Just a couple of days ago I received an email asking about side-tone. Marshall Wilgard asks;
“A VoIP expert has written that he would never buy an IP phone that did
not have “sidetone” in the handset because he would want to hear a
little of his own voice when he talked. The Grandstream phones I use
do “not” have sidetone. Do you believe that sidetone is important? And
if so, which brands of IP phones have sidetone?”
As you note, sidetone is the mixing of a little of the users voice into the earpiece such that they can hear themselves as they speak. I believe that sidetone is critically important to comfortable user experience with a phone.
It’s very unnatural to not hear yourself, or hear yourself from another acoustic perspective, as you engage in conversation. Without sidetone you sound like you are very far away even though the other party sounds very near. It’s an inversion of acoustic perspective that can be discomforting.
My first experience with the lack of sidetone arose from the use of the Plantronics .Audio 480 headset. This headset features earpieces that occlude the ear canal in a manner similar to noise reducing headsets. Thus your ability to hear yourself, as well as the ambient noise of your surroundings, is diminished.
While the .Audio 480 headset has intra-aural earpieces, the same effect could be had using “big ole” circumnaural headphones that sealed well against the head. Your ability to hear yourself via natural means is diminished, so the lack of sidetone becomes obvious. The effect is awkward, but some will over time grow accustomed to it.
Soft phone programs typically do not provide sidetone, so there’s literally no way to diminish the effect when using the .Audio 480 headset. In some regards this headset is a specialty item. The lack of sidetone being the price paid to enjoy the benefit of ambient noise reduction.
I am surprised that Grandstream phone you cite does not provide sidetone. In truth, beyond some experimenting with a BT-200 in my earliest experiments with Asterisk, I have little experience with Grandstream products. What specific Grandstream model or models are you typically using?
I have recently received a couple of samples of their latest offering, the GXV-3175 Media Phone, which I hope to examine shortly. After I’ve had some time using them I’ll present my thoughts about them hereabouts.
I’ve only ever encountered one phone that did not provide sidetone. That was the Dreamwave DP-28P, which is actually manufactured by Yealink. I bought one on E-bay just to get a sense of its feature set and build quality. At the time that I received it there was no support for sidetone, but the matter was subsequently addressed in a new firmware release.
Every other IP phone that I have ever used provided proper sidetone. That list is lengthy, including; 3com, Aastra, Avaya, Cisco, Dreamwave, Gigaset, Hitachi, Linksys, NEC, Nortel, Panasonic, Philips, Pingtel, Polycom, snom, Spectralink, Yealink & Zultys.
Sidetone is to be expected. It’s not a feature, but a core capability. Without it I was consider a product to be defective. My coworkers would not accept such a phone.