Office Headset Phones

Being able to talk on the phone and keep your hands free is just one of many benefits of using a headset phone in your office.

For people who spend a lot of time communicating, headset phones make a lot of sense. It's not just for air traffic controllers and telemarketers, if you're on the phone a lot at your office you'll probably find these accessories improve productivity, reduce fatigue and cut down on mistakes.

Evidence of the popularity of headset phones can be found by looking at the catalogs of any of the suppliers - and that's a good thing because they're so popular that there's a dizzying variety of choices and options. While that makes the selection more time consuming, it also means you can get something that suits your needs very closely.

The basic idea is that instead of picking up the telephone handset to talk to someone, you wear something that goes over the head or around the ear. It means you have your hands free to do other things. It reduces the chance of hurting your neck and shoulders holding a conventional handset between your ear and your shoulder, and tiring your arm holding a handset to your ear on a long call.

Some models of headsets are cordless, meaning there's a radio link between the telephone and the headset, so you can walk around while you talk. It works a lot better than a speaker equipped telephone since most of the room noise is eliminated, and you don't share your call with everyone in earshot.

All of this is pretty basic, and similar to the benefits you get from a hands free cellphone, but there are a lot of other neat things the designers have thought of.

The traditional headset consists of a headband that goes over your head, a receiver that goes over your ear, and a transmitter that goes in front of your mouth. These types are still around and some of them are the least expensive types, and some the most expensive types, as they can be made very rugged.

Lots of folks want a lightweight unit, so check that out when you look at what's available. There are many different ways the receiver can be placed, some of them over the ear, some in the ear. You can choose from a foam or gel pad that goes over the ear. And some headsets hang on the ear without the headband in various ways.

Some let room noise in so you can hear what's going on around you, some block it out. Some types of headsets have custom moldable pieces that go in your ear to do a better job of blocking noise. When you buy the set, you get a molding kit that lets you take a mold of your personal ear, you then send it in to the manufacturer and you get back an insert made just for you.

Although headsets may be designed to block out noise, nearly all of them allow noise in from loud human voices. So you'll still hear the boss holler at you, and more importantly (to you, not the boss), hear safety or emergency exclamations. They're designed to block out the humming or whining from machinery.

Many headsets have a volume control to help you hear your caller better, and reduce ear problems from too-loud callers.

There are headsets with one receiver and those with two. The single ear units allow for easier hearing of what's going on around you. The dual ones may be stereo, or they may be binaural, which simply means the two receivers hear exactly the same thing, which is what you want if all you're going to use it for is the telephone.

Choices abound as well for the transmitter, the part the picks up your voice. There's the traditional blob-on-a-tube, where the tube is attached to the receiver. Then there's one with just the tube, where the electronics that picks up the sound is at the ear. If that's too annoying, some of the current units have a short extension of an inch or two from the receiver in the direction of the mouth. There's also another type that uses bone conduction, where there's a contact with an area around the ear that picks up your voice not through the air like the others but the sound waves as they travel through the bones of your head.

All of these work to varying degrees, but the further the sound pickup is from the microphone the harder it is to get a clear voice. Anything you get should be returnable if it doesn't work for you or the room you're in.

Many headsets also have a mute button so you can talk to someone for a moment without the caller hearing it. You can find windscreen covers if your breath noises get in the way.

Let's talk electronics. A lot of people hook their headsets to computers for voice recognition and various dictation related projects. Some headsets can be connected to both computers and telephones, and switched between them using a USB or firewire connection. Others are designed for the new "softphones" where all phone functions are contained within a standard computer.

One way that headsets beat a conventional phone is with DSP, or digital signal processing. This is an option that can be set up for talking, listening or both.

For listening, DSP is very useful for noise canceling. Some headsets sample the room noise, then knock most of it out electronically, which again works best for continuous machinery type noises for those whose offices are in airplanes or railroad cars, but will work to some degree anywhere including that low roar of lots of voices together.

DSP can also eliminate echoes introduced by internet telephony. It can also provide a small amount of your own voice fed back into the receiver, which is called sidetone, something we're used to when using a conventional telephone but frequently absent in internet based systems.

DSP is also sometimes implemented to reduce noise picked up from your room and sent to the caller. If you use your headset for computer dictation via voice recognition as well, this is very useful because it greatly increases the accuracy of dictation.

The electronics in a headset can also be used to encrypt your conversation, which is important for cordless systems to help insure privacy. Some cordless systems use a proprietary device that plugs into the conventional telephone, others use the Bluetooth protocol. The Bluetooth headsets are primarily for Bluetooth equipped telephones but for those that aren't a special adapter is available.

The manufacturers generally quote a range of 300 feet from your desk that you'll be able to walk around, depending on the physical arrangement of the office and the presence of other electronic equipment so that number may vary. Cordless systems also need batteries, so check on battery life issues or "talk time".

Now that you have an idea as to what you can do with a headset phone, remember that not all headsets fit all phones. Find out exactly what kind of phone and phone system you have from whoever in your office knows such things, and make absolutely sure whatever you get works with your phone - otherwise you'll get no benefit at all!

With all these available features, it's easy to see that headset phones are not just for the guys at the call centers"┬Žand we've come a very long way from the telephone operators who used to talk into a plastic horn shaped tube that rested on their chest.

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