Recently I received a care package from Plantronics with a number of their headsets and other products and when I opened the box it served as a not so subtle reminder of just how dominant the company is. Back in 1982 when my company TMC (I am CEO) launched the first magazine in the call center space, Plantronics was one of the few companies in the market and almost 30 years later they have evolved into an organization delivering unified communications endpoints for virtually every segment of the market.
Case in point is the Blackwire C435, a small, lightweight corded stereo headset with microphone which comes with a travel pouch. The sound drivers are relatively large yet fit in the ear comfortably due to a clever design. Moreover they deliver crisp sound and the microphone extends to your mouth allowing you to be heard clearly. In my testing, I used Skype to call an iPhone 4S on the AT&T network which sounded great and I played a variety of music from pop to the Theme from Jurassic Park from John Williams and the 1812 Overture from Tchaikovsky. On these last two pieces the midrange really shined and the cannons in the overture played without any distortion. The DSPs and audio programming Plantronics uses on its USB headsets have always been superior in my past testing and this device was no exception.
Included is a clip for your shirt which takes the weight off since a pack-of-gum size plastic in-wire device is included to house the DSP, control volume, allow muting and answer phone calls.
Room for improvement is pretty basic – the headset is made in-part of translucent plastic and it doesn’t really bend to fit. It was comfortable on my ears but I could see them getting uncomfortable after many hours of use.
Price is about $100 and for a lightweight travel headset which reproduces music well and also allows you to make high-quality voice calls the Blackwire C435 is priced about right.
The Calisto 825 is a hybrid device which connects to UC systems such as Cisco and Microsoft Lync while providing a speakerphone for a small group. The desktop gadget is incredibly flexible as it allows you to also connect via Bluetooth to a cell phone and offers a Bluetooth microphone attachment the PA50 for crystal clear voice clarity. In addition you can opt to pair a Bluetooth headset.
The 825 allows a user to make UC, Skype and mobile calls speakerphone calls from its keypad or you can use a corded (via two jacks) or bluetooth headset. I tested the wireless microphone 20 feet away, through a few walls and it still was able to transmit my voice clearly to the caller on the other end of my test Skype call.
Moroever, you can also make UC and Skype calls via a Bluetooth headset. At $259 list it’s a good value – it costs more than a low-end IP phone but offers good quality sound and lots of connectivity options.
In the improvement category I would like to see it become a SIP device you could hang off a PBX using Ethernet – instead of needing a USB connection. Moreover, when I tried to connect the Sound ID SIX headset to the 825 it just wouldn’t connect. Although the 825 acknowledged it was paired with the headset they wouldn’t communicate. I did get it to work with a Plantronics Discovery 650E headset – a great device with a vibrating base to alert you to calls when your phone isn’t nearby.
I would also request better Skype integration – when an incoming call appeared on my screen I wasn’t able to answer it with the Calisto 825 – I needed to click answer on the computer screen.
One other point is I would like to see an oil-phobic screen like on a smartphone – either that or I have to stop eating lunch at my desk.
Other than that, this is the device to solve most every communications connectivity issue you can think of and it’s easy on the eyes.
The MDA200 switcher is a simple device which switches between PC and PBX/PSTN based communications. Two large buttons allow you to effortlessly switch between the two modes. Moreover, it can accept input for a USB headset or even a wireless one like the Plantronics H-series headset with a DA series USB adapter which plugs into the front of the unit.
I tested it with the Blackwire C435 headset and was surprised to find that the computer didn’t recognize the MDA200 but it did recognize the C435. Not that this is a problem, I was just expecting to see the MDA pop up in the Plantronics Spokes Control Panel software.
The list price at $129 is high but I have seen it around $70 online which is a good price for a device which will integrate wireless headset capability to computer-driven and traditional telephony.
The Savi 440 is sleek, uses DECT wireless and works with UC solutions from the major players such as Cisco, Avaya and IBM. You plug the included D100 adapter into your computer, make sure it is the default device, make a VoIP call, press the headset’s on button and you are done. It was as pain free as possible and just worked – I love this headset.
