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Evaluating USB Headsets for Interpreters

This is admittedly a deep dive into a niche topic. It stems from work done for ZipDX, but is more technical than most audiences can stand. Nonetheless, those of you who frequent these waters may find it interesting.

plantronics-blackwire-c320-usb-headset.jpgWhy Do This?

One of the more fascinating aspects of my work at ZipDX involves the interpreters engaged in the use of our multilingual conference capability. These people, who are located all over the globe, are simply fascinating people. They have incredible skills with languages, and finely tuned sensitivity to the nuance of cross-cultural communication. It’s positively inspirational to hear them at work, and very gratifying to support them in their work.

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Some Guidance On Headsets

Passport_21_OTH_3_QTR_RightA couple of weeks ago, over at the Broadband Reports forum on VoIP Tech, there was a question posed about selecting the best low cost microphone for VoIP applications. This is a topic that I’ve considered at length. It has much in common with my background in recording and broadcasting. On that basis I weighed in with some opinion. As I my way, I probably provided a longer answer than anyone anticipated, or even wanted. After re-reading it a few times I thought it worth sharing here as well.

The original question:

I realize many problems people experience are due to a lousy mic that isn’t noise canceling or picks up sounds from a anywhere in the room. There are many ways to improve this. I like the idea of a pickup pattern that is very isolated in front of the mic and within a finite range so I don’t have to wear the mic but maybe this is asking too much. If the mic only picks up sounds very close to it, wearing it can sure avoid a lot of problems. Don’t know if firewire or USB3 is better than USB2 or if its better to run the mic directly into your mic input of your motherboard or audio card or something else. Latency is not our friend! VOIP is so sensitive to extraneous noise so this needs to be addressed and is dependent on the ambient noise of the user. Any recommendations? Few of us work in a soundproof office.

As a long-time and vocal proponent of headsets for office use this is right in my wheelhouse. For example…. https://www.mgraves.org/2011/07/can-you-hear-me-now-headset-vs-speakerphone-in-the-home-office/

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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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A Question About Chromebox-For-Meetings and USB Conference Phones

Not long a reader posed this question about USB speakerphone devices;

“Hi Michael – I read your blog article about chromebox for meetings. I’m in the UK and I think there will be good takeup when its launched here but I’m concerned about sound quality mic and speakers in untreated rooms. Have you found any USB table top devices  matrix mics with high quality speaker that could be integrated at proportionate cost? – Thanks, John”

It’s an interesting question. As I was answering him via IM it occurred to me that the answer might be worth sharing.

There are a lot of USB attached speakerphones available. I’ve tried quite a number over the years. Some are good. Some are cheap. As you can imagine, rarely are the good ones cheap. The major difference to be considered is whether the device undre consideration is intended for use by an individual or a small group.

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New & Shiny: Google Introduces Chromebox For Meetings

Chromebox-For-Meetings-TVVideo conferencing is changing. It started about a year ago. That’s when I first heard about DIY room systems. Then I got wind of “Huddle” systems, which are basically smaller room systems. Today Google introduced their own play on this trend.

Chromebox for Meetings looks to be their spin on Vidyo’s DIY room system. It’s basically a very small PC, running the Chrome OS, with the requisite accessories (USB webcam & speakerphone) to make it a video conference end-point. Just add a decent monitor or HDTV.

All of the PR points to the use of a Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920and a Jabra SPEAK410 USB Speakerphone, both of which have graced my desk for a year or more. Both are leaders in their respective product categories.

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