Affordable Cordless Mobility In The Home Office

Obi-Hai-S12-KX-TSC11-trio-300sqEarlier this week Bill left a comment asking for a recommendation about a phone and cordless headset combination. His requirements seem quite sensible and he expresses some frustration with his existing gear. His situation seems one that could be very common, so I thought it worth highlighting before trying to make some recommendations.

Here’s his comment in full:

Sorry for bringing back an old thread – but am hoping you might have some advice. I am a home office worker & spend a lot of time on the phone with colleagues & customers. I’m not using a speakerphone – but I am currently using a Plantronics S12 headset & Panasonic KX-TSC11 phone connected to an OBi110 for both POTS and VOIP capability. The audio quality is just “ok”, and the S12 creates an annoying hum when I raise the microphone volume.

I would like to upgrade to a better (binaural, over the head, no little buds sticking into my ear) headset, preferably DECT to enable me to stand and move about a bit while on calls (is DECT a safe bet for call quality & consistency?). Also it would be convenient to have a built-in answering machine if the quality is very good.

The *paramount* concern is that my voice quality sound loud & clear to callers. I would also like the devices to be wideband-capable (realizing this only affects VOIP).

Do you have any suggestions for a phone/headset combination for this scenario? Thanks very much in advance!

Bill’s existing gear bears examination. With just a few minutes of Googling I found that the Panasonic KX-TSC11 is a very basic analog phone. They’re available for around $45 and have only one analog POTS connection. Panasonic refers to it as an “Integrated Telephone System” which seems a bit puzzling to me. It’s a bit like calling a pen a “fully manual correspondence creation system.” It’s an entry-level analog phone.


The Plantronics S12 is a wired headset with an amplifier. It can be connected to the headset jack of a phone that sports such a feature. It also allows analog connection to any phone by inserting itself inline with the handset. It’s a current product with MSRP around $150, but readily available online for around $70-80.

Plantronics’ S12 is a very common device, offered in big box retailers across the country. There may be an issue with it’s use with the Panasonic phone. I’d certainly contact Plantronics support through their Sounding Board forum to see if it can be resolved.

The OBi110 Voice Service Bridge and VoIP Telephone Adapter is a nice little ATA with some nifty XMPP capabilities, making it capable of integrating with Google Voice. Hello free calls to Canada and the US!

Clearly, Bill was fairly cost-conscious in selecting these devices. There’s nothing wrong with that, but now he wants something better. It’s good to bear in mind his sense of what’s appropriate.

Looking over at my desk you’ll find a Polycom VVX-1500 and Sennheiser DW Pro2. Both of those are devices that I enjoy, admire and recommend. However, they are well beyond the scope of a typical home office dweller. They’re great products, but they simply cost too much for all but the executive class, or in my case, the fiscally irresponsible voip-fetishist.

Clearly there are other options, so lets find Bill a suitable solution.

The Obi Hai device presents an analog POTS interface so we’ll need a phone designed for an analog line. If the phone has only an analog interface then HDVoice is, at least at present, completely out of the question. ATA’s just don’t support HDVoice. There would be little point if they did, since the attached analog phone wouldn’t support wideband audio.

Perhaps we should consider the situation from the perspective of the headset. Bill needs to decide if he really wants a DECT headset? Or will a DECT cordless phone and a wired headset adequately meet his needs?

DECT cordless phones are inexpensive consumer products. There are many models available from various manufacturers, at a variety of price points.

In marked contrast, DECT cordless headsets are very different beasts. These are enterprise or SMB devices that, while admitted more ideal in some cases, are significantly more expensive. Bill’s stated preference for a dual-ear headset puts him into some of the more costly products offered by companies like Plantronics, GN/Jabra or Sennheiser.

For the moment, let us assume that the high $$$ road is not the path he would select.

Option #1 – A Gigaset Consumer Cordless System

Gigaset-C610IP-243 Not so long ago my home office mobility requirements were met by using a Gigaset SIP/DECT cordless phone. The Gigaset base station accepts an analog line, making it a suitable solution for use with the Obi Hai device. They also support a number of SIP accounts, providing a pure VoIP solutions, even supporting HDVoice.

