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Dave Michels on Headsets

Sennheiser-DW-Pro-2-HeadsetDave Michels is a tea drinker. I’m not sure that fact is widely known, but I swear it’s true. Moreover, I suspect that someone has slipped something into his tea. Today he issued a curious assertion in an otherwise good article about headsets.

Sez he:

Headset/Headphones: I prefer the term headphones. I think headset implies a voice microphone and headphone implies audio or speakers only. Those distinctions are obsolete. Modern microphones are small, cheap, and sensitive. They no longer need to be in front of the mouth, so can be placed invisibly on headphones. Since most devices now support speech or voice, it’s just silly to get headphones without a microphone. Now that we’ve cleared this up, I am only using “headphone” below.

I take issue with his simplistic view of microphones, and especially the significance of microphone placement. If you truly care about how you are conveying your voice then a boom mounted microphone is a must! Accept no substitutes.

If, on the other hand, you are more concerned about not looking geeky…go whatever path tickles your fancy. Enjoy those Beats By Dr Dre Hey, he’s a Doctor right? They must be great.

To be fair, not everyone needs to be as demanding as I may seem. But do bear in mind that, with respect to microphone placement, you won’t ever know has bad you sound. It’s the people you’re trying to talk to who will suffer undue influence of the barista calling out orders, or the Gaggia steaming up that milk. What? Doesn’t everyone work at Starbucks or Panera these days?

I am especially troubled by inline microphones in headphones that are otherwise fine for listening to music. Dave refers to some headphones from Etymotic Research. I gather that his are some that don’t include a microphone. I used their ER-6i for years, which are discontinued but still supported. No microphone. Just music. More recently have been using their HF5model , which do have an inline microphone.

A headset like this clearly puts music first. They’re fine for when you are listen to music and interrupted by a phone call, but I wouldn’t plan to use them to attend a conference call where I was presenting. The inline microphone is non-directional, and not noise reducing. It would allow the noise of my surroundings to potentially distract my audience.

No, I’d plan to attend such a call from a quiet, distraction-free place where I could focus. I’d use a headset that allowed me to keep my hands free, and let the audience focus on my message.

Here’s a somewhat related illustration of this area of concern. There’s a neat new service called VoiceBoxer that aims to make it practical to give live webinars in multiple languages. The service allows interpreters to follow a presenter, delivering live interpretation. It’s great idea to make webinars more globally engaging in real-time.


If you watch the VoiceBoxer demo (requires sign-up, but seems innocuous) you hear a woman speaking in English. If you select another language you hear the interpreter. The interpreters are very clearly wearing a proper headset, where the English presenter was not. She sounds like she’s in a small, drywall room. Her sound is thin, and very reverberant. In contrast, the interpreters sound great!

As someone in the audience this raises some questions. Surely it would be easier for the interpreters if the presenter had better sound? Did she not know? Or simply not care? Was it not worth the trouble?

That’s where poor audio quality has it’s most dangerous impact. It may leave the impression that you either don’t know any better, or simply don’t care…neither of which support you in whatever you’re trying to convey. Poor audio quality undermines your message.

Returning to Dave’s UC Strategies post, I understand and accept the core of Dave’s argument. For some the distinction between good/bad audio, headset/headphone are not important. They simply may not care. Convenience trumps all else.

The service that I do in my contrarian viewpoint is to give you, dear reader, an advantage. If you you know better. If you do care, then you may better get your message across, whether it’s getting that next round of VC funding, or merely ensuring that you pass on those late additions to the grocery list. Communicating well never happens by accident.

I admit that the user context matters. In the home office, where Dave uses a Savi 700 Series headset, the boom microphone is easier for most people to handle. Paradoxically, it’s out in the wilds of the world, where noise abounds, that such a tool would deliver the greatest benefit.

Curiously, it seems that Dave and I have used much the same hardware. I presently have the Plantronics BackBeat Go 2 (mini-review here,) using them daily when walking the dogs. I had their Voyager Legend for a long while, until it died in a horrible laundry accident. We even tried the Jabra Freeway BT speakerphone. That was inspired by a TMC review. Sadly, Stella never liked that device. Our newest vehicle, a 2015 Subaru Forester, has integrated BT, so it deals with our cell phones directly.

I still admire my Sennheiser DW Pro 2 DECT headset. It’s longevity and continuous performance are testament to it’s value. It surely was expensive, but it just keeps marching on…even now that it’s been displaced by the newer SD Series DECT wireless headsetsin the companies lineup.

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Thanks for keeping me honest. I had coffee today, but my current favorite breakfast beverage is Boulder Breakfast by Teaspot (with a hint of chocolate).

    You failed to mention a key point in my post – voice first vs. music first.

