The Minimalist Headset Solution


reading time 4 min

I got sick and tired video conferences being delayed by audio problems. I know that a lot of times it is a problem on my end, but I think everyone has had audio problems. How did I fix it? I got rid of any feature that caused me trouble until I had a trouble-free headset experience. Spoiler alert: I had to eliminate nearly all features. The purpose of this blog post is to provide links so that people can purchase the same equipment I now use.

Simple simple simple

My basic strategy is that simplicity is the number one requirement. I hate to start every video conference fumbling around with my headphones, pairing them, trying to figure out why people can’t hear me, and so on.

Simple is better

Simple means less things to go wrong.

Fewer features means less to debug.

It pains me to see coworkers struggling with wireless problems. I’ve tried many, many, many brands. The best wireless headphones I’ve used are the Apple AirPods. Sadly the battery lasts an hour, not an 8-hour day of remote work. Therefore, they’re good for an hour jog in the morning but useless for remote-work. Conclusion: Wired, not wireless.

The other class of problems is people not realizing they are muted. People get confused over whether they are muted by the switch on their headset (“hard mute”), the button on the cable, the mute setting on their computer (“soft mute”), and possibly other places. My solution is to eliminate all mute buttons except one. Since I can’t get rid of the one on my operating system (I use macOS), I get rid of all others. Conclusion: No controls on the headset or cable.

In summary: I want boring, wired, headsetes with no controls.

(I apologize to all the product managers and engineers at headset manufacturers. I know you want to add features. I know your boss wants you to add features. I want you to do the opposite.)

Recommendations

The headphones I’ve loved for many years come in two parts: The audio processor (about $40) and headphones (about $56). They connect together with a “quick disconnect” connector.

At first I thought it was weird to have 2 parts but it’s actually quite brilliant. If something breaks I can just replace the broken part, so it saves me money. These things do break.

Plus, the two parts disconnect very easily. Thus, if I need to get up and walk away from my computer I can disconnect them easily and leave my headset on my head. It sounds weird but you’ll understand when you try it.

Part 1: The processor: Plantronics 201851-01 DA70 USB Audio Processor.

The processor is what connects to the computer.

The model listed above appears on my Mac as a “Plantronics DA70”. There is a DA80 model that is slightly more expensive. What you get for the extra money is a mute button and other volume controls right on the cable. Sounds great, right? It isn’t! With the DA80 when your coworkers can’t hear you there are multiple places to check: my computer’s audio controls, the cable, etc. etc. etc. Ugh. So frustrating. (I guess some people prefer the DA80 and I won’t hold it against you for buying that model but you’ll get zero sympathy from me when I hear you say, “OOOH! It was hard-muted!” every time you realize nobody can hear you.)

Part 2: The headset itself: Plantronics Plnhw520 Encorepro HW520 Headset.

The headset is plugged into the processor. It has a special “quick connect” plug.

There are various headset models compatible with the quick connect plug. Depending on whether you have two ears or one, or a mouth that is always the same place on your head or moves around. I have two ears and my mouth has been below my nose since I can remember, so I prefer the model listed above. YMMV.

End note

Headsets are a very personal choice. Use whatever you want but heed my warning about simplicity. If you find yourself wrestling with the mute, pairing, and other features maybe the solution is to eliminate features, not fix them.

That’s a sad statement about our industry but what are ya gonna do?




Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

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