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October 1998

ANC 500 Stereo PC Headset

Andrea Electronics Corp.
11-40 45th Road
Long Island City, NY 11101
Ph.: 718-729-8500
Fx.: 718-729-8765

Price: $54.95

iteditorschoice.gif (15817 bytes)

Ratings (0-5)
Installation: 5
Documentation: 3
Features: 3
Operational Testing: 4.5
GUI: 5
Overall Grade: A-

Buying a brand-new computer, with all the trimmings can be a thrilling experience. With an abundance of RAM, you can run the most complicated and power hungry programs available. The new processor speed makes your old machine look like a lethargic relic. The hard drive is huge - a half-dozen GB or more. Add to that a lightning-fast modem connecting you to the Internet at speeds that would simply choke older computers. Now, you're ready to get on the Internet and make use of all the new high-tech goodies that you have heretofore only dreamed about - or are you? You attempt an Internet telephony call. You realize something's amiss the first time you try to use the inexpensive microphone that came bundled with the computer. So, you trudge back out to buy a high-quality microphone worthy of the computer to which it will connect. Question is, which one? We tried the ANC 500 Stereo PC headset from Andrea Electronics.

We installed the Andrea Stereo PC headset ANC 500 on a computer with a Pentium 200 MHz processor and 32 Megs of RAM running Windows 95. The installation itself was quick and painless - just five minutes was all it took from the time we sat down in front of the computer to the moment we were able to begin using the microphone. We started with the insertion of the CD that came boxed with the microphone. A self-executing file brought up the installation screen. From here, we were able to install the software for the microphone as well as all the other bundled software. We clicked on the button for the AudioCOMMANDER and followed the prompts to completion. We noted that we did not even have to reboot the computer in order to make the software function, cutting down on chances that something might go wrong during the process.

We did notice a lack of documentation for the microphone, but then, we do not mean to imply that too much is needed. The extent of the documentation was a few loose papers in the box diagramming how to plug the microphone into the back of the computer and how to put the headset on your head. Since documentation is not critical for this type of product, this section did not affect the overall grade much, though we would like to see some more in the way of documented features, even if only on the included CD-ROM.

The main feature offered by the ANC 500 offers is Andrea's patented Anti-Noise Active Noise Cancellation. This is a method of improving speech quality by electronically forming a 180-degree, out-of-phase signal and then canceling the background noise located in both signals. From the ANC 500 packaging, it is apparent that Andrea likes to take a scientific angle when advertising their products, as they have logarithmic frequency response graphs in plain sight for all to see.

Another feature of the microphone is the ON/MUTE switch that allows the user to mute the sound to the microphone without a mouse in hand. This feature presents opportunities for true hands-free applications. Other aspects of the microphone worth mentioning are that it folds flat for portability and storage and it comes with a suite of prebundled software. The following software comes prepackaged on the CD supplied with the ANC 500 microphone:

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0.
  • Microsoft NetMeeting 2.1.
  • Kurzweil VoicePad Starter Edition.

As it turns out, the Andrea AudioCOMMANDER GUI looks very much like the Windows 95 volume control. In fact, from this interface, most of the functions of the volume control tab can be accessed. In addition, there are a few additional features. One of these is a check box to prevent speaker feedback into the microphone, which we found intriguing, considering that we could not think of a time when we would like speaker feedback into the microphone. At any rate, the option is there. Another feature, which we liked more, was a warning that would appear whenever a box was checked that would affect the microphone performance. We found this sort of "self-troubleshooting" to be very useful.

The first test we conducted was a cursory comparison between the Andrea ANC 500 microphone and stick microphone of the type often supplied with computers. In order to do this comparison, we recorded a .wav file with each and played them back, listening for the audible differences. From this comparison, we were able to determine that we had captured more sound with the ANC 500 microphone.

Next, we decided to explore the microphone abilities with the NetMeeting software that came bundled with the package. At first, we connected two computers in the company over the company LAN, and not surprisingly, it worked. However, we realized that a large percentage of the world operates at significantly lower than T1 speeds. Therefore, we conducted the same experiment over a 56 Kbps modem connection. We found that the microphone worked quite well at this speed, and we were content since it seems apparent that the Internet is poised to optimize itself for 56 Kbps connections.

About the only place that we found a need for improvement with the microphone was in the price tag. We found $54.95 to be a bit expensive for the noise cancellation properties of the ANC 500. Granted, the noise cancellation is a nice feature, but we expect that the cost of canceling noise will decrease soon and should be reflected in the future. Other companies have released similar products that should create some competitive pricing.

Upon examining the Andrea ANC 500 Stereo PC headset, there remains little doubt in our minds that it will help to enhance many CTI applications that utilize voice. By eliminating background noise and increasing sound quality, this accessory makes audio transmissions (e.g., for Internet telephony applications) more intelligible. Of course, speech recognition applications will also be enhanced by the increase in sound quality, thereby providing more accurate recognition and, ultimately, time and cost savings. Finally, and certainly not least noteworthy, is the obvious application of video conferencing. The vision of a computer in every home will become even more likely when computers become widely used as voice and video communication units. It seems that Andrea Electronics has put quite a bit of research into their noise cancellation technology, and as such we are proud to award the ANC 500 the INTERNET TELEPHONY™ magazine Editors' Choice award.


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