The C61H and S79H handsets support the use of a wired headset. There are many suitable wired headsets in the $20-50 range. It might be a little more difficult to find a dual-ear headset with the 2.5mm jack to fit a cordless phone.

Cordless phones are fine for wandering around, but some people, myself included, like to have a traditional desk phone on their desk. The common Gigaset cordless systems, like my C610A IP (pictured right) don’t provide this.

Option #2 – A Gigaset SMB Cordless System

Bill may be well served by a Gigaset DX800A. This model is an all-in-one system. It’s DECT base is in the form of a proper desk phone. It has an impressive feature set.

  • One analog interface
  • Multiple SIP accounts
  • 4 simultaneous calls
  • HDVoice (G.722)
  • Add up to 6 cordless handsets
  • “Link2Mobile” Bluetooth link to cell phone
  • Supports Bluetooth headsets
    • Even HDVoice!
  • Built-in Voicemail
    • 3 separate mailboxes
    • 55 minutes of VM record time
  • Contact sync with Outlook

With a retail price of $250 it’s a pretty impressive device. It could be a compelling solution for a home office. It was announced at CES 2011 but only started shipping in North America in October. As far as I can tell it’s only be sold through Amazon at the moment.

I had a few minutes to play with one while at CES 2011 last year. It was registered with ZipDX and making calls to/from other devices on display in the suite. I had it register to my Plantronics Voyager Pro UC headset and confirmed that it passes HDVoice over Bluetooth.

As a matter of policy I only recommend gear that I’ve actually used myself. So while I suspect the DX800A might be a good solution, I cannot give it a firm recommendation. I just haven’t had enough hands-on time with the device.

Gigasets occasionally have quirky software. To some these quirks may be minor annoyances, but to others they can be deal-breakers.

All that said, there are some people, VUC regulars in the UK & Europe, who have the device and give it high praise.

FWIW, in Europe Gigaset also offers the DL500A, which is a low-cost model with only an analog line interface. This model is not offered in North America.


Option #3 – A Panasonic Consumer Cordless System

Let’s have another option for Bill to consider. If just perhaps HDVoice is not such a priority, he might well consider the Panasonic KX-TG6672B. I still like Panasonic cordless phone systems because they’re not trying to mimic a cell phone.

The KX-TG6672B is a single-line phone with a desk phone/DECT base and one or more cordless handsets. He could add more handsets if required. It would easily connect to his Obi Hai device.

The KX-TG6672B base has built-in voicemail. Both the base and the cordless handsets have 2.5mm connectors for a wired headset. Panasonic offers an affordable accessory headset (KX-TCA400) although it’s only a single ear model.

The KX-TG6672B is definitely affordable, offered for well under $100 from all the usual suspects.

Incidentally, if you do need to use a binaural headset, like the Sennheiser PC 131, with a cordless phone you’ll need to adapt the dual 3.5mm plugs on the headset to the single 2.5mm jack on the phone. You can do this using an adapter from Headset Buddy. I’ve used such adapters for quite a while, allowing my ETY.COM wired headset to be used with various handsets.

There are a myriad of ways to meet Bill’s stated objectives. These are but a few options to consider. Leaving the high-road to the executive set, one takes the middle road, while the others are functional yet affordable. Perhaps with a little more guidance as to his preferences there would be other solutions worth examining. I hope that this was a helpful exercise.

  • Wow! When I asked my question I wasn’t expecting a whole blog post in response! This is all great info and I appreciate the effort. In terms of the tiers of users you mentioned – I am not an executive – I am a project manager. Therefore clear communication is the lifeblood of my work, especially when talking with customers or customers-to-be.

    You definitely hit the nail on the head when describing my current devices. They were certainly purchased with budget in mind. I had hit a wall using VOIP via a softphone on my computer – and had to quickly do something to remedy the problems I experienced. I didn’t have time to experiment, so I bought a mainstream phone & headset. The Obi device was an afterthought – I stumbled across it in my research and it seemed like a good idea. Aside from the lack of wideband support, it’s actually a great little device. I like the ability to dynamically select either VOIP or land line for calls – and to connect to various VOIP providers. And I like the vast array of configuration options for directing calls & various other telephony parameters.

