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Summary:

Have you ever been in an audio chat (whether with iChat, or Skype, etc, etc) and had the speaker output from your mac picked-up by the built-in mic? Those who haven’t taken the plunge to get an external microphone, or headset are sure to be all […]

Have you ever been in an audio chat (whether with iChat, or Skype, etc, etc) and had the speaker output from your mac picked-up by the built-in mic? Those who haven’t taken the plunge to get an external microphone, or headset are sure to be all too familiar with this annoyance. I’ve been playing with 4 USB headsets that may be just what you’re in need of.

I got my hands on a Logitech Premium 350, a Sennheiser M145, a Plantronics Audio 550 DSP Ultimate Performance, and a Plantronics CS50-USB Wireless Office Headset System. Having not looked into these things before, and solely based on appearance, I was willing to bet that I’d rate the Logitech first, Plantronics Wireless second, and probably the Plantronics DSP last, just because of its clunky size. I was surprised in more way than one after using these headsets at length.

As I used the headsets in various situations and tested them thoroughly, I quickly realized that it wasn’t a matter of rating them favorite to least favorite. [This was the first surprise] These headsets are really ideal for different situations, each showing off in its own right. So in no specific order, here were my thoughts on each of the headsets I played with.

Logitech Premium 350
logitechGiven the quality behind the name in everything they do, and the sturdy build of the unit, I figured this for the leader of the pack. The boom mic is easily managed, there is a multi-function button on the cord that controls the volume and mute (and it’s got a pretty blue light when muted), and the ear muffs fit comfortably while still managing a relatively small profile. The headset is built to last and won’t die an early death from regular use.

The audio was good, and the microphone recorded a good sound. The mute button seemed to get bumped a little too easily and the person on the other end of the video chat kept having to tell me I was on mute. This was really the only downside I found. But there was really nothing that stood out to me with this unit. It’s a great all around headset that will do the job wonderfully for the casual user who’s looking for a USB headset.

Sennheiser M145
sennheiserAnother good name in audio, the Sennheiser doesn’t look like much. It’s a behind the head (street style, as the kids like to say) fit that looks somewhat flimsy. The cables are sort of bulky and the appearance is a lot of fluff to be totally honest. Surprisingly to me, this was the headset I’d end up choosing as the best all around in this group.

It’s like the Swiss Army Knife of the lot. The behind the head style is slight in size, but very flexible and sturdy – great for throwing in my bag with my MacBook while on the go. There’s a nice [removable] cord organizer to pick up the slack in the line. It’s sorta large, so the ability to get rid of it is nice. There are volume and mute controls built into the cord for quick access – no bumping problems like with the Logitech. And the best part? The cable splits out to a headset jack and a mic jack at the end, with a USB adapter that plugs into these connections. So whether you want to use it as a USB headset, or just a regular line-in unit, you’ve got options.

I’d put the sound – input and output – on par with the Logitech, which is to say they were good. But the options that this headset offers are just a great mix. It’s so easy to take with me and store it away in small spaces. So if you’re the on-the-go type, I highly recommend giving this headset a try. Plus, after reading about the M145 on Sennheiser’s website, I found out it’s built specifically for the Macintosh crowd. Nice! At around $90 it’s not cheap, but you can probably find it cheaper if you search a bit.

Plantronics Audio 550 DSP Ultimate Performance
plantronicsdspThis thing is big. The muffs are large, the over-the-head band is large (though very comfortable), the microphone boom is large, and the cable is large. But it’s got Digital Signal Processing built-in (which is why the cable is large) and holy cannoli is the sound crisp!

The output sounds great, with exception clarity coming from the ear muffs. But the really great part was the way it captures such a clear and crisp signal from the microphone input. While I haven’t published any yet, I’ve been using this headset to record my Quicksilver screencasts. With little boys running around my house, the background can get a bit noisy – but you’d never know it with this thing in my kit.

