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Gennum's nXZEN 5500 Plus Bluetooth headset was developed and is marketed by a Canadian company, and offers an attractive design and reasonably full feature set.

It functions satisfactorily, but no better than the phone handset by itself.

Is this the ideal BT headset?  No.  Is it an acceptable compromise?  Maybe.

 
 
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Gennum nXZEN 5500 Plus Bluetooth Headset review

Digital signal processing and long battery life
 

The Gennum nXZEN headset is conservative in appearance and more comfortable in use than many of its competitors.

Part of our series on Bluetooth - more articles listed on the right.

 

 

Priced at $160, Gennum's nXZEN 5500 Plus Bluetooth headset is not cheap.  Its premium price is apparently justified by its digital signal processing and noise cancelling.

Unfortunately, our testing showed that the headset's sound quality and noise cancelling was no better - and possibly slightly inferior to - simply using the phone by itself.  It may sometimes give better results than other Bluetooth headsets, but in a noisy or windy environment - at least with the Motorola V3 Razr phone we tested with - the phone handset by itself gives the best quality sound.

What you Get

The nXZEN 5500 is nicely packaged in an easy to open display box.

Inside the plastic display case is the headset itself, the charger brick, an adapter that plugs in to a USB port to allow charging from a USB port, a low quality ear bud and connecting cable to allow you to listen to stereo music, various different sized ear plugs and a second (different sized) ear hook, as well as a laminated business card size quick reference card, a 3" CD, and a manual.  A very complete set of inclusions.

The small English manual is 26 pages in length and tells you what you need to know to use the headset.

Feature Chart

Use this information to quickly understand the capabilities of the unit and to compare with other units.
 

Feature                         Comment

Cost

US recommended retail about $160

Available through Amazon for $130


Ergonomics

Easy to put on and take off

Acceptably easy to put on, and no harder than any other ear-loop type headset.  And, of course, easy to take off.

Easy to use the control buttons

There are four buttons on the unit.  There are two small buttons for volume up and volume down, a large button on the unit facing out and a fourth small button on one side of the unit.

The layout is such that it is easy to reach and press these buttons.

Comfortable to wear

Using the ear loop makes this as comfortable to wear as most of its competitors, and better than many.

Can you use with glasses

Yes, especially if you don't use the optional ear loop.

Can use with either ear

Yes.  A clever feature is the ability to swap the two volume buttons so that the top one is for volume up and the bottom one for volume down, no matter if the unit is in your left or right ear.

Securely mounted on ear

If you use the around the back of the ear loop, it is securely mounted.  If you just stick it in your ear without the added security of the loop, it is less secure.

How to carry

Here's another company that gave no thought to how the unit is to be carried when not stuck on/in your ear, an all the more regrettable omission when considering its premium price.

No way of transporting the unit (and its various accessories) is provided.

Weight

Reasonably light - 0.55 oz


Ease of Use

Commands intuitive and easy to remember

Another complicated unit to use; and if you don't use it all the time you'll for sure forget the different button pushes and number of beeps, and what each means.

Don't lose the quick reference card - keep it in your wallet.  And download the manual and quick reference guide from the Gennum's website.

Volume adjustable

This is reasonably intuitive, with two dedicated buttons, one each for volume up and volume down.

How fast does it turn on

It takes about twelve seconds to turn on and connect to the phone.

Manual

Well written in perfect English.

Support

Via website only.

Pairing password printed on device

No (it is 0000 so in an emergency you have a good chance of guessing what it is!)


Features

Battery life

Up to 7 hours talk or 100 hours standby claimed.  This is average to good battery life.

Low battery indicator/signal

The unit beeps once every minute to indicate about 15 minutes of battery life remaining.  The beeping increases to once every 10 seconds when there is less than 5 minutes battery life.

Only the person wearing the headset hears the beeping, not the person you're speaking to.

Battery type

Lithium polymer.

Although the capacity isn't disclosed, Gennum say it is a 120 mAh battery and with their special power management features, they get about 130 mAh out of it.

Replaceable battery?

No.  Gennum say the battery is guaranteed for a minimum of 500 charge/discharge cycles, and will continue to work, with slowly diminishing capacity, for many more after that.

Bottom line - by the time the battery has died, you'll probably have bought a new headset.

Battery charging method/time

A brick charger with cord ends with a special sized miniature plug to be connected into the unit.

The headset also comes with a cable that plugs into any USB port at one end and into the headset at the other end; allowing it to be charged from any device with a powered USB port.

Charging time is about 2 hours.

Multi-voltage charger

Yes.

Charger weight/size

2.6 oz

Reasonably typical size and weight for a brick charger.

Other charging methods

Connect it via the supplied cable to any other device with a powered USB port, eg your laptop.

How many pairings can be stored

The unit can store up to three pairings.

Headset and hands-free profiles?

Hands-free is fully supported.  The less common and older headset profile is not fully supported.

Audio profile for computers

Not officially, but unofficially probably yes - the lack of official support being due primarily to the support hassles on the Windows computer side of supporting the audio profile.

Bluetooth compatibility

Version 1.2

Power/range

The manual says it is a Class 1 device but this is apparently a typo.  Gennum say the device is Class 2.

On the website, it is suggested the device uses only 1 mW of power for long battery life, which would suggest the unit is actually a Class 3 device.

No claim is made about range.

Effective range

It receives signals (from the person you are talking to) for up to two floors with no problems.  But it only sends signals (ie your voice) for a very short distance - maybe 20', and not through any obstructions.

This is, however, perfectly adequate for normal Bluetooth type connections.

Warranty

One year.

Free return

Retailer policies will vary.

Noise cancelling/DSP

This is offered as the nXZEN's strongest feature, and they use a DSP processor proudly rated at 120 MIPS.