    As you noticed, I’m now looking to upgrade to better devices. Unfortunately I spoiled myself back in the 90’s with a Bang and Olufsen Beocom 1400. It was expensive at the time (around $150 as I recall) but it had, hands down, the best & most natural voice reproduction of any telephone I had heard before, or have heard since. Unfortunately I sold it a few years back when I abandoned POTS, never expecting to be returning to it again. Now the equivalent device from B&O is around $600 by the time you add up all the “extras” like the required power supply, etc, and even then it’s really designed for casual personal use, not business use. Anyway, that device set the standard for me for my expectations of voice quality – and that was long before “wideband” even existed – so I know what’s possible.

    As for my present situation, I think I will target the headset first, as that (especially the mic) is the weakest point in my current setup. In one of the reviews I saw of the Sennheiser DW Pro2 you mentioned, the reviewer likened the audio quality to that of B&O. That certainly caught my attention. It sure is pricey … but if it sounds that good it’s worth it.

    The DX800a you mentioned also had caught my eye. However I have been told that a DECT headset like the DW Pro 2 won’t work with it, because it is also a DECT base itself. I’m not sure why they won’t work together – if I connect the DW Pro 2 RJ9 thru a Headset Buddy adapter to convert to 2.5mm, why can’t it connect to the DX800a’s headset jack? Shouldn’t the DX800a see the connected device just like any other “wired” headset? I guess this wouldn’t provide for answering calls from the headset though. With the DX800a the OBi may no longer be necessary – so it simplifies things a bit.

    Anyway, to wrap this up, here are my preferences, as you asked in your response:
    1. Audio quality is top priority – especially the microphone
    1a. An amplified microphone would be very helpful – but without any added hum or other extraneous noise

    2. A wireless headset (e.g. DECT) is also a high priority. Over the past 2 years I’ve gone through 3-4 headsets (I guess I’m headset-fetishist :), a couple of which were casualties due to cable issues. Also the “speaking experts” advise that it’s good to stand when on calls, as one tends to “project” better when standing. I find a corded headset to be inconvenient this use case.

    3. I would like to maintain the ability to dynamically select a VOIP vs POTS connection for calls. I got the land line since I’d lost faith in VOIP for business calls. However, with the OBi, I’ve since tried another provider, and have so far experienced great results. I’d like the option to use either.

    4. HD voice / wideband isn’t a real issue at the moment. However at the kind of money we’re talking about here, I view this as a long term investment, so I’d prefer to be forward-thinking in my selections. Additionally (as I found with the Beocom) even a POTS telephone can sound far better than “average” if it’s built to high quality standards. So my thinking (unless I’m mistaken) is that a phone & headset designed from the ground up to support wideband will sound better than average even for standard telephone calls, because it has the capability to support a wider frequency range than a standard telephone.

    I cringe at the costs involved in all this. As you suggested, the higher end gear could be considered the domain of executives. But, then again, for a home office worker at any level, a high quality phone system (or “sounding very good on the phone”) is analogous to being well-dressed in the office.

    Thanks again for your detailed feedback!

    • If you like the idea of the DW Pro2 then it’s certainly worth a try. You can try it with a soft phone, connected via USB. There’s a mic gain adjustment on the base unit which seems to have a wide range of control. If you like it then you can consider a suitable host device. If not, you can return it.

      An enterprise class headset can include hook state control, either by way of a mechanical lifter or an EHS cable. I think that EHS cable is the more elegant approach, but it requires that your phone have such a connection.

      A mechanical lifter can be used with any phone that’s physically a good match. Your existing phone is not likely well suited to use with a lifter, nor does it support EHS connection.

      Finally, a mechanical lifter usually costs more than an EHS cable. But a desk phone supporting an EHS connection costs more than one without.

