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Law Practice Magazine

The Management Issue

Product Watch: The Headache of Selecting Headsets

Julie Bays


  • There are so many products on the market, it is necessary to understand the different terms and uses of these devices.
Product Watch: The Headache of Selecting Headsets
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What is the difference between headphones, headsets and earphones? About three years ago, we purchased a cheap headset to participate in Zoom meetings that had become necessary due to the pandemic. Unlike many others, I had never worn headphones or headsets or earphones to play music, watch movies or do other things on the internet or my computer. As time went on, I expanded my use of an inexpensive headset for dictating articles and listening to podcasts. I became hooked on this tool. So when my headset died, I needed to find something new. I opened Amazon to look around, and that is when I was shocked. There are hundreds of products on the market with features and terms I did not understand.

Product Types

There are so many products on the market, it is necessary to understand the different terms and uses of these devices. Headphones have one or two earpieces that are connected to a band that goes over your head with the earpiece covering the ear. Headsets are the same as headphones except they include a microphone so you can communicate through the set. Earphones or earbuds may or may not include a microphone. They are small and fit within the ear or just outside of it.

The broad categories above are important. First, a decision should be made regarding what type of earpiece is preferred. Although earphones or earbuds may be easy to transport and carry in your purse or pocket, they can become uncomfortable if they are used for long periods of time. Does the user prefer one ear covered or both? Another consideration is whether the user will need a good microphone for speech recognition and dictation or for online presentations. If a user only plans to use the product for listening to music or other media and does not need a speaking function, then headphones may be a better option. Once these decisions are made, you can focus on other features.

Also, consider your budget when selecting a headset. There are many options available at different price points, so you will want to find one that fits your needs and your budget.

Product Features and Styles

Various features and styles of headsets include wired, wireless including Bluetooth, noise-canceling and bone conduction. There are closed-back and open-back headphones as well. Openback headphones let the sound escape out of the earphones’ mesh lining, whereas closed-back headphones are what most of us are used to and what most lawyers would want to use. The open-back headphones are used for music venues where you would want the sound to emanate from the headphones.

Wired and Wireless Sets

Wired headsets must be plugged into the device transmitting the sound, usually through a USB port. There are good reasons to prefer this over wireless sets. They are generally less expensive than wireless options and have better sound quality. A user who does podcasts and wants excellent sound quality may want a wired headset for this reason.

Wireless headsets are headsets that use Bluetooth or another wireless technology to connect to the computer. They offer more freedom of movement but may be more expensive and have sound quality slightly lower than wired headsets. Bluetooth technology is improving. For better range and speed, look for products with Bluetooth 5.0 or above.

There are other types of wireless headphones, for instance there is a technology called Kleer, but it is proprietary and not widely distributed. This technology needs a USB port for the dongle. It appears there are no headphones with built-in microphones or headsets. Kleer technology is considered to have better sound quality, if this is an important feature for the user. Sennheiser manufactures headphones with this technology.

Sennheiser also manufactures headphones with radio frequency (RF) technology. RF technology can transmit sound through walls and ceilings. With these wireless products, a transmitter or dongle connects to a device.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

There are two main types of noise-canceling headphones: passive noise-canceling headphones and active noise-canceling headphones. Passive noise-canceling headphones block out external noise by using thick padding or other materials to physically block the sound waves. Active noise-canceling headphones use a combination of passive noise reduction and active noise-control technology to reduce ambient noise. They work by using microphones to pick up external sounds, analyzing the noise, and then producing an “anti-noise” signal that cancels out the unwanted noise. Users who need to block noisy distractions should look at the active noise-canceling headphones for better quality

Bone Conduction Headphones

Bone conduction headphones are headphones that use bone conduction technology to transmit sound waves through the bones of the skull, rather than through the ear canal. They are worn on the side of the head, with the transducers positioned near the cheekbones. When the transducers vibrate, they send the sound waves through the bones of the skull and directly to the inner ear, bypassing the ear canal and the eardrum.

Bone conduction headphones have several advantages over traditional headphones. One of the main benefits is that they allow the user to hear both the audio being played through the headphones and any ambient sounds around them, making them a good choice for activities such as running or cycling where it is important to be aware of your surroundings. They are also useful for people with hearing impairments, as they can help to amplify external sounds.

The Search

After figuring out what all these terms meant, it was time to start my search. First, I knew I needed a microphone because we still hold meetings and teach classes online. I wanted a headset comfortable to wear for long periods of time, especially for conference calls and virtual meetings. I needed a headset with padded ear cups. I do not like earbuds/earphones because I have used them on airplanes, and they irritate my ears after an hour or two. I wanted a single ear or monaural headset. I tried the double ear headsets and felt claustrophobic in them. But I also wanted noise cancellation for the office environment. My office sits by a noisy door when opened and shut that can be distracting while I am trying to concentrate. And, after rolling over the cord of my old headset numerous times, I wanted to go wireless.

So, I Googled “the best wireless office headsets” and started my search with lists of the top five to ten for 2022. Various sites agreed that the Jabra and the Logitech brands were top-rated wireless headsets. Also mentioned often were Poly (formerly known as Plantronics) and Sony. Be aware that the products sold on Amazon may not be the latest model and therefore have lower quality Bluetooth technology. I went directly to the manufacturers’ sites to investigate their newer models.

While looking at these products, I realized that none of these headsets were quite what I wanted. Most of the newer products have two-ear headphones. However, Jabra advertised a model for professional drivers that looked interesting. Jabra’s trucker brand, BlueParrott, specializes in noise-canceling headsets for professional drivers.

BlueParrott B450-Xt Headset

The BlueParrott B450-XT is a wireless headset designed for use with Bluetooth-enabled devices. It features a noise-canceling microphone that reduces background noise with a single ear/monaural headphone. It has a range of up to 300 feet and can be used with multiple devices simultaneously. This headset’s battery allows for up to 24 hours of talk time. In addition, it has several features such as volume control, mute and voice control buttons that allow for easy management of the headset. This headset is affordable, ranging between $129.99 to $169.99. At first, it seemed too tight, and it was not comfortable. But the headband is metal, and it can be loosened up by bending it out. After wearing it for a couple of weeks, I found I could leave it on all day in comfort.

There are hundreds of headsets on the market, and it can be overwhelming. Make sure the headset is compatible with your computer and any other devices you will use it with (e.g., phone, tablet). A good headset should have a clear, noise-canceling microphone to ensure that your voice is heard clearly during conference calls or video meetings. Look for a headset with a comfortable fit. Consider any additional features that may be useful, such as a mute button, volume control or the ability to switch between calls and music. Determine your budget and look for a headset that offers the features you need at a price that fits your budget. Research the latest models on the manufacturer’s website. And finally, if you want a single ear/monaural headset, check out headsets for professional drivers and truckers.