It also comes with an array of ear buds and over the ear loops as well as a full over the head padded assembly for maximum comfort. When I noticed the simple over the ear loops were made of the same plastic as the Blackwire C435, I was a bit concerned. But thankfully there were three different sized loops which maximized comfort depending on ear size. Still, I wished for a different material and noticed there was a foam tube sock in the box which slides on the plastic and not only makes the headset more comfortable, it reduces slippage.
The company says this is the lightest DECT headset on the market – I haven’t tested the claim but it is really comfortable and I barely realize it’s there. Also the range is very good – I walked about 100 feet away through steel, concrete and much sheetrock and still was able to be heard and hear clearly. It definitely has better range than any other office cordless phone or headsets I have tried. Its range is even superior to some of the most specialized long-range WiFi access points on the market.
As a plus, you can stream audio to this headset although the music sound quality won’t impress you. Its a good solution however for news or talk radio.
I don’t have room for improvement. The street price is about $200 which some may consider high compared to what a typical DEC handset might cost but you are paying for the UC connectivity and all the comfort options and miniaturization which allow you to wear this device comfortably for hours at a time.
This headset is really the top of the line when it comes to UC and productivity. It is an upgrade from the W01 Savi Office headset system I have used for years and is similar to the Savi 440 in terms of fit, comfort and weight. The W01 has been a reliable companion – comfortable, supporting long-range wireless calls with a lightweight headset design and the ability to switch between VoIP and office PBX calls without a hitch. Two buttons on top of the device allow you to seamlessly switch as I needed between phone and computer depending on the mode of communications I was using.
The W740 works similarly and adds Bluetooth so now my cell phone is paired with it. What this stops is fumbling to switch headsets throughout the day. Quite often I used to find myself with a different headset in each ear so I could easily talk regardless of which phone rang. I finally figured out an easy way eliminate this annoyance.
Another improvement over the W01 is the 740 has a removable battery for people who spend many hours on the phone. The W01 headset was able to be charged with the typical round style last generation Plantronics power adapter while the 740 does not allow charging except via the base. This is actually a good money-saving move by the California-based company because I can’t think of why you would need to charge the headset without using the base.
The other changes are the earpiece is now selectable from 4 options in an enclosed kit and you have the same plastic ear loop with the foam sock combo mentioned in the review of the SAVI 440. When I slid the sock on the plastic, I accidentally ripped it – leading me to suggest a few more socks be added with such an expensive headset.
The 740 also sports a Bluetooth symbol/button which shines blue when connected to your mobile device. In my testing, it was very easy to get the headset to communicate with an iPhone - even if you use many bluetooth devices. If the blue light isn't lit all you need do is press the button and it connects in a few seconds either during or before a phone call.
You have to wonder just how many ear bud and ear loop adapters the company has to keep track of. I use a Plantronics stereo Bluetooth headset in the gym and another Bluetooth headset to answer phone calls and they both fit into the ear differently than the headsets I just reviewed. One wonders if it isn’t time to drastically reduce all the combinations to a handful of very manageable options. Moreover, Plantronics was one company which led the way in adoption of Micro USB as a standard way to charge its devices – perhaps there needs to be some standards with regards to how its headset fits comfortably in an ear.
Like I stated at the beginning of this post, Plantronics has been making bulletproof headsets which TMC has been evaluating since the eighties and moreover the company’s history goes back to the early sixties. Neil Armstrong even used a Plantronics headset on the moon.
And since that time the company has continued to innovate with the goal being to make more and more useful communications endpoints which boost productivity and efficiency. It’s a testament to the company’s sound business strategy that commoditization hasn’t forced it to go head-to-head with no-name Asian imports. By focusing on quality, durability, good design and offering a breadth of solutions which solve almost any communications endpoint need, they have proven they are a great corporate partner when choosing headsets.