headset

Headset recommendation: Logitech h800

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I've worked from home for ten years. During this time I've needed a reliable headset for doing calls and listening to music that fit some rudimentary needs:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.

This didn't seem like such a big deal, but it turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would be.

Let me work through the headsets I've tried and the problems I ran into.

The first wireless headset I tried was the Logitech h600. It was wireless, had a reasonable quality mic, was stereo, didn't cost too much, and seemed to work fairly well. However, there were some glaring problems, primarily that it was a little small for my head so it had to be pulled down tight to fit right, and because here was no padding on the top band its hard plastic would push down on my head and hurt after a while. Another minor problem was that it needed a USB adapter, it couldn't use the Bluetooth system built into the laptop. The pain wearing it proved to be too much to deal with, given that I was wearing it extensively, so I had to ditch it.

New requirements list:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.
  7. It needed to fit my slightly larger-than-average mellon.
  8. It needed to be comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
  9. Not need any extra attachments to my computer, e.g. a USB adapter or something.

I then tried its older sibling, the Logitech h800. This was larger and had some padding on the band, so it didn't hurt to wear. It also used the laptop's Bluetooth system so didn't need any adapters to connect - just pair it to the laptop once, and then just turn it on when I wanted to use it. Hey presto!

For the most part the h800 has worked well - it's comfortable for wear for hours at a time, even a full day. However one problem I noticed was that the mic quality, i.e. the sound of my voice, is really poor compared to, well, everyone else I was having calls with. Everyone else was using different headsets, I thought my problem was with my headset, so after several years of use it started falling apart and I decided to replace it with something that might be better.

New requirements:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.
  7. It needed to fit my slightly larger-than-average mellon.
  8. It needed to be comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
  9. Not need any extra attachments to my computer, e.g. a USB adapter or something.
  10. It needed to have a reasonable quality mic.

The first alternative I tried was the Jabra Evolve 65 UC. This is a slightly upper scale headset that is purported to have really good quality, and was recommended by some folks at work. I tried looking for one at a brick 'n mortar store so I could try it on, but they couldn't find their on-hand stock so I ended up ordering it online. When it arrived the first thing I did was checked to see how it fit, and unfortunately it was just too tight on my head, and had a hard plastic band with no padding so it just hurt to wear. It also had poor quality audio from the mic, the same as the h800. Clearly wasn't going to work, so I returned it.

After that failure I went back to looking.

The biggest problem with the h800 was with the mic quality. Doing research there seemed to be a known problem with the Bluetooth architecture itself. It seems that there are two "profiles" for how headsets work - a high quality mode for listening to audio, and a lower quality mode for transmitting & receiving simultaneously. Given that I want to have two-way conversations, this turns out to be a major limiting factor in the Bluetooth concept. So.. maybe Bluetooth wasn't what I needed..

There's also a newer generation of Bluetooth that might have helped. My laptop supports Bluetooth 4, but there's a 4.1 that adds a low-power mode, and a new 5.0 that improves things further. I did some searching on 4 versus 5 for audio headsets, but couldn't find anything at the time. So maybe Bluetooth 5 might help, but I'd have to either find a USB adapter or replace the laptop, and that wasn't in the budget.

A coworker mentioned the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC, a set that looks like it might be what I needed - on-ear headphones, includes a USB dongle to use instead of Bluetooth (to avoid mic problems), and it had a comfortable head band. The coworker mentioned that the mic quality was really good when using the dongle, but just using Bluetooth it was terrible, which confirmed my suspicion about needing to go with something that used a USB device! Unfortunately it was no longer available from most suppliers as it was an older model. Given I couldn't try it out, I hesitated getting it.

The first headset I tried was the Logitech G533, which I grabbed from a local store. It covered most of the requirements, and used a USB dongle so the audio should work nicely. I tried it for two days but in the end it proved to be too much - I really didn't like the over-ear form factor and the noise cancelling aspect distorted how I heard my voice when I was speaking, which was too weird for me on calls. Also, it felt a little flimsy, so I was worried about it lasting a few months, never mind a few years. So back to the store it went.

New requirements:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.
  7. It needed to fit my slightly larger-than-average mellon.
  8. It needed to be comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
  9. Not need any extra attachments to my computer, e.g. a USB adapter or something.
  10. It needed to have a reasonable quality mic.
  11. No noise cancelation, or at least a way of turning it off.

The next set I tried was the Beats Solo Pro. This is a premium piece of hardware at roughly $300, and was using my hardware expense account from work so I could splurge on something I used constantly. The headset had a head band, fairly comfortable ear covers, didn't have a boom mic but supposedly had some nifty stuff to make it work well, long batter life, etc, and several coworkers loved their prior model (Solo 3). I grabbed it on sale at a local store (order-ahead for easy pickup, thank you COVID-19), brought it home, took it out of the box (nice packaging job, Beats!), connected it to my laptop and then... realized it was just too small for my noggin. I tried out the mic anyway, just in case, and it was no better than what I'd used before. Drat! Back to the store it'll go.

I did some research into headsets that fit larger mellons. While there are several articles out there, most of them focus on over-the-ear headsets with noise cancellation, and I didn't want that. They also focused primarily on Bluetooth headsets and didn't take mic quality into account, so they weren't going to work for me.

I also did a little more research on Bluetooth 4 vs 5, and it turns out that the improvements don't change anything about the usage "profiles" - it still cuts the audio quality when you're speaking, so that was going to be a non-starter.

I again looked at the Plantronics headset, but it was getting even harder to find, and some comments on Amazon suggested folks were selling cheap knockoffs, I figured I'd hold off again.

Given they were available locally I figured I'd double check what items Logitech had again, and look through their details. While doing this I happened across a little tidbit about the h800 I've been using for several years - while it's sold primarily as a Bluetooth device, it does come with a small USB dongle to connect it if your computer doesn't support Bluetooth. I'd made the assumption that it was a Bluetooth adapter, but I noticed that the manual didn't actually say this, instead indicating it was a proprietary system. So, it might just work!

This morning I dug around to find the headset's adapter, which wasn't in the handy-dandy holder in the left ear cover, plugged the adapter into my laptop, made a test call with Zoom and saved it, then compared the recording to one made with the device connected via Bluetooth - the difference was night and day!

Final requirements:

  1. It needed to be wireless, so I didn't pull my laptop onto the ground.
  2. It needed to be stereo.
  3. It needed to have a built-in mic.
  4. It needed to work reliably.
  5. Not too expensive.
  6. 8+ hours of use on a single charge.
  7. It needed to fit my slightly larger-than-average mellon.
  8. It needed to be comfortable to wear for hours at a time.
  9. Not need any extra attachments to my computer, e.g. a USB adapter or something.
  10. It needed to have a reasonable quality mic.
  11. No noise cancelation, or at least a way of turning it off.

So, after all my searching for a replacement headset to my held-together-with-tape-and-good-wishes Logitech h800, my new headset will be a Logitech h800! In the end needing to have a clearer mic trumped my hope to avoid using a USB adapter. Go figure.

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