Headsets (mini review)

23Feb18

I jumped into a thread on DXC Workplace[1] on the topic of headsets (for use with Skype [for Business]), which made me realise that it’s an important topic that I’ve not covered here before.

Even a cheap headset is better than no headset

The point made by the original author was that many people are using the built in mic/speaker on their laptops, and this is generally terrible for everybody else on the call (and maybe them too).

My headsets

Jabra 930 – this is my main desktop headset that I use for Skype from my home office. It’s wireless, and works anywhere in my house. It’s also comfortable, and the battery lasts all day long. The mute button is easy to operate, and it gives a comforting background ‘your on mute’ beep-bop every so often. I have InfoQ’s Wes Reisz to thank for the recommendation.

Jabra Pro 9470 – this is the headset that CSC provided me with when I joined. Although it’s supposedly an upgrade on the 930 I’ve never got along with it. It’s also useless with a laptop as it ends up chaining the laptop to wherever the base station is sucking power from.

Plantronics C310 – I bought this to use in the office (instead of the 9470 which languishes in its box), and because it’s wired I can wander around with my laptop with the headset connected (no base station to worry about). I like the inline mute control button on the cable; and it’s lightweight and comfortable (and cheap).

Plantronics DA40 USB adaptor + H91 headset – this is the type of headset that I used to have on my office desk phone in early 00s and I bought one for home on eBay. It now lives in my travel bag, and the DA40 lets me use it with my laptop. I also carry a bottom cable that lets me attach it to office phones as that’s sometimes handy. If I was buying new now the DA80 has a mute button on it, but DA40s are plentiful on eBay (just watch out for frayed cables on used ones) and older voice tube headsets are the best for quality and comfort.

Some observations

Everything above is monaural over the ear. I don’t like stereo for phone calls (though it can help in really noisy places) and I don’t like stuff hanging off my ears (too uncomfortable when doing hours of back to back calls).

Wireless headsets are great for desktops, because the base station (and its power cord) can stay with the desktop itself. Wired headsets are better for laptops, as you can wander around with the headset attached to the laptop without any base station worries.

PC Bluetooth is (still) way too complex and fragile for this stuff, and companies still seem to have security worries about it (which is likely why my corporate laptop doesn’t have it).

Integration with Skype/Skype for Business is very good with both Jabra and Plantronics software. Webex generally works OK too. I’ve found the experience to be highly variable with other web conferencing tools (whether browser based or with their own apps), and lots of stuff seems to fall at the first hurdle by ignoring settings for default communication device.

My perfect headset

The Jabra 930 is almost perfect, and the one thing I’d change would be a visual indication of mute status (e.g. a tiny LED at the end of the mic boom – we can then argue about whether red or green signifies mute or talk).

A quick diversion to phone headsets

I’ve yet to find a phone headset that I’m really happy with. In a pinch I use my Koss SparkPlugs with my phone, and they’re great for listening, but worse than the built in mic for talking (catching too much background noise).

By the way who decided that the button on the headset cord should be for hangup rather than mute (and doubly who decided that wasn’t even a configurable option)? On a typical call I might be on/off mute dozens of times, and the UX people decide to make me fiddle around with a touch screen to do that; obviously I only get to hang up once per call – the balance of effort is obvious here.

Note

[1] Previously known as [email protected], which I like a lot – in the same way that I liked Facebook itself before the whole advertising fueled surveillance capitalism thing ruined it.



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