Saturday, July 31, 2010

Headsets

[Edited 2010.08.02 to add lapel and headworn singer's microphones.  2010.08.08 change "singer" to "performer and announcer"]

Since The Raven now works long-distance for a large government lab (LGL) which shall remain nameless, he has had to acquire a comfortable high-quality headset for long on-line conversations. Headsets turn out to be an area where a large amount of design and research has been invested. There are numerous types of earphones and microphones, signal processors, and devices. I've only scratched the surface of the market, and I came up with the following incomplete set of options:
  • Wired or "corded" vs. wireless. Wireless sets sometimes include Bluetooth at considerable expense.
  • Audio processing
  • Basic telephony set.
  • High-quality telephone set—includes audio processor. Some versions provide wideband sound reproduction, but this doesn't work with the actual telephone network, which is still bandwidth limited to 300-3300 Hz.
  • Monaural—sound to one ear. Good for portability and comfort.
  • Binaural headset—delivers the same sound to both ears for clarity in a noisy environment
  • Gamer's set—adds stereo sound for spatial placement. 
  • Surround-sound gamer's set—even more spatial cueing.
 Earphone options:
  • Audiophile—High-quality earphones for music listening.
  • Voice processing—clarifies voices (including music vocals) at, probably, the cost of other kinds of sound
  • Earbuds
  • In-Ear
Microphone options:
  • Fixed to earpiece. Adequate in a quiet environment, will pick up noise everywhere else.
  • Lapel microphone. Usually a bit closer to the mouth than an earpiece microphone, but still tends to pick up noise, and requires a lapel.
  • Boom microphone. Brings microphone close to mouth to reduce background noise.
  • Headworn performer or announcer's microphone. Made by the usual suspects: AudioTechnica, Crown Audio, ElectroVoice, Shure, and so on. Far and away the best wearable voice microphones available, but require adapters for use in telephony.
  • Noise canceling—reduces background noise. Especially valuable with wireless sets used outdoors, where wind can play hob with voices.
Different companies headsets do different things and no one set does everything. Generally, firms are strongest in their traditional areas. Thus, Plantronics makes good sets for telephone use, Sennheiser and Sony make good sets for audio quality, and so on. If you care about sound quality, don't buy the unbranded Chinese-make headsets—they don't work very well. I bought a Plantronics .Audio 476 gamers headset at Fry's as a starter ($35+tax) and have so far not wanted anything more, though it is a little uncomfortable on long wear. <http://www.plantronics.com/north_america/en_US/products/computer/multi-use-computer-headsets/audio-476-dsp>. A professional version of this one is the "D261N Stereo SupraPlus Headset with Stereo DA45 USB Adapter" (perhaps $200 market.) I have found Plantronics sets with similar earpieces very comfortable. <http://www.plantronics.com/north_america/en_US/products/office/corded-office-headsets/supraplus-d261n-da45>

Hmmm, wonder how these reproduce croaks.

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