How powerful is 120 MIPS?  More than twice as powerful as a 486DX processor (if you remember that far back).  But a modern Pentium 4 is about 80 times more powerful (9726 MIPS), which is not to belittle the power of this DSP.

How well does it work?  Maybe it works better than other headsets, but it works no better than if using my Motorola Razr V3 phone by itself, and much the same as using the corded headset that came with the phone.  Here is a 363kB WAV file allowing you to hear the different sound qualities in a quiet environment, and here is a 519kB WAV file allowing you to hear the different sound qualities in a noisy environment.

The noisy environment had a mix of white noise, wind, low frequency noise, and two radio stations playing, so as to throw an impressive mix of different sounds at the headset's processing abilities.

Gennum's website has some impressive sound files comparing their headset's noise cancelling to that of an unnamed competitor.  We don't know how to reconcile their sound files with the noisy environment test above, and repeatedly tested two different sample headsets from Gennum in a range of different noisy environments.  In all cases the headset was never any better than the phone handset by itself, and sometimes the sound processing eliminated much of my voice along with background noise.

Sound quality

When talking to other people, they reported my voice sounded perhaps slightly quieter than normal, and there seems to be no way to adjust this.

The sound quality of the person at the other end of the call seemed fine in the headset.

You can hear the sound quality for yourself by clicking on the two sample files above.


Capabilities

Turning on and off

You turn the unit on and off by pressing the side button.  Press the side button and wait for two flashes, and the unit switches on, making a tone in your ear.

Press the side button and wait for four flashes (or four beeps followed by five tones if you're listening) then release and your unit should be switched off.

At times I completely lost track of whether I was turning the unit on or off.  Kinda makes you wish they had a simple on/off switch, doesn't it....

Auto connect

Yes.  Note that earlier build levels did not support auto connect (an essential feature in our opinion) but current units support it perfectly.

Voice tag support

Supported.  Press the pinch button until one beep sounds and then say the name that you've previously recorded.

Last number redial

Yes, but only when using Hands-Free, not Headset profile phones.

To activate, press and hold the pinch button for two beeps.

Transfer call to/from phone

In theory, this is simple.  Just push the pinch button until it beeps once, and the call will switch from the phone to the headset, or vice versa.

But in practice, it proved very difficult to get right.  The same command is also interpreted as a 'flash' command for swapping between two calls, or answering one call and putting the other call on hold; a slightly briefer press of the pinch button is interpreted as the mute command; and a slightly longer press of the button is a last number redial command.

Maybe I wasn't getting the timing of the button push exactly right, and/or maybe the phone and headset weren't always on and connected, but whatever the reason, I sometimes had difficulty transferring calls.

Call waiting/Three way calling

Call waiting is supported with the Hands-Free profile.  Press and hold the pinch button for one beep to either place the first call on hold and answer the second call, and/or to swap between callers.

Three way calling is apparently not supported.

Call reject

Apparently not supported.

Call answer/end

Yes.  To answer a call, either press and hold the pinch button for one beep, or briefly press and release the side button.  To end a call, either press and hold the pinch button for three beeps, or briefly press and release the side button.

Mute

Yes.  Briefly press and release the pinch button to turn mute on or off.  While in mute mode, the headset beeps regularly to advise you of its mute status.


Subjective

Attractive design

Reasonably so.  It is conservative and timeless, and not ostentatious or unappealing.

Flashing indicators on standby

No.

Although a blue light flashes when the unit is in use, there is no indication as to if it is switched on or not.  As a result, I was never quite sure if I was turning the headset on or off.

It would also be very helpful to know if the headset was actively connected to a phone or not - another thing I was never quite sure of.

Size

Average/normal.


Summary

This is an attractive unit priced towards the top end of the market, but which offers no improvement in sound quality or noise cancelling than when using the phone handset by itself.

 

Using the Gennum nXZEN 5500 Headset

First, the good news.  The nXZEN 5500 scores acceptably well in the comfort category.  It is easy to put on and off your ear, sits there securely, and the design of the unit seems such that it will not become loose or insecure after repeated wearings.

But now for the real world use of the unit.  I found it confusing and difficult to remember all the different commands and controls, and was never sure if the unit was switched on or off, and/or whether it was connected to my phone or not.

The sound quality experienced by people I was talking to was similar to using the test Motorola V3 phone handset by itself in quiet environments.

In noisier environments, the active signal processing of the unit could be detected - but not only was it eliminating some of the background noise, it was also eliminating much of my voice as well, with the net result not always being an improvement.  While the unit does offer some noise cancelling abilities - and so is probably better than BT headsets that don't - it was no better than that offered by the handset alone, or (to my surprise) the regular corded headset that was provided free with the phone.

Connecting with phones

Easy.  Once you've paired the unit with a phone, any time you turn the unit on, it will look for and connect with your phone if the phone is also on and in range.

This is convenient and simple.

Playing Music

This is a clever additional feature of the unit.  A cable plugs into a music source (eg MP3 player), into the nXZEN 5500 (into its recharging socket), and also runs to an ear bud.  Put the ear bud in your other ear, and you can hear the music through both the headset and the ear bud.

If a call comes in, the nXZEN switches to the call, but you have to pull the ear bud out of your other ear (or listen to music in one ear and the caller in the other).  Sound quality is far from excellent, but for casual use it makes it convenient to both listen to music and be ready to take phone calls without having to juggle too many wires and headsets.

Summary

Gennum's nXZEN unit has some good features, and is comfortable to wear.  Like all other BT headsets, it is regrettably complicated to use, and its noise cancelling does not work well.

The unit can be purchased from Amazon for $130, and has a recommended retail of $160.
 

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Originally published 10 Feb 2006, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 

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