VoIP headsets review

Heard the buzz about VoIP and want to know what all the fuss is about?
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:4 Jun 2006
 

01 .Introduction

VoIP-headsets

Test results for six VoIP headsets priced from $10 to $50

We evaluated them for:

  • Sound
  • Comfort
  • Features

Please note: this information was current as of June 2006 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Findings

  • Headsets are a good way to try internet phone calls because they combine speakers and a microphone.
  • Sound quality alone doesn't make for a good headset - comfort is also important.
  • Comfort depends on personal preference. Glasses, hair, earrings and other accessories will affect how well a headset will suit you.
  • The headsets in our test are adequate for talking over the internet, but they may not be ideal for listening to high quality music recordings.

Brands tested

  • Labsic Casque Micro Dynamic Headphone
  • Logitech Internet Chat Headset
  • Philips Neckband Multimedia SBC HM385
  • Plantronics Behind-the-Head Enhanced Multimedia Headset Audio70
  • Techworks Stereo Headset with microphone
  • Verbatim 41802 Headset with Microphone Deluxe


 
 

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What to buy

Brand price

  • Philips SBC HM385- $50
  • Plantronics Audio70 - $45
  • Verbatim 41802 - $25

Our recommendations are based on trialists’ ratings and test results from The National Acoustics laboratory (NAL).

The Philips headset rated well for sound quality, comfort and adjustment. Most trialists found it comfortable.

Plantronics has good sound quality, but most trialists found it uncomfortable. Verbatim rated well for sound quality, comfort and adjustment and is reasonably well-priced.

Results table

Features
Brand/model Price1 ($) Mute (inline) Volume control
(inline)
Microphone
noise cancelling
Microphone Adjustable microphone boom Adjustable headband Headset style
Recommended models
Philips Neckband Multimedia SBC HM385
(www.philips.com.au)
50 Behind head
Plantronics Behind-the-Head Enhanced Multimedia Headset Audio70
(www.plantronics.com.au)
45 Behind head
Verbatim 41802 Headset with Microphone Deluxe
(www.verbatim.com.au)
25 Over top
The rest
Labsic Casque Micro Dynamic Headphone (a) 25 • (b) Over top
Logitech Internet Chat Headset
(www.logitech.com)
40 Behind head
Techworks Stereo Headset with microphone
(www.officeworks.com.au)
10 Over top

Table notes

1 Price paid in April 2006
All products come with a 1-year warranty.
Order is alphabetical within groups.
(a) Web page under construction.

(b) Microphone in the cord.

Product profiles

Philips Neckband Multimedia SBC HM385

(www.philips.com.au)

Price: $50

Comments

Trialists found it comfortable. Microphone picks up mid and low tones well, OK for high tones. Can reproduce large range of tones well.

Plantronics Behind-the-Head Enhanced Multimedia Headset. Audio70

 (www.plantronics.com.au)

Price: $45

Comments

Convenient cord. Not enough headband adjustment. Can reproduce large range of tones well. Microphone picks up mid and low tones well, OK for high tones.

Verbatim 41802- Headset with Microphone Deluxe

(www.verbatim.com.au)

Price: $25

Comments

Trialists found it comfortable. Convenient, sensitive microphone. Can reproduce large range of tones well.

Labsic Casque Micro Dynamic Headphone

(www.casquemicro.com)

Price: $25

Comments

Most trialists experienced discomfort during use. Earphones sensitive but poorly balanced sound reproduction. Microphone picks up mid and low tones well, but very poor high tones.

Logitech Internet Chat Headset

(www.logitech.com)

Price: $40

Comments

Convenient cord and microphone. Not enough headband adjustment, short boom. Sound reproduction unbalanced at low tones. Microphone picks up mid and low tones well.

Techworks Stereo Headset with microphone

(www.officeworks.com.au)

Price: $10

Comments

Most trialists found it comfortable. Convenient cord and microphone. Microphone picks up mid and low tones well, OK for high tones.

Please insert product profiles here

The all-in-one design of the headsets in our trial makes it simple to plug them in to your computer and use for listening and speaking. You control the volume, balance and other functions on your computer. The most basic, and usually cheapest, headsets don’t include any additional features. They’ll do a good job and won’t cost a lot of money.

  • Logitech and Philips don’t have an adjustable headband.
  • All headsets, except Labsic which has a microphone in the cord, have an adjustable microphone boom.
  • All the headsets have inline volume control, which users found convenient.
  • Logitech, Plantronics and Verbatim have an inline mute button.
  • Logitech and Plantronics have a noise-cancelling microphone which can improve call quality.
  • All the headsets have padded earcups which helps them sit comfortably on the ears.
  • None are wireless or use the USB connection.

Comfort

Sound quality alone doesn’t make a good headset — comfort affects how much you enjoy using it. Most headsets reproduced sound well, but comfort depended on personal preferences.

