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Palm Hybrid Headset/Headphones

Wed Aug 9, 2006 - 1:39 PM EDT - By Jay Gross


The high level of ambient noise in my bedroom-turned-office makes listening to music unmusical, especially in the summertime. That necessity of life in the South, the air conditioner, mercifully drowns traffic screeches from the outside, at the cost of a loud whirr that's difficult to ignore. Even in months when cooling isn't necessary, downtown's intrusive noise often ruins the listening experience.

Add the neighbors, who keep human hours. They're awake early in the day, and bed down just when I've started writing, procrastinating, and craving some soothing (or not) music. I'm night people. They're not.

My solution, so far, is Palm's Hybrid Headset/Headphones. Their foam covered in-ear speakers keep the neighbors from complaining about my cellos and basses. I can't enjoy my living room stereo system at night since my neighbors whine about the low frequencies, coming through the walls (the highs eaten by concrete and plaster). So at night, if I want volume, (and want to avoid angry neighbors or an eviction notice)... it's headphones, and unlike the loudspeakers, the headphones don't have to compete with the air conditioner's white noise drone.


The Palm Hybrid's ear pieces arrive naked. You have to install little foam covers around its dime-sized speakers. This is a job for the patient, as the fit is quite tight and the thin foam could tear easily so be gentle.

The microphone inhabits a small blob on the cable, along with a tiny button that you can use to answer an incoming call without reaching for the Treo. The mic dangles near your chin, and a longer lead reaches around to your other ear. The ear pieces are conveniently labeled "L" and "R", because for stereo music listening that often matters.


The Hybrid is a wired device, and is it ever! A lo-o-o-ng cord terminates in a Treo-standard 2.5mm earphone plug. When the headset is connected, the Treo senses the fact and disables its speakers so you can listen privately. It pipes stereo music to the headphones, and it sends phone calls in mono to both ears.

Although the product isn't billed as "isolating," that's pretty much what it does, at least on the receiver's end. The foam covers block out or absorb most ambient sound, and the cute little speakers drown out whatever else gets through. If the music level isn't too high, it's still possible to hear sound in the room, but the headphones also make it possible to ignore everything but the music. Ahhh, bliss.

Your caller isn't so lucky. The headset's mic, devoid of any noise cancellation technology at all, picks up absolutely everything – blender churning out frozen drinks, dogs yelping, neighbors yelling, all the stuff you'd like to screen out, the stuff your caller would probably not want in his or her ear. I don't make or receive many phone calls in the middle of the night, so I'm not all that worried about the noise problem for callers. If you're looking for a phone headset that quells noise, skip this one, but expect a much bigger bruise on your plastic.

The Hybrid headset comes with nearly five feet of cord, enough to reach to your car's dash, your desk, or your pocket. I often swivel my chair 270 degrees in a U-shaped desk area, but the wire doesn't tangle up too bad while I'm using the headset. However, when it's stashed in a case on the way to a coffeehouse or languishing on the desk someplace between uses, the Tangle Gremlins have their way with it.

Knots and kinks aside, corded headsets have advantages over wireless ones – no pairing, no fading, no charging, and no Bluetooth battery drain. If your listening and phone-talking time tends to be within the cord's length of your Treo, then the corded headset is for you. However, if you'd rather roam around within Bluetooth's 30-foot range, you might not be comfortable tied to the Treo by a wire. I like the simplicity of just plugging the thing in, but there's much to be said about being free – for example, to visit the Small Tiled Room.

Asymmetrical looks

At first glance, the Palm headset looks like its designers goofed. One of its ear bud's leads is much shorter than the other. This position suspends the device's microphone near your chin, a convenient place to pick up your voice during a call. You might expect this would be better for the caller, but it isn't. In addition to the ambient noise problem already mentioned, the mic's signal lacks high frequencies. The omnidirectional, electret mic doesn't work any better, even if you hold it in right in front of your mouth, so position isn't the problem – component quality is the problem.

I tested the headset by talking to my voicemail on my land line. Palm's headset/headphone isn't nearly as good as a normal telephone for mic quality. Your can be heard, no problem, but the high frequencies and sibilants are gone, resulting in a somewhat muffled sound. Not necessarily a good thing.

Audio Quality

I hooked up the Hybrid to my Treos, 650 and 700p, to check out the sound. I even turned off the air conditioner while I made the assessments. Palm's little speakers are amazingly responsive, and I don't have to add "for their size" as a qualifier.

As loudspeakers, of course, they'd be laughable, but ensconced in my ears, they put out the quality I expect from a good stereo system. Their midrange is excellent, and the highs crisp and clean. Although plentiful, the headset's bass isn't quite as robust as I would wish, but it is very good. Overall, the listening experience is excellent. This in a rather difficult ambiance.

Word to the wise (or not). If you use this headset/headphone in your car, use only one of the ear pieces, so you can hear people yelling at you – like that traffic cop enforcing the rules some states have about this very issue.


Besides the lack of high frequencies in the mic, some other things are missing. Sadly, there's no collar clip to take the strain off the dangling cable. The entire weight of the headset hangs from your ears. A strain relief clip (a part with a cost of about a quarter) would make that much more comfortable, supporting the wire's weight.

There's no inline volume adjustment – you have to use the Treo's volume controls. Not a problem, since the wired nature of the product means it's always within reach.

The biggest problem is the cord. It's a little unfair to whine about that, because this is, after all a corded headset. It's not any longer or more problematic than any other corded headset that has no coil or retractor. Indeed, its generous length could be, for some people, a boon rather than a temptation to the Gremlins. Any shorter and the wire might not reach to your car's dash, to your back pocket, or to the case clipped to your belt. Any longer and it'd be promoted as trans-continental.

Yet, it would be nice to have an option, like a coil or a retractor device. It doesn't coil, and there's no retractor. The good part is that it doesn't seem particularly fragile.

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