on 27 January 2011
PLEASE NOTE: This review is mainly oriented to speech recognition software users, in case you need some in-depth details on this specific use for this headset.
I have been using speech recognition professionally since it was invented, and in time I have been using all sorts of headsets for this purpose: mono, stereo, heavy, light, over-the-head, over-the-ear, over-whatever-part-of-your-body-near-your-mouth, etc....
Unfortunately, the ONLY common characteristic I could find so far in all these models is... fragility!
In the last 10 years I have been buying a new one, on average, every 1-2 years _at maximum_. This is due to the fact that, even if the microphones in most consumer headsets are virtually indestructible, _all the other components_ are usually _very_ prone to break at the minimum stress, bend, pull, bump, etc...
This happens especially with _plugs_ (often in soft and very delicate rubber that bends too easily) and _cables_ (which have become hair-thin, and often cannot even be joined together or re-soldered easily, since they are usually covered with a non-conductive coating that must be _scorched_ thoroughly, in order to make electric contact...)
Therefore, when I set out to buy a new headset, this time I wanted the strongest and most reliable headset I could find at this price range (BTW, usually speech recognition does not require extremely costly microphones, since human voice frequencies are very limited, and the real aspects that matter are sensitivity and _noise reduction_).
I chose this specific model from Plantronics (a brand I have been using a lot in the past, due to their unbeatable price/performance ratio, IMHO), since it looked well built and sturdy enough, it had a very good reputation for my speech-recognition software (NaturallySpeaking), and a very attractive price, too.
Well, having used this headset for a couple of weeks, I was satisfied beyond any expectation by this purchase: not only the microphone works with _extremely_ high precision with NaturallySpeaking 8, but it turned out to be one of the most robust, comfortable and well-designed ones I ever bought!
-The headband is sturdy (plastic could be better, tough), but also flexible enough to adjust to average head sizes; it can be extended on the earphone side, but it might be a little uncomfortable if you have a very large head, since it is not very wide.
-The microphone arm is absolutely wonderful, since it is _the_ most massive one I have ever seen! It is large almost as much as the headband, and it rotates smoothly but _very_ firmly around the headphone (no need to readjust it every time, since it keeps the position even if handled roughly, which is very important for speech recognition, since the slightest position change can impact the performance a lot.)
-The end part of the microphone arm (where the microphone sits) is made in a very strong, thick but flexible material covered with rubber, which can be freely bent to provide maximum proximity with the mouth; it can be even extended, too, in order to provide some extra flexibility. Absolute perfection!
-The noise-cancelling microphone works like a charm and, if properly calibrated with the software/sound card and _positioned correctly very near to the corner of your mouth_, it can produce astoundingly good results! I was able to dictate text with my TV switched on at 40 cm from my face _without a single error_!
-The single-ear headphone is very comfortable and wide, with basic quality for generic uses (do not expect low basses: headsets of this kind are better suited for speech recognition, voice, chat, etc.)
-There are no microphone/volume controls, which usually just add noise and signal loss, both very bad for speech recognition.
-As other people noted, the microphone produces a rather low output signal level; therefore, depending on your specific sound card and software settings, it might produce insufficient results, at first.
I had to increase a lot the input gain of my sound card, in order to obtain an appropriate sound level for speech recognition; so, you might have to tweak the mic audio input settings of your sound card and software, too, to obtain good results. (Many sound card drivers allow to control gain or provide an automatic gain control to boost the signal, so you might want to check if your specific one allows this, before buying this microphone.)
-Due to the same low output level of the microphone, you need to position the microphone _very_ close to the corner of your mouth in order to pick up your voice properly, but once you find the proper position, you will probably never change it again.
-Unfortunately this microphone, too, IMHO has very delicate jack connectors and cables; so, to avoid the problems I mentioned above, I decided to replace directly the microphone soft rubber jack with a professional metal one, that should not break for a long time, hopefully... ;-)
All in all, I strongly recommend this headset to anyone looking for a sturdy, comfortable and reliable headset with great speech recognition performance, provided you have the patience to position it correctly and a sound card that allows you to set mic input levels/gain properly...