  • The headband, whether it’s at the top or back of your head, must be firm so it doesn’t slip off or come loose while you’re talking. It also needs to adjust to fit over heads that are different sizes and shapes.
  • The headset needs to sit on your ears properly. A headset that’s tight can squeeze the ears and lead to pain in the side of the face. Any discomfort will become worse the longer you use the headset in each session.
  • You also need adequate mouthpiece adjustment so that the microphone sits at a suitable level.
  • The cord needs to be in a convenient place so that it doesn’t get tangled. The headsets in our trial varied between over-the-head and behind-the-ear styles. Your choice will be affected by personal preference — glasses, hair, earrings and other accessories will also affect how well a headset will suit you.

Things to consider

  • You'll probably still have to pay for your internet account, including the data you send and receive making internet phone calls. Talking non-stop for one minute over the internet takes up about 180-600KB.
  • You’ll still need your landline if you use an ADSL broadband internet connection. ADSL transmits data over your phoneline, unlike cable or wireless broadband internet connections.
  • Access to 000 emergency services isn’t automatically guaranteed if you make a call over the internet. Your exact location can’t always be pinpointed if you ring the emergency call centre.
  • If the power goes out, the computer and the internet connection will also be down, so if you rely solely on the computer to make calls, you may be left without access to a phone.
  • Internet traffic can affect the reliability of calls and any delays or loss of data will affect the call quality. If you’re using a Wi-Fi wireless network, you might experience interference; and a firewall on either computer can affect how well a call gets through.
  • Most broadband services have different upload and download speeds — sending data is generally slower — which can disrupt the call because the voice signal isn’t sent and received at the same rate.

You should also consider potential security issues when making phone calls on the internet

  • Eavesdropping
  • Theft of personal information
  • Viruses and spam

Paid services

If you decide to go with a paid internet telephone service, you'll have various options:

  • You can sign up for a plan with no monthly cost or contract period that will let you make free calls to others on the same service as well as local, national, international and mobile calls at much lower rates than landline phones. But you’ll need to pay for an incoming landline phone number, generally about $50 a year.
  • For a $10 monthly fee, you’ll probably get flat-rate national calls, per-second charging, a dial-in landline number and some features such as voicemail, call forwarding, call waiting and three-way calling. Calls to other users on the same service are free.
  • If you make a lot of long distance and mobile calls, then a $30 monthly plan that includes some calls might be worth considering. These generally offer flat-rate national calls, per-second call charging, a dial-in landline number, a range of account features and free calls to users on the same service. However, if you opt for this type of account, you’ll probably be up for some hardware costs.

Is it for you?

If you’re considering switching, but want to know if you can make any savings, you need to know how to assess your current circumstances. Some internet phone plans charge calls per minute, and some per call, so you’ll need to gather information from your current phone bill before you start.

Step 1: Your phone bill

  • Count the number of local calls, and estimate how many minutes they took.
  • Count STD and mobile calls. Round each call up to the nearest minute, and total the number of minutes you spent on each type of call.
  • Count calls to 1300 and 1800 numbers as STD calls — internet phone plans generally don’t provide these for free and may charge a premium.
  • Don’t include the cost of line rental, and don’t tally extras like voicemail and call forwarding — these are generally provided as part of an internet phone call plan.

Step 2: Calculate costs

  • We recommend checking your landline call costs for a year. When comparing it against the cost of calls with an internet phone plan, add in the cost of upfront hardware, set up and delivery costs, and the cost of the monthly service. Don’t forget to deduct any call credits or included calls. Avoid contracts that lock you in for six months or more.

Step 3: If you change

  • There are several ways to make phone calls on your computer but a paid service that uses your landline phone and an adaptor connected to your modem will give you the most flexibility. This way, you can use both your regular landline and a phone number provided by your internet phone service to give you the best of both worlds. We compared the call costs for three case studies using this kind of service.
    It’s probably not worth considering paid internet phone services unless you spend more than $50 on calls each month.

Case studies

Mostly mobile

Linda spends about $70 each month on calls to mobiles. She could halve that by switching to an internet phone plan. Linda already has broadband internet, so she would need to buy an adapter to connect her regular phone up to her broadband connection (she could get one with her service or buy one separately). Even factoring in the cost of the hardware and a monthly internet phone plan, we calculated that Linda could save $300 a year.

Our suggestion:

  • Buy an adapter for the flexibility of using both regular landline and cheaper internet calls to mobiles. Choose an internet phone plan with mobile call credit.

Dial–up to broadband

Bill makes more than 200 local calls a month — mostly to his dial-up internet service. His other phone calls only add up to about $20 a month. Bill could save money by moving to a basic broadband plan. The average minimum monthly cost of a 256 kbps broadband plan is about $48, compared to his current $25 dial-up plan. He will also have to factor in the cost of a modem — a broadband modem/router with an internet phone socket would give him the flexibility to move to an internet phone plan in the future. The broadband plan and hardware costs more than his current dial-up internet plan, but he would still save money because he won’t have to dial into his internet service.

