There are many benefits of using headsets and amplifiers. Some of the
most obvious benefits include providing the ability to conveniently work
on the computer, go through Web presentations or write while on the phone.
The ergonomics of headsets also allows for more comfort because cradling
the handset between your head and shoulder can become tiresome and
stressful on the neck. As compared to a speakerphone, a headset,
especially with amplification, has better sound quality because it
eliminates distracting background noise. It also gives the caller more
privacy. Since our readers understand these reasons to use headsets, TMC
Labs decided to take a look at the headsets and amplifiers from GN Netcom
and Plantronics in order to discuss some of their latest products and to
compare specific products when feasible.
Plantronics Supra H51 Headset & GN 2100 SoundTube Headset
Let's start out by discussing one of the most popular headsets on the
market today ' the Plantronics Supra H51 headset. Plantronics states
that this Supra Monaural (one earpiece) headset owes its popularity to its
light weight, superior sound quality and comfort via its adjustable
headband design and soft ear cushion. Also, the noise-canceling microphone
eliminates significant background noise, allowing conversations to be
easily heard even in noisy environments. These attributes may very well be the reason these headsets initially
gained popularity and continue to give Plantronics a good portion of
GN Netcom's GN 2100 SoundTube headset is comparable to the Plantronics
Supra H51 headset, boasting benefits very similar to those Plantronics
offers. However, this is the first product to use Acoustic Transmission
Line (ATL) technology, which GN Netcom says eliminates the sound
reverberations and distortions often associated with plastic voice tubes.
Of course, we did not take this claim at face value, so we compared the
sound quality of the GN2100 SoundTube to the Supra H51 headset microphone.
The Addition Of Amplifiers
We plugged in the Supra H51 headsets and GN 2100 SoundTube headsets to the
GN 8000-MPA and GN 8050-TCA amplifiers as well as to the Plantronics M12
amplifier to determine which headset and amplifier sounded best when used
with an analog phone.
The GN 8000-MPA and Plantronics M12 amplifiers are very similar in look
and feel and can be compared to one another. The GN 8050-TCA has the
additional ability to switch between a phone and a computer with a single
button and can be especially helpful when using speech recognition or
computer-aided training applications. (On a side note, a headset that is
also especially useful for these types of applications is Plantronics'
DSP 500 headset, although this is strictly a PC-based USB solution. We
reviewed this headset in December 2001 and found it to be an excellent
We were able to test both the Plantronics and GN Netcom headsets with all
three amplifiers, since they are all compatible. We had expected each
company's headsets to sound better when hooked up to their own
amplifiers. This wasn't the case, at least to our discernable ears.
However, when listening to a conversation using the Plantronics Supra
headset, we consistently heard a softer tone than when using the GN Netcom
SoundTube, no matter which amplifier we used. This made it slightly more
difficult to understand what was being said when using the Plantronics
headset, so it seems GN Netcom's claim of better sound quality from ATL
technology is accurate. Is this enough reason to change from using
existing Supra headsets? We think not, since the sound quality difference
is not major, but it is something to consider when buying new headsets.
In a contact center environment, it is important to be able to mute the
line so you can speak to others near you without the person on the line
hearing what's being said. However, we noticed that we could hear a
distanced sound coming from the other end of a muted M12 amplifier. If
listening carefully, it may even be possible to hear a muffled voice on
the other end. This shouldn't happen and did not happen when using
either of the GN Netcom amplifiers ' there was only silence on the other
end when muted.
We also took a look at Hello Direct's Virtuoso w/Ultralight OP headset
(Hello Direct is owned by GN Netcom). The Virtuoso is much like the
amplifiers previously mentioned in that it offers switching between a
phone and a headset and has features such as volume control and a muting
option. It goes beyond that, though, by offering more multimedia
functionality. For instance, it gives users the ability to switch from
talking on the phone to dictating memos on the PC to listening to music.
It also allows users to play digital audio files from a PC during phone
conversations and the ability to record phone calls. We liked these
additional features not only for their 'coolness factor,' but also
because some of these features are practical applications for office use.
To test the product, we connected the Virtuoso to the PC sound card and
the phone, set the slider switch to the correct setting, received a call
from a neighboring phone, and then played an audio file from the PC.
Unlike most handset products, we could talk to the person, and we were
also able to hear the played PC audio file from the neighboring phone. We
think this feature could be useful in upselling situations in which the
agent could ask the customer for permission to play a promotional or
informational PC audio file to present a better sales pitch.
Off And Walking
GN Netcom says the GN Ellipse 2.4 Ghz wireless device can receive clear
reception from up to 200 feet away. We decided to put this claim to the
test. We put on our headsets and strapped on the belt clips. After
pressing the red hook switch button to accept an incoming call, we were
off and walking. Away from the labs we went ' down the stairs, outside
the building, across the street and down the block. The reception remained
clear until about 150 feet down the street when we started having trouble
hearing the person on the line, so we did what any good tester would do,
we kept walking. To our surprise, the reception actually picked back up
for a while, so we continued to walk. Finally, the signal completely left,
but we had proven that GN Netcom's claims for Ellipse are quite
We then picked up GN Netcom's new Bluetooth headset and were ready to
take another walk, albeit a shorter one, because the GN 9010BT headset has
a range of only about 50 feet. There has been much hoopla about Bluetooth
technology, but this was one of the first times we actually used a
Bluetooth product. Since this product could be connected with a
non-Bluetooth phone, we received a call with the Bluetooth phone and were
off on our next walk. This time, we only reached the bottom of the stairs
before the reception started to go. Just a little bit out the door, and
the reception totally died. However, that distance we walked was more than
50 feet away, so we were happy about the results. Overall, this headset
could be a valuable commodity if and when Bluetooth technology takes off.
We would like to note that Plantronics also created a Bluetooth device
called the M1500 cordless headset. Unfortunately, we did not have the
device in the labs and could not obtain it so that we could test it for
The Rest Of The Test
We still had a few other headsets from GN Netcom and Plantronics we wanted
to test. First, the GN 8110-USB Digital Audio PC Adapter, which allows a
headset to be used through a USB port. Windows 2000 automatically detects
the drivers for this device, so we were using it just a few minutes after
connecting it. However, we did notice that this simple headset took up
nearly 30 percent of the PC's USB resources. That, coupled with a video
camera in use through NetMeeting, caused the USB resources to be
dangerously high, disrupting a NetMeeting video call on occasion.
While the sound quality was fine using the USB headset, we still favored
either the Plantronics SR1 or LS1 headsets to use with a good sound card
on a PC. The only differences between these two Plantronics headsets are
that the SR1 is monaural while the LS1 has full-range stereo sound, has a
microphone on/off switch, and volume can be controlled through the LS1
headset. For these extra features, the LS1 headset is $10 more than its
People who do not wish to use traditional headsets might prefer the JABRA
Ear Wrap (JABRA is owned by GN Netcom). This is a small, slick apparatus
that wraps around the wearer's ear and has a similar sound quality to
other headsets in its price range.
To The March 2002 Table Of Contents ]
That's the scoop on the headsets, amplifiers and similar equipment from
Plantronics and GN Netcom we had the opportunity to test. We hope we were
able to enlighten you on some of the headsets available from these headset
providers while also helping you to decide what might be best for your own
individual use. For more information about these products, check the Web
sites of Plantronics (www.plantronics.com) and GN Netcom (www.gnnetcom.com).