The Questionable Economics Of EHS Cables & Lifters

If you spend a lot of time on the phone then I believe that you need a proper headset. Many headsets require some form of interface hardware to connect to a desk phone. Many IP phones, like my Polycom Soundpoint IP series, require the use of an “Electronic Hook-Switch” (aka EHS) cable or a mechanical lifter.

A mechanical lifter is a Flintstone-like approach to hook switch control by purely mechanical means. It literally lifts the handset to take the phone off-hook, replacing it down again to hang up the call. To me this is essentially a kind of telephony steam punk.

Moving to 21st century methods, an EHS cable allows some aspect of the headset to control the hook state of the phone electrically. That is, it allows you to answer or hang up a call using switching that’s built into the headset. This may be true with both wired and wireless headsets.

To be blunt, lifters and EHS cables just aren’t cheap. The few times that I’ve had to buy an EHS cable it cost in the $50 – $80 range. That’s a considerable price when compared to the cost of the headset or the desk phone itself.

polycomvvx500300px.pngThis first came to mind when I was in the beta program for the Polycom VVX-500 in the fall of 2011. The VVX-500 is an incredible phone, but some may find it pricey.

However, I have found its price is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the VVX-500 can use a variety of USB headsets (pdf) without requiring an EHS cable.

Here’s a list of the headsets currently supported:

  • Jabra Pro 9465-Duo
  • Jabra Pro 9470
  • Plantronics Voyager Pro UC (my review)

These are the only models listed as supported in Polycom UC Firmware v4.0.1 (pdf).

I’m told that there may be other Plantronics & Jabra USB headsets that work but are not officially supported. I have also used a Plantronics Savi W430 DECT headset with my VVX-500. That pairing seemed to work just fine.

As I’ve written previously, it’s possible to use an EHS cable and the Plantronics MDA-200 to adapt almost any USB headset for use with a desk phone and/or soft phone. However, the cost of the EHS cable and MDA-200 is considerable.

It would be too easy to merely proclaim the VVX-500 too costly and look at lesser phones. If your requirements also include a high-quality headset it might make more sense to invest in a better phone that lets you forego the cost of the EHS cable or mechanical lifter.

  • Don

    Just curious. By any chance have you tried the Savi Go headset with the VVX-500? One of the few disappointments I have with my Polycom 560, and many other desk phones, is the inability to have a clean wideband BT connection. 

    • mjgraves

      Don,

      I don’t recall trying the VVX-500 and Savi Go. 

      The truth is that from the time I started using the DWPro2 (http://www.mgraves.org/2011/12/review-sennheiser-dw-pro2-cordless-headset/) around the office I wasn’t using the Savi Go, so I gifted it to a  coworker. He uses it with the MDA-200 switch, an IP650 and Skype on his PC.

      Here are the details about that setup.

      http://www.mgraves.org/2012/01/experimenting-with-the-plantronics-mda200-various-cordless-headsets/

      • Greg

        100% agree with the direction of your argument about EHS cables. The VVX500’s native BT support was one of the main reasons we went with it.

        We are currently using the Voyager Pro UC v2 and bundled dongle and consider it a practical solution that covers both n and out of office scenarios quite well. 
        Plantronics told me that used as a pair you get wideband audio, but I’ve no objective way of testing that, other than favourable comments from the participant at the other end of the call.

        Interested to see how you get on with the Voyager Pro HD? I could never get a clear answer out of Plantronics as to whether or not wideband audio was possible with the HD and BT300

        • mjgraves

            Earlier this week I confirmed that the Voyager Pro HD and BT300 combination successfully deliver
          wideband audio to the VVX-500. I’ll soon describe my little experiment
          in a new post.

          • Greg

            Thanks for confirming that:-)