Our suggestion:

  • Switch to broadband, but don’t bother with a dedicated internet phone plan just yet.

No more landline

Steve has cable internet, and after doing some calculations, decided he could do away with the landline. This is possible only with cable or wireless internet, neither of which require a landline — unlike ADSL. He pays a monthly fee ($10), but this is less than the line rental he was paying ($26) and he makes savings on call costs. Over a year, he has saved $420 in account and call costs. If Steve’s cable service goes down, however, he’ll have to rely on his mobile.

05.Making internet calls

 

An internet phone call is a process where the voice signal is broken into small blocks of data, called packets, transmitted over the internet and then reassembled at the other end. The major benefit over a regular phone is that you can save money on calls.

There are several ways to make internet phone calls:

Free software from the internet, such as Skype, and a headset plugged into your computer.

Pros:

  • You can chat to other people on the same service for free.
  • There’s no setup, monthly or usage charge.
  • You can also use a webcam with the headset to have video conversations.
  • You can try internet phone calls without having to outlay much money.

Cons:

  • You generally have to be in front of your computer and pre-arrange call times so that the other person’s at their computer and on the internet at the time you call.
  • If you ring mobiles or landline phones in Australia or overseas, you’ll have to pay for the calls, although the cost is lower than standard landline-to-landline or landline-to-mobile calls.
  • You may not get as many features as other internet phone call services.

Tip: You can also use a microphone and speakers, instead of a headset.

Instant messenger programs, such as Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger and GoogleTalk, with a headset

Pros:

  • You can chat to other people on the same service for free.
  • There’s no setup, monthly or usage charge.
  • You can also use a webcam with the headset to have video conversations.
  • You can try internet phone calls without having to outlay much money.

Cons:

  • You must be in front of your computer and pre-arrange call times so that the other person’s at their computer and on the internet at the time you call.
  • Some services let you call mobiles or landline phones in Australia or overseas, but you’ll have to pay for the calls, although the cost is much lower than standard landline-to-landline or landline-to-mobile calls.
  • You may not get as many features as other internet phone call services.

A paid internet service with your computer and a headset

Pros:

  • You'll probably get extra features such as voicemail, call waiting and call forwarding.
  • You may also get a phone number that lets anybody ring you.

Cons:

  • The computer must be turned on to make or take calls.
  • Not all providers let you use a headset - you may need to buy special hardware.

A paid service that uses your landline phone and adaptor or internet phone connected to your modem

Pros:

  • You'll probably get extra features such as voicemail, call waiting and call forwarding.
  • You usually also get a phone number that lets anybody ring you.
  • Your computer doesn't have to be turned on to make or take calls.

Cons:

  • You may need to invest in some fairly expensive hardware.
  • It may not be worthwhile if you don't make many calls.

A bundled plan with your ISP that includes internet phone calls, and an adaptor or internet phone connected to your modem

Pros:

  • One plan combines internet, fixed-line and VoIP access.
  • Your computer doesn't have to be turned on to make or take calls.

Cons:

  • You may need to invest in some fairly expensive hardware.
  • It may not be worthwhile if you don't make many phonecalls.

We trialled six stereo headsets with a small number of general, non-expert users. The trialists used each headset for more than an hour to make internet phone calls and listen to music.

We asked trialists about the quality of the sound they heard and the comfort of the headsets. Philips, Plantronics and Verbatim performed well in both the user trial and the tests by NAL. The trialists’ scores didn’t vary greatly between any of the headsets in our trial.

Headsets are a good way to try internet phone calls because they combine speakers and a microphone. Then all you need is free internet phone call software — such as Skype — or a chat program with voice capability. Just plug in the headset, configure the software, and they’re ready to use. Our headsets all connected to the computer with a 3.5 mm jack, but some in the market have USB or wireless Bluetooth connectivity.

Some of the headsets also have useful features such as noise cancellation and volume adjustment. Some include volume control or a mute button on the cord that connects the headset to the computer. This is known as inline adjustment.

The phone call quality will depend on several factors:

  • The quality of the VoIP service. This depends on the network that the service provider uses.
  • The internet connection. A fast broadband service will help prevent delays and disruptions.
  • The headset. Features like noise cancellation will reduce ambient noise through the microphone and make your voice clearer.

National Acoustic Laboratories

At our request, the headsets were tested by National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) according to the international standard for headphones and microphones. Judging from these tests, all the headsets are adequate for talking over the internet, and the Philips, Plantronics and Verbatim products performed well.

The trial headsets may not be ideal for listening to high-quality music recordings, however, and none of the products will protect against extremely loud sounds.