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Can You Hear Me Now? Headset vs Speakerphone In The Home Office

Headset vs Speakerphone Every time you make or receive a phone call it’s for a reason; there’s a point to be made, something to be communicated. Communicating effectively is critically important in business.

Anything that helps to make your message more clearly gives an advantage. Inversely, anything that makes it more difficult to communicate is, in reality, a threat to your business. This principle should be your guide as you select equipment for your small office or home office.

When considering home office telephony the technologically inclined often get bogged down in debate about the use of traditional phone service vs various forms of IP telephony. This is a big issue, with many complexities to be considered. However, there is a simpler issue that can have a dramatic impact on the enhancing your ability to communicate clearly; do you have a good headset?

My home office is I suspect fairly typical. At around 360 square feet it’s spacious for a home office. It’s a dedicated space with room for me to work, even create hardware havoc when necessary. I share the space with my ever-present office-assistants; our two Labrador Retrievers.


Typical of many homes, my office features drywall on the walls and carpet on the floor. If you stand in the middle of my office on a typical day you hear the accumulated sounds of various computers, office equipment, a ceiling fan and the air conditioner. It’s actually pretty quiet. I like it that way.

Having spent much of my career around broadcasting and recording studios I’ve learned that every room has something called “room tone.” It’s the ambient noise innate to the space. It stems from the combination of the various things occupying the space, external sounds from nearby, along with the nature of the rooms construction.

A room may be quiet, but it’s rarely ever silent. When recording voice the greater the distance between the microphone and the singer the more the room tone impacts the captured sound. The same holds true for telephony, except that you’re much less likely to sing.

Polycom_IP650_256 One of the nice things about a home office is that you don’t need a lot of phones. To my mind that makes it easier to buy one or two truly great phones. For my office I chose Polycom Soundpoint IP series desk phones. These phones are excellent hardware, and just happen to have very good speakerphone capability.

However, even in my nearly idylic home office environment I rarely use a speakerphone. I almost always prefer to use a good headset for business calls. The reason is very simple; I want the person I’m calling to feel that they have my undivided attention. I want them to feel important.

plantronics-supra-plus-wideband-hw251n-160 A good headset captures the sound of your voice directly, with little influence from the sound of the room. That means that the person on the far end of the call is less likely to hear anything distracting. They don’t hear the laser printer warming up, airplanes overhead, the air conditioner cycling or kids in the playground across the street.

Devoid of distraction, and hearing me very directly, they are left with the impression that they have my full attention. Ultimately, this reinforces the sense they are being handled professionally. They may never know that I work from home.

Alas, even a great headset doesn’t keep them from hearing the dog announcing the arrival of a Fedex delivery.

Beyond the convenience of being hands-free, wearing a headset actually gives you increased control of your presentation. Because it captures the voice so directly it allows you to use greater variation in inflection as you speak. Like a singer working a microphone while performing, it lets you be dynamic. Be quieter and times…then louder and more forceful as necessary to convey your message. Empathize or rant as necessary to effectively make your case.

There are times when it might be necessary to use a speakerphone. Those tend to be times when several people are gathered to participate in a call. In such circumstances there’s no substitute for great hardware.

When faced with a desktop speakerphone most people tend to simply shout in an essentially mono-tone manner. Further, their shouts are conveyed awash in room-tone. It certainly makes a statement. Often that statement is “I can’t even be bothered to lift the handset for this call”  with a dash of “this is a tiny drywall box, similar to a jail cell.” Your clients’ impression of your care & concern can only be diminished.

So it is that, despite the fact that I have first class phones, with very good speakerphones, I see great value in keeping a couple of good headsets on-hand. Using the headsets results in a measurable sense of improved customer service. A headset simply makes it easier to communicate effectively.

This is no trivial claim, but you don’t have to take my word for it. You can decide for yourselves using the finest instrumentation available…your own ears.

To illustrate my point I present you with a pair of recordings. Both recordings are the very same instance of me reading the beginning of this post in my home office. The first is recorded using a high-quality speakerphone. The second is recorded at the very same instant using one of my favorite headsets. Give them a listen and judge for yourself.

There’s a substantial difference between the two recordings. Neither of them are really bad, but one is clearly better. One seems to be very clear and immediate, while the other has a sense of being at a distance. These samples were recorded in my relatively quiet office. In a more typical, noisier environment the advantage presented by the headset would be much more pronounced.

With the merits of using a headset now presented, some may want to consider wired vs wireless headsets. I’ll leave that for another day. For the moment I’ll close by returning to the question posed at the beginning; do you have a good headset?

