Mythbusting Skype, SILK & The Freetalk Everyman Headset

It has been said that, “the devil is in the details.” It has also been noted that I’m fussy about such things. After all, it usually takes little or no extra effort to get something right, often with much benefit moving forward.

Cast in this light I would like to revisit the Freetalk Everyman Headset being offered by InStore Solutions through the Skype online store. You may recall that I reviewed this device a while ago. I found it to be a decent product at a very attractive price. I’ve recommended it to a number of people, and none have come back to complain.

I think that USB attached audio devices, whether headset or speakerphone, are exceptionally convenient. They isolate the low-level analog signal handling from the harsh electrical environment inside a computer, often allowing for improved noise performance. They also save us from the painful prospect of loading unique device drivers.

However, in an exchange on Twitter a couple weeks ago @chaimhass remarked that:

The first SILK-enabled devices arrived in 2009 with the FREETALK Everyman from @issglobal headset, as far as I can recall.

Further:

It actually has an audio chip in the headset that supports the SILK codec. See @jimcanuck’s piece on this – http://bit.ly/fKn4RI

Let’s just say that I’m not comfortable with these two assertions.

Normally I would let this slide past without comment, but I clicked through to @chaimhass‘ twitter profile and discovered that he’s with Kaplow, Skype’s PR firm. I would certainly hope that the PR guys would get this stuff right.

There is, as far as I know, literally nothing about the Freetalk Everyman Headset that is SILK or even Skype-specific. I believe that it is in no meaningful way “SILK-enabled.”

The Freetalk Everyman Headset is a decent USB headset. It offers acoustical and electrical performance that can be appreciated while listening to music, or using it with any soft phone. If your habit is to use wideband (HDVoice) capable soft phones then you’ll find it a credible option. And budget friendly, too.

Encoding the audio does not happen in the headset. The SILK codec is entirely implemented in the Skype client application. A quality headset with frequency response characteristics beyond those commonly used for “voice chat,”  it provides a better source signal, which can then be SILK encoded into better audio for your Skype call.

However, it could be used to equal effect with any soft phone or UC client supporting G.722.1C, Siren 14, G.719, Speex wideband, CELT or OPUS. I once tried it with the LifeSize Desktop using G.722.1C and found the audio quality was very good.

Jim Courtney’s commentary about the Freetalk Everyman Headset highlights the fact that Skype found variability in the end -users audio device to be a weakness in the path to a superior Skype calling experience. The “audio chip” that Jim cites is just a decent quality USB audio interface, which eliminates the impact of the five-cent audio chips found on many computer motherboards.

In contrast, let us consider the Freetalk Everyman HD Webcam. It’s not like other webcams. It performs the H.264 encoding of video in silicon, sending the compressed video stream to the Skype client. This offloads the task of video compression from the host CPU. The Freetalk Everyman HD Webcam could quite be correctly described as “H.264 enabled.”

In offering an inexpensive USB attached headset Skype takes a step toward more consistent audio for Skype users. Even so, while the Freetalk Everyman Headset may be very appropriate for use with Skype, it’s not specifically SILK-enabled. This fact does not denigrate the device in any way.

Most people will probably think that I’m being overly picky, and this is just a matter if linguistics. That may be true, but if we accept that the Freetalk Everyman Headset is genuinely SILK enabled then the same could be said of my Plantronics .Audio 615m, when both are simply good quality USB headsets.

All techno-semantics aside, a good headset is a joyous thing…also an important tool in enabling wideband telephony.

  • Barfarf

    Thank you for your insights on the difference between marketing jargon “wideband audio” and SILK.   It helped me to purchase a headset from Logitech.