Top Ear – UC Headsets, WFH review and more

The current COVID-19 lockdown has given me a chance to take my various wireless headsets for a good spin, where I’m not just working from home but also have kids schooling from home, washing machine flat out on spin cycle and all sorts of clinking clanking and clattering from the kitchen. I can now give them a Top Gear style review – let’s call it Top Ear!

I spend a lot of time in Microsoft Teams during my typical work day, and on all sorts of calls – voice, video, meetings, etc. I have 2 daily drivers and I tend to switch between them depending on where I am and my surroundings: Plantronics Voyager Focus UC and Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC.

Plantronics Voyager Focus UC

The Focus UC has been around for a few years. It is my primary device when the office was still a valid place for working. Our office is open-plan so it can get quite noisy. The Focus UC do a brilliant job at shielding all kinds of background noises and give a laser focus to my voice. The smart boom mic technology is to thank!

I decided to put this to the ultimate test – my WFH desk is currently set in our kitchen and the washing machine is about 16 feet (5 meters) behind me. The other day, I was on a Teams call to a colleague while the washing machine on a full-speed spin cycle. To say it was noisy is an understatement. I was struggling to hear my own voice. However, my colleague on the other end of the line didn’t even notice it!

Thank you smart boom mic!

The Focus can be connected to a computer and a mobile at the same time. The sound quality on music is pretty good too. I used to use them on my daily commute on the train.

There are some built-in smart sensors that allow you to answer a call by just putting the headset on – very handy! It also pause the music when you take them off – double handy!

Having said all of that, I do have some gripes, as someone who wears glasses. Because the Focus is an on-ear design the ear pads press down on your ears, and your ears will then be pressed against your head – with the legs of the glasses frame (technical term: temples) in the middle. After a few hours, they hurt! I didn’t have this problem when I was in the office because: 1) I cared more about my image and wore contacts, 2) I didn’t spend as much time on the phone.

Overall, the Voyager Focus UC is a very good all-rounder.

Plantronics Voyager 6200 UC

To fix my glasses problem, I normally turn to the Voyager 6200. These are a sporty variant of the UC headsets. They have in-ear buds instead of the over-ear pads, which can solve my glasses pain straightaway!

I quite like the fact that I can have them around my neck at all times, just not have the buds in my ears. When there is an incoming call the neck band vibrates as a notification and I can answer the call by pressing a button and putting the buds in my ears. The 6200 doesn’t have the smart sensor for call answering or pausing music, which is a shame.

Edit: 14/05/2020

Another advantage that I forgot to mention is that they certainly look a lot better on video calls. They are a lot more discreet on camera.

I did find, however, that due to the design – the mics are in the neck band pointing forwards – the 6200 pick up a lot more background noise than the Focus. When my 11-year-old daughter does her piano practice in the next room with the door shut, people on the phone with me could hear the piano. This is a massive difference to the Focus that blocked out a flat out washing machine about to take off.

Also, I found the mic position isn’t collar friendly. Although I could tuck them under the collar when I wear a shirt or a polo (which I thought it’d be pretty cool), I’m one of those people who can’t sit still when on a conference call. But, when I pace around a meeting room, or the kitchen these days, people on the phone with me could hear the mic rubbing against my clothing.

My verdict: The 6200 is best fit if you work from home alone in casual wear. Or, going out for a run, or the gym when they reopen, but may need to take a work call – which I think is what they were actually designed to do.

Other non-UC headsets and Microsoft Certification

I, like many others, like to collect audio gadgets. So, after my experience above I started to wonder if I could use my non-UC but fancy headsets. They are all Bluetooth, how different can they be?

I have 2 candidates: Bose QC35 and Samsung Galaxy Buds+. Both are very good headphones in the music world, neither of them would hurt me when wearing glasses, but can they handle work calls in Microsoft Teams?

The result: meh! They work but just not as good. The voice just not as clear.

So, what’s the secret?

I did some more reading around the Microsoft Certification for headsets, and it turns out that the secret ingredient is this:

Yes, the USB dongle.

The Bluetooth chips in laptops (including Surfaces) and mobile phones are narrow band, and they are unable to carry the wideband HD voice required by Microsoft Certification. Call control features such as adjusting volume, answering and ending calls are also mandatory in Microsoft Certification but not built into computer Bluetooth chips.

That makes a lot sense now. I have indeed noticed that although using the same certified UC headsets, I could always tell when someone answered a call on their Teams mobile client!

So, the USB dongle is a must. What could be the alternatives to my Bose and Samsung Buds?

Edit: 14/05/2020, Matt White pointed out to me that there is a pair of Bose that are UC certified. The 700UC. Thank you Matt!

Bose 700UC

They certainly look VERY NICE! Come with an USB dongle. At the time of writing, I don’t think they are available in the UK yet.

Plantronics Voyager 8200 UC

The same around-ear design as the Bose QC35 for comfort and a good seal for sound quality. As it’s Microsoft Certified, it comes with an USB dongle.

Jabra Evolve 65t

The Jabra Evolve 65t is currently the only Microsoft Certified true wireless buds that I have found. Not even the new Microsoft Surface Earbuds. And yes it comes with a USB dongle.

I have yet to test those guys against a piano lesson or the washing machine.

So, there you go. If you are wondering what’s the best to use during this lockdown WFH period, or wondering if you should pick the Microsoft Certified ones over the normal ones, I hope I have been helpful.

Thanks for reading.

Other useful pages that I came across when writing this one:

https://tomtalks.blog/2019/10/microsoft-surface-earbuds-are-they-microsoft-teams-certified/

https://www.plantronics.com/be/en/product/voyager-focus-uc

https://www.plantronics.com/be/en/product/voyager-8200-uc

https://www.jabra.co.uk/business/office-headsets/jabra-evolve/jabra-evolve-65t##6598-832-109

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