    Of course I think that a voice first headphone should have a good quality and well placed boom mic. No debat. The point about music first devices is that they SHOULD have a mic for those times when audio becomes necessary.

    The BBGO2 is a great example. On dog walks I listen to podcasts and books. But sometimes a call comes in. It is a pain to switch to a call when wearing audio-only headphones. With the BBGo2 I just remove one earbud (for side tone) and typically hold the inline mic up a bit to complete the call. Not ideal, but they are music first devices. It would also be more unfortunate to have a boom mic on the walk – mostly in the way.

    The better example is the BBPRO. These are very much music first – daresay music only. However, I have been trapped in comfort with great tunes only to be interrupted by a call. It is far less painful to take the call on those devices than getting up- out of the chair to find the phone.

    My point is that there are few use cases that justify getting headdphones without a mic. Though the airplane today is to me a valid exception to this rule.

    1. Perhaps I mistook the emphasis. It may well be that I am predisposed to make such mistakes. I am constantly faced with people who just don’t consider how they sound to others. To the point where they don’t even think about using a headset. It just doesn’t enter into their thought process.

  2. In my travels I see folks ignore the quality not because they don’t care, but because the technology hurdles to understand how to get good quality get in the way. At my current organization there are a lot of people doing recorded presentations internally, some for external purposes. In most cases this isn’t a significant component of their role so they usually go with entry level and out-of-box devices (iPhone boxed earbuds with mic, Logitech USB headsets that are part of the standard kit, etc…). I seem to be the exception with a DW Pro 2 in my home office, Presence for on the go, and IE 80 for music. The biggest challenge I have is something portable that is as convenient for voice and music – but I’m invested in the IE 80s and don’t plan to replace them any time soon just to get voice.

  3. I appreciate all the discussion about proper mic. placement etc. but I think its all a bit for naught when considering the use of a “telecom” headset like the DW Pro2. I have the DW Pro2 and even in wideband mode the quality pales in comparison to my $80 logitech G930’s when used with Jitsi.

    Telecom headsets should go away – all headphones/headsets should be “music quality”. With hardware desktop VoIP phones supporting Opus in 48khz the “16khz wideband” telco definition of quality is obsolete. Getting a decent sounding pair of “music quality” headphones is incredibly cheap – as I said my wireless G930’s were $80 and blow the $250 DW Pro2 out of the water by exponential margins – it also has a proper boom mic 😉

    1. I am ever so happy when people show enough care and concern to wear a decent headset. If you like gaming headsets, that’s great. I’ve heard good things about the Steel Series Wireless model as well.

      I don’t like things that big & clunky for long term office use. I find the Sennheisers to be pretty good. I’ve not found Logitech business grade headsets, and I’ve tried a number, to be very durable.

      I’ve found that many headsets support full-band audio playback to the earpieces. The bandwidth limited models seem to be designs that adhere to the older TIA standards that stipulate wideband voice as limited to 16 KHz sampling.

      Headsets that are designed for use across applications, that is not just voip or UC, tend to be better.

      I’ve only seen one or two desk phones supporting Opus. None that deliver the kind of quality possible using a 48 KHz sample rate. Which make/model do you mean?

      1. I tried the steel series wireless H in my never ending quest for the perfect headset. I found it to be bulky, heavy, and uncomfortable. The “EQ” box it came with was really nothing more than a novelty.

        I returned the steel series and got the G930’s – they are much lighter weight – I wear them the better part of 6-8 hours a day. The only drawback compared the the steel series is they do not have a swappable battery, but I have never run out.

        I use the GXV3275 as my daily driver and it supports 48khz Opus. I believe you have, or at least had one of these phones – and using the 2.5mm headset jack on the side with a pair of Koss SB45’s provided high quality. They provided several updates to Opus support over time – I am currently on firmware

        I do prefer wireless as I am on video calls for the majority of the day and that eventually led me to the savi w720 and DW Pro2. The savi w720 was massively underwhelming. The DW Pro 2 is the best option that has a telephony interface, and is wireless. They are obviously extremely light weight, but listening to music with them is … painful.

        So in short, my quest for the perfect headset continues – some thing that works with a VoIP phone, and my computer that provides music quality audio performance. As such I end up with my G930’s and use Jitsi for a lot of stuff. As long as I have a wired ethernet connection I get performance that I am happy enough with for VoIP with jitsi doing audio and video calls.

        1. I’ve not used Opus on the GXV3275. I tried to access Jitsi Video Bridge from that phone but found it could not cope with the workload for the video in the browser.

          “My never ending quest for the perfect headset” sounds like a great series of blog posts. You should do that. People wanna know such stuff.

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