For those of you who have deployed (or looking to deploy) Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 for Audio needs (in addition to core IM / Presence) and are looking for headsets, I wanted to start a post with my experiences and then have others jump in with comments.

I am listing the different solutions that I've tested and my personal opinion (remember, this is my personal opinion) on the performance of each.

1.  Laptop speakers and microphone: In an area where there isn't a lot of background noise, I found this to be a fairly decent solution.  If I turned the volume up too high, there was feedback and echo that even I could hear flow back into the call.  However, with proper adjustment, I did have a good experience.  This solution of course doesn't work very well if there are others in the room and you are trying to keep the conversation more private.  This solution does work very well for speaker phone needs where multiple people in a room need to hear, but only a few need to speak at any given time.  The cost of this solution is also very inexpensive - :-).

2.  Plantronics .Audio 350 headset (plugs into speaker and mic jacks on laptop): This really works well to provide stereo sound in a more private setting.  People don't overhear the conversation and the microphone boom can be adjusted to optimize my voice back into the conversation.  The headset is comfortable and has mute and volume control built into it as well.  Another benefit for those of us who travel, is it works nicely on the plane for watching movies.  The thing I don't like about this headset is the size, but only from a travel perspective - it takes up more room in my backpack and I don't have a good carrying case for it.  This headset cost less than $40 so it is a reasonable cost solution.

3.  Multiple earbud type sets (ranging from $10 - $70 sets): These provide a similar experience to the Plantronics headset of #2 (some worse, some better, but on average about the same).  The most challenging issue I had was the mic placement on the set and preventing it from rubbing against my shirt or jacket.  If I use these types of devices for more than 45 minutes, my ear starts hurting so I generally stay away from these devices.  I know this really depends on the type of material used on the earpiece, but overall, I really don't care for these devices for long calls.

4.  Jabra GN2000 USB Headset: Just like the Plantronics headset, this works very well and provides stereo sound.  Since this headset is meant for use with Office Communicator 2007, it also provides the ability to answer and hang up calls using inline controls on the set.  This is very lightweight and not as bulky as the Plantronics above.  This device goes for about $75 and I think pretty reasonable given the integration with Office Communicator 2007.

5. Jabra GN9330 USB Office Communicator Headset: Similar quality of experience as the GN2000.  The main difference is this is a wireless headset and only has one earpiece.  I found the range to be very good (can use it in every room of my home).  I can remotely answer and hang up calls as well as mute my microphone all from the headset controls.  The sound quality is great and is very comfortable to wear.  I generally get on calls for 90+ minutes and even after those long calls, my ear is not hurting from the device.  Since it is wireless, I do get freedom to move around without wires hanging on me and I can be away from my laptop while still talking.  I wouldn't consider this a travel device since the base is just a bit bulky and there is a power cord and such associated with it.  This device goes for about $250 so it isn't cheap, but pretty decently priced for a wireless headset.

6. Jabra GN9350 Office Communicator Headset: Pretty much the same as the GN9330 in terms of performance and use.  This unit however, can also be used with your traditional telephone!  I REALLY LOVE this dual mode capability!  I not only use it with Communicator 2007 on my laptop, but with my home phone for personally calls with friends and family.  At the same time, I can connect this device to my Tanjay device via the headset port (similar to regular telephone) and not even worry about having my laptop turned on.  The range of this device is better than the 9330 and I have noticed better quality when I have to walk outside of the house when using this device compared to the 9330.  Just like the GN9330, I wouldn't consider this a travel device.  On occasion, I will take it on the road with me, but only when I will be gone for 4 days or more and I know I have a lot of calls to take while on the trip.  The cost of this device is about $300 so it is the most expensive of the devices I'm reviewing.  However, this is the one I am using as my main solution for calls when at home and I think it is well worth it!

I would like to thank the folks at Jabra who were kind enough to work with me on testing of the above Jabra devices (items 4 - 6) as my wife would have killed me had I actually bought all of them.  To be fair, I have not had a chance to test any of the comparable Plantronics devices or Polycom speakerphone type devices since I don't own them nor will my wife let me buy them either.

If anyone out there would like to share their experiences, feel free to post your comments.

Harold Wong
harold.wong@microsoft.com