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Making Some Noise About Noise

Snapper-lawn-mowerThis morning my normally tranquil home office was pierced by the sound of a neighbors lawnmower. The lawnmower, while aggravating, is just the lead-in to that most vile of power tools…the leaf blower. Leaf blowers should be outlawed.

All of this has thinking about noise. In even modest amounts, noise degrades our ability to communicate. Beyond simply annoying, it hampers productivity. Therefore noise has very real costs. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of conference calls or video conference calls. These are cases where extraneous noise should be avoided.

The classic conference call wisdom, good advise to this day, is that all participants to should diligently mute themselves when not speaking. People being what they are, many do not know of or act upon this belief.

When using a managed conference bridge, like ZipDX, the call moderator has the ability to mute a noisy participant, ensuring that their local acoustic reality doesn’t degrade the call experience for everyone. That’s great, but it really just allows the moderator to compensate for the fact that someone on the call is exhibiting poor conference call etiquette.

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The LG HBS-730 Bluetooth Headset Sucks Rocks

Nexus7-Headset-BT-xmitter verticalAs was mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking for a Bluetooth headset primarily for listening to music. This is a very different use case for me. For years I’ve reserved Bluetooth wireless devices exclusively for use with my mobile phone, making phone calls.

I bought one of the leading devices in this class, the LG HBS-730. It was recommended by several friends, so I thought it would surely be great. Except that it wasn’t. Compared to my reference, the Etymotic HF5, it sounded dull and lifeless when paired to anything I had on-hand.

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The Passing Of A Legend & Related Fallout

For the past year and a half I’ve used a Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth Headset. It was the evolution of the Voyager Pro UC that I reviewed in 2011. Not long ago I discovered just how many times such a device would survive a pass through the laundry…which is exactly once. A second pass through the laundry caused its’ demise.

The loss of the Voyager Legend left an obvious hole in my arsenal. Such matters I take as an opportunity to try something new, or at least re-evaluate my needs.

There was a time when I made a lot of use of a BT headset while travelling. In that application it’s role was in support of basic telecom use. More recently I have not been travelling at all. My primary use of a headset has been for listening to the local NPR stream while walking our dogs.

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Wired Headsets: A Tutorial on Connectors, Cables & Pinouts

Headset DevicesPrior to smart phones life was much simpler…at least with respect to the wiring for headsets used with portable music players vs cell phones. A recent project has me dealing with some wired headsets. I thought it worth sharing some of the things that I’ve noted along the way, along with just a bit of the history.

What I’m describing relates to the various ways in which the common headset connector has been used over time and across a number of application contexts, including:

  • Music players
  • Desk phones
  • Smart phones
  • Computers

In the beginning there was the pocket transistor radio. When Sony got around to it some transistor radios featured a 3.5mm (1/8”) 2-conductor jack. This was intended to receive an earphone for private listening. It was also called a “mini-jack” since stereo headphones for listening to music used the full-sized, 1/4”  phone plug.

It’s unclear if the creation of the earphone feature was motivated by the desire to listen to the radio after bedtime, or avoid aggravating the Mrs with the play-by-play of the baseball game.

…time passes, until…

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Lightning Strikes Beats

BeatsHeadphonesWhiteI’ve not been a fan of Beats by Dr. Dre. I’ve purchased a couple of their lesser headsets and found them wanting. So it was that the purchase of the company by Apple didn’t really rock my world view, although the sum involved brought with it a bright spotlight. Lacking for other information there was a lot of speculation as to the underlying logic. It was certainly a curiosity.

Apple’s recent announcement that they will be abandoning the use of the ubiquitous 3.5mm TRS plug for the lightning connector is however very interesting. While it doesn’t change anything about the performance of the products, this announcement casts a new light on the value of the Beats deal. It makes a certain amount of sense if Apple wants to take the whole realm of headsets beyond analog connections, even beyond USB connections.

Digital connections, whether USB or other, make a lot of sense. Such connections remove the variability of the hosts on-board audio interface. In the case of a computer, being at arms length from the internals of the device reduces the likelihood of noise induced into the analog stages of the electronics.

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