16 March 2010
The folks from Able Planet sent me a pair of their new entry-level Active Noise Canceling Headphones to review. Considering my bad experience with noise canceling headphones in the past, I was probably an ideal test subject for these sorts of things.
The way that noise canceling headphones generally work is that they analyze the ambient audio in the room and send a sound that is the exact opposite of the ambient noise. The end result: you don’t hear the ambient noise. However, sound waves are still hitting your ears.
While I do a reasonable amount of air travel–probably the most ideal place to use these headphones, given the relatively constant, loud drone of the jet engines–I went for a place almost as loud and with variable noise–the local Starbucks where I often spend my afternoons working. While it certainly does not cut out all the noise, it does lower it noticeably. The lowered background noise made it possible to listen to my music and podcasts at a lower volume. However, I find the white noise added by the headphones to be distracting in quieter parts of my music/podcasts.
The $129 list-price headphones (though you can get it for ~$70 if you shop around) come with a handy dandy carrying case and a number of plug adapters, allowing you to plug these headphones into an airplane, your MP3 player, or a component stereo system. I think they’re pretty nice, do what they say on the tin, and are competitively priced.
30 January 2010
The folks at In Store Solutions sent me this headset to review a while ago–the Freetalk Wireless Headset. I had tried a couple of times to write a review of this headset, but ran into technical issues. Now that I’m off the road for a bit, I’ll give it a try.
Like its wired cousin, the Freetalk Everyman Headset, which I reviewed a while back, the focus is on audio quality. It rocks, even without wires! Skype-to-Skype audio quality is just like being there! It’s light and comfortable to boot.
Unlike it’s cheaper cousin, the Freetalk Wireless headset actually has buttons on it: a power/mute button, volume control, and a link button to link the headset with the dongle. Yes, all these buttons work properly on the Mac as well as the PC.
The dongle for this headset is a little bulky, but it provides a USB jack to allow you to charge the Everyman Wireless headset directly. It also allows you to use the headset in a “wired” way when the headset needs charging, which is a problem I’ve run into with this headset. I often find the headset without battery. Maybe because I use it too much
The power button doubles as a mute button, if you press it briefly. The green power light blinks blue when the headset is muted. It would have been nice if the headset provided some audio confirmation that the headset was muted so it could be reliably used, but I generally just mute inside the Skype app instead so I know I am muted.
While this headset is clearly geared at Skype (or other desktop VoIP usage), you can also use the headset to listen to music. Just like with Skype, the music sounds great!
Unlike the Freetalk Everyman Headset, which is priced absurdly inexpensively, the Everyman Wireless is more pricey but still respectable at $79.99 from the Skype store (prices vary outside the US). It comes with the dongle, a mini-USB cable, the headset, and the carrying case, as shown in the picture above. People looking for great audio quality without wires should seriously consider picking one of these headsets up.
9 November 2009
The folks at In Store Solutions have sent me a rather interesting piece of gear for review: the Yamaha PSG-01S, which is a USB speakerphone that is compatible with Skype. When plugged into the computer with the USB cable, the operating system treats it similar to a USB headset and is recognized instantly as an audio and microphone device.
I don’t normally go with speakerphones, mostly because I don’t want to disturb people around me and I don’t want to sound bad to the other person. The Yamaha PSG-01S solves at least one of these problems. If you’re about 12 inches from the microphone or so, you sound as if you’re on a wired headset to the other person! If you’re a little farther away, you still sound like you’re on a speakerphone, but the echo is greatly reduced.
This device is peculiar in that it has an accelerometer in it. If you turn the device on its side, it beeps and the microphone portion of the device mutes. You can then just listen to the folks on Skype (or your favorite music, if you prefer). If you set the device vertical, the top of the device lights up, beeps, and the microphone is active.
As you can see, the device is brick-shaped and roughly the size of a Grande at Starbucks. It’s very lightweight, but solidly built.
There are also buttons on the side of the device. Theoretically they will go “on hook” and “off hook” for Skype, but I did not test this on a Windows machine, where there are drivers you can install that do this. On the Mac, they are inactive. However, the volume button and Rec/Mic button work on the Mac (the latter functions as a mute button).
The audio quality of the device was fantastic. Both sides of the conversation were outstanding audio quality. Considering how much I generally detest the audio on speakerphones, that’s saying something. In music playback mode, the device also sounds superb.
While I’ve said a lot of good things about this device, I personally wouldn’t buy it for two reasons. My own personal usage patterns don’t lend themselves to speakerphones, so it’s not a kind of device I would seek out in the first place. The second, and perhaps more important aspect, is the price. At $219 in the US Skype store, it’s well outside of my price range. However, if you need an excellent quality speakerphone and money is less of an object, I’d say get it.
18 August 2009
Yes, this headset from In Store Solutions is that good. It’s also surprisingly affordable at just under $23 shipped to your door from the Skype store! I’d be buying one right now if I didn’t get a review unit.
As a long time user of Skype, I’ve used many a headset over the years. You want to use a headset so you can hear the other party better and the other party can hear you better.
The problem is that PCs weren’t always equipped to do proper sound. I remember the days of the Apple ][ with a very simple speaker that you could coax into playing music. I also remember building my first PC and having to put in a Soundblaster card!
