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Sennheiser (www.sennheiserusa.com) recently introduced its BW900 model, a business-class wireless office headset which includes a feature called ActiveGard designed to protect wearers against acoustic shock, a common but not well understood problem in the contact center and for all enterprise headset users. I recently got a chance to have a short conversation with Eric Palonen, Product Manager for Sennheiser Consumer Electronics.

SV: What is ActiveGard?

EP: ActiveGard is an amazing technology that protects headset users from exposure to sudden, high-amplitude (volume) acoustical energy (Acoustic Shock). Basically, it is a hearing protection technology that safeguards headset users from damaging in-call volume.

SV: How important is the inclusion of ActiveGard in the BW900?

EP: The inclusion of ActiveGard in the BW900 was a no-brainer for us. As each and every wired telephone headset we made included ActiveGard, it was necessary to include the technology in a wireless device where there is even less control over incoming call volume.

Most other-brand wireless headset devices utilize a volume control for protection, however by the time users reach for it, the damage has been done the loud acoustical energy that has caught users by surprise and caused them to move the earpiece away from their head has already exposed them to the potential for hearing damage. The BW900’s inclusion of ActiveGard protects the user at all times, even when their hands are tied and is present in both our wired and wireless headsets.

SV: What are some of the advantages BW900 users receive thanks to the inclusion of ActiveGard?

EP: The first, of course, is a wide-reaching blanket of safety. Because the limiter kicks in before the signal ever reaches the ear, and does not let up until the signal is below the threshold of activation, the user is always protected below the OSHA limit. Rather than cut off the volume level at the OSHA recommended level, we do so below it, to guarantee safety against acoustic shock. The second is clarity. The ActiveGard system can limit the volume level without distortion from the earcap speaker, meaning that the volume level is clear and consistent without artifacts and distortion that can ruin an important conversation. When company dollars are on the line, every second is critical and the integrity of the call quality must remain perfect. Lastly, we provide peace of mind being able to take any call with confidence is only going to enhance productivity.

SV: How does ActiveGard work to offer protection?

EP: The ActiveGard system is so effective, yet transparent, that you won’t hear it working because you are never exposed to dangerous volume levels any longer. It utilizes a fast-acting limiter to remove the energy from a high-amplitude acoustic burst. The limiter sustains action until the source signal drops below the activation threshold. As stated before, it does this without adding distortion.

SV: How great is the risk of hearing damage for unprotected headset users?

EP: Without a wired or wireless headset with ActiveGard, the user is exposed to Acoustic Shock every second of every call — it can happen at any time for any reason, in any circumstance.

SV: Is it important for wireless headsets to include protection for user’s ears?

EP: Protecting an office or contact center employee’s hearing is as important as protecting any other company asset; in fact, the employee is the most important asset a company has. Headsets without ActiveGard compromise the employees’ fundamental ability to communicate, and thus, there is no communication.

SV: How common is acoustic shock, and is the risk higher for mobile users?
Acoustic shock has always been around; however it was never prevalent in the spotlight of any institution until now. Today, with greater emphasis on employee health and working conditions, acoustic shock is quickly becoming as common as any other work-related illness.

The increasing number of calls handled on a mobile certainly increases the exposure, especially when these calls are managed on a headset without ActiveGard.

S V: How does ActiveGard recognize the safe volume for the user, before switching back into surveillance mode?

EP: A complex series of measurement circuits determine the on and off threshold of the limiter. These circuits are always listening and sustain the limiter until the signal dips below the threshold. By using volume level to determine when the limiter should kick in, the chance that the ActiveGard limiter misses an acoustic shock is eliminated.

SV: Has Sennheiser received positive response for headsets their headsets that include the ActiveGard technology?

EP: Overwhelmingly positive. If you are in charge of your company’s headsets, ask yourself this question: “How important are the ears of your employees?” We have asked this question and received the answer in the form of a “thank you” by providing safe headset solutions for entire corporations.

SV: Have those purchasing the BW900 specifically sought protection for their hearing when making the choice for that headset?

EP: The BW900 has had two particular buyers- those looking for the best in noise reduction technology and those looking for safety without sacrificing multi-connectivity. The BW900 exceeds the requirements of both of these needs.

SV: Thank you for your time.

More information about Sennheiser and its safety initiatives is available at www.tmcnet.com/channels/headsets/

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