Home office headsets: consider open-back

In my recent post about A/V setup, I skimmed past details about a headset for daily meeting use. Here is the rest of the story.

My main headset since ~2017 is the Jabra Evolve 75:

  • Wireless – bluetooth, but with its own dongle which offers higher quality.
  • “On ear” design with soft ear pads, yielding a small overall size, and very effective passive sound isolation. I tolerate the ear pads for a few hours.
  • Excellent noise cancellation; this headset is made for noisy shared office environments, and I’ve even used it on an airplane for short flights with decent results (for longer flights: Bose QC35).
  • Good headset boom microphone, with effective ambient noise rejection, again very suitable to use in a noisy space – even an airport. The audio quality is OK, but not great.
  • The microphone passes through some “side tone”.
  • All day battery life.

Overall, this is the best headset I’ve ever used. If you work in a shared office environment, it is worth the (ouch) $255 price.

Then 2020 happened:

  • I’m working 99% in my private home office – where it’s usually better to hear someone knocking at the door, someone calling out to me, etc. Sound isolation (and noise cancellation) is still useful during the occasional ill-timed landscape crew working.
  • My hearing is imperfect (long story…) and headsets provide better clarity vs speakers, so I wear a headset for hours every day – sometimes to the point where pads pushing on my ears doesn’t feel great.
  • After a couple hours, the “closed in” feeling of wearing a headset is unpleasant.
  • My ears get warm sometimes, heat is trapped under the headset.
  • I attend a lot more meetings online, and therefore care about microphone quality more.
  • Headset “side tone” is great, but not as great as being able to hear yourself talk normally.

Therefore, my new headphones / headset: Phillips SHP9600

Impressions so far:

  • Sound quality is excellent, as one would expect from a product type targeted at audiophiles. Music sounds more musical.
  • Open back works great; I can hear myself speak, I can hear what’s going in the house (or close my office door for quiet), it subjectively feels quite different and more open.
  • It takes a while to learn to trust the open back, to get past the feeling that the outside world is blocked off.
  • “Leakage” from the open back is not loud, and irrelevant in a private office.
  • Much larger than my old headset, but about the same weight.
  • Looser fit, no pressure on the ears, likely to be more comfortable long term, though it will take weeks to know for sure.
  • The inexpensive add-on microphone, while lacking the amazing ambient noise rejection of the Jabra, sounds much better (with the help of a closed office for meetings)
  • The biggest downside: it is a wired set up, which gets in the way when I want to move around during a meeting.

Overall impression: this is likely to be my primary headset in my home office, with the Jabra (or others, I have several) kept around for travel, my “work office”, etc.

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