If you've bought a PC in the past 6 or 7 years, though, you know that sound cards are pretty much standard equipment these days. Actually, they're just included on the motherboard, you rarely even buy an extra sound card these days! Unfortunately, what isn't standard is the quality of said included audio. It varies widely. Not to mention having to remember to switch between speakers and headsets.
One of the ways to eliminate any issues with onboard audio is to use a USB headset. Audio is processed on the USB device itself. It shows up as a different audio device, which you can easily switch between in applications or the operating system.
I've been using a Logitech USB Headset for a while now. It's fairly comfortable, the audio quality is acceptable. But it's not very portable. And it wasn't cheap.
The folks from In Store Solutions have made a comfortable headset that is portable, sounds fantastic, and is very inexpensive. It's quite an impressive engineering feat.
As shown, the Everyman USB headset folds up flat so it can more easily fit into your bag. It is also quite comfortable, which is also important for someone who spends a lot of time using Skype on their computer. The boom mic is not rigid, allowing you to place it in the most optimal position: at the corner of your mouth! Since the earphones unplug from the USB dongle, the headphones can also be used on your MP3 player/iPod/iPhone.
While all of those are nice features, what sets the Everyman apart from all the others is the audio quality. Both the microphone and the speakers take full advantage of Skype's new SILK_V3 codec, which operates at 12Khz. When SILK_V3 is being used along with these headsets, it's quite literally like you're in the same room with the other person. There is nothing like it! Other reviewers are saying similar things.
The headset arrives in a very compact, easy to open box made out of recyclable cardboard and paper. You open it up, plug the headset into an open USB port on your computer, and you're ready to make calls on Skype.
When you consider the price: under $23 shipped to your door, purchasing this headset is absolutely a no-brainer. It will be one of the best investments you can make to improve your calling experience with Skype.
22 May 2009
It’s that time again:
FreeConferencing.com Launches: Until they do something to equalize inter-carrier compensation between most civilized parts of the United States and rural locations, services like FreeConferenceCall.com and now FreeConferencing.com will continue to exist and be profitable. By hosting these services in, say, rural Iowa, they actually make a small amount of money per minute on incoming calls. Anyway, FreeConferencing.com is a way to do a one-to-many call, complete with a web-based console to manage the call.
Vonage Trying To Act Like Mobile Phone Carriers: Vonage, the VoIP landline replacement service provider that refuses to die, is now offering a deal where you can sign up and not pay for equipment, shipping, or activation. The catch? You have to sign a two year agreement complete with early termination fees that are, according to my calculations, worse than a mobile phone contract.
iPopperz Fashion Earphones: Personally not my thing, but these are relatively inexpensive, in-ear haedphones with a number of styles, colors, and whatnot. I would consider buying the black, green, and black pair. One cool thing: they sell replacement earpads. Granted, there is a huge amount of markup there, but it’s the first time I’ve seen them available.
Bad Experience on DeFi Mobile: I briefly wrote about DeFi Mobile in October. Wasn’t sure how well the service was going to be when it went live, but someone forwarded me some correspondence to and from the company related to their experience. In short: it was bad voice quality and improper CallerID. Anyone have a good experience with DeFi Mobile?
Qwest Offering Free WiFi Nationwide: If you happen to live in an area where Qwest is your local exchange carrier and you get high speed Internet from them, now you can take it with you–sort of. Qwest has signed a deal with AT&T to provide Qwest customers free WiFi at 17,000 AT&T operated WiFi hotspots. Personally, I think it’s worth $9.95 a month for Boingo, which offers WiFi at AT&T locations and a whole bunch more!
20 May 2009
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, as the folks from Budget Gadgets sent me one of these a while ago: a USB 2.0 to 3D Audio Sound Card. The upshot of this device is that it converts an analog headset and microphone to USB, which is nice on computers that don’t offer these analog input, such as my old Mac Mini.
This device does not need any USB drivers as it is treated like a regular USB sound device, which most operating systems recognize immediately. I plugged it into a Windows XP computer and tested it with Skype, which worked flawlessly.
The price is right at about $8, including shipping. If you want to save 5% off this and other cool things you might buy at Budget Gadgets–and they have a number of nifty items that I want to purchase–use the coupon code: DM5OFF12
One word of warning: since items come from Hong Kong, the shipping can take a few weeks to reach the US.
7 October 2008
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Image via Wikipedia
A while ago, I got a pair of headphones from Radius Products to review. They are these in-ear headsets that go deeper into the ear, sealing out noise, sound great! The problem I have is when I put the headphones in my pocket. After a while the earphone fittings simply fall off, either in my pocket or someplace else. Sometimes, they even come out in my ear. Sometimes, they simply get lost.
I have to assume this is a universal problem of sorts, i.e. it’s not specific to the unit I reviewed. However, I can’t easily find a way to replace the earphone fittings. You’d think someone would sell replacement earphone fittings. I found a couple of places, but they are somewhat expensive in comparison to their actual cost, which can’t be more than a few pennies! The fact there aren’t replacements in stores seems silly.
So what happens when you lose the earphone fitings for your deep in-ear headphones? Do you just buy new ones? Is there some reasonably inexpensive of a similar style that are more sturdy in this area?