Here’s why a headset remains the very best way engage on the phone, hangout, video chat, etc.

Whether in the board room, office, home office or car…using a good headset is how I ensure that I can both hear and be heard clearly! This has long been my habit, and if you wish to communicate effectively it’s a strategy that you should consider as well.

In the past I’ve described my rationale on various occasions, even offering recorded examples so you can hear the difference for yourself. I recently found the following nice image that illustrates exactly why a headset is the superior choice.

It all comes down to distances and the physics of sound in air, which is defined by something called the inverse square law. In a nutshell, the intensity of a sound drops dramatically as the distance from the source increases. sound_pressure_vs_distance

This image is about gaming but it’s equally applicable to telephony or video conferencing, anywhere it’s possible to wear a headset with a boom-mounted microphone. Consider the horizontal scale as distance form the source in inches.

A microphone positioned right at your lips, literally in the opening of your mouth, would experience the full intensity (100%) of your voice.

The sound level available to a boom-mounted headset microphone just 2 inches away is reduced by 50%.

A lapel microphone, just 4 inches away on your shirt, would see another reduction by half, down to just 25% of the original intensity.

A desktop microphone a mere eight inches away would be halved again, experiencing just 12-13% of the original energy of your voice.

Assuming that you’re using a laptop for video chat, and it’s positioned so as to get a decent shot with its built-in camera, it’s microphone(s) are likely twice as distant as the desktop microphone would be. That means that the laptop microphone experiences just 6% of the original intensity of your voice.

But wait! It gets worse!

As the intensity of your voice drops its less able to mask competing sounds from your surroundings. This "masking" is a part of the process of hearing. Loud sounds tend to focus our attention, making it more difficult to perceive quieter sounds occurring at the same time.

Thus the ambient noise of your workspace (the sound of a keyboard, the air conditioner, a computer fan, etc.) becomes ever more apparent, even prominent, to your audience. Even if you are in a quiet space, the local room tone, noise, echo and reverberation has increased impact on how you sound simply because you voice is more distant from the microphone.

When your voice is awash in ambient room tone it gives the impression of being distant. It implies that that matter under discussion isn’t especially important to you. That it doesn’t merit your full attention.

Remedial Solutions

Simply turning up the microphone level, whether done manually or by some automated process, can only increase the level of your voice and the ambient noise of the room.

Quality conference phones, video conference devices and some high-quality laptops, use an array of microphones and a software technique known as beam-forming, to synthesize directionality. That is, they try to be selective about delivering your voice, while de-emphasizing the ambience of the room.

Such technology can be quite effective, but it’s at best a remedial measure. Even if it’s perfect in it’s function, which is never the case, it can only attempt to approach the kind of audio quality that you’d most assuredly enjoy through the use of a high-quality headset.

When Does It Matter? Always!

You hear all kinds of stories of how startup founders work to perfect their “elevator pitch.” They need to make an optimal impression, quickly when pitching investors. Very clearly, there are times when communicating clearly, quickly and respectfully is critically important. My belief, closely held, is simply that it’s always important. It’s important with investors, customers, staff and even friends and family.

This image comes from ModMic, who offer unique add-on products that turn your favorite stereo headphones into a high-quality analog headset. I’ve purchased one of their products, and will have more to offer about it in a future article.