My wife recently got a language interpreting job which requires her to use a wired headset at home. Apparently if you’re regularly spending hours on the phone, a headset is a worthwhile investment to save your arm, shoulder, and neck from unnecessary stress. We’d never used one before and knew nothing about them last week but after a few days of research and shopping we learned a lot about how headset systems work and felt confident in our choices.
Long story short: If you want a professional-level, wired, 2-ear headset to use at home, go on eBay to get a used Plantronics HW261N headset, a used Plantronics M22 phone amplifier, and use them with your existing home phone. Total cost: ~$53.
Why wired? (Why not wireless?)
The interpreting company my wife works for requires the use of a wired headset and wired telephone. This could be for confidentiality (others can tune into a wireless phone signal to eavesdrop during sensitive conversations), call quality (wireless signals use compression which can reduce the quality of the audio signals), or reliability reasons (wireless signals can drop calls, batteries can run out of power during a call), or something else we’re missing. I would’ve thought bluetooth headsets were the norm now, but it doesn’t really matter as her company specified the type of headsets she can use.
Binaural, Monaural, Over-the-ear
Because my wife will be using this headset at home in a quiet room, a binaural (audio in two ears) headset seems to be the best choice so she can fully immerse herself in the phone call. She won’t need to interact with coworkers or clients to face to face, so covering both ears shouldn’t be a problem. Another option was monaural (audio in one ear and a band over the head), which is preferable if you need to walk around a bit while staying aware of the environment around you. The over-head band keeps the earpiece in place so you could even lead a bodypump class with one on. And the third option was an over-ear headset which is the least conspicuous as it doesn’t even cross your head and just sits in one ear like a bluetooth earpiece from the early ’00s. Over-the-ear headsets don’t mess with your hair but they’re also the least secure style and can fall off your head if you’re moving around. They’re generally good for shorter calls but not if you’re spending the majority of your workday on the phone.
We were searching for a wired, binaural headset to use at home (not in a commercial office), but couldn’t find much of anything, so we read through the wirecutter’s comparison of best wireless headsets and found that a Plantronics model won. We’d seen that brand on the [outdated] list of recommended headsets my wife received from her company, and that led us to believe that Plantronics may also make good wired headsets too. After looking through Plantronics’ wired binaural microphones, we started looking at prices on Amazon and B&H. It looked like the headsets weren’t too expensive: $50 – $80, but then we discovered that two accessories are necessary to be able to use a headset at home: 1.a cable/amplifier and 2. an office phone. The cable/amplifier is the device that connects the headset to the phone, and the phone is the machine that connects bottom cable (or amplifier) to the wall.
Cable or amplifier?
Both a cable (“bottom cable” or “direct connect cable”) and amplifier connect the headset to a phone, but the differences are about quality and tuning. A cable is a less expensive ($20), less complex piece that basically just allows a headset to be used with a phone. An amplifier is more expensive ($40) and requires batteries or an A/C plug, but allows the user to fine-tune the incoming and outgoing audio levels and also allows the user to answer calls or mute them. People also say that because the amplifier has its own power supply (either batteries of an A/C plug), it can amplify the sound in a cleaner way than a simple unpowered cable can. The amplifier seemed like a more professional choice, so we decided to go that route. Unfortunately, all headsets do not work with all amplifiers, so we had to google around and see which headset/amplifier pairings were popular and highly-rated.
Decided on a headset and amp model
We found reports from people who said that the Plantronics HW261N headset and M22 amplifier were a good pairing. Then we realized that office equipment was something that people often get rid of on ebay as offices close and people change careers. We started browsing through listings for the headset and found replacement ear cushions, broken headsets being sold for parts, and finally some good-looking used headsets. We got lucky and found someone who was selling both the headset and the amp as a package. They looked to be in great condition by the pictures, the buy-it-now price was only $43 after shipping, and the seller had a great (98%) rating so we bought it.
Which phone base?
We knew that some bases were better than others, but we didn’t know which. We also learned that while many phones can work with a headset, they all require you to physically unhook the handset from the base to pickup a call. It’s ridiculous that you have to do this to pick up and hang up each call, but apparently there are a number of VOIP phones with which you can simply press a button on the phone (or headset) to pick up a call. We looked at compatibility lists and found that the Panasonic KX-TS880B phone was one of the least-expensive phones with a built-in headset port to work with the equipment we’d already ordered. Ebay had some used phones for $24, and Amazon had them new for $34. But then we noticed that Amazon listed some “Used and New from . . . ” options that started at $24. It turned out that they had some good condition Amazon Warehouse phones for $24, and since we’ve had good experiences with Amazon warehouse items and it comes with Amazon’s return policy, we went with that.
Is it sanitary?
We know it’s kinda gross to use something that’s already been on someone else’s head for hours, so we ordered some new ear cushions off Amazon for $8. That set came with 4 pads and the peace of mind that my wife won’t have to worry about someone’s greasy ear-germs. I’ll also make sure to wipe everything else down with rubbing alcohol before she uses it.
We’ve got a Plantronics HW261 headset, Plantronics M22 amp, and Panasonic TS880B phone on the way for about $80. They’re all used, but buying all new equipment would’ve cost triple. We’re hoping that the audio quality, reliability, and ease of use allow my wife to focus on the content of her calls rather than equipment issues.