple with no problems incurred. I tested primarily on the Palm Treo 700wx since this has a pretty weak BT stack, so if there are problems, it'll occur here (whereas the Motorola Q has probably one of the best implementations of BT I've seen). The device stayed paired for hours on end with no problems disconnecting. If I leave the range of the phone, the Z9 gives a little beep in the ear and automatically re-connects if the connection is dropped -- a very nice feature that seemed to work quite well. I can't stress that last feature enough: auto-reconnect is a very valuable tool.

Pairing and Range

Wearing the device

I'm torn with ear-hook BT headsets. They tend to much more comfortable to wear, especially for long periods than non-ear hook ones e.g. Plantronics 640, yet they are more tedious to actually put on (at least for me). The Z9 is one of those devices that if you find your comfort-zone, you'll barely notice it there and won't experience "ear fatigue," but if you're off a little bit, it can cause some discomfort, especially since the earpiece is on the large side.

Luckily once you set the ear hook to an appropriate position and find that comfort area, it stays pretty much in that position, requiring very little further adjustment. Comfort is always hard to gauge, so your mileage may vary. Unlike with the H500, the Z9 does not bounce around your ear but stays firmly in place. I can literally run with it and not have it budge, or fall out if I bend down -- once in place, this headset is going nowhere.

Comfort

Sound Quality

Ah, the real heart of any BT headset review! Call quality was better than average with the Z9 and the Voice Isolation technology is quite effective, especially indoors. For my tests, I used the Z9 in one of the noisiest environments around: a 35 mm film projection booth. In use, when you tap the MFB you toggle between Voice Isolation "Standard" and "Max" with the latter being reserved for extremely noisy conditions (a voice literally pops on, with a British accent no less, telling you of your current setting). According to the person I spoke with, they could not hear the projectors at all when I was speaking and, to them, I sounded as if I were in a quiet room. In fact I could put my head near the projector and still converse with the person without them even knowing it, which to me is quite impressive! If I was silent during the conversation, the caller reported that every 5-8 seconds they would hear some brief noise pop through, as if they were hearing the microphones/processor sampling the ambient noise. This was not distracting to them though and it never occurred if I was speaking, only during prolonged silence. It seemed to me that I had to speak a little bit louder than if I were not using BT, but I wasn't anywhere near the level of shouting. Perhaps in the future the microphone sensitivity will be increased with further firmware updates.

Likewise, volume on the Z9 is more than adequate, having the ability to go quite low and high enough to hear the other person with no issues. The quality of the call was also high, sounding not much different to me than the regular phone earpiece. Regarding distance, I was able to put down my Treo and walk about 15 feet away before I noticed some static and degradation, although the other person was still able to hear me with little to no interference.

Sound Quality

Ease of Use

The buttons were also easy to use, as opposed to the H500 where I can't tell what a button is and what is the device, here I had no problem finding the volume and the MFB on the Z9, which made it quite easy to use. The only issue was with the 20 functions the Z9 can do with just 3 buttons, requiring me to think for a second on how to do a redial or conference call, but the little cheat sheet BlueAnt gives you makes this adjustment period easier to handle and within in days, its second nature.

LED indicators were also straightforward with 2 blue flashes every 5 seconds to let you know you are paired/standby, no LED during a call, red for charging, single blue flash every 8 seconds for idle (on, but not paired), etc. and of course you can just turn them off if you are of the no-blinking persuasion.

Ease of Use

Conclusion

Overall the Blueant Z9 Bluetooth Headset is a nice choice for a new BT headset. With the BT 2.0 standard and updatable firmware, the Z9 looks to be relevant for quite some time. BlueAnt seems to be a very good company, listing numerous ways to contact them, keeping the device simple (yet powerful) and including everything you need in the package. Plus, for the price you are getting what I think are some pretty high-end features (dual mics, voice isolation, multiple pairings, auto-reconnect, long talk time) for a mid-range price. The device is quite small, but not obnoxiously small where compromises on function and talk time start to take effect. Those advanced features also worked very well, with the Voice Isolation technology exceeding my expectations.