I think you should.

This Post Has 15 Comments
  1. An exceptional post, Michael! I lecture people all the time about the quality of their telephony audio (or lack thereof). This is an issue that is not limited to home offices. Usually I am yelling at others for sounding so bad; you’ve presented the case quite tastefully and convincingly.

    Unfortunately, one of the things I frequently encounter is somebody using a headset, but it is a BAD headset. I’ll often record the audio and ask people to switch to the handset, just so I can demonstrate to them how bad they sound. I know you’ll address that in detail when you take up that topic specifically.

    1. Thanks for the comment and the kind words.

      I can recall hearing a prominent VUC contributor remarking that his office sounded like a cardboard box, or something like that, yet he could never be bothered to use a headset. I’ve always held that acting in favor of convenience over voice quality such decisions are seriously disrespectful of other parties on the call.

      Speakerphones are bad, but it just kills me when people prefer to use the built-in mic & speakers on a laptop. Even if Skype (ugh!) does excellent acoustic echo cancellation, the other parties must still contend with such participants sounding distant and drowning in room tone. I’m always surprised when people who should know better insist on proceeding in this manner.

  2. David/Michael – good to see both of you on one post! The two of you were great at helping me set up my SOHO office – much appreciated.

    Michael, what headsets do you use with your Polycom?

    1. At the present time I’m using a Sennheiser DW Pro2 DECT headset. I’ve only had it about a month. Planning on writing about it some day soon.

  3. You convinced me to try a headset… not for me, but for the others on the call… I’m only dipping my toes into the water though… Found a Plantronics on for $8… gets great reviews…

  4. 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!

    1. BH,

      Excellent question! However, a proper reply to this is going to be too long to be just in the comment trail. I’ll post something specific in a couple of days.


  5. Hi Michael. Have you ever looked into products from a company called Revolabs? Do you know anything about them?

    They have a are coming out with (the website says coming soon) an interesting bluetooth product called the xTag BT. Its a bluetooth lapel mic with head phones that plug into it. It says the audio range is 80Hz to 8KHz.

    They also have a model xTag USB, which is a dect version of the same device that has a usb attached base station. It’s audio range isn’t quite as good (100Hz to 6.8KHz). It’s just under $200 on Amazon, with mixed reviews.

    1. I’m aware of them but not used any of their products. They seem to be focused on things just beyond the scope of my SOHO/SMB reach. My employer has a reseller in Austin TX who deals with a lot of churches. They also carry Revo Labs. So we have occasionally both worked at a regional show sponsored by that reseller.

  6. What headset would you recommend for the aastra 6755i? This phone has a RJ11 headset jack but I’m not too sure what a quality headset would be.

  7. Maybe this will be a new “wrinkle”, perhaps an opportunity, for your consideration and expertise. Getting right to the point, quality of life for my wife and I might benefit very substantially in many unanticipated ways, if we could find a pair of light weight wireless headsets that can facilitate communication between us, regardless of circumstances.

    Communication is especially challenging, and frustrating, when my wife and I are not able to face each other. E.g.: With my wife is facing forward in a wheel chair, while I push from behind. I don’t think hearing aids for me will help very much. To make pair of wireless headsets idea work, requires some additional background, understanding…

    My wife has PD, and one of the symptoms it manifests is a weakened soft speaking voice. Too often that makes it difficult to understand what she is trying to communicate to others. However, her hearing is very good, although even professionals (who should know better), tend to shout at her, which she finds very annoying.

    In contrast, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, and ever-present background noise in our “modern world” makes my ability to understand my wife’s speaking voice even worse. (I’ve sung 4-part close harmony for over 20 years and still can sing all four parts on pitch, if I stand close enough to the lead singer and he doesn’t go flat. Nevertheless….)

    I think you get the picture, and perhaps an opportunity. Any suggestions?

    1. Don,

      You may be able to make use of an FM wireless assisted hearing setup. These are commonly used in places like museums and art galleries, where a host gives a guided tour. The host wears a small belt pack and a head-worn microphone. Those listening wear a receiver (also a small belt-pack) and an earphone.

      It happens that I’ve had one on-hand for some weeks. It’s the Anleon MGT-100. A 1 xmit/1 receiver kit costs under $100 ( Both units take 2 AA batteries.

      The heard-worn microphone is probably a good idea, since it’ll pickup her voice even if she’s very quiet.

      Good luck! I hope it works well for you.

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