by Mie-Yun Lee, Editor of the Business Consumer Guide
During an important phone call, you need to write down an address or a phone number. You scrunch your neck, gripping the phone between your shoulder and head, as you rummage for pen and paper. A slight twitch and the phone goes crashing to the floor.
The neck scrunch is, no doubt, familiar to most everyone. Yet few have taken advantage of a fairly inexpensive and simple solution: the phone headset. Headsets allow you to talk while keeping both hands free, giving you the mobility you need for writing, typing or even drinking a cup of coffee.
Headsets can be used with virtually any kind of office or home phone. They install by simply connecting one or two plugs, and cost between $100 and $200. Although most headsets are an improvement over a regular phone handset, there are big differences between the many models on the market. By understanding what features to look for, you should be able to find a headset that is a pleasure to use.
Can you hear?
The most important feature when using a headset is sound quality. If you cannot be heard, you will quickly stop using the headset.
Because people speak at different volumes, controls often make the difference between poor sound and clear conversations. As a result, volume controls can be very important. All models have an incoming volume control, with a few models offering outgoing volume control. The range of volume control does differ across models; make sure to check it is adequate with any set you purchase.
A second key to high quality sound is noise canceling. This feature helps block or reduce background noise, allowing the caller's voice to be heard more clearly. Expect to pay a premium of $20 to $40 for headsets equipped with this feature.
Headsets have two main convenience features: a handset/ headset switchover and a quick disconnect. The switchover feature allows the user to switch between the handset and the headset when handling calls. Make sure the feature is well marked and accessible in a hurry; when the phone is ringing, you do not want to guess what to pick up.
Quick disconnect allows you to disconnect the headset from the rest of the equipment. This means that you do not have to remove the headset if you need to leave your desk. When shopping for a headset, check that the quick disconnect lives up to its name; a few models require a bit of a wrestling match to disconnect the halves.
Choosing the design
A third concern with any headset is the design. Headsets come in many styles, ranging from in-the-ear units to large, cushioned broadcaster-like units. They can also be equipped with a single earpiece (monaural) or two earpieces (binaural).
If the headset will be used in a noisy environment, such as in a calling center or cubicle, a binaural headset usually is a wise choice. Monaural headsets often are preferable if you do not spend most of the day on the phone. This design allows you to listen in on your surroundings, or hold conversations without removing your headset.
Mie-Yun Lee is editor of the Business Consumer Guide, a monthly publication that provides companies with information, recommendations and advice on the purchase of office equipment and services. The Business Consumer Guide is available by subscription for $119 for one year. Individual reports are available for $25 each. To order, or for more information, call (800) 938-0088, or write to Business Consumer Guide, 125 Walnut St., Watertown, MA 02172.