I’m pretty jazzed about the Etymotic Research cell phone headset that I’ve been using the past few months. Most people probably don’t get too excited about cell phone headsets, especially wired models. Let’s just say that I’m not “most people” and leave it at that. This thing rocks!
I have a long history of using noise canceling headsets for listening to music. This because for the last fifteen years my job has involved a lot of travel, and airplanes are noisy places. I started out using Sony MDR-NC10s, which were amongst the first noise canceling headphones offered. To frame this up in time, I used them with a mini-disc player long before the introduction of the iPod.
For listening to music my gear evolved to the point where for the past few years I’ve used Etymotic ER-6i noise reducing headsets. Etymotic Research is a little known company that comes from a background of professional audiology. They make hearing related devices for the medical community. They also made some of the first in-ear monitors for professional musicians.
There are fundamentally two approaches to noise reduction; passive and active. My old Sony NC10s were a classic example of active noise reduction. They use a microphone and some simple circuitry to identify the background noise and eliminate it using phase cancellation.
In contrast, Etymotic Research products take the passive approach. Rather than reduce the noise you hear they try to stop it from ever making it into the mechanism of your hearing. They are designed to create a very effective seal on the ear canal so noise is simply kept out.
Etymotic offers a cell phone headset called ETY.COM. This product is essentially a single ear version of their headphone driver mated to a noise canceling boom mic. I’ve been using one for about five months, and I really like it.
Let me state at the outset two simple facts; (1) while I’ve invested a considerable sum over the years in various wireless headsets, I’ve never found a one that was even close to satisfactory, and (2) I much prefer a mic boom that actually makes it to near my mouth.
The ETY.COM lacks anything that goes around your ear to hold it in place. It’s held in position by the friction of its fit into your ear canal. This approach is simple, comfortable, and works. I often wear it for extended periods with no issues at all.
There’s quite a bit of variance in real-world implementations of the human head. To accommodate this fact Etymotic provides their headset with a selection of removable tips. These vary in their length and diameter so that one should provide both a decent seal and a comfortable fit for most people.
The microphone boom is a flexible metal tube coated in plastic. At the tip of the mic book there are two small opening, one facing your mouth and the other facing away from you. Thus there is apparently some simple mechanism for ambient noise reduction.
Since I have not destroyed my ETY.COM to ascertain it’s internal workings I can’t be 100% authoritative about its construction. But I suspect that the microphone element is actually mounted up near the ear, and the mic boom is actually a hollow tube.
The wire from the headset is about a yard long, with a clip about 8″ from the earpiece so that the wire can be held to your shirt collar. The wire is very flexible yet robust enough that it hasn’t been torn up by traveling in my laptop bag. It’s terminated in a standard 3/32″ x 3 conductor plug. I most often plug it directly into my Blackberry Pearl.
The front of the package contains a notice that the headset “Includes Free VoIP Adapter.” That adapter is really a simple audio breakout cable. It converts the single 3/32″ x 3 conductor plug to a pair of 3conductor plugs corresponding to the headset output and microphone input on a PC.
While I was a little dubious about this gadget at first it has turned out to be genuinely handy. I’ve used the ETY.COM with soft phones on both my HP notebook and netbook. Using the analog audio interface doesn’t sound as clear as using my Plantronics .Audio 615m USB headset, but I’m not in the habit of taking that headset in my travels since it’s not especially portable.
The headset also includes a pair of foam wind screens that fit over the mic boom for use outdoors. There’s also a small metal tool for changing the mechanical filter that tempers the frequency response of the earpiece. The headset and all the accessories fit into a nice little zippered case, ideal for surviving the ravages of life on the road in a laptop bag.
So the next question is, “How does it sound?” To my ear it sounds as good as any cell phone headset that I’ve ever tried. It’s certain good enough for my use making cellular calls. You can listen to a recorded example here.
I think that the ETY.COM headset sounds a little thin in the lower-end when compared to the Plantronics USB headset. This is consistent with my experience with the ER-6i‘s for listening to music. I’ve met a few people who preferred Shure or Bose earbuds over Etymotic’s for iPod use, due mostly to their extended bass capability.
It takes a little time to grow accustomed to using a noise reducing headset with a phone. Phones typically send a little of your own voice, known as “side-tone” into the earpiece of the handset. Side tone is important to giving you a sense that you’re engaged in the conversation. In my prior review of the Plantronics .Audio 480 headset I noted that complete lack of side tone was very unnatural. Since ETY.COM doesn’t engage both ears the lack of side tone is not as problematic.
For a cell phone headset the ETY.COM headset is not especially expensive. I was able to find many resellers offering it online for $32-45. In comparison, my prior favorite, the Sony Featherlight DR-EX150, cost me well over $70.
As you may have gathered, I’m picky about headsets. When my old Sony headset finally died of old age I was worried that I would have a difficult time finding a suitable replacement. I’m happy to report that the ETY.COM headset is more than able to replace the old Sony. It’s just as comfortable, sounds good, and doesn’t cost a fortune.
Disclosure: The product reviewed was purchased from http://www.ecost.com. The manufacturer had no knowledge of this review.