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TMC Labs
March 2002

Head-To-Head Headsets

GN Netcom, Inc.
Nashua, NH 03062
Ph: 800-826-4656
Fx: 603-598-0488
Web: www.gnnetcom.com

Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Ph: 800-544-4660
Fx: 831-426-6098
Web: www.plantronics.com

Plantronics Supra H51 headset... $79
GN 2100 SoundTube headset... $82
GN 8000 MPA Amplifier... $110
GN 8050 TCA Amplifier... $120
Plantronics M12 Amplifier... $120
Plantronics DSP 500 headset... $140
HD Virtuoso w/Ultralight OP headset... $189
GN Ellipse 2.4 headset and base... $279
GN 8110-USB Digital Audio PC Adapter... $89
GN 9010BT headset & base... $499
JABRA Ear Wrap... $30
Plantronics LS1 headset... $35
Plantronics SR1 headset... $25

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 market share.

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 product.)

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 accurate.

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 this article.

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 SR1 counterpart.

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.

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).

[ Return To The March 2002 Table Of Contents ]

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