There’s no hiding that this headset is a monster. But it sits comfortably on the head, and if you’ve got the space – and aren’t moving around a lot – this is a very good headset. At $120, I think it’s a great fit for those who don’t want to buy the high end recording equipment, but have some need for great mic clarity.

Plantronics CS50-USB Wireless Office Headset System
plantronicscs50Definitely the coolest looking and most expensive of the bunch, the CS50 brings wireless capability to fulfill your headset needs. In typical Plantronics fashion, there’s a handy stand-up desk holder/charger that provides the USB base station. It comes with a few earpieces so you can find the fit that’s most comfortable for your head. It’s light on your ear and generally feels good.

The unit has a call answer button, but it didn’t seem to work on my MacBook – probably a Windows only thing. I used it with Skype a few times, and the freedom to roam around the house (I’m a pacer when I’m on the phone) was awesome. If that answer/hang up button worked I’d have been ecstatic. But the downside to this headset was the sound quality. The mic did a decent job of handling the audio input side of things, but the sound was flat. The sound was decent, but it had the feel of a wireless unit. These things were by no means awful, but with a $300 price tag, I’d think they should’ve been better.

If you’re using VOIP technology in an office setting, or use something like Skype as your main phone at home, this headset probably isn’t a bad choice for the roaming capability. But if you’re in need of really good sound as well, you’ll probably want to pass on this headset system.

So really, based on your needs, there’s definitely a specific tool for the job. I suppose that’s an obvious point, but until I got into using these headsets it hadn’t occurred to me. With the exception of the CS50 Wireless unit (just too pricey for the relatively poor sound quality), you really can’t go wrong with these. Pick one up and treat those you audio chat with, to a nice surprise of no more echo. Or if you’ve already got another headset that you highly recommend, please share!

  1. Thanks for this article, after getting Quake 4 for Christmas, I’m now in the market for a USB headset.

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  2. I use the Plantronics 550 DSP with a MacPro for audio iChat on the Mac side and for use with Dragon Naturally Speaking Pro 9 on the Windows install. It is excellent for both those uses. Noise cancelling is excellent and the built in mic test of DNS gave it the highest score possible.

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  3. I know the article was on USB headsets, but for those of you who have a bluetooth wireless headset it will work just as well when using ichat. I’m not sure about VOIP (doubt it), but it’s worth a try.

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  4. Actually, the one thing that iChat has over every competing program is that it *doesn’t* require a headset, since Apple’s echo cancellation is very good indeed.

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  5. Adonis – Yes, Absolutely! Bluetooth works pretty well with these apps as well. Just need to get a handful of BT headsets to review now. :)

    Nicholas – I’d have to disagree there. It’s not too bad, but the echo when using audio chat on a MacBook for instance, is pretty annoying. Maybe less of an issue on a desktop Mac, but not on my MacBook or previous PowerBook.

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  6. I recently got the Plantronics Audio 550 to replace a basic Logic Tech headset. It seems to have very good sound, but I have one problem. I can’t figure out how to turn down the sound I hear in the earphones. My ears are being blasted off even though the output signal showing in GarageBand is minimal. This is very confusing. The actual output to iTunes seems fine but if someone can tell me how to turn down the earphones, I would be much happier.

    It does not come with any documentation!

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  7. Using 24″ Mac with older bootcamp v2.009. Mac Camera and speakers work fine, but audio input doesn’t work. Trying to use Logitech USB Headset – but with Dragon-Naturally Speaking to much static to train voice.

    Are USB Headsets not compatible with Bootcamp? If I upgrade MacOS – will WindowsXP environment remain the same – or will I have to reload WindowsXP?

    /r

    Pete

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  8. My son has a mac book pro.The head of his ear phone broke inside his computer and the cost to fix it is $800.can i use the Logitech Premium 350 to replace this feature?

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  9. Got a Sennheiser M145 for my birthday, best gift in years :D

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