Ratings (out of 5)

Pairing and Range: 5Comfort: 5Sound Quality: 5Ease of Use: 5

Overall:

Pros

Convenient clipComfortableVery good noise cancellationFirmware upgradable

Cons

Trying to cram too many features into too few buttons
WC Staff
WC Staff
14 Comments
  • It seems as if nearly every other week a new Bluetooth headset is let loose upon the market, some low-end and some high-end with the latest gizmos embedded in the tiniest shell. The BlueAnt Z9 Bluetooth Headset ($99.95) falls into this latter category, although the price-set it more mid-range in comparison to what is undoubtedly its rival: the Jawbone (Read Jawbone review here).
    So how does it hold up? Let's find out, Read on for the full review.
    Read more at http://www.wmexperts.com/reviews/bluetooth_headsets/review_blueant_z9_bluetooth_he.html
    Hmm...reviews on this headset seem to be pretty mixed....on the one end reviews love it saying it's excellent quality, and on the other you get people on the other side of the fence. I tried it out myself and had issues with my outgoing voice quality sounding very muddy (my gf had trouble making out my words) compared to the clarity of my voice when I used the JX-10. This was with software version 2.2 too.
    Maybe Blueant needs to work on their QA, because there seems to be inconsistency in people's experiences out there on this headset.
  • Hey Merlyn - did you try applying the firmware update? IIRC, Malatesta told me the headset wasn't all that great originally, but the firmware update fixed a bunch of issues.
  • Yeah Merlyn, definitely check your firmware.
    Mine was 1.0 and was pretty terrible as far as quality.
    Firmware 2.0 is what I tested it with and just last week BlueAnt released firmware 2.2, which tweaked the DSP settings (I haven't extensively tested it since).Edit: just noticed you said it had 2.2
    The issue with the Z9 is this: the two microphones are those small holes on the bottom of the device. Since they are technically not pointed at the mouth, picking up your voice is a bit difficult (though I suppose you get less wind interference). So I feel I have to talk a bit louder using the Z9 than say, just the phone. Also, at least the person who I spoke with (for 1.5 hours ) said I sounded pretty good.
    Try keeping the device more flat/level instead of angling it at a slant--that will expose the mics a bit more.
    I noticed if I have a poor cell connection, the BT really amplifies the signal degradation, but I found that with other headsets as well...
    In this sense, it's not perfect but with each firmware update, it's getting better.
    I can't say I've tested a lot of BT headsets, but so far between the updatable firmware, the voice isolation and the auto-reconnect (which is essential on a Treo), I'm quite happy with it.
  • Yes I tried 1.0 and the upgrade to 2.2. I couldn't find 2.0 because by the time I had it 2.2 was out. It's possible that it could've been the hardware, in which case I can try out a different one this coming up weekend. I also had a problem with the usb connector on the headset, any miniUSB cable seemed to get stuck, and pulling it out felt like I was gonna break the headset every time.
    I know these aren't the experiences most reviewers are getting, which is what puzzles me. Over on HoFo one or two posters had the same issues I have with the headset, it just doesn't seem to be as stellar as reviews are saying. The price combined with the constant firmware updates is attractive, especially since costco.com sells this for $80 and you can take it back to the warehouse anytime. Maybe I'll order one off costco and give it another shot.
    EDIT: yeah, with costco.com's policy being so excellent, I ordered one that should get here by this weekend, I'll try it out again and hopefully yield better results.
  • Been using the Z9 for about a week now with a BlackBerry Curve, and absolutely love it. So much so that I just gave my Jawbone away to a friend...I'll never use that TANK again. :)
  • Been using the Z9 for about a week now with a BlackBerry Curve, and absolutely love it. So much so that I just gave my Jawbone away to a friend...I'll never use that TANK again. :)
    Have to agree with Crackberry. I'm using it with a Pearl, and I've tried a LOT of bluetooth headsets, from Plantronics, to Jabra, to Moto, and hands down this one is giving me the best clarity and sound quality in both directions.
    Noise cancellation is the best I've tried, although I have to say I have not tried out the Jawbone....
