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.