Microphone Headsets: Review
Even though most of us don’t like hearing the sound of our own voice, some devices can make it more bearable than others. Here at m62 everyone does more than their fair share of VOIP, Skype, and narration-recording on a day-by-day basis, so we thought it was about time to do a roundup of some of the most popular low-to-mid-price headsets on the market that our staff are using.
Plantronics .Audio 326 – Amazon price $13.03
One of the lowest-priced stereo headsets available, this is a surprisingly competent piece of kit that delivers clear and well-balanced audio through the ‘phones and decent pickup via an adjustable boom microphone. The snug fit and soft on-ear pads means it’s suitable for extended periods of use, but the somewhat flimsy frame makes for somewhat loose contact with the ears, which means the bass has little impact. The microphone performs well, but no pop-shield and a rather long boom extension means you’ll have to fiddle quite a lot with the positioning to avoid distortion and still pick up a decent voice profile.
The good: Economically-priced, clear sound and comfortable fit, with convenient in-line controls.
The bad: Lack of bass is unsatisfying, microphone placement makes it difficult to calibrate voice levels.
Buy it if: You make occasional Skype/VOIP conversations and are too busy to listen to music.
Sennheiser PC 131 – Amazon price $30.50
Sennheiser’s ‘phones are well-known in the upper-ranges of the audiophile price range, so it’s pleasing to see a budget headset like this deliver such great performance. The frame is well-designed – comfortable and clamping down with good pressure on the ears, which in turn means that the rich sound profile can be properly delivered. To complement this, the microphone performs fantastically well – even better than many sets that cost twice as much. Even without the pop shield, voice clarity is excellent and the sensitive but noise-reducing microphone picks up everything you want and almost nothing you don’t. What’s disappointing is the build quality – the plastic used in the frame is brittle, and incredibly the earpads are not fastened to the cups, so expect lots of hunting around for them before you decide to get out the duct-tape. The set also comes with an outlandishly long cable which, unless you have three-metre long arms, is likely to cause annoying snarl-ups under the desk.
The good: Great sound for the price, and a fantastic microphone. Useful volume and muting in-line controls.
The bad: Some disappointing oversights with the build – treat this set with care.
Buy it if: You do a lot of Skype/VOIP and voice recording, and you’re either very tidy or don’t mind taping things up so they stay in place…
Philips SHM6100/37 – Amazon price $31.18
An unusual set exhibiting some of the innovation you’d expect to find in a Philips product, with mixed results. The ‘behind the head’ frame and larger than usual on-ear pads, combined with Philips’ three-duct bass amplification chamber mean the sound packs a punch – the bass is meaty and the sound quality in general is very good, provided you have the right-shaped head. Wearing the set for a long time can prove frustrating – it’s very lightweight, but the lack of a good clamping grip around the top of the head means the ‘neckband’ has a tendency to slip. The microphone performs well and features a flexible boom and pop-shield, making it easy to configure the optimum position for recording voice. However it’s difficult to achieve the exact same fit twice, making levels unpredictable for re-recordings, and if the set slips halfway through, it’s time to start over.
The good: Great sound, very comfortable and a very ‘flexible’ microphone to work with.
The bad: Some wearers will find the new-fangled frame design irritating and requiring constant adjustment, and the foam earpads on our set disintegrated after about 8 months of use.
Buy it if: You want something trendier than the Sennheisers above, and have an opportunity to try it on first.
Sony DR-350 – Amazon Price $49.71
Sony get it right in performance and design, and this set is no exception. The headset of choice for those among us who spend hours recording voiceovers and conducting online reviews, it’s a great all-rounder. The design is comfortable and sturdy – you’d have to signal a very energetic “no” to have this slip from the optimum position – and yet, contact with the ears is feather soft. The sound is rich and well-rounded, with powerful bass and a sparkling mid-range, although the upper ranges are not as defined as you’d find in their similarly-priced dedicated stereo headphones. The microphone performs exceptionally well, although there is an odd design issue. Instead of being mounted on a fixed boom, the mic is built into the left earpiece, with a ‘voice-tube’ piece of plastic that can be snapped onto the earpiece to better capture the sound. Without the tube in place the pickup quality is still fine for VOIP conversations, but recording quality is superb when it’s fitted – the only issue is, how long until you lose it?
The good: Superb all-round performance and quality build, and a useful USB adaptor with in-line controls.
The bad: That pesky detachable voice-tube. Now where could I have dropped it?
Buy it if: You need high-quality voice-recording, comfort, durability, and superb sound. Oh, it looks nice too.
Creative Labs WP-350 – Amazon Price $99.99
Say goodbye to wires forever! Well, two of them at least. Creative Labs’ latest foray into the burgeoning Bluetooth headset arena succeeds on many levels. Obviously, the main draw is wireless connectivity – you can use this set in partnership with your Bluetooth-enabled laptop, PC, Mac, or phone. The fit is snug and firm, with cushioned earpads that fit just right on the ears and deliver truly fantastic sound quality thanks to CL’s proprietary apt-x audio codec. The hidden microphone also performs very well, although it does lack the expansive sound that can be achieved with a boom mic, and when using the set in areas with wireless networks or other Bluetooth connections there can be a trace of background hiss. The earpieces themselves also contain volume controls and ‘play/pause’, ‘next’ and ‘back’, and ‘call answer’ controls. Well, it’s not all ‘work-work-work’, is it?
The good: No wires, but no loss in performance either. Superb design, great sound and a very respectable microphone.
The bad: A traditional mic might have allowed for richer-sounding voice recordings, and no option to ‘go wired’ means your more delicate recordings are at the mercy of interference. An expensive option if you’re just looking for a PC-bound headset.
Buy it if: You do a lot of VOIP, a fair amount of recording, and can justify spending a bit of extra cash for the ability to unlock all the music you’ve got stored on all your Bluetooth-enabled gadgets.
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