      If you’d like to have something to compare to the DW Pro you might also consider the Jabra PRO 9465/9460 Duo. These are cheaper than the Sennheiser, but come well recommended by the infamous Karl Fife of Chicago. I had a brief chat with Karl earlier today. I’ll pass you hist contacts details. He’d be happy to discuss the Jabra headsets with you.

      As to connecting the headset, I’m not certain about the best route. Any kind of wired connection is going to be a bit of hack. The Jabra will connect via Bluetooth which seems optimal. Ideally you use a phone that had a proper headset connector and supported EHS, but that takes the Obi Hai device out of play.

  • Great ideas… Thanks again for the suggestions. I’ll post an update soon.

  • Well, it’s been about a month since my original post & Michael’s detailed response, so I figured I’d post an update in case my experience with this may help someone else in a similar situation. I’ve been distracted by an unanticipated change in employment, and a new focus on seeking new technical project management opportunities.

    Prior to knowing about this transition, I purchased a Sennheiser DW-Pro 2, and have used it regularly over the past month. I still have the Obi110 and the Panasonic KX-TSC11B phone described above, so the DW-Pro 2 simply plugged in replacing the Plantronics S12 headset. I have used this setup for a mix of calls split between VOIP (through and a land line. Here are my impressions of the DW-Pro2 in this configuration.

    Overall I am quite pleased with this unit. My first reaction upon handling it was that “it just feels good”. The base is very stylish and modern. The headset feels good in the hand & is light and comfortable when worn. By comparison, others I’ve used feel ‘cheap’. I guess this is to be expected since each of them cost a fraction of the price of the DW Pro 2.

    I do very much enjoy the fact that this unit is wireless. It’s great to be able to stand up and move about while on a call. I’ve actually tested this by walking downstairs & into the yard at the other end of the house (down 2 stories, through multiple walls, & probably 100+ feet away) while on a call – and with a couple exceptions the call quality remained fairly constant. In a more typical scenario (standing up to move around, or going to the kitchen to refill my tea) it’s just fine.

    As indicated by the configuration I described, I haven’t been able to test this unit on any wideband calls. That having been said, the call quality has been quite good – depending, of course, on the quality of the handset & connection at the other end. I did have one call recently, with someone on (apparently) a high quality handset in a corporate environment, where the audio quality was amazing – the caller’s voice sounded very natural, and indicated mine did too. On the down side, just as with a good hi-fi system, where a high end system makes it easy to hear the defects in the audio content, the DW-Pro 2 helps me hear the flaws in the call connection, and I can tell not everyone is using a DW Pro 2 for their calls:)

    The one issue I find quite disappointing is that I notice a significant amount of feedback in the earphones while I’m talking. In fairness, I do have the microphone volume turned most of the way up. I can somewhat alleviate the feedback by moving the microphone away from my mouth (though this somewhat defeats the purpose of raising the volume). I wouldn’t have expected this kind of issue on such a high-end device. Fortunately the person at the other end doesn’t hear it, and (since raising the microphone volume) have gotten favorable feedback on my voice quality.

    The only other concern I’ve had is that the microphone boom is plastic, and although it adjusts vertically, it doesn’t adjust laterally. Maybe that’s Sennheiser’s way of ensuring the microphone is positioned optimally. But, still, the fact that the boom is plastic doesn’t seem right on such a pricey device.

    But, again, my overall impression of the DW Pro 2 is very favorable. Aside from a couple issues, one significant, and the other minor, I am pleased with the purchase. I haven’t gone further yet with finding a better telephone to use with the headset, as I’m waiting to see what lies ahead (I may no longer be in a Home Office environment). But either way, if I were to give up this headset, I’d miss it.

  • Gavin Engel

    Is it possible for the Gigaset IP phones to show what SIP/DID is being called?  For instance, let’s say I have a couple DID numbers–one is a personal number, and one is a business toll-free number.  I’d like to know what is being called so that I can say either “Hello” (for personal) or “Hello this is Gavin, how many I help you?” (for business line).

    • mjgraves

      Our older A580IP certainly show the name of the SIP account when a call arrives. You could name your account suitably and get the desired effect.

      I’m told that the C610A IP can handle four simultaneous calls, although I’ve not done it myself.