  • I should throw it out there...
    Firmware v 3.3 had come out a few weeks ago. I'm not sure what has changed.
    The new firmware updater is also vastly improved and simplified and only required 2 steps this time: install an .inf file and run the update program. :thumbsup: Get it here.
  • version 3.4 is now available.
  • Based on the original review, I made a decision to purchase this headset today at Best Buy. I let it fully charge and then updated the firmware to 3.4. I'm noticing some additional line noise in the ear piece that I haven't noticed with other headsets. It seems to fade in & out, and seems to escalate when there are pauses in the conversation. Does anyone else notice this? I'm wondering if I got a defective headset or if this is a side affect of having DSP.
  • Based on the original review, I made a decision to purchase this headset today at Best Buy. I let it fully charge and then updated the firmware to 3.4. I'm noticing some additional line noise in the ear piece that I haven't noticed with other headsets. It seems to fade in & out, and seems to escalate when there are pauses in the conversation. Does anyone else notice this? I'm wondering if I got a defective headset or if this is a side affect of having DSP.
    I think you may have a defective headset. I have a Z9 (that I got off eBay) with 3.4 Firmware, and none of what you describe. The only thing I notice is the "beep" when I first connect to my 750 is quieter than on my 650. Callers on the other hand are LOUD (had to turn them down today).
  • I think you may have a defective headset. I have a Z9 (that I got off eBay) with 3.4 Firmware, and none of what you describe. The only thing I notice is the "beep" when I first connect to my 750 is quieter than on my 650. Callers on the other hand are LOUD (had to turn them down today).
    Thanks for the feedback. Hopefully an exchange produces a better result.
  • I purchased the Z9 on the recomendation of Mal.
    After using it for 6 days I have as good a feel for it and the features as I ever will.
    I have the exact same issues with it as I do with my Logitech Mobile Freedom and the Plantronics versions I tried. When it works, it works really well and is comfortable to wear. When the phone acts up (daily for a spell, then can be good for a wek or more) I get a persistant hiss or static no matter how close to the phone, my voice will break up and people have a hard time understanding me. When really bad, I am totally broken up and the static is really loud with a buzzing in my ear. The phone will also show the headset connected by lighting up the icon white, but if you click the BT icon the screen shows it disconnected and the headset will not work at all until I reset the phone. It sometimes takes 4 or more resets of the phone to get this cleared up.
    Voice quality on my end with the Z9 sounds distant and some what muddeled. My Logitech is crystal clear with exception of some static.
    My voice to the other end is same, again my Logitech is clear and similar to just the phone quality.
    I have the latest firmware at 3.4, but was told on tech support that a new version is due out this week.
    I like the comfort and size, tie clip is very handy too. It is about a third the size and weight of my Logitech Mobile Freedom.
    I have to conclude that with my Treo 700WX it is no better than any of the other headsets I have tried for noise and connection problems.
    I think I will keep it in hopes that the new Treo 800 will work better with it or that the new firmware will help, since the ear hook on my Logitech is partially broken and the battery is getting weak after almost 4 years of service.
    Again I don't think any headset is any better than next with the Treo, you either have a good Treo or not. Mine appears to be a bad Treo.
  • I tried 2 of these headsets. Both of them with the latest firmware. Unfortunately they both had an issue where I would hear a buzzing noise in the background. I went back to my Jawbone.
  • Bad Rubber Piece!!! The rubber ear piece rips after just a couple months of use.. I've gone through 4 already... :( it costs more than $10 to replace the rubber piece. In all fairness.. functionality wise.. the headset itself works fine.. sound is good... but I really can't get over how badly designed the ear piece is.. I've gone through 4!!! I think I will toss this headset after this 4th one rips... (which will be in a couple of months... just like clock-work)