BOOM HEADSET IS TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED, BUT STILL A BUST

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The Boom, a pricey, hands-free headset for cellphones and some home telephones, is an example of how hard it is to be great.

Its foundation is the fabulous noise-canceling voice-recognition technology developed for use in brokerage houses and proven on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, one of the noisiest places you'll ever want to call home from.

The technology was adapted for consumers with help from Frog Design, which has designed everything from cruise ships and motorcycles to faucets and the first Apple computer.

Sounds like a cinch for product of the year, no? And yet, after testing it for a couple of weeks in lieu of my run-of-the-mill headset, I don't think I'd want it for keeps, even if it weren't six times the price.

The reason, primarily, is design.

There is no doubt that the Boom's primary boast, expressed in its slogan "whisper and be heard," isn't puffery. The couple of times I asked fellow phone conversationalists to test it out, they said they could hear me just fine, no matter how loud I cranked the radio. I still had to speak up for my Mama Ruth, but UmeVoice Inc., which makes the Boom, never promised to overcome a 94-year-old's hearing loss.

Such a product should be pretty desirable. Even more than giving the ability to be heard at a sporting event or a nightclub without having to go outside, its technology suggests that you could speak in a restaurant, or on a bus, without sharing your conversation with everyone around you.

But in practice, I found it to be more complicated than it should have been, and less comfortable than it would need to be. One friend said I sounded like Mickey Mouse, but I'm writing that off more to his ears than the Boom's microphone.

Complicated? Terms tossed about in the instruction manual include "magnet axle" and "rear stabilizer." Once I had those down, it still took me a while to figure out how to put it on with one hand, a clear drawback for a device many people would use while driving.

Uncomfortable? My regular headset came with six earpieces (three sizes times two ears). Once I chose the one for me, it has never required more than just sliding it in. Because it's so light - less than 40 percent of the weight of the Boom - I often leave it in while driving to eliminate one more distracting motion when I want to use the phone.

The Boom has a bud that fits into the same ear space my regular piece uses, but it's held in place by a multi-adjustable creation that clamps onto the back of the ear. Together, the clamping effect and the weight ruled out leaving it on for long periods.

The manual suggests that users "just wear the EarWrap and snap the boom portion on and off as required." I found that to be impossible; I would have needed a mirror to align it with the magnet axle again, and when I finally found a position in which the Boom was bearable, the ear wrap fell off when I detached the boom portion.

Altogether, the Boom does impress, but with its drawbacks - which include the $150 price - it is likely to end up as just another toy for technophiles who can't find enough other stuff to spend their money on.