So after months of badgering people about G.722 based wideband capabilities in soft phones I’ve settled on using Counterpath’s Eyebeam v1.5 as my principle soft phone. I have it installed on my laptop and netbook, both systems that travel with me all the time.
Having finally found a soft phone that I lets me take advantage of the wideband capabilities of our hosted IP-PBX installation I was left to consider the audio I/O requirement in support of Eyebeam. To address this need I’ve recently been experimenting with both wired headsets and USB speakerphone devices. I started with the Plantronics .Audio 480 analog headset as detailed previously.
However, I thought it would be good to check out something in the way of a more traditional headset. I started by asking some question of people I knew, especially the VoIP Users Conference regulars. A few names kept coming up, most notably; Plantronics, Jabra/GN Telecom & Hello Direct.
I followed up these initial inquiries in a few Tweets. Quite unexpectedly the folks in PR with Plantronics responded, offering to provide me some hardware for evaluation. This Plantronics .Audio 615m is the first of two items that they have provided.
That’s an awfully big picture, but as they say…worth a thousand words.
The .Audio 615m has just one earpiece. The microphone is boom mounted. The boom is adjustable in a couple of ways. It’s a two part boom, where the free end can slide within the end mounted to the earpiece, making it length adjustable. Then the free end is also flexible. It can be curved to adjust its position relative to your mouth. And of course, it pivots about the mount point at the earpiece. This combination makes it nicely adaptable to a variety of head sizes & shapes, usable on either the left or right side.
The Plantronics .Audio 6xx Series; (left-to-right) 630, 615, 610
A quick search on Amazon resulted into a little more insight into this range of devices from Plantronics. While the .Audio 615m has one earpiece there is also a .Audio 630 with dual earpieces. There is also a .Audio 610 with analog connections to the PC and a separate USB audio adapter. On Amazon the .Audio 615m that I have is offered at around $42.00
The cord on the headset is nice and long, perfect for being tethered to a desktop PC. It’s long enough to allow me to stand up and pace a little on really long calls, as is my habit. About 12″ from the USB connector there’s a “line lump” containing the interface electronics. There’s a label on the cord that reads “Certified For Microsoft Office Communicator”, not that I care about such things.
Based upon it’s size and the length of the cord you can safely presume that this headset is not intended as a solution for the road warrior. It’s more appropriate for the desk or cubicle dweller. That said, there’s really no reason not to use it as traveling kit, but I suspect that it might suffer breakage if routinely packed in a suitcase. At least the way that I pack. There are certainly smaller, more portable solutions for the serious road warrior.
I used the .Audio 615m with number of wideband capable soft phones on my laptop, netbook and desktop PC. I found that the headset was very comfortable to wear, even over the long term. For telephony purposes I prefer the single ear version so that I can keep it on and still converse with coworkers and my wife.
From an audio quality point of view the .Audio 615m is very good. The earpiece is easily capable high quality sound, even for listening to music. The microphone element is similarly high quality. In general the .Audio 615m is more than capable of supporting wideband telephony, which is all that I require.
The easiest way to make this point is simply to record some of my voice using the headset. So, here are a few audio clips:
From the reference recording its clear to see (hear?) that the Plantronics .Audio 615m surpasses the audio quality requirements of the two telephony codecs. The G.722 format clips sound good, and the G.711 for clip is…well, as good as narrowband gets…which isn’t saying much. The point is really to illustrate in the reference clip that the .Audio 615m is more than a match for any IP telephony application, be that Skype, SIP, Google Voice or whatever your VoIP preference.
I’ve been using the Plantronics .Audio 615m off and on for about eight weeks. I have a number of headsets of various sorts available in my office, yet I find that the 615m has consistantly been my preference. When used in combination with a wideband capable soft phone it’s truly a pleasure to use, even for very long calls. Given that it’s also relatively inexpensive I simply can